A year ago May, a breach happened in one of my closest friendships. It wasn’t a misunderstanding. It wasn’t an argument. It was a breach.
It felt like a tearing.
Neither of us saw the breach coming, and neither of us handled it well when it came. We are, to this day, still recovering from the fallout.
I’m grateful that we are, at least, recovering. That recovery is happening ever so slowly — in tiny little baby steps that look like we’re barely inching forward at all — but it is happening, and I’m grateful. Even as I’m terrified.
Why am I terrified? Oh, for many reasons.
I’m terrified the breach will happen again, and I’m not sure my heart can handle experiencing that level of pain a second time.
I’m terrified we won’t actually recover, that trust will never re-establish itself between us and so all that will be left is a sad and shallow shell of something that used to be, one day long ago.
I’m terrified I won’t put into practice the things I’ve learned about myself because of this breach, that I’ll merely perpetuate the behaviors and beliefs and issues that led to my contribution to what happened.
I’m terrified I won’t be forgiven. I’m terrified I won’t be allowed to grow beyond what happened in the other person’s eyes. I’m terrified this breach will become the thing that defines who we are as friends.
There’s so much more to who we are than this breach that happened.
I met with my therapist, Debbie, this past week to process some of where I am with all of this. Because the truth is that my head and my heart still get so tangled up and confused about what happened between me and my friend, and I still need help seeing my way forward with these tiny baby steps we keep taking.
And that’s where the image of the marble jar came up.
Are you familiar with the work of Brené Brown? She’s a shame researcher (yes, that is a real thing!) who has been researching shame, vulnerability, wholeheartedness, intimacy, and connection for, oh, about 15 or 20 years.
She catapulted into the public spotlight in 2010 because of this Tedx Houston talk on vulnerability, and then this Ted talk on shame in 2012, and then through her appearance on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday in March earlier this year. Her most recent book, Daring Greatly, was a New York Times bestseller.
So, about the marble jar.
Debbie told me that Brené talks about the marble jar in Daring Greatly, saying that each person in a relationship has a marble jar with the other person’s name on it that gets filled or emptied depending on things that happen. If connection happens or trust grows with the other person, we put marbles in the jar. If hurtful things happen, we get missed in the relationship somehow, or trust erodes in some way, we take marbles out of the jar.
And when a breach happens, it’s like the jar shatters completely and all the marbles go spilling out all over the floor. No more jar. No more marbles.
To rebuild trust in a relationship that’s experienced a breach, I guess we first have to ask if we’re willing to have a jar with that person’s name on it in our house again. If we are, then maybe we mentally bring that jar into our house and set it on a shelf, letting ourselves get comfortable with the fact of its just being there.
Then, should both people be comfortable having these new jars in their houses, the next step might be to focus on putting some new marbles in those jars.
This seems important, as one thing I’ve been wrestling with is how much time to spend looking back at what happened versus moving forward. Looking back is certainly important. It’s how we learn from what happened. Together, it’s how two people find out the other person’s experience of what happened and where they’re coming from.
But Debbie is helping me see that at some point, marbles become the necessary thing. That’s what builds the new relationship — and helps us see if a new relationship is even possible as we watch what happens with the new marbles.
And here’s the real kicker, she said: If we don’t put some new marbles in the new jars after the old ones have been shattered and replaced, we won’t have much of a foundation for those “looking back” conversations to be helpful and productive at all. We would be having those conversations on shaky ground, each person hedging their bets and so very ready to bolt. The collection of new marbles in the jar is what helps two people weather the difficult and tricky conversations about the past and the less-than-perfect scenarios that emerge in the future.
Marbles can get tossed in the jar in the simplest of ways. It doesn’t require magnanimous acts.
For example, my friend texted me about three times this past month just to see how things are going with Kirk’s mom, who has been diagnosed with cancer. We don’t text very often anymore, and so I experienced those check-ins as such a kindness — a moment of knowing myself cared for and thought of by her. Marbles went into the jar.
In another instance, when we’d made plans to talk by phone but then a schedule conflict required my friend to cancel, she took care to say our conversation was important to her and apologized for having to reschedule. Marbles went into the jar.
Slowly, slowly, I’m taking time to notice marbles and put them in my friend’s jar. I’m doing this because the relationship is important to me and I want to be about the business of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Have you ever experienced a breach in friendship and wondered how to move forward? What do you think of the marble jar metaphor?