Updated: Sep 24, 2019
Years ago my (then) wife and I decided to reward our kids by placing a marble in a jar every time they did something positive. I’d read a book that triggered the idea, and so we set about explaining the rules of the game; that when they filled their jar they would receive a small reward of their choosing. Each jar was equal in size and small enough that reaching the goal wasn’t impossible, but was a bit of a stretch at the same time.
Each of our kids took on the challenge. Chores were getting done, they were nice to each other, beds were made, and new behaviors were established. Now, we weren’t some miracle parents because eventually, we stopped pushing the program, they lost interest, and that little adventure ended. I’ll explain how this fits in in a minute, but first…
Here we are, years later, and life is completely different. My wife and I are since separated, and finalizing our divorce. Our kids are older, and honestly, things have been quite challenging. Going through a divorce is one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. There is so much hurt and fear that anger tends to come up easily and frequently. There was a point that my anger was getting the best of me and I was causing more damage to my relationships.
A few months back, I was listening to another book, and the idea of marbles was brought up. This time, however, the story wasn’t for my kids; it was for me. The idea was presented that relationships grow when marbles are placed in the jar. Let me explain that. I heard the story that in a marriage, partners com together with an empty box, and each day we have the opportunity to place something in that box—do something of value for the other person—or take something out of the box—do something harmful. The story continued to clarify that our relationships are strengthened when we put something into the box.
While my relationship with my wife is ending, I could easily let anger rule and take actions to harm any future friendship I might have with my Ex. I could snap at her, blame her, or do things to cause harm and anger in her, but to what end?! That’s not how I want my co-parenting relationship to go. I want to be friends with her. I want us to work together even though we won’t be together, so I decided to be more committed to being her friend than her enemy.
So, I started a metaphorical, marble jar. Each day, my phone reminds me to put a marble in her jar; to build a relationship with her wherein we can be friends. Trust me, my emotions are still running rampant, but I committed to being kind and respectful. That’s not always easy! Being more committed to being kind than to my anger is causing me to grow in ways I never expected. I am letting go of anger, forgiving her, moving on in my life, and growing emotionally. This process is having me check my thoughts and my emotions at the door. I have to ask, “Is this useful? Is this helping or hurting our relationship?”
It wasn't easy at first...putting marbles in the jar, so I started small; words of kindness, asking for forgiveness, helping mow her lawn, or doing dishes, sending a small note of encouragement—its easy to forget that this is hard for her too. These are things that add to her jar. I don’t need anything from her; I just want to do my part to build our friendship as we work through this challenging time.
Here’s the thing, we all have people in our lives who could use marbles in their jar. Whether that is an associate, or business partner, an employee, a client, or a loved one; everyone needs to know they matter. One way for that to occur is for us to do something, anything, that shows they still matter. This little act of kindness could change their world. They might show up differently, and we can all work toward having a better life.
So, here’s my challenge. Pick someone, anyone, and put a marble in their jar. Do something for them without any expectation of a return on your investment. Give the “marble” and go about your life. Your act of kindness will make a difference.