Puzzle Piece Wiggles for Lasting Relationships
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Recently, my sweetheart of five years proposed to me and I’m over the moon about it! But as I think about building our life together, I can’t help but also think about the high rate of divorce in the US today. Statistics show that nearly 50% of marriages today are ending in divorce. Not wanting to become a statistic, I decided to take a closer look at the discontent that causes a lot of couples to split.
Initially I wondered, is it really possible that people are so incompatible today? Or is it that they went into their marriages with expectations that couldn’t be met?
It occurs to me that one of these expectations is the belief that when you find “True Love," you’re finding a person who “Completes You.” As in, this person makes all of your discomfort go away and all you experience is bliss. Then, when you still experience discomfort after the wedding and after the honeymoon and after the kids, you believe that something is wrong. More specifically, you believe that something is wrong with your partner. This kind of thinking sets people up for disappointment and failure.
People in relationships remind me of jigsaw puzzle pieces. We’re each unique with our own shapes and colors and nooks and crannies. We’ve spent our lives tumbling around in a box with other puzzle pieces and when we come out of the box we try to fit with the other pieces, attempting to find “the one” perfect fit.
If you’ve looked closely at a puzzle piece, you’ll notice it typically has four sides. Each side has a unique feature on it. Puzzle manufacturers and aficionados have many different names for these, but I usually refer to them as the “male” end or the “female” end, for obvious anatomical reasons. The uniquely shaped male end (the protruding piece) must connect with the uniquely shaped female end (the receiving piece) in just the right way to form a union.
I like to think of the features on these four different sides of a puzzle piece as “Wiggles.” Wiggle is a term I use to describe a unique interest or attraction to the world around you. Wiggles are clues that particular people, experiences, and ideas are meaningful to you. When you notice that you have a Wiggle for someone or something, you seek out that person or experience to create a sense of fulfillment, completion, or in the puzzle analogy, a union.
As humans, we’re all multi-faceted creatures. There are many sides to our puzzle pieces. But only one is the “True Love” side. And while that facet is very important to many of us, the other facets that make up our uniqueness deserve equal attention.
One of the biggest mistakes couples make (in my opinion), which I believe to be a significant contributor to the formidable divorce rate, is they expect their partner to mesh with all the Wiggles on every side of their puzzle piece. Anyone who has spent any time working on jigsaw puzzles knows this is logistically impossible.
Psychotherapist and relationship guru Esther Perel has described this as a modern predicament where individuals in a relationship expect their partners to fulfill all the roles that used to be met by an entire tribe or community. In other words, we expect our partner, who fulfills one specific Wiggle, to fulfill all our other Wiggles as well. This is problematic.
In a previous blog piece, I discussed the Hierarchy of Wiggles, which outlines the five different kinds of Wiggles that are most predominant in our daily lives: Physical Wiggles, Material Wiggles, Social Wiggles, Achievement Wiggles, and Calling Wiggles. Here’s how these might show up for us:
· Physical Wiggles are the physical sensory activities that we find enjoyable, such as hiking, gardening, playing sports, or attending live concerts.
· Material Wiggles are the material objects or possessions that bring a sense of delight, such as collections, keepsakes, physical spaces, décor, or art.
· Social Wiggles are the feelings of connectedness we experience with individuals or groups who share our same interests and values.
· Achievement Wiggles inspire us to do hard things that allow us to experience a sense of accomplishment and joy at completion.
· Calling Wiggles draw us toward bringing our strengths and gifts to help meet a need in the world.
When we expect our “True Love” to enjoy spending their time and energy in the same ways we do, we set them up for frustration and failure and we set ourselves up for disappointment and discomfort.
In some relationships, people would consider differing interests to be irreconcilable differences. But really, they’re just unique Wiggles. I believe one of the biggest sources of discontent for individuals and relationships is the tendency to look outside of themselves for someone to fulfill their Wiggles for them. We hand over our power when we expect another puzzle piece to come and mesh with all our unique interests and make us happy.
I’ve learned that in addition to appreciating, respecting, and valuing the union I’ve formed with my puzzle-piece partner, it’s also my responsibility to myself to appreciate, respect, and value my other unique facets and Wiggles, which I need to nurture and care for myself. At the same time, it’s a loving gift to my partner to appreciate, respect, and value his Wiggles, giving him the space to nurture and care for himself.
As I look forward to building a life and a future with my sweetheart, I’m mindful about the way our puzzle is coming together and the ways in which we can support each other in the process. We’re taking care to nourish our “True Love” Wiggle by creating quality time together. We also have regular conversations about our other Wiggles. Wherever our Wiggles intersect, we make time for engaging in those together. And wherever our Wiggles are different, we create the space for connecting with the people, experiences, and ideas that are most meaningful for us individually.
We live in an era in which we’re bombarded with fairy tales in the media about how our lives should look. Beware of the messages telling you that your partner (or your children, for that matter) should complete you. We’re all busy with many responsibilities, but none is more important than the responsibility we have to ourselves to nourish and nurture that which brings us joy and makes us feel truly alive. When we take these steps to be the source of our own happiness, we help those we love to feel happy as well.
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