Most of us have childhood memories of the mythic cookie jar.
Almost every household had one at some point or another. Maybe it had a funny shape, spelled out the word “cookie” as if to tease us, or worse of all, it was transparent so that we could see the cookies contained within. The cookie jar itself doesn’t matter so much as what the jar contains.
In our earlier years, the cookie was a rare reward given to us by the adults in our lives. The first cookie we ate set off a sugary explosion our developing brains could barely contain. More of that now, please. Our parents would hold us back, though. Only one after the chores or a meal. However, that didn’t stop us from dreaming. We’d imagine ourselves devouring the entire jar if only we were big enough to reach the counter. There’s a reason so many children’s cartoons feature a character struggling in vain to get the cookie jar.
Later in our childhood, we grew to the height required to reach the cookie jar, or snack closet, ourselves. If we had a bad day, needed a boost, or wanted to celebrate finishing something, we’d grab a cookie from the jar without needing parental approval. The act became a spontaneous or impulsive act that rarely received a second thought.
We believe we outgrow the cookie jar when we reach adulthood, but the truth is, we never truly escape its lure.
Adult “Cookies”: Immediate Gratification
As adults, maybe we’re not enticed by chocolate chips, but different treats lure us away. Instead of chocolate chip, peanut butter, or Pecan Sandies, we have other things we reach for to give ourselves immediate gratification.
These are some of the things we reach for when we’re tired, angry, frustrated at work, happy, or scared:
- Fighting back
- Retreating into our self-protective bubble
These are our adult “cookies,” and we reach into the jar more than we’d care to admit. They affect our brains as much as a sugar rush, and avoiding them can be even more difficult.
So What Do Cookies Have to Do With Relationships?
As we get older, we develop patterns. We get tired of fighting things or dealing with our struggles, and we learn to self-comfort. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to choose immediate gratification over making the more challenging choices. Also, we don’t have our parents telling us not to delay that treat, so we don’t spoil our dinner.
A bad day at the office? We reach into that cookie jar and choose to withdraw from our partner or bring home grumpy energy that our partner absorbs – causing them to reach into their own cookie jar. Our collective tendencies to seek easy gratification are largely responsible for the 50% divorce rate in our country.
In the same way eating without discipline causes us to become obese, reaching out of an instinct for what’s comfortable and soothing causes us to become emotional gluttons.
Breaking the Cookie Jar’s Allure
There is a way to break this cycle. If you’ve ever struggled with weight management, you’ll know that learning to resist those immediate cravings makes us stronger overall. It’s tough at first to say no to our desires, and it takes time to develop the habit. But each time we say no to an impulse, our resolve grows.
For the sake of our marriage or relationship, we must learn to make tougher choices. We have to be strong enough to remain tender and open. It’s all too easy to fall into easy habits and patterns, avoiding the emotional and physical connections required to maintain a thriving relationship.
Yes, you’ve had a tough day at work. But try giving your partner courtesy and time instead of retreating to the TV when you come home, for example. Schedule time to sit down with your partner over a nice dinner to really talk about deeper things. Instead of having an after-work beer, have an after-work chat.
Over time, this helps us become stronger and more empathetic to our partners. Instead of reaching impulsively for what’s immediately gratifying, we learn to seek out what provides long-term nourishment.
In small doses, some of our “cookies” can be good for us. We’re not saying you can’t enjoy the occasional after-work beer or that sometimes you might need to sit and unwind before tackling a tough conversation. But try to find the balance between constant comfort and working to grow stronger. Like how you can’t make a meal entirely of cookies, you can’t sustain a marriage on all impulsive actions.
Don’t take us the wrong way here. We know first-hand how hard it is to break these entrenched patterns. Nobody on earth can ever fully resist their cookie jar. Every household has some type of treat container because we need them from time to time (and because they taste so darn good).
But learning to choose growth over the allure of the jar makes us and our relationships stronger over time.
If you struggle with choosing growth or need support, please reach out to us today. We have trained counselors who love helping couples reach their full potential. Please schedule a call with us today to get started.