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The Box: A practical tool for discernment

July 25, 2009

By Karen Rumore

The concept of “The Box” was something I created for clients very early on in my career after watching people coerce themselves (and others) into relationships that were clearly not meant to be. Most of us have a “laundry list” of traits, characteristics, and qualities that we desire in a mate. Some, not all, even have very specific ideas as to what their dream man or woman looks like. Hopefully, things like appearance would be included in the items that are placed outside The Box. What goes in The Box are those traits that are too true to the core of who we are to compromise on them. Yes, relationships are all about compromising and self-sacrificial love, but, at the same time, we cannot compromise who we are in doing so. Things like spirituality, level of affection, sense of humor, etc., belong inside The Box. There are no right or wrong answers to these statements, but rather a compatibility that is necessary. If you are a very affectionate person and talk yourself into a relationship with someone who is physically non-demonstrative, eventually you will end up feeling unattractive and even unloved. The dialogue with self might sound something like this: “Well, he/she is so smart, interesting, attractive, and funny that it’s OK he or she doesn’t hug me. I’m just needy.” Denying one’s own legitimate needs is dangerous!
This self-renunciation will be acceptable only for a time. Ultimately, you will begin to feel empty, and as though you are not loved. The other could justifiably say, “But I have always been this way!” Now, this does not necessarily mean one should immediately walk away from someone if there is something unchecked in The Box. It does mean that the item needs to be addressed as soon as it is identified. You may learn that he/she has experienced some trauma in the past regarding touch and may be willing to work it through. However, you may learn that he or she is opposed to working on it and will remain non-affectionate. This could be evidenced by them telling you, “This is just who I am,” or he says he will change, and remains the same. When this happens, you seriously need to consider whether you wish to live the rest of your life feeling disconnected from and even rejected by the one you love the most. This does not just apply to touch but is applicable to all the items in The Box. Address it. Find the reason for the incompatibility. See if there is desire for change and assess whether or not their actions are matching their words. Allow me to repeat that: ASSESS WHETHER OR NOT THEIR ACTIONS ARE CONSISTENT WITH THEIR WORDS! An important note: If you encounter the case given above where someone directly tells you, “This is who I am,” BELIEVE them! Women especially tend to write their own scripts and can even twist a statement as forthright as that to satisfy their own desires.
Before we go any further, I would like you to take out a piece of paper and create your dream Mr./Mrs. Right. Go crazy and be as specific as you possibly can be. Think back on past dating experiences. What do you believe you cannot live without and what you do not want to live through ever again? You might even want to take a couple of days to complete the exercise and come back to it later. When you have finished your list, take out another piece of paper and prioritize the attributes, virtues, and characteristics you have just described. As you go down the list, with your most important quality being listed in the number one spot, you will come to a point of being able to say, “I would really like to have this trait in someone, but I could live without it.” That is where you draw the line. Everything going from that point toward number one is now contained within your Box. Everything in The Box has become your blueprint and guide to gauge whether the one you are dating is worth moving forward with.
What is very, very, VERY important is that everything in your Box is something you possess yourself. For example, if you are looking for someone who is faith-filled, but not practicing your faith, you need to seek the Lord before seeking a mate. If you desire someone who is financially stable and you are a spendthrift, you need to curb your spending first and educate yourself on fiscal responsibility. In other words, you need to get to work on becoming the person in your Box yourself first!
Important considerations for your Box
• Relationship with the Lord
• Attitude toward birth control/abortion
• Sense of humor (Again, there is no right or wrong, it is just important that you “get” each other, as laughter carries a long way in healing and in difficult times.)
• Level of demonstrative affection
• Views on parenting
• Views on stay-at-home moms
• The manner in which he or she handles finances
• Etc.
Things you would prefer to have in a mate but can live without are placed outside The Box
• Playing certain sports
• Love of travel
• Musically talented
• Hair color
• Eye color
• Height
• Weight
• Etc.
An example of a woman’s list might look something like this . . .
• Attends Mass more than Sundays and Holy days
• Prays daily
• Demonstrates signs of introspection and is able to share his insights with me
• Believes in natural family planning
• Believes in mothers staying at home with their children
• Cracks me up! Can laugh at himself and helps me laugh at myself
• Is not afraid to challenge me to grow and is interested in helping me become the person God created me to be
• Thinks of me and shows it in the little things
• Is appreciative of the little things I do to show him I have thought of him
• Has his own group of friends and interests
• Is generous toward friends and family with his time, talent and treasure
• Understands that men and women are different and that an ongoing dialogue is going to be necessary throughout the life of the relationship
• Is family oriented
• Is open to counseling should there come a time it becomes necessary
• Likes to dance
• Likes music
• Likes golf
• Likes the beach
• Likes to cook
• At least 6 feet tall
• Olive complected
• Dark hair, preferably with a wave
• Dark eyes
• Great teeth
• Physically fit
• Likes to travel
You get the idea. Remember, The Box above was just one example. Everyone’s Box is going to be different. For someone else, traveling or even dancing could actually be legitimate items in your Box. I am thinking of my friend John, who is an avid dancer and even teaches dance. While not up there at the level of Mass attendance and personal insight, dancing is such a passion for him that I could not begin to imagine him with someone who does not share that passion. He loves to share it with the one he is most passionate about, his bride, and what a wonderful duo they are! The same thing goes for travel and many other items on the list that could have greater value for one person than another. The important thing here is to be honest with yourself and not to deny a real need.
On the flip side, things that you once thought were important, typically physical appearance, matter less and less as you get to know someone. It’s funny how often I have seen a man who has had a very distinct look in the women he has dated over and over again, only to marry someone who looks completely different. The same goes for a woman who thought it was so important to be with a man who was tall and ended up with someone just her size. These are NOT examples of settling for less, but a matter of recognizing new priorities. Just as it is important to not deny real needs, it is just as important to not elevate something to a need that is not.
The whole point of The Box is this:
•  Do not waste time disregarding men or women because of traits that could have nothing to do with compatibility.
•  Do not try to convince yourself to believe something is good when it is not. If indeed God created you to live out your vocation as a husband or a wife, then He also created the one He intends you to live out that vocation with to the fullest (John 10:10). When you disregard the items in your Box, it is like telling God, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve got a better idea.” Yet, when troubles arise, God is the first one blamed. “How could You let this happen to me?”
The Box is not about getting eight checks out of ten or a percentage; just the opposite. Every item in The Box must be checked. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for serious emptiness, letdowns, and unnecessary pain. Am I asking you to find the perfect mate? No! I am asking you to find the one who is perfect for you, the one God intends. Relationships require hard work. However, the more checks you have in your Box, the more productive and fruitful your joint work will be! God has sown into you the qualities in your Box that make up the treasure of who you are. It is up to you to protect them!

Karen Rumore

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