How to avoid a relational nightmare when you’re ‘living the dream’

I know an elderly couple, Jack and Olive, who’ve lived in a lake house in northern Quebec for years.  The property was a homestead for Olive’s family, which she eventually inherited.  Although it was out of the way in a sparsely populated area, its natural beauty drew her in.  Olive always had a subtle feeling of restlessness in their city homes. She told Jack she had to retire to the lake house.

Jack wasn’t sure he wanted to live in such an isolated place.  It was an hour or two drive to see their close friends.  But at Olive’s insistence, he decided to give the picturesque location and cozy home a try.

As they aged, they saw their friends less and less. The few people who lived closer one by one moved away. All the social experiences that make life rich dropped out of their lives.  

In the end, did their lake house make them happy?    As their time and attention was absorbed by their infirmities, they were weighed down, isolated and overwhelmed.

Captivation becomes a trap

For Jack and Olive, captivation with their setting became a trap.

You don’t need to be elderly to be trapped.  As a society, we’re captivated by the dreams of  more, better and distinct. A friend of ours once explained this concept several years ago. 

It’s a natural progression people move through in our western economy.  At first, a person starting out in the work force simply desires more.  The goal is more income, more property and more stability.  Once the basic needs are met, their attention moves from more to better.  Sights become fixed on a better home, a better car, better vacations and so on.  If good fortune then brings dispensable income, the goal moves from better to distinctive.  Different.  The rare bottle of wine.  A one-of-a-kind painting.  That exclusive trip no one else in the social circle is taking. 

You may be wondering, what’s wrong with that?  Are you saying it’s not okay to enjoy the fruits of work well done?

Not exactly…

While there are other conversations related to the progression my friend described, the focus here is on our relationships. 

For clarity: the impact of the pursuit of more, better and distinctive on what you can’t really live without. 

Our western culture pressures us to celebrate ‘living the dream’ at the expense of relationships.  Relationships that are vulnerable, life-giving and take no-little-time and attention to cultivate. 

What do you really want?

The first question to ask is, ‘Do you want to resist that pressure?’  Do you?? When you have a career goal, an entrepreneurial goal, even an extensive travel goal in mind, are you inclined to discount the relational cost?  You’ve probably heard from someone on the end journey of life say that all the experiences, fortune and luxuries in the world amount to nothing beside who you shared it with.

Pause here and bring to mind those close to you, whose eyes light up when you enter the room.  Whose eyes shine although they know your struggles and your weaknesses.  You can unload the burdens of life with your close ones.  Your heart leaps for them with their victories, and your heart sinks when they’re doubled over in sorrow.  Common histories of emotional intimacy are built, not assumed.

Eyes lit up.  Knowing eyes. Loving eyes.  

Real love isn’t found in a vacuum of shared experience.

Resisting the pressure

 I think the true question is not whether but how to resist this pressure.  For starters, three solutions come to mind:

  1. Count the relational cost.

    I believe there are five essential dimensions to your well-being:  emotional, physical, spiritual, relational and financial. If you’re in a season where you need to focus on improving your financial well-being, turn your mind to mitigating the impacts on your other dimensions.  What do you need to build into your calendar, budget and lifestyle to ensure you don’t become financially well-off but relationally bankrupt?


  2. Cultivate close friendships outside your marriage.

    It takes a village to raise a marriage. For the health of your soul and your marriage, you need a few intimate friends other than your husband or wife. I’m talking about the close friends who’ve witnessed your life evolve – who lift your arms when you need help and bring focus when you’re being blind.  Of unspeakable value are friends committed to your well-being, including their care for your marriage.  Treat each one with care and your mutual flourishing will be your delight.

    Your spouse isn’t designed to bear the burden of being your only friend.  For more on the value of community to your marriage, see Chapter 11 in my book, Before You Split: Find What You Really Want for the Future of Your Marriage.


  3. Whatever you own is a tool in service of your relationships.

     Your money and property  is at your disposal to serve you and your relationships, and not the other way around. To uncover whether you’ve got it reversed, ask yourself:  Am I using the people around me to help build up my wealth?  Or, am I serving the people around me with whatever I own?  I think being honest, we’ll all find some mixed motives but personally, I aspire to serve people and use wealth.  How about you?

Consider this a worthy mantra:  community over property.

Research shows that people who live the longest, healthiest lives are the ones who stay deeply connected with others.  It’s no guarantee for longevity, but will enliven each step along the way.

1 thought on “How to avoid a relational nightmare when you’re ‘living the dream’”

  1. Toni thank you for this as it’s given me a different perspective. My daughter whom just recently moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake would love us, in the next couple of years, to move out that way as well. I have mixed feelings about this kind of a move, being that we’re in our early 70’s. After reading this, you’ve given me so much more to consider. Thank you.

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