image of trash bins to symbolize the concept of relationship messages

Relationship messages from an empty orange juice container? Indeed.


After a long day at work, you come home and kick off your shoes, toss your keys on the end table, round the corner to the kitchen for a little snack and boom – there it is, mocking you. The silhouette of an empty orange juice container, just inches away from the recycling bin. It was so close to its destination, but like the other 3 cartons this week, it waits for you. 


You know you didn’t leave it there. In fact, recycling that doesn’t make it to the bin gets under your skin like a thousand prickly pins, and the person who left it there knows this about you. Irritated, you yell for your spouse. 


You have the usual and loud debate about whether the recycling should matter this much, and like the other three times this week, you’re left feeling invalidated, unheard, and even wondering if you’re being a bit dramatic.


After all, it’s just a container that needs recycling, right? On the surface, sure, but when we go deeper, it might be more than just an annoying thing we have to deal with.


Relationship Messages: The Message of an Empty Carton


Let’s assume your partner couldn’t care less about whether the empty container makes it close to the bin, or in the bin. You, on the other hand, have expressed that you care a lot about making sure trash is cleaned up and put in its proper place. What’s more, you have expressed your frustration that, when the containers are left on the counter, it falls on you to put them where they go. Now the issue isn’t about the recylables; it’s about the message sent by your partner.


It’s not just the recyclables. It’s a message. How can an empty carton of OJ be a message, you ask? Great question. To help us understand the message sent by leaving an empty container on the counter, let’s look at the message sent by throwing the container in the bin.


If your partner doesn’t particularly care about the recyclables on the counter, but makes an effort to leave things tidy because it matters to you, your partner is sending you messages that affirm your relationship. The messages are, “I care about your environment. I care that you trust me to listen when you say something is bothering you. I care that you care about this, so I will show up with effort.


Conversely, when no effort is made to get the container to its proper place, the messages sent could look like, “I care more about convenience than your environment. It’s not important to me that this bothers you, even though you have communicated that it does. You care about this, and I don’t, so it doesn’t matter to me.”


Through this lens, the container is much more than just an empty annoyance, and the issue is much more than just a disagreement about what to do with recyclables. The container is a message; a representation of care and effort; a message of “This matters to you, so it matters to me,” or the opposite, as many cases would have it.


Just a little something to think about when you find yourself feeling invalidated, unheard, and even a little dramatic over something as seemingly simple as the empty orange juice container that waits for you to put it in its proper place.


If you’re seeing a pattern of unhealthy relationship messages between you and your partner, a relationship coach can help you break through challenges and create the love and life you deserve. Don’t hesitate to reach out – you don’t have to do it alone.