Rock and Sand: A Relationship Litmus Test

The value of relationships to our health and well-being is documented everywhere. But, how can we determine if a relationship is enhancing our happiness or sucking the life out of us? There are no simple answers but there is a litmus test.

This is an exercise that will require you to be honest (at least with yourself) and be inventive.

(This exercise can be a thought experiment but works more effectively with the actual representation in front of you)

The Exercise

Materials: 5 medium sized-rocks, a bag of sand (or dirt, pebbles, marbles, etc.), a black marker, a piece of paper, a pen or pencil, and a jar big enough to hold the 5 rocks. Lay everything on the table in front of you and take a deep breath.

The Test:

Bring to mind a particular relationship that you want some clarity on.

Now, take a deep breath and clear your mind. Take another one. Take another one.

Focus your intention on the following question:

What do I feel about this relationship?

In 60 seconds, write down 5 things you feel about the relationship. Don’t stop to censor yourself, just get five feelings down and put the pen down once you get them. Now, write those 5 feelings on the 5 rocks with the marker (one per rock) and put them in the jar.

Next, take the bag of sand (or whatever you have chosen) and pour it in the jar until there is no room left for anything else AND before the jar is overflowing.

Here comes the hard part: stop and stare at your jar. Just give it a moment to sink in what you are seeing.

The Jar – This is you. You are the vessel that is holding the relationship. Relationships take on a life inside us and affect our health and well-being. This means these feelings about the relationship are taking up space inside you. Are the feelings positive or negative? Whichever way you are feeling is having an impact on your body, mind and spirit.

The Rocks – These are the central foundations of the relationship. These are the emotions, feelings and thoughts that underscore all your interactions with the other person and yourself. Is there a balance of positive and negative? Or, is it overwhelmingly one or the other? A balance is what a good relationship should have. We need the darkness to appreciate the light.

The Sand – This is every interaction in this relationship. The ebb and flow of the sand around the rocks reminds you that your feelings permeate every interaction. This also means that we carry into the next interaction residue from the one before it. Like the sand, your feelings get into the cracks and demand to be noticed.

What Does It Mean?

What this exercise teaches is feelings not only matter in a relationship but

These feelings that you have about the relationship are the relationship.

Everything that you do (every conversation, action, non-action, thought, etc.) is influenced by your feelings. As you look at your rocks, are the feelings positive or negative? Are they uplifting or depressing? Are they enlivening or frightening? This is the state of this relationship.

What can this exercise teach you? This jar is full. The only way to make changes to this relationship is to take out what is not working and add in something else. This means making a mess. This means getting dirty. This may mean hard conversations, behavior changes, endings and/or new beginnings. This means deciding that being true to yourself is the first priority. This means cleaning out this jar.

What’s Next? A Conversation

You are fragile and strong and capable of withstanding a lot of stress and pressure but you are not unbreakable. When you are in a relationship that is full of stress, tension and friction, you begin to breakdown. A scratch here. A fracture there. And then, sudden failure that may be years in the making.

By examining your big rocks, you can quickly see if you are at the breaking point. By knowing, and owning, what you feel, you can begin to change. Removing the feelings that are leading to breakdown and replacing them with feelings that strengthen you.

If you want to examine these feelings,

If you want to work on your inner world,

If you want to erase these rocks and write new ones,

I can help. Contact me for a free consultation at

When we know better, we can choose better.

 In hope,

Dr. Sacheen