By my husband, Darren
For us, it was aluminum foil.
We all have either participated in or have heard stories of ridiculous fights between couples. They can range from how to eat pizza, the arrangement of remote controls, or Jello preparation (my parents, God bless them). A little annoyance, grown over time, can trigger legendary explosions for a couple.
Mal and I had been dating for less than a year when we knew that we were in it for the long haul. We both came out of tough relationships and wanted to begin tending to the scar tissue that could cause snags in our future marriage. We started attending pre-marital counseling and were excited to make our happy and healthy relationship even stronger.
I’d drive north to Mallory’s downtown Seattle apartment and we would walk together to the counselor’s office only 5 or 6 blocks away. We soon discovered that we were top-level walkers, our legs naturally matching each other’s gaits. We were the real deal, guys.
A few months into counseling, things were progressing well. We both felt like the time spent was revealing healthy habits we had already formed of mutual respect, intentionality, and openness. Then, one week, we felt it was time to discuss with the counselor the subject we knew was coming: My previous marriage and divorce.
We dove in, neither of us feeling shame or discomfort in opening a wound that had inevitable implications on our relationship. I shared about everything—from meeting my ex-wife to dating, marriage, and the eventual divorce. I even felt comfortable discussing how I fought against the divorce, not wanting it or believing it was the right choice at the time. This was a heavy topic and I felt relieved at how safe I felt sharing complex experiences and feelings within the security of our relationship.
After the session, we walked away from that downtown Seattle building, our steps matching each other. We were feeling good—holding hands while talking and laughing.
On the walk back to Mal’s apartment, we stopped at the grocery store to grab a few things she needed. Earlier that evening, after eating dinner with her and her roommate, I noticed the aluminum foil was nearly gone. While we were going up and down the aisles of the store, I saw the aluminum foil and grabbed a big, brand name box.
“Wait, no. We don’t need that one, Darren. This one is fine.” She grabs the smallest, most generic box of foil I’d ever seen.
“No. I want to get this one for you. It will last longer and it’s on sale; it’s ok that it is brand name. It’s better!” I was totally right.
“Darren, we don’t need that.”
At this point, I began to feel angry. It was sudden and confusing, as I rarely feel out of control with my emotions. This was a battle I was choosing.
“Mal, just let me get it. You will eventually use it all. I’m buying this.”
And so on, for a few rounds. It was civil but strangely tense. Soon, I started losing my cool and it wasn’t so civil anymore.
“Would you just let me do this? I’m asking you to let me make this choice and move on!” I was confused about what I was so upset about, but I wasn’t slowing down.
Mallory didn’t cave; perhaps she was matching my stubbornness. Finally, I put down the large, discounted roll of fancy aluminum foil and turned to walk up the aisle. I wasn’t sure where I was going or why I was walking away from her. We’d never had something divide us like this before. Still, I kept walking and decided it wouldn’t be dramatic enough if I waited for her by the check stand, so I walked out of the store and waited by the door. She could buy her own stupid, wrong aluminum foil.
When she came out of the store, we started walking to her apartment, but no longer with matched steps. We didn’t say anything for a while. We were both angry and confused. It took a while for me to process my own reaction and see what it was that really happened.
My first marriage was not a healthy one. A big part of my experience was feeling like I needed to be silent when it came to making decisions, even small ones. I was made to feel small and untrustworthy. Over the course of a few years, I began to see myself as such, with only occasional instances of speaking up with a small “no” or “yes” or “I think…”—and my opinion rarely lined up with hers. It was a terrible cycle of feeling unheard, but also of not trusting myself, causing me not to hear myself, either.
So, walking out of pre-marital counseling with Mal and entering that world of deep inadequacy wasn’t very easy. It left me in a place where I felt willing to storm out of a grocery store over a box of foil, all while feeling deeply hurt that Mallory wouldn’t let me make that decision. I gave my public version of pleading and it still hadn’t been enough to have something I wanted to be the choice that was made. In that moment, I felt like I was back at my spot at the kid’s table.
When we had reached her apartment, we retreated to different rooms, not exactly excited to spend time together right in that moment. Once I had caught up with and processed what had happened, I slowly approached her. My reaction was embarrassing, but I felt better now that I had tracked the source, and I wanted to talk about it.
For me, mentally processing my emotions automatically reduces their power to control me. Once I realize why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, what I’m feeling seems to dissipate and I am able to calm down. Mallory was also calm as I told her what was really wrong (we both knew it wasn’t about aluminum foil). We discussed how I needed to feel like I was an equal partner in our relationship with an opinion that holds value. We acknowledged that sometimes we need to allow each other room to make decisions about the small stuff, even if we don’t totally agree with it. This was incredibly powerful for me and gave me a deeper appreciation for our future marriage.
To be continued, with my (Mallory’s) Part II . . .