Buying Tomatoes and Relationships

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What could buying tomatoes and relationships have to do with each other? Well, recently it taught me a lesson in my own marriage that I want to share with you. As you know, I take relationships seriously in my personal and professional life—I’m in one with my husband and, as a therapist and coach, I help people improve theirs. So when I make a big goof, everyone benefits! I learn a lesson and then share it with a bunch of people. (Yes, my husband is a good sport to let me do this !)

I had just gotten back from the grocery store with some food for a cookout with friends the next day. There were a couple remaining items we could only get at a different store in town and my husband volunteered to get them in the morning. To save me a trip! He’s kind and thoughtful like that.

So, because I’m learning to receive help and accept it graciously (subtext: old me would have said “no, that’s okay, I can do it, you’re too busy”—not giving him the chance to feel adequate, capable and useful), I said, “Oh, thanks, that would be great!” And then I remembered that I didn’t buy tomatoes because I didn’t see any that I liked. So I added, “And we need tomatoes. Make sure you get good ones.” (It’s okay if you gasp.)

Without missing a beat, my husband replied, “You know what I do? I always go right up to the tomatoes and push all the good ones out of the way so I can get the bad ones.” (Insert my own gasp again just writing this!) He wasn’t being mean at all—he’s actually a very funny guy. But boy, did he call me out!

Just like that, I felt off balance and all of the studying, reading and listening to experts on relationships is distilled down to this moment. A real life, in-the-kitchen moment, and I had just lobbed a cherry bomb at husband—a potentially volatile mix of not thinking before I spoke, being critical, not assuming his competence and telling him what to do.

So, dear reader, I apologized. I said, “What was I thinking? I’m sorry. Of course you’re going to get good tomatoes. Any tomatoes will be fine.” And then, “Wow, that was a really bad move on my part.”

He replied, “Come on, I was just being funny. I didn’t think anything of it. Don’t worry.” And that, my friends, is actually the CRUCIAL point—he was assuming the good about me (that I was not intentionally being critical when telling him what tomatoes to buy) BUT I was not assuming the good about him (he can’t buy tomatoes the right way). That’s where his relationship skills shined and mine failed.

The tomatoes deliver a big, juicy relationship lesson: We succeed when we assume the good about our partner. I failed to do so in that moment because I was focusing on thick beefsteak slices drizzled with olive oil and basil instead of on the generous offer my husband was making and the capable man he is.

Assuming good intent about your partner is transformational. It is a conscious action you take to remind yourself that he or she is not out to get you. That they love you. Maybe they do things differently than you (from how they parent to how quickly they respond to your call or text to how they grocery shop!), but if you dig deeper, you see the good. You see their heart. And an extra benefit is you stop overthinking and overanalyzing so much because you can just put your mind in park on the thought that they mean well.

That is why I’m so lucky to have a husband who assumed the good underlying my very critical statement—and he didn’t get mad but made it into a joke! Don’t we learn better with humor too?

I’ve recently shared my gaffe with clients and am doing it here because we learn most powerfully by showing up in our fallible, vulnerable states. I want you to know that no matter how much I read and study and immerse myself in understanding relationships and couples, direct experience is when the magic happens. When you really get it.

So let yourself make mistakes and learn from them. Take it from me. Any tomatoes will do, really.

Wishing you only success in your relationship!

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