In marriage, the question isn’t, “Who is right and who is wrong?”
I’M bothered by something that objectively speaking is a very small issue, but has become very big in my mind. The issue is that my husband routinely helps himself to food that’s on my plate. Every time he does this, I feel annoyed, disrespected, and upset. I feel my boundaries are being violated. This is my meal, and he has own meal on his own plate.
If he’s still hungry, there’s usually more on a platter on the table, or in the worst-case scenario, it’s a few steps away on the counter or stovetop in the kitchen. Why should I have to refill my plate just because he was too lazy to properly refill his own?
Even more annoying is the fact that I’m being very careful with my diet these days, and I put food onto my plate with calories and nutritional considerations in mind. When he just starts removing food items, I lose track of my carefully constructed plate.
I’ve explained all this to him, but he gets very insulted. “We’re married!” he tells me. “What’s the big deal? You’re being so stingy. Don’t I buy all the food in this house?” I don’t know how to make him see it from my point of view. Can you suggest a way to make him understand, or do you think I should just learn to accept it, even after 12 years of being upset by this?
Your question raises some interesting points about marriage. The first one that strikes me is the one found in your last sentence, that the problem has already been going on for 12 years. It’s so common in marriage for issues to remain in place for decades! Couples have so many things they have to take care of on a daily basis, they don’t get around to dealing with all the small and large issues that require their attention. As a result, many things just drag on.
Another point your question highlights is how marriage partners so often see things in such different ways. For you, this is a boundary issue. You want a degree of personal separation. Ironically, it’s also a boundary issue for your husband. He wants the two of you to be one (without boundaries) so that your plate is his plate and his plate is your plate.
Finally, your question also highlights the typical communication strategy used in marriage, the one in which each spouse tries to prove their own point and prove the other person wrong. This strategy of problem-solving is problematic on many counts. For one thing, each person can usually provide 100 supporters (people, research studies, authorities on the topic, etc.) for their own team. For another thing, the end result of the debate is always one unhappy marriage partner and a wounded marriage.
In marriage, the question isn’t, “Who is right and who is wrong?” but rather, “How can I meet your needs while not causing myself undue harm?”
For instance, in this case, your husband might ask himself, “How can I meet your need for a private plate while not feeling like we’re strangers?” or “How can I meet your need for a private plate while not having to get up and get myself second helpings?”
You could, at the same time, ask yourself, “How can I meet my husband’s need for closeness without giving him food from my plate?” or “How can I make it easy for my husband to have more food without having him remove it from my plate?” If it turns out (upon investigation) that his need isn’t so much for food as it is for the experience of nibbling, then the question could be, “How can I meet his need for nibbling without offering him my own meal?” In this example, preparing a small plate of designed-to-be-nibbled food that sits near your own plate might fit the bill. The two of you can come up with plenty of your own unique and loving solutions.
The goal is to allow each other to be yourselves as much as possible and to take care of each other as much as possible. Asking these questions both stems from and builds upon this cooperative-and-caring spirit, and leads to solutions that leave both spouses, and the marriage itself, in good shape.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 838)
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