Part 1: A Wretched Mess

147_Part1_Wretched Mess

Do you ever respond to something—or someone—in a way you wish you didn’t? Yet you respond that same way repeatedly, butting heads in a familiar dance pattern?

When Bubba and I started living together, one place we ran into relationship speed bumps was the kitchen, usually when I was preparing food. I rarely work off a recipe, so my style is free-form. I don’t actually know if what I’m making will work, but based on having watched mom cook—and enough personal success of my own—I’ve been content with my approach.

Then Bubba moved in. He’s comfortable in the kitchen. Sometimes he cooks; sometimes I do. When I’m cooking, he often offers to help. But instead of welcoming his offers, I’ve often resisted them; gotten defensive.

If I was cutting onions and he was nearby—trying to figure out how to help—I’d feel as if I was being observed, not casually, but with a critical eye. Or if he offered to finish cutting up carrots, I’d conclude it was because I was cutting carrots wrong. Sometimes Bubba would offer to show me a different way to do something, based on his experience.  To him, he was helping; to me, I was being corrected and I didn’t want to be corrected. I wanted to do it my way.

Some character inside me heard his offers through an emotional lens of criticism. Despite the fact that he didn’t say anything critical, I responded as if I was being criticized.

Maybe I was anxious because, without a recipe, I didn’t know how to incorporate him into my process. Maybe I was sensitive because the lack of a recipe made me doubt myself. Or maybe there was a tone or raised eyebrow I was picking up on that signaled some judgement? One he didn’t even know he was transmitting?

He assured me he just wanted to help. There was no reason not to believe him.

It was personally crazy-making. Who, I’d think, doesn’t appreciate their partner offering to help make dinner? What’s wrong with me?

When I feel as if I’m being criticized—whether actual criticism is happening or not—I tighten inside.  I feel as if the other person is finding me wrong; not just my way of cutting vegetables, but my character, who I am at the core. It triggers insecurity; It’s painful.

Because I don’t want to be defensive—even though I feel it—I attempt to hide it. My words suddenly become clipped or chirpy, as I try to paper-over my inner feelings to appear as if everything is “fine.” But Bubba is sensitive to changes; he hears tonal shifts, and suddenly feels the floor under him morph, from solid to slippery.

She says everything’s fine, he thinks, but she doesn’t sound fine.

It’s a moment where relationship friction can produce a fray.

Because in that moment, while I’m believing Bubba’s finding me wrong, he suddenly feels as if I’m finding him wrong. Bad combo.

We’ve had a few of these moments in the kitchen. We’ve talked about it. Tried to understand what was going on; tried to make sense of it.

We pondered the possibility that, as a child, I learned to respond defensively in situations similar to our kitchen interaction. I thought it might just be man/woman style differences: me experiencing his help more like an imposition rather than welcome assistance.  Ultimately, I concluded it was a personal flaw, but a flaw that could be fixed.

I figured the best way to fix it was to eliminate it, whether by force of will, talking about it, or wishing it away. But I couldn’t, and my failure became simply one more thing to judge myself critically about, producing a double whammy: the defensive reaction felt bad, and not being able to stop having it added another layer of bad.

Have you ever experienced jealousy? Or felt a fear of heights? Both trigger physiological reactions that are hard to overcome, even when there’s no evidence for the feeling. Intellectually you know things are ok; but your body isn’t convinced.

Our kitchen moments felt like that: my body reacted and my mind interpreted the reaction as he’s finding you wrong. I’d struggle to resist or pretend it wasn’t happening. But there it was: the hairs on my neck would arc skyward while my vocal cords tightened, my reaction threatening to roil our relationship.

It was a wretched mess.

Continued in Part 2: Finding a Different Way


Photo source: PeterDargatz on Pixabay


13 thoughts on “Part 1: A Wretched Mess

  1. I’m curious to see how you resolved this.
    I find myself often in Bubba’s shoes. I am just trying to help and then the other person gets defensive. And when someone gets defensive, like you said, some shots may get fired at you and then you get on the defensive and the cycle starts spinning out of control before you know it. And it all started so innocently. First of all, I always try to preach dissecting moments. If you think you are getting criticized/ offended, ask for clarification. Make sure the other person knows what your actions/ words are doing to them. And try to solve THAT problem instead of spinning it further. If your relationship with this person is important to you, do you really want to make things worse?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Life always serves up things I can react to. How I choose to react is what Bubba and I explore, and my reaction evolves over time. Through, I think, both the passage of time and effort.

      I’d love to say that getting clarification always works for us, but it doesn’t. We’ve tried. Sometimes it makes things worse. Surprise!

      I’m still working on blog post Part 2. That’s where I’m trying to put into words what has been helpful. For us. For now. Language to explain it often seems incomplete. And imprecise. But I’m game to give it a go.

      Thanks for your input!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. On so many levels your solution (and another offered by Alien Resort) make sense and are perfectly logical.

      Except that Bubba views preparing meals together as an important part of relationship. And when it doesn’t work, it makes him sad.

      So I’d like to make it possible for us to do it. Not all of the time, but at least some of the time.

      So I’m/we’re motivated to try and address it. And we’ve made progress! Stay tuned for Part 2!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You and me – just the same. But my husband really DOES think everyone should do things his way. By golly, it’s the only right way. Well, he knows to stay out of the kitchen when I’m cooking. I am the sort who really doesn’t want help doing things I’m capable of doing myself. I’ll ask for help when I need it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I think that’s more my personality, too. And certainly that’s how my mom operated.

      But since Bubba enjoys cooking together, I’m interested in trying to make it work. I still cook plenty on my own; he cooks plenty. So the occasional communal cocoking, which brings him joy, seems reasonable.

      It’s just one of those places that couples have to navigate speed bumps and find a solution that works for them!

      We’ve made progress. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a great solution, if cooking together wasn’t something Bubba enjoys doing and wants to have be part of our relationship. Not all the time, but as a thread of experience. So I want to try and make it so we can do it and have a positive experience.

      It’s gotten better; and at the end of the day, if it can’t be resolved, I’ve got assorted solutions thanks to comments like yours. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Part 2: Finding a Different Way – Walk the Goats

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