It had been a long day.
Mentally, my mind was full. Yet, physically, my stomach laid empty.
While watching the clock, I suppressed the grumbling sounds, promising myself, "dinner was coming." My husband and I pushed through the assigned hectic schedule, looking forward to a few free hours as soon as the meeting ended.
As promised, we eventually were able to grab a bite to eat. Though I do not remember the restaurant, I do remember we settled on towering sandwiches and crispy sinful fries. The food was comforting and oh so satisfying on that warm summer evening.
Life was good; until my husband began eyeing my half-eaten sandwich after quickly inhaling his. Then I heard the dreaded words as he coaxed, "Are you done? Can I have a bite of your sandwich?"
"Seriously?" my mind raced. "A bite of MY sandwich? It is MY sandwich." My mouth opened wide to take another savoring mouthful as I snarled something like, "Get your own stinkin' sandwich."
Battle lines were drawn! The hurtful words poured out of my mouth while food was shoved in. It ended with my man crossing his arms, declaring he 'would not take a bite of the sandwich now if it were the last morsel of food on the planet.'
This simple dinner confrontation became one of the biggest fights in our marriage. Interesting, isn't it? I have declared my hunk of a man as my best friend. I have vowed I would give him a kidney if needed. I have whispered my deep affection and love for him. But let it be clear. I would not give him a bite of my sandwich. It left me scratching my head, wondering what had just happened.
After thirty-six years of marriage and still working through some of our mess, I am learning it is not about the sandwich.
After dinner, we went to the hotel and talked about the events around the sandwich fight. Walls came down. Deep conversation began. Bonding took place. Through the intimate exchange, several underlying fears and hurts surfaced. For instance, Terry shared how he was overweight as a child, and others made fun of his size. For him, childhood comments resurfaced as I became protective of my sandwich. An old riddle playing on his last name of Seamon resurfaced as he remembered the cruel remarks from other children that rang to a tune of 'sea-more because you see more of Terry than anyone else' came to mind.
Friends, the fight was not about the sandwich.
As we talked, I recognized my deep fear of rejection. When Terry responded, 'I would not eat that sandwich now if it were the last bite of mortal on earth,' I felt pushed aside along with the sandwich. I withdrew, alone and feeling discarded. I felt like left-overs.
Friend, it is not about the sandwich. When we fight over the little things that escalate into big things, often hidden reasons lie beneath the surface. Is there an underlying issue? Is there a deeper conversation that needs to take place?
Here are a few things helping Terry and me understand each other.
Create a safe zone for communication. Respect each other enough to listen to the other person. Respect each other enough to talk through one's wishes, thoughts, and desires without judgment. Value your partner's words. Listen to your spouse when they are expressing their heart. Have a deep curiosity of what your spouse thinks, feels, and believes without comments that will shut each other down.
Choose your words carefully. Be reminded of Proverbs 18:21, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." Once the words are out of your mouth, you cannot take them back. Yes, there is forgiveness, but the hurt will linger. I have heard it said, "Words are free, but the wrong ones will cost you." Oscar Ice says, "Taste your words before you spit them out." For example, instead of saying, 'Get your own stinking sandwich, what if I would have responded with a positive remark and a solution? Honestly, one simple solution could be to buy another sandwich. It would have been a win/win for both of us.
As you create a safe zone, you will have deeper discovery. How? Always tell the truth. Be open. Express the hurt or the pain your partner may cause. However, use positive words a long the way. I like to use the sandwich approach in my communication skills. Start with a positive and end with a positive. Give the meat in the middle. Think of a sandwich. The meat represents the 'core' of a complicated conversation, but it is sandwiched between the good pieces of bread. As Terry and I talked a little deeper that evening, we discovered the fear from the past that we both we facing. As we created a safe zone to talk, we were able to dig deep. We have learned from it to apply helpful communication for the future. As you create a safe space for sharing, your relationship will grow deeper.
I believe that a stinkin' sandwich of long ago has forever changed Terry and me. We shared our thoughts and discovered the pain behind the comments. From that experience, we began to choose our words more carefully. We have learned to communicate in authentic and wholesome experiences that lift one another and encourage each other.
Friends, sometimes, it is not about the sandwich.