As I’ve been writing about the similarities between the making of my marriage and the making of chocolate, I thought it might be a good idea to give some thoughts on what Larry and I learned during those bitter years, when we had been given cocoa in order to make chocolate. So, in this post, I’ve included five things Larry and I have figured out from the bitter years.
1.) Don’t get too attached to a specific outcome. Many years ago, Larry and I were painting the house. Okay, I was mostly painting the house. Larry hates to paint but that’s okay with me, because I love it. Anyway, I wanted one particular bedroom to be green. Unbeknownst to me, Larry hates green. But I wanted green. We went around and around. Green. Not green. Green. Not green. Finally, it dawned on both of us that there was probably another color on the wheel of colors on which we could probably agree. We found a nice soft yellow we both liked.
The bigger lesson: Be flexible. Larry and I both recognize that there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of colors to choose from when it comes to just about every issue we face. There’s very little in this life that has to be black or white unless we choose it to be so. Choose color. Choose to be flexible.
2.) Put it on the table. Larry and I both learned to put what we wanted and what we were feeling on the table, instead of sweeping it under the table. We talk about things, and we talk about things like the grown-ups we are and want to be. This means, no demands, but requests. Just the other day, I had an interview for a scholarship in Tacoma, and I wanted Larry to come with me. His first response was that he didn’t think it would be doable on such short notice. I asked him to please reconsider and make the extra effort because it was very important to me. He agreed to do so and ended up getting the day off to accompany me. We had a lovely afternoon.
There are so many ways this could’ve gone south if I would’ve held back that second request. But with that second request, Larry understood how important it was, and I knew Larry would do his utmost to make it work. If it didn’t work, I knew it wouldn’t be because he didn’t try, because sometimes, the answer to a request is “no.” That’s happened, too. The bigger lesson: Make your request known and either way, trust your partner is doing their very best.
Along the same line, if one of us is angry about something, we put that on the table, too. Anger is like any other emotion. It’s a signal, and Larry and I use it as such. If one of us is angry, we’ll speak to that anger, but we both try very hard not to act it out, meaning we often agree to walk away and come back to the table later when we can be clear-headed.
Another idea along this same line: Honesty with oneself and one’s spouse is the fundamental ingredient that can be both bitter and sweet. But even if something bitter needs to be said, it can be done with kindness. This is the sugar that helps it become more palatable.
3.) Say thank-you. When Larry managed to get the day off to accompany me to my scholarship interview, I was grateful and told him so.
The bigger lesson: Gratitude is also a fundamental element in making a marriage. It is the sweet milk that fosters love.
4.) Larry and I both always recognize that we could get another dose of bitter cocoa anytime. Marriages aren’t magic. They take hard work, vigilance, and tolerance. Lots and lots of tolerance. In fact, marriage can be one of the greatest teachers of tolerance. That’s an extremely sweet gift to give. So, we have to keep adding the sweet to the bitter in order to keep it palatable. In part, this means we try to remember and recognize the vulnerability of our relationship. All relationships require nurturing, time, and energy. Neither one of us gets a marriage time-out.
The bigger lesson: No coasting, because that usually means we’re heading down hill, and that’s a bad sign.
5.) I am not the food police. If Larry wants to drink a Dr. Pepper at 10:00a.m he can do that without any input from me. He knows how I feel about soda (I don’t drink the stuff) and morning sugar. He doesn’t need a lecture from me about that or anything else. Nor does he need my permission or approval to drink Dr. Pepper. This goes for deeper issues as well.
Several years ago, when we lived in Portland, I was heavily into riding and showing horses for hunter/ jumper. Larry doesn’t like horses and had no desire to ride or be around the barn. The whole horsey set didn’t sit well with him. He told me what he thought, and then he got out of the way. I learned a lot from both the people I was involved with and the animals I loved during this time. Just because it wasn’t Larry’s cup of tea, doesn’t mean it didn’t work for me. That experience offered me something important, and Larry accepted my desire to explore it, and I accepted his desire to stay away from it.
The bigger lesson: This is a BIG one, and it can sound a bit shocking, but I don’t have to approve of everything Larry does or wants, and Larry doesn’t have to approve of everything I do or want. We both make sure we know the other understands our position, and then we step out of the way.
The Great Big Lesson: Being “one” isn’t about agreeing on everything or about always having the stamp of approval of your spouse or needing that stamp of approval. It’s more about accepting each other. Larry and I have learned how to accept each other as we are. This includes the desire for Dr. Pepper (Larry) and worries about weight gain (me), or whatever shows up on the radar screen.
I’ve been through enough therapy to know this is the sign of a mature marriage. The number of years have very little to do with maturity, although it does take time to create this kind of space.
This is what Larry and I were learning to do in all those years we were taking bitter cocoa and making sweet chocolate. We were learning how create a space for ourselves and each other to be who we really are. Nothing makes us want to improve more than knowing someone knows our weaknesses and loves us anyway. That’s the sweetest gift of all.