I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation in the table next to mine when the man very sharply said to his wife, “Stop it. Just stop it” as she asked him questions about the food items on the menu.
The restaurant where I was when the couple arrived is a regional favorite, famous for its unique flavor in the food items they offer.
This woman’s husband used to live in the area and was familiar with the food options, but because she was from another part of the country, she was not.
In this moment, all this woman was doing was getting curious and a little bit excited about what might be on the menu of this restaurant her husband had been talking about for many years.
With his words and tone of voice, it was obvious that he squelched her questions and excitement right then and there.
This was both fascinating and tragic to me because just moments earlier when they came in to be seated, I saw the two of them struggling with the simple question of “table or a booth.”
He said “table” and she said “booth” and as the server turned to lead them to the nearest available booth, the man mumbled the words, “I guess I just never get my way” loud enough that anyone within earshot could hear them.
The couple, with the server’s help finally placed their order. The server scooped up their menus and the woman smiled and excused herself to go to the rest room.
While she was gone, I couldn’t help but strike up a quick conversation with the woman’s husband.
I learned they were from Greenville, South Carolina, some 450 miles away from Columbus, Ohio where we were sitting.
They were on their way to Cleveland, Ohio to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a part of their extended weekend trip to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary.
I saw there was love there. But, there was also anger, the dance of superiority/inferiority, as well as obvious signs of contempt.
Because of the contempt and other struggles I could see this couple was going through, my Spidey senses told me that even though they loved and cared for each other, there’s much more danger that lies ahead for them than they realize.
If something doesn’t change between the two of them, if they don’t see something new about how to love each other, and if they don’t stop making each other wrong and making each other the enemy, there probably won’t be a seventh anniversary trip the next year.
In all the different parts of our lives, so many of us go “unconscious” and without realizing what we’re doing, we make the other people in our lives the “enemy” and wonder where the love and connection went that used to be there and felt so good.
It’s easy to do.
You find some aspect of the other person you think ought to be changed or improved and out of your desire to make them better, of course, you let them know about their faults and shortcomings.
You keep finding things they need to “work on” or improve and before long, anger, resentment and feelings of being unloved or unappreciated creep in.
Or maybe you’re just irritated with work, hungry or feel physically or emotionally unwell and you take it out on the person closest to you.
Then, usually without thinking, they respond with one or more of the “three f’s” (fight, flight or freeze) to your unwelcome, critical judgments.
One evening during the period of time when Susie and I were writing our book, Big Fat Love, we were getting ready to drive to an arts festival in another part of the city, when she asked me this:
“Is it going to get chilly tonight?”
My instant response was “I don’t know. I’ll check the weather for you.”
When I got my phone out to check the weather, I told Susie it was going to be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit at 11 pm and she could use that as her guide.
When I said that, I got really emotional. And the emotions came for two reasons:
One: The conversation and scene I witnessed with the man and the woman at the restaurant I just told you about was still fresh in my mind
And I realized that when Susie asked me about the weather, unlike the man at the restaurant, I answered with kindness and love.
Two: I was also emotion because I realized there have been times in other relationships, as well as times with Susie, when I’ve responded in unkind and unloving ways.
But this night I didn’t.
As you read this, please don’t read this about me and think I’m looking for a “pat on the back,” an “at-a-boy” or for you to think I did something so great.
That’s not the point.
The point is that on one occasion, it would have been so easy to make my partner the enemy and say something unkind to her and I didn’t do that.
The real point is that you, me and everyone else has a fresh new opportunity in every moment to love the people in our lives and NOT make them the enemy like we might be tempted to do.
We also have the opportunity in every moment to show up as kindness and love, to build love, to build connection and keep our hearts open which, in turn, will keep their hearts open as well.
Love is always here and always available.
Love is a constant, continuous creation that can happen even if you may not feel physically or emotionally healthy or “up to par.”
As one of our teachers says, “No one is worthy of your judgment and everyone is worthy of your love.”
No relationship is ever brought closer and no relationship has ever become something special when one or both people turned the other into the enemy instead of into someone to be loved and appreciated.
It just takes deciding how you want to “be” in the moment and if love is your answer, to act from that place with those closest to you.