It was one of those events that you could easily overlook, and I probably would have if the checkout line had been moving along at its usual pace. Instead, the person ahead of me was bickering over the price of an item she felt she had been overcharged for. Consequently, I had time to observe the people in line behind me. They were an attractive couple, at most in their late 20's. He was a tall, good looking young man. She was an attractive lady, whose facial expressions seemed far more intense than you might expect for someone unloading a cart of groceries in a supermarket line. She was totally focused on arranging the items by category when her husband interrupted her concentration by asking, “What about some ice cream?”
She instantly responded with an emphatic “No.”
“I just thought we might get some ice cream” he answered.
“We don’t need it”, she said, all the while rearranging the items in her basket.
“Well, if you don’t want any, I don’t either.”
Then I did something that surprised me. I turned and said “You know, he really wants ice cream.” There was a noticeable pause, followed by “If you must, get something.” With that, he raced off to the frozen food section like an excited child and returned in a matter of seconds with a stack of chocolate mint ice cream sandwiches, which she immediately rejected.
“I definitely won’t eat those.”
“But they’re 90% fat free.”
“I wouldn’t eat them”, she repeated with annoyance.
Once again, he hurried off and finally returned with something she deemed acceptable.
As I left the store, I thought there is a divorce in the making. They’ll forget today. They’ll take their groceries home and the incident will be filed away as one of those little things that never mattered. It is, however, those little things, more so than any of the big events, that undermine and destroy relationships. It wasn’t a case of having to have ice cream. He was saying to her, in a multitude of ways, “This is what I want”, but she failed to hear him. What I really wanted to shout to her was “Miss, he isn’t asking if you want ice cream, he’s saying, ‘I would like some’, but you’re so preoccupied organizing that you’re totally unable to hear him. Make no mistake, he’ll get over this, but it will stay with him and it will ferment. Years from now, after you discover he’s had an affair and/or asks for a divorce, you’ll wonder why you weren’t good enough or what you did wrong. After all, you organized and took care of everything and if he was unhappy, why didn’t he say so?”
I wish I could say that their interaction is an exception to the rule and that incidences of this type are few and far between. But that would be a lie. Each incident acts like a seed that, over time, germinates anger and resentment. Then, years later, it causes you to doubt your love for your spouse, and to question whether you really want your marriage. In most cases, you will feel unimportant and unloved. Inside, you’ll be hungry for someone who will care and nurture you. What you won’t recognize is that, in reality, you’re desirous for someone who will care for you more than you care for yourself. You see, if that young man in the supermarket cared for himself, he wouldn’t have had to ask if she wanted ice cream. He would have recognized and acted on the fact that he wanted it. Had he stood up for his rights, he would have laid the foundation for a constructive, honest relationship between them. One that each of them would have grown and benefitted from. Unfortunately, it’s far easier to blame your partner for your lack of a response than it is to own the notion that you lack the courage to stand up and risk being rejected by the person you love.
I believe the young lady in the supermarket loves her husband, but I doubt she has any idea that “ice cream” might one day wind up being an itemized grievance in a divorce case. Then again, he probably doesn’t realize how emotionally frightened he is, or how long he’s felt that way. If he had learned to stand up for himself in childhood, he might have said, without anger or animosity, “Honey, I’m going to buy some ice cream. You needn’t eat any, but it’s something I want.”
Unfortunately, most people are blind to their own dynamics. Therefore, when “little” incidents of this type occur, you either don’t react and store them up on the inside, or you overreact, appear foolish, even to yourself, and never deal with the real issue because of your embarrassment. In both instances, the end result is the same. You remain totally blind to yourself. I can close my eyes and visualize the “ice cream man”, years from now, saying to himself, “I’m angry with her, but I don’t know why. I just feel distance from, resentful of and sexually unresponsive toward her.” Then again, that may be giving him too much credit. More often than not, people express their inner emotions passive-aggressively or indirectly. They argue over insignificant issues that seem important, but are really inconsequential. The reason being that it seems childish to say to your spouse “I’m mad at you because thirty years ago, you didn’t let me buy ice cream.” Indeed, it may well be childish but, inside where we collect emotional hurts and resentments, these “ice cream” exchanges ferment turn sour and spoil many potentially positive interactions because they are stored and processed into anger and resentment. They later wind up as justification for staying out late, drinking, spending excessive time with friends, having extramarital relationships, hiding behind books, television, children, work or hobbies. After all, the only other alternative is to look inside and recognize that the person you are really angry at is self. It’s just too emotionally painful to deal directly with your own feelings and to express them to someone whose love you desire and whose rejection you fear. But express them you must, if you ever hope to establish a healthy relationship or marriage.