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Refrigerator Battles

The Situation

You are preparing dinner. As you pull out the chicken and vegetables, you do a quick check for other ingredients you will need.

Eggs?
Check.

Milk?
Check.

Mustard?
Check.

Everything's there. You cut up the chicken and vegetables while the oven heats up. You dump the dry ingredients for dumplings in the bowl, then reach for the milk. Your heart sinks as you lift it. You pour it into your measuring cup and confirm there is maybe an eighth of a cup of milk in the carton you bought yesterday.

The Anger

And now you are furious. Furious he would return the carton to the refrigerator with so little in it. Why?! Furious he drank the milk earlier in the day and did not pick up more while he was out. You always replace essentials when you use the last of them. Furious it's you who must make dinner, even during a week when your husband is off from work. You never get a week off. Furious you're making chicken and dumplings when there are so many Mediterranean dishes you would like better, but he will not eat.

Marriage suddenly feels overwhelmingly unfair.

Now your thoughts go looking for all the other ways your marriage gives you the short end of the stick, like when he hogs the comforter. And when you go with him to see his parents, who live 30 minutes away, but when it's time to fly out to see your parents, he claims he cannot take the time away from work.

Sound like anything you've gone through? The first shock of "I've been wronged" releases an entire cascade of them. You literally cannot think of anything else until you take back control of your thoughts.

This is where it comes it really handy to Assume Love. This technique gives you back that control. Is it wrong to be angry? No, but it's unpleasant and unhelpful.

Anger serves a purpose. It gives us the energy and courage to fight off an attack. But the only attack here is a shortage of one ingredient in a dish you don't even want to make.

Assume Love

To Assume Love, you ask yourself how the ounce of milk could possibly be the act of a loving spouse, rather than an attack.

For starters, loving you does not convey any ability to read your mind about your dinner plans. Even if he knew what was for dinner, odds are he has no clue milk is needed to make chicken and dumplings, if you do all the cooking.

If he wasn't intentionally making it harder to prepare dinner, why didn't he simply finish the milk and toss the carton? You would have noticed it missing before you started cooking.

His version of loving you might include not wasting food. His glass was full, there was milk left, ergo the milk goes back in the refrigerator for one of you to drink later, perhaps with seven ounces from the next carton.

As you consider explanations like this, you need to ask yourself if they are possible in your case. Is frugality one of your mate's strengths? Is saving money something you have asked him to do for you? Either of these would suggest putting back the milk as a loving act.

Why did he not buy more? He might have forgotten. He might not have passed a food store. He might have believed you were going to the store, and an extra container of milk could spoil before it did any good.

Again, you will know whether any of these fit your circumstances. I am not suggesting you make up excuses, but that you search for evidence that no harm was intended, no disregard for you behind the milk mistake.

All that you should aim for with Assume Love is to feel better about your husband's intentions. It won't get rid of the situation. You are still looking at an oven and food ready to go, without the necessary milk.

Expect Love

If it doesn't relieve you of all that anger, you might also Expect Love. Which of the things upsetting you would no longer be true if he had dropped dead yesterday? You would still be doing all the cooking, even on your vacations. If you ran out of milk, you would be the person who had to run out and get some or change the dinner menu. You would still need to visit your parents alone, and you would still need to pull some blankets over yourself, but in an empty bed.

None of what's bothering you actually results from having him in your life. The anger comes from what he's not doing that you expect he should do. So, take a moment to recall all the things he has done recently to add to your life. Do you live in a nicer home or have more money to spend on food because he's in your life? Did he give you a gift for Christmas? Does he take care of your car? Does his gratitude make it worth your while to cook a healthy meal?

Find Third Alternatives

Feeling better about him yet? Now it's time to Find Third Alternatives to some of your disagreements over this dinner, the refrigerator, and cooking in general. Here are a few:
  • You can ask him if he prefers to eat his chicken and vegetables Mediterranean style or rush to the store for milk immediately.
  • You can tell him that this dinner is so upsetting to you that you need an alternative to cooking it and want his suggestions on what else to do about eating tonight.
  • You can cook without the milk and ask him to join you after dinner in coming up with a way to always keep the essentials on hand, whether it's not taking the last cup of milk, the last two eggs, the last two tablespoons of butter, or replacing them immediately. You might need to help him identify the essentials and the minimum quantities for them, but make sure the solution is one he likes as much as you do.
  • You can ask for a Third Alternative to cooking on days when he doesn't work.
Just please remember that you cannot Find Third Alternatives while you are still angry and feeling like his victim. If you truly are his victim, you need outside help to fix this first. But most of the time, we are the victims of our own expectations and our brain's natural inclination to look for more injustices or threats when it spots one.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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