My friends Frank and Erin love cooking together. On a particular evening, Frank was cutting the mushrooms for stew, slicing away when Erin stepped in. He was doing it wrong. Surely he knew mushrooms needed to be quartered, not sliced? Apparently, he didn’t, but Erin stepped in with feedback. As you can imagine, it didn’t go over well. Frank felt micro-managed, and did it truly matter if the mushrooms were quartered vs. sliced in this recipe? (It can sometimes matter, but in this case, it didn’t.) They both realized it didn’t matter, and from that situation, a new phrase was birthed: Who’s cutting the mushrooms? It meant, “Stop micromanaging me. It doesn’t matter if my approach is different from your approach.” The phrase itself was funny and also diffused future situations. In fact, my husband Philippe and I have since picked it up and used it.
1. Accept and embrace differences.
We are different from our partners. Certainly, there are some similarities, or we wouldn’t be together, but there will always be differences. Sometimes these are annoying (Philippe likes to wipe a dirty table with a dry towel; I use a sponge); sometimes they are intriguing (how he cuts an apple vs. how I cut an apple), and sometimes he has a better way of doing it. When we are open to those differences, our partners feel more accepted and more open to our own differences. When we clamp down on the differences, our partners feel restricted, criticized, and closed down.
2. Don’t squelch your partner’s effort even if it’s not perfect.
Sometimes sharing a positive experience together is actually more important than the perfect outcome. This means filling the piggy bank of good times together, so you can make withdrawals when the times are tough. It also means creating goodwill when the times are tough, so you can make it through more easily.
3. Criticism creates ill-will.
Not surprising, is it? How many people like to be criticized for their every move? What about the smallest non-essential stuff? I don’t know a single one. Philippe is especially sensitive to criticism (another issue), so I know when I start to nitpick, he’ll feel shut down incredibly quickly which impacts the next time we want to do something like cook together. Cooking together can be simply practical, but it can also create connection.
4. Co-creation is imperfect.
In the larger picture, co-creation is an imperfect activity. Sure, there are times when it flows seamlessly (thankfully!), but there are also times when it is rocky. These are the moments we grow and evolve. Our relationships can grow and evolve. Small moments like cutting the mushrooms can translate into larger moments like buying a house or raising a child. Learning that Philippe’s way of putting our son to bed is different not better or worse than my way is powerful. It creates connection and harmony.
5. Choose your battles.
An oldie but goodie. There are certainly moments to be precise—even picky—in relationship. Is cutting the mushrooms one of them? It could be. It could be that mushrooms in the gravy need to be thinly sliced. If they were quartered, they’d be too chunky. It could be that my son going to bed late on his father’s watch means he’s exhausted for school the next day. When you have built up goodwill in other situations, it means the battles you do pick are potentially more readily listened to than the smaller skirmishes.
At the end of the day, what I love about Frank and Erin’s experience is how they worked through it, plus how it is a mirror for larger issues. Many years ago, a friend was teasing me about “domestic quarrels” related to household duties. I looked at him squarely and said, “How are we supposed to work through the big stuff if we can’t work through the small stuff?” He got it. When we are able to negotiate the smaller mundane details of life, we set ourselves up for better communication around the larger conflicts because the larger conflicts will come. Being intimate with someone means rubbing up against differences. It’s what we do with those differences that creates harmony or a war zone. Don’t let cutting the mushrooms be that war zone. After all, it’s only a bit of mild-tasting fungus ready to sop of some pretty darn-good tasting stew.
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