It’s never about the cheese sandwich…
It is with thanks to the carpet inspector that visited today that I was inspired to write this piece on relationships!
Ben (not his real name) was telling me about a time a few years back when he was busy making himself a cheese sandwich for his packed lunch the next day. All wrapped up, the sandwich was placed in the fridge for the next morning. He was greeted by his other half with a disgruntled comment about why he hadn’t offered to make her one…
He’s ruminated over this incident many times – should he indeed have offered to make her one even though she generally doesn’t take a packed lunch? If he had made one, would she even have wanted it? Ought she have asked him to – after all, he would happily have made her one without complaint!
Why was this such a big deal? And why, since then, has it been referred back to in their relationship as the “cheese sandwich moment”?
As I listened, I recognised this kind of pattern of disagreement that comes into my couples’ therapy often: something which on the face of it seems relatively benign and unimportant, but that becomes the focus (and returning skeleton cupboard) of arguments.
Perhaps these sound familiar…
“You never make me a cup of tea”
“I always have to sort out the meal plans for the week”
“You’re always on that phone…”
“When am I ever going to get a night to myself?”
In my experience, it is not usually actually about the tea or in this case, the cheese sandwich.
Dig deeper, and there is a sense of resentment, annoyance, anger, fear, aloneness or restlessness…. and so many different other possible emotions… that are aroused by a careless moment, a lack of attention or enquiry.
Go deeper and you get to the roots of these feelings. Not feeling attended to. Not feeling worthy enough. Not wanting / feeling able to ask for help. Feeling unlovable. Feeling taken for granted. Not feeling seen or heard.
The work is about how you can bring these deeper issues to the surface. Of course, sometimes it simply is just about the sandwich, but often the issues might be reframed as (examples):
“You never make me a cup of tea” → “Sometimes I feel that you don’t think about me and my needs”
“I always have to sort out the meal plans for the week” → “I would really appreciate some help with planning the household chores – can we sit down to talk about this sometime?”
“You’re always on that phone…” → “I worry sometimes that you don’t find me attractive and interesting anymore”
“When am I ever going to get a night to myself?” → “I really need a break right now, I’m exhausted”
The art is really listening to your other half. To be curious about what else might be going on for them.
And for the other half, don’t expect your partner to be able to mind read you… it’s rarely successful!
Although these are simple examples by way of illustration, in relationship work, we are able to delve into the underlying concerns and find ways to improve your communication. This leads to more constructive and honest sharing of your feelings, needs and desires together.