Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Cleaning The Kitchen: 2012 Rings In New Habits

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 3, 2012

  Tom and Jeri, a heterosexual married couple for twenty years, with the same names as the cartoon characters, were getting on each other’s nerves. Tom loved to cook and he loved to shop for food. Jeri does not do either, but she resents a kitchen which is filled with food that no one eats. She is upset with Tom for not taking inventory when he goes shopping. “You are not a good wife,” she says, hurting Tom’s feelings. Tom then retreats into a withdrawn state, not engaging with Jeri, thereby making Jeri and Tom more at odds with one another. They come to me with this dilemma; the dilemma about their kitchen.

“Why don’t you two work together to establish what you need when you go shopping and then let Tom take it from there?” I suggest, proposing that if they became a team, rather than hurt by one another, then maybe they could constructively establish a working alliance. “I don’t like being called a wife,” Tom says quietly, but with feelings which suggest that he does not know how to cope with what he seems to feel to be an accusation. “I can understand that,” I say, “if you think that a wife is a negative term. Maybe, though, Jeri meant wife as a gender neutral term for someone who manages the kitchen.” Jeri chimes in quickly, “yes, that is exactly what I meant.”

“It seems to me that the two of you misunderstood one another. Tom likes to shop and cook, but he does not like to take inventory. Jeri, you may not like taking inventory, but you could assume this as your domestic responsibility. Then, the two of you could set aside a weekly time to work together to establish a shopping list.” I say, suggesting an obvious solution, but one that could only be discussed once the ‘wife’ comment was explained in a way in which Tom did not feel the need to withdraw. “We will try that,” Jeri says with a mix of optimism and skepticism. “It is a new year, so it is a good time to start new habits,” I say, reminding them of the opportunity that a change in calendar brings us.

3 Responses to “Cleaning The Kitchen: 2012 Rings In New Habits”

  1. Jon said

    Team work and good communication are fundamental necessities for the smooth operation of any group – be it a marriage, a business, or a volunteer organization. However, like most things, it requires vigilance and effort to ensure that communication stays good, and thus the team work is focus. Your suggestions to Tom and Jeri (cartoons though they may be) help in both regards.

    While the New Year is somewhat arbitrary (albeit the winter solstice is indeed a physical phenomenon), it is still a fine time to reevaluate both communication and goals of team work. New Year’s resolutions are worth considering – and the good ones are even worth keeping.

    • Jon-Although I agree that team work and good communication are fundamental necessities for the smooth operation of any group, the obstacles presented to good communication, particularly in a family setting, but sometimes in a work setting as well, are due to hurt feelings and unconscious feelings in which people become inhibited to participate in the process of working through issues. A therapist is sometimes necessary to uncover the hurt feelings so that the team can function again.

      Shelly-The point of this post is that deep feelings arise when superficial issues are discussed. Tom felt deeply wounded by Jeri calling him a wife. Jeri, accidentally (maybe unconsciously) touched a nerve in Tom which made him feel deeply insecure about his masculinity. It was not me being a mediator, as much as I was detangling the word wife from the assault that Tom felt it to be. I think this addresses your question of the underlying dynamics which I thought to be in play during this visit. Let me know if you still think you are missing something.

      Thank you Jon and Shelly for chiming into this discussion. As always, you deepen my thinking on these matters.

  2. Shelly said

    I get that good communication and not stepping on each others’ toes are key in keeping a relationship happy and alive. However, Tom and Jeri’s problem seems almost too simple for me to accept. I wonder if I’m missing something? Obviously your role as a mediator is important and trying to teach them to divide the chores is integral in keeping their relationship fresh and exciting, but I have to ask….is there anything else at work here? (or not?)

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