I had an argument with my wife the other day.
Not long ago, I bought a half gallon mason jar with plastic lid, handle and flip top pour spout. I have been using the pitcher to brew iced tea and sometimes to put water on the table during meals. We have two other half gallon pitchers, but I prefer the way this one functions.
Last week my wife decided she wanted to cold brew coffee. In an effort to be economical, she found a lid and filter setup designed for use with a half gallon mason jar and bought it. Only she drinks iced coffee, while we both drink ice tea. Her proposal was to use the jar to brew coffee, then transfer that coffee to two quart-sized mason jars, which used the same size lids as the larger jar. This would leave the mason jar available for tea or water use. No need for an extra jar.
I was doubtful about the efficacy of this plan. It seemed certain to me that my favorite pitcher was going to become her cold brew coffee pitcher. Indeed, she had already brewed some coffee and the pitcher was now residing in the refrigerator, unavailable for water or tea. She told me she couldn’t reach the quart sized jars which were on the top shelf in the kitchen. She had asked me to get the jars down for her a few days before, but I was annoyed that she was commandeering my favored pitcher and didn’t do it. Yah, I cop to it. I am passive -aggressive, a strategy developed in childhood to deal with a dictatorial, my way or the highway, father.
When I suggested we buy another half gallon jar, my wife accused me of always undoing her solutions to problems. I told her I modify them when they are not working for me. I reiterated that we should buy another jar. She wasn’t having any of it. Yup, we were engaged in something more than a conversation about pitcher use.
At this point, perhaps unwisely, I decided to site another example where her solution wasn’t working for me. She swims twice a week in the chlorine laden pool at our health club. Afterwards, she likes to rinse her bathing suit and soak it in the bathroom sink with some sort of bathing suit conditioning product. She leaves it there, usually for a couple of hours, but the day before, practically all day. The problem with her solution is that we have only one bathroom and one bathroom sink. When she’s soaking her bathing suit I can’t use the sink.
“So,” she said, “I have to make myself smaller for you? I’ve been making myself smaller for other people my entire life.” Yup, this is not about the jar or the bathing suit. At this point I felt it best to leave things alone for a while. We come to these impasses from time to time. We generally get through them in 24 hours or so, after we’ve had time to cool down and back away from whatever deep-seated trauma was expressing itself in the moment. And that is how it went.
The idea of making oneself smaller to accommodate another person stuck with me though, because it was true. I was asking her to make herself smaller. It wasn’t unreasonable for me to ask her to be considerate of me in her use of the bathroom sink but yes, I was asking her to make herself smaller for me.
To be in an intimate relationship, we necessarily have to make ourselves smaller in many ways. We have to make room for that other person. It’s not considerate to leave our clothes strewn all over the bedroom or our dishes undone in the sink, or to expect whatever we want whenever we want it. We have to make ourselves smaller to be in that intimate relationship. But, as most of us have experienced, there is great benefit to being in a good relationship. Good relationships are always more than the sum of their parts. So, we make ourselves smaller to become part of something larger. A larger something we benefit from in many ways.
We can easily lose sight of the benefits of compromise, especially when deep seated past traumas become engaged. And this dynamic is not exclusive to intimate relationships. It functions at the local, regional, national and, even global levels.
Presently, there is a crisis among the men and women of the mostly white patriarchy in my country. They are refusing to make room for people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people. They are insisting on extreme restrictions to the rights of women to manage their fertility. They are unwilling to make themselves smaller to be part of something larger.
There is also a crisis in our global economic system which is incapable of constraining itself to be in a sound relationship with the planet we depend on. A pathological relationship emerges when one part of a whole insists on being bigger at the continuous expense of other parts of the whole.
I have decided to let my wife have the half gallon jar for her cold brewed coffee. She’s right, we don’t need another jar. We have two more half gallon pitchers that are adequate for my purposes. So, I will make myself a little smaller for her because I value enormously the whole that is us. And the bathing suit soaking? Yesterday my wife found a plastic pail to soak her bathing suit in. She made herself a little smaller too.