When Food Affects Relationships
I’ll admit it. I’m a typical Type A perfectionist. And not in a mild, “you have certain tendencies” way. I am in full-on obsessive-compulsive territory no matter how you slice it. Obsessive, with a healthy dose of addictive personality disorder mixed in for good measure. If I were a soup, I would be too hot to eat and too spicy once I cooled down.
This “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality can serve someone well in certain situations. Like when a fire gets out of control in the wrong place or a child falls off the swing set and is clearly hurt. Those are instances when barreling straight in and seizing control with laser beam focus may be advantageous (as opposed to forming a committee and seeking opinions … I’ve never been a good committee person).
And for the most part, this personality type (or disorder, depending on your point of view) can be very useful when you or your child are diagnosed with a food sensitivity or an outright autoimmune condition triggered by food. The learning curve can be fairly steep as we all know. Navigating medical research, doctor visits, school lunches, your own kitchen, baseball snacks, girls’ night out, restaurant menus, and holiday parties is not for the timid or weak or management-by-committee types. This mountain of “to-do” and “what-for” and “where-tonext” can only be summited by those willing to roll up their sleeves and block out any naysayer or otherwise unproductive distraction. Right?
I have to be honest – I was already on the road of anxious, over-compensating, future basket-case motherhood before my oldest was diagnosed with celiac. When you grow up as a sickly child harboring feelings of unspoken self-doubt and latent mother-daughter issues that are too numerous to name in an entire issue of this magazine let alone this article, life’s periodic speed bumps can sometimes become serious sink-holes. Or I should say, you can turn them into sink-holes by not completely grasping the fact that most problems in life are just little speed bumps meant to slow down your brain and keep you from thinking you’ve got everything figured out (because you’re not supposed to figure everything out and life would be completely boring if you actually did).
For the Type A perfectionist, there can in no way, shape, or form be any visible speed bumps in your life because that would defeat the whole purpose of proving to the world that you are not an anxious, over-compensating basket-case trying to squash any feelings of inadequacy that may bubble to the surface in times of stress. Speed bumps must be crushed mercilessly, and any speed bump that can’t be crushed must be turned into a sink-hole because then it seems perfectly okay to turn on the laser beam focus and burn right through any perceived opposition.
I’ve been told that this response to stress can sometimes cause anxiety in those around me who don’t exactly navigate life the same way.
If you’re anything like me, chances are you did not marry another obsessive-compulsive baseboard scrubber who always stacks his mixing bowls in the correct order (let alone puts them in the same cabinet each time, or even empties the dishwasher for that matter). While your home would likely be forever spotless, you would spend all of your free time trying to re-re-re-organize each other’s version of obsessive perfection into your own. And your kids would be on pins and needles and your dog would hate you both.
No, you most likely married the most laid back, why-do-we-have- to-fold-socks, it-must-be-clean-because-I-only-drank-water- out-of-it guy in the world. These men are the calm, big-picture-thinker types. It doesn’t matter exactly which highway they’re on. As long as they’re headed east, that’s good enough. You know these types: the cool-headed thinkers who always seem to calm the situation down by doing that annoying thing called making sense. Ugh! The good thing about this opposites-attract phenomenon is that your laid back spouse is … well, laid back. A lot of things that normally bother you probably don’t get his hackles up too much. And while that is welcome most of the time, you can tell when something is really wrong whenever your otherwise mellow man blows a gasket. They can take a lot in and let it slide off their backs, but everyone has a breaking point. I was unaware of the fact that I was slowly pushing my husband toward his. I think now that I’ve gained some perspective and my husband and I are in a much better place (having worked through a great many issues) the one thing I am still most surprised about is how oblivious I was to the increased stress I was causing my husband. The further I sank into my blog and the research (and the accompanying anxiety and depression), the more compelled my husband felt to try and hold it together. While I was causing more stress for him, he was doing his best not to cause more stress for me.
Unfortunately for our marriage, his way of dealing with my anxiety was to bottle up his frustrations and keep them to himself. While I can now admit that I was probably not the easiest person to have a calm and rational discussion with about time management and food budgets, he can now admit that just being frustrated and upset all of the time with no release valve is not healthy either. Nothing good can come from this state of affairs. It’s like trying to cook with spoiled food – no amount of seasoning or other culinary magic is going to improve the outcome. What we didn’t realize at the time is that we were simply trying to season our way out of a rapidly spoiling situation and it just kept making us each more frustrated with the other. Which leads to …
I think when you get to the point of complete resentment for each other you have truly reached a make or break point in your marriage. And we were very close to breaking on more than one occasion. In many ways, benign indifference is preferable to the toxic haze of resentment, when every word and deed is viewed through the lens of conspiratorial hisses and snarls. He could not crawl inside my head (and past) to truly understand why I felt so driven to perfect my blog, tackle the research, and help others who were struggling as I was. And I couldn’t understand his view that even though we had to deal with these dietary issues, our world was still moving along and there were so many other “normal” family issues that we still had to deal with. While I put everything else on hold (and left it to him to figure out), he seemed to put all of the food and medical responsibility on me, not understanding how radically different that responsibility became when celiac knocked on our door.
We went through hell and somehow have arrived safely on the other side. I’m not sure how we did it, but we’ve come up with a few ideas.
For me, I had to just let go, which is much easier said than done. I had to let go of the perfection. The only way I could do that was to realize that perfection does not exist, cannot exist, will never exist, and any attempt to will it into being will result in feelings of helpless futility. Celiac or not, it was never going to be perfect and I had to stop letting my tangled past and dietary restrictions be my excuse for why things weren’t perfect. It had nothing to do with celiac and everything to do with me.
My husband had to let go of the fact that our lives were no longer going to be round pegs fitting into round holes and that’s okay. We all make plans and have dreams, but when it’s time to change course, then it’s time to change course. He didn’t want to make any left hand turns, even though we had run off the road long ago.
It’s not easy, but it is possible. The first step for each of us was to stop thinking of our own grievances and gripes and begin simply seeing things as they were. Once we stopped blaming each other for attitudes that formed long before we met and genes that were pre-baked into our family’s DNA, we started to heal.
And we learned how to make those left hand turns.
Written by Heidi Kelly