(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Here’s a question that I received from Lonnie about her hubby, and food. “Dear Dr. Kenner, Why does my husband always get angry when I tell him not to worry about fixing supper? I am not always hungry when I get off of work and he’s a retired guy at home most of the time. He tries to have supper ready for me, which I appreciate, but I am not always wanting to eat something. So I tell him, ‘Don’t worry about me.’ He says that I am selfish and I only think of myself when I do that. I am only trying to think of him. He doesn’t have to always fix something for me, and then he says, ‘What am I supposed to eat if you don’t?’ And I tell him, ‘Whatever you want. It’s just that I’m not hungry.’ A lot of times I eat, just to keep the peace. Tell me, what am I doing wrong?”
Lonnie, I think you’re doing nothing wrong except eating to keep the peace, because obviously it’s not keeping the peace. You’re frustrated enough to ask me a question. I also think it’s not addressing the main issue. The main issue, I can guarantee you, is not supper. It is not dinner. It is not food. My best guess - of course I don’t know your hubby - but my best guess is it comes from three possible sources. Childhood dynamics, very common for parents to say, “You don’t love me if you don’t finish your meal,” and they become food pushers. The mothers become food pushers, maybe the fathers do. My guess is if he looked into his past, he might have a little twinkle in his eye and see some childhood dynamics playing out, even in his retirement. Funny how those things don’t evaporate.
The second is that he’s in retirement. He’s home all day. Man, what is he focused on? Making dinner and feeling efficacious, feeling some self esteem when you come home and eat his wonderful dinner. If that is the sole purpose in life, it’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to himself. He needs something more interesting, more creative, more exciting. Maybe even a side job. Something so that he’s not leaning on you so much. So when he calls you selfish, I can see where that comes in, it’s like when you’re saying, “I don’t need you to cook for me, I’m not hungry,” it’s like you’re saying, “I’m robbing you of an opportunity to feel productive and worthy.” And that’s why I suspect he sees you as selfish, used in the common sense. I would say you both need more self. You need to value yourself and not keep the peace, and he needs to value more of himself and have much more of a rounded life.
The first was childhood issues, the second was his need for self-esteem or time can kill people psychologically. You don’t want to see him deteriorate that way, he doesn’t want to see that happen. The third thing is that emotional connection in a marriage, the visibility. When you say, “Don’t worry about me, honey, I don’t need dinner. I’m not hungry,” he may hear, “Honey, you don’t matter. I don’t need you. I’m happy and fulfilled without you. I can get my own food, thank you.” It seems like he needs proof that you still love him, that you still value him. Even if you’re married for decades, people stay married and they can have a very detached indifference toward each other. It’s more like, “I’m used to you,” instead of, “Oh, I adore you.”
And he may need the tangible evidence that you adore him and he would probably love for you to say something along the lines of, you come home for dinner and go, “Oh my God, honey, what’s for dinner? It smells so delicious and you are so wonderful to have made this mouth-watering lasagna,” and then he might just feel this beaming sense of pride. But if you don’t feel that, you can’t fake it. People have what one author calls love languages. It sounds like he does have a love language. “If you love me, you will eat dinner with me every night. You’re not eating dinner every night, therefore you don’t love me.”
So what is the solution to this? Lonnie, you don’t have to fake that you’re hungry. You don’t have to force yourself to eat with him. Of course you always have the option to not eat beforehand and to make that a joyous experience, but if it’s become a duty for you, the two of you can brainstorm, can go back to the drawing board, and figure out how to stay connected differently, not through food necessarily. Maybe sometimes, but not always. I would think the main solution is for him to value himself and for you to value yourself. I think you both need more self, and I’ve written a book with Dr. Ed Locke, The Selfish Path to Romance, meaning you value yourselves and you cherish each other. And that’s the second part, to have a nice warm conversation with your hubby and try to identify what the underlying issues are. If you do value him - I don’t know that you love him still, but assuming that you do - let him know that. You may need to figure out love languages that work for both of you. If your relationship needs work, if it’s gotten like most long-term relationships, a little boring, a little same ole same ole, you can use this as an opportunity to get some help. You can either get some counseling or a much more inexpensive way would be to pick up our book, The Selfish Path to Romance, how to love with passion and reason. And that’s at Amazon. We have a chapter, a whole section, on visibility. Psychological visibility, feeling important, cared for, nurtured, loved. How do you keep a relationship inviting and interesting over many years? We deal with that thoroughly. Those are some ideas on how to deal with dinner.