It's Not About the BBQ SauceBy Niloofar Shahmohammadi
May 12, 2010
Do you ever wish your partner would just STOP whatever he or she is doing that you find upsetting, disrespectful, or hurtful? Read on in this humorous but informative article to find out why it's usually not about what he or she is doing, but about the story you are telling yourself about the behavior that is causing you pain.
Several months ago I saw a couple where the wife was frustrated because her husband was pouring BBQ sauce all over the fancy meals she made. She said that she would often just “let it go”, but it actually made her really angry. “I put all this work into making this nice meal, and I’m a good cook, and he won’t even taste it first! Just dumps BBQ sauce all over it. I think it’s offensive and makes me feel like ‘why did I even bother?’” She insisted that he should not do that, and she wished he would just stop with the behavior.
It was at this point that I told her, “It’s not about the BBQ sauce.”
You see, when something someone else does upsets us…99% of the time it’s NOT about the actual thing the person did. It’s about the MEANING we are attaching to that behavior. It’s about the STORY we are telling ourselves about what this behavior really means. And let me telly ou, most of us are not very creative writers...usually our stories all boil down to the same old thing: “She/He doesn’t love me.”
So in this case, the wife’s INTERPRETATION of her husband’s behavior was that dumping BBQ sauce on her lovingly prepared meal was a way of negating the effort and saying “Your cooking doesn’t taste very good”, “Thanks but no thanks for your efforts,” “I don’t really care about the work you put in”, “I don’t really care about YOU, period”, and basically, “You suck.”
Guess what the husband really meant by his behavior?
He just really really likes BBQ sauce. He was grateful for the meal. Appreciative of the work. It wasn’t even ABOUT his wife at all. He just had the palette of a 5-year old who likes to dip his fancy chicken nuggets in lots of sauce. And that’s ALL it was about.
For the wife, that’s NOT what it was all about though. She thought he needed to stop doing it. Thought it was mean and hurtful. But the truth is, it’s not about the BBQ sauce. It’s not the BBQ sauce behavior that was hurting her feelings. SHE WAS. She was hurting herself by the story she was telling herself about what this behavior means.
Sure, she could probably get him to stop…but the truth is that would actually NOT be satisfying to either of them in the long-run. If she complained and he stopped doing it, she would still find other ways to feel unloved…and she would also think “Well, the only reason he stopped is because I told him to.” And the husband would feel controlled and resentful. Now maybe not just over this one instance…but if this becomes a pattern in the relationship, as it is in MANY relationships (each person trying to control the other’s behavior to make themselves feel ok)…there WILL be problems, deadness, distance, and resentment in the long run. Both members are deprived of the joy of truly giving and receiving of their own will, and being fully accepted for who they are.
Now, you might be thinking…”Well, that BBQ sauce example is just silly. She was being oversensitive. My partner actually does really bad things! She should stop!”
But this applies to a MYRIAD of situations.
Here is the litmus test for whether you are the cause ofyour own bad feelings: “Could someone else somewhere in the world react differently to this behavior than I am reacting right now?”
So if your husband just murdered your puppy….chances are, someone in the world would NOT have a different reaction than the terror and outrage and grief you are feeling right now! Or if the issue is “My partner is having sex with other people”…then that is a deeper moral issue that you need to evaluate for yourself. Do you want to be in an open relationship or do you want to be monogamous? But in the BBQ sauce example, we can see that another wife may have just shrugged her shoulders or not even given the BBQ sauce a second thought.
This means that it is NOT THE BEHAVIOR ITSELF that is the problem…it’s YOUR interpretation. In fact, MOST behaviors are in themselves neutral. It’s the intention behind them, and the stories we MAKE UP about the other person’s intention, that give the behavior a positive or a negative connotation.
I actually heard another wife complaining the other day about (it feels funny to write about this in a self-help article!) her husband passing gas. Yes, farting. “You just don’t even know how it makes me feel. It makes me feel like TRASH. So disrespected. So worthless.” In other words, she was interpreting his gas to mean “I don’t care about you at all.”
Let’s use the litmus test here:
“Could someone else somewhere in the world react differently to this behavior?” The answer is a resounding YES! I know some women who will just laugh! They know their partner loves them, and they love themselves…and farts are the result of broccoli or Taco Bell for lunch….nothing to do with THEM. I know some women who fart themselves. It’s just gas. So what are you telling yourself about the gas? You have the power to make yourself very unhappy…or you have the power to choose to be happy…in every moment and in response to a myriad of behaviors, which more often than not, have NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.
But we humans are very egotistical, and we like to make everything about ourselves. Everything someone else is doing or not doing, ESPECIALLY our significant other, in some way is ABOUT US! (not!!!)
Ask yourself what story you are telling yourself the next time you complain about something. You will NOT find a “perfect” partner out there in the world, who is going to meet all your made-up conditions for love. “If my partner loved me, he would not dump bbq sauce on his food.” “If my partner loved me, he would not play video games.” “If my partner loved me she would call me every 3 hours.” Your life will be MUCH easier when you learn to separate out BEHAVIORS (facts) from MEANINGS (interpretations). You can ALWAYS change how you respond to something, and in doing so, you might just find that the other person is more willing to change. People don’t like to be controlled…but when they feel accepted…anything is possible!
It’s not about: the behavior.
It is about: your interpretation/story about the behavior.
*You are often the cause of your own bad feelings. It's NOT what the other person is doing...it's what you are telling yourself that is making you feel bad.
*Your and your partner will BOTH be happier if you can be more accepting of each other instead of getting into power struggles. As you stop lying to yourself about what the other person’s behavior means and stop pushing on your partner to change this behavior…the whole mood will lighten and things will be a lot more FUN.
Good luck!! Have fun rewriting those negative stories!!
P.S. This principle applies to ALL relationships....the one you have with your parents, your boss, your best friend....just repeat the mantra, "It's not about the BBQ sauce!" :)
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What is your first reaction when someone is harsh, critical, sarcastic, angry, judgmental, attacking? Do you attack back? Do you withdraw and get silent? Do you defend and explain? Today, honor the feeling in your body that says "This doesn't feel good" and either speak your truth without blame, defense or judgment and open to learning, or lovingly disengage and compassionately take care of your feelings.
By Dr. Margaret Paul