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Pots and Plans

When the non-stick stoveware was ruined, Janine and Steve Petry realized they needed a better way to treasure their possessions and each other She Said: "We'll just have to buy a new one" He Said: "We have to take care of things"

Janine's side: We'll just buy a new one

My family had a little slogan, and my grandfather said it best in his New York-Italian accent: "Whateva." It's a motto that fit any situation. If you burned dinner, forgot to mail a card, or broke something—whateva. Mistakes happen, and things can be replaced. It's not that we were careless people—we just didn't dwell on the negative, or make the "guilty party" feel bad. We dealt with mishaps quickly and moved on.

But Steve didn't share my philosophy. If I accidentally damaged something—such as when I shrunk a sweater in the laundry—he'd over-react. He acted as though it were the only sweater he owned, the only one he'd ever own. I thought he was making a big deal over harmless accidents. I'd rather just replace something than create a big problem over it.

The more time passed, the more we clashed over our opposing viewpoints. I felt as though every mistake I made provided an opportunity for Steve to criticize me. When I accidentally scratched our new non-stick pots and pans by using metal utensils, Steve just couldn't let it go.

"Pots get scratched," I said. "Did you think we were going to have them forever? Once these are worn out, we'll just get new ones. Why are you so obsessed with keeping everything perfect? They're just pots."

"That's the problem," Steve shot back. "You see it as just a pot. But it's not about the pot. It's about stewardship. You don't even make an effort to keep the things we have in good shape. Because you don't care, accidents keep happening."

Steve's over-reacting made me feel terrible. Why couldn't he just let it go?

Steve's side: We have to take care of things

I grew up in a home where nothing was taken for granted. Money was tight, so we took good care of our possessions to make them last as long as possible.

If I ruined a toy or piece of clothing, I might not get another. Although sometimes that was a difficult lesson, it taught me to be responsible and thankful for what I had.

Janine's attitude toward our things confused me. While I can understand an occasional accident, her repeated discarding of perfectly good clothing or household items as a result of foolish mistakes was frustrating. It wasn't about the things themselves; it was about her attitude. All I could see was carelessness and indifference. When our new cookware was permanently scratched, that was too much for me to take.

"You can't use metal utensils on these," I told her. "I'm not sure how much longer they'll last at this rate, and we can't afford to buy new ones. Why didn't you read the instructions?"

Her response was flat. "What does it matter now? It's in the past and I can't change it. People make mistakes, you know."

Janine was acting as if nothing happened, which irritated me. I just wanted her reassurance that the problem wasn't going to happen again. Why can't she understand we need to take care of what we have?

What they did

The scatched pots were the last straw, sparking a heated argument that convinced Janine and Steve to find a solution to their clashing attitudes.

"You think I'm being careless, and that I'm doing these things on purpose," Janine said to Steve. "But from my perspective, you're over-reacting. You're placing too much importance on things. Can't you accept that I made a mistake and move on, instead of making me feel bad?"

"I'm not trying to make you feel bad," Steve replied. "I was taught to analyze my mistakes to see what I could do to avoid repeating them. I'm just trying to help you do that too. I don't want our things to keep getting ruined."

That conversation was the first of many about the problem. And while it was helpful to discuss their different views, the changes didn't happen overnight. A new set of pans later, with more conversation, trials, and errors, Steve and Janine began to better understand each other's viewpoint.

"I realize now that accidents rarely just happen," says Janine. "Steve showed me that by taking a hard look at my mistakes and determining what I can do differently, I can frequently prevent them from happening again. I used to see that as 'dwelling on the problem,' but not anymore. When I do my best to learn from my mistakes instead of hurrying past them, I improve as a person and save us a lot of trouble—and money."

"I know that my first priority when mistakes occur is to remind Janine that I love her, even though I may be frustrated," says Steve. "She needs to believe she'll always be more important to me than things. Remembering that helps me keep my perspective. I've learned not to over-react, thanks to Janine's accountability."

Steve and Janine made a commitment that when an accident occurs, Janine will remove "whateva" from her vocabulary and stop to consider what happened and if there's some way to fix it. And Steve promised to ask questions before jumping to conclusions, which helps him better understand the situation. "Now I do my best to help deal with the immediate problem," says Steve. "Once the 'crisis' is dealt with, and we're both feeling less stressed, we talk about it, and help each other learn from it. Now we work to help each other, instead of working against each other."

Steve and Janine agree that God calls them to do their best with all their possessions. "When we take care of God's gifts, we express our thanks to him," Janine says. "Now we're united about how to be good stewards of all God has entrusted to us—including each other."


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Compromise; Differences; Disagreement; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 2006
Posted September 12, 2008

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