"Stop this car right now. I'm getting out!" I shouted. My emotions were boiling and I had to escape the confines of our car. "Let me out, right here!"
The argument, like so many marital conflicts, was over something really important: potato chips. Well, not just potato chips but the process of purchasing said chips.
My wife, Kristie, and I were on our way to a Sunday school picnic, and looked forward to a day of fun with people from our church. Sunny skies, delicious barbecue, cheerful conversation, and, of course, potato chips. That was our job, to bring those blasted chips.
As we drove to the party in my wife's sporty convertible, we pulled into a small Food Mart to fulfill our assignment. She said something about what to purchase, and I nodded.
I don't remember what she said. That's because I didn't listen. I'm a grown man; I think I can handle picking out potato chips.
I returned to the car, threw the bag in the back, and hopped in, ready to enjoy the lovely day, when my wife asked, "What kind of chips did you get?"
"Did you buy the chips I asked you to get?"
"You told me to get a certain kind?"
"You never listen to me!" she said.
"Who cares what kind of chips I got? They're chips! I think I'm capable of buying potato chips," I said, sure this defense would win the argument.
She pressed the issue.
And that's when I made an executive decision: "Let me out right here!"
"No problem!" She slammed on the brakes.
Even before we completely stopped, I jumped free of the fight, the car, and the potato chips. Then I watched Kristie speed toward home.
Boy, I showed her! I thought. And then I looked around.
Piece of advice: Before you demand to get out of a car, check to see exactly where you are. As I scanned the area, I realized I was standing on a lonely wooded road miles from anywhere. The picnic was in a forest and there was no civilization within a 10-mile radius.
Those stupid chips, I thought as I slowly started my long trek home. I hoped dimly my wife would come to her senses and return to get me. But I knew that wouldn't happen. We were both too steamed.
So on I walked. Occasionally I jumped into the bushes to avoid passing cars. I was afraid one of our church friends driving to the picnic might see me, point, and exclaim, "Hey! Isn't that Dave?"
Several hours and five miles later, sweaty, blistered, and with feet and legs I was sure would never work again, I arrived home. Although the house was quiet, I knew where to find my wife—asleep in bed. That was her usual way to process conflict.
I stood and looked at her. I wasn't angry anymore; I was barely conscious.
She woke enough to return the gaze. I could tell she wasn't angry either. Then humbly, I said those two important words, "Move over."
Exhausted, I climbed into bed next to her, too tired to speak, but desperately wanting to reconnect. We laid there silently until we both escaped into a much needed sleep.
When we awoke, Kristie said, "I see you made it home all right." Those words held a glimmer of compassion.
"It took a while." Pause. "But I needed to cool off," I finally admitted.
"Did anyone see you?" A smile crept across her face.
"No. I managed to dive into some bushes just before the Wallace's Toyota turned the corner. I got cut." I pulled back the blanket to reveal a swollen cut and bruised area on my leg.
"Oh, Honey!" she exclaimed and jumped into action. Running to the bathroom sink, she grabbed a washcloth and hurried back to the bed. I smiled at how quickly I'd won her over—until I noticed she was cleaning the sheets rather than caring for my leg.
Well, at least we're talking, I thought, a little hurt.
Then I knew I had to take the first step, to be quick to reconcile. I hate this part, I half-thought, half-prayed.
"Listen," I started. "I'm sorry about earlier."
"What exactly are you sorry about?" she asked. I could see she wasn't going to let me get away with an undefined apology. "What exactly are you asking me to forgive?"
Okay. I should know this. How hard could it be?
"I'm sorry for buying the wrong potato chips," I said with my best puppy dog eyes.
Her stare hardened. One eyebrow raised. I'd obviously missed the mark.
"No, David, the potato chips are not the problem."
"Then what is?"
Fortunately Kristie knew that the line, "I shouldn't have to tell you" doesn't work on clueless guys like me. I need a picture drawn carefully if I'm going to get the point.
"You didn't listen," she began. "When you disregard what I suggest, you disrespect me. I feel as if my opinion isn't important to you. I feel as if I don't matter. It's not about the potato chips; it's about how you value me. Yes, the chips are a minor irritation, but I asked specifically for something and you blatantly ignored it. If you'd listened, you would have respected me."
I sat for a moment to let her words sink in, then as carefully as possible I repeated what I'd heard. "So you really aren't against barbecue-flavored chips." She nodded, then waited for more.
I took a deep breath. "So if I'd simply asked you to repeat what you'd said, I would have known what you wanted, and more importantly, I would have shown you respect because I took the time to listen to you and your opinion." I waited for the verdict.
Did I get it right this time? I wondered.
Kristie didn't say a word. She applauded. A new smile crept across her face. Now that she'd been heard, she rewound the mental tape of what happened and owned up to her part. "I'm sorry too."
"Really? For what?" I wasn't about to make it simple for her.
"I overreacted. It was just a bag of chips and I turned it into a drama. I could have talked to you about it later and supported your barbecue choice. I probably made you feel disrespected by treating you like a child. Now we missed the picnic and you got injured on the walk home." Finally she used the washcloth on my leg.
"Will you forgive me?" It was her turn with the puppy dog eyes.
"Will you forgive me?" I asked her.
"Of course," we said in unison.
We both sighed a deep breath of relief. We'd turned the table on our mishap. There's no doubt another "potato chip" decision will be lurking around the next bend in our marriage. It's inevitable that we'll lock horns again, but we can refuse to repeat the offense without at least learning something to help us along the way.
Having stemmed the tide for now, we headed to the kitchen for a late night snack. With renewed warmth and laughter, we settled into the couch with a big bag of … popcorn!
"We still have a problem," my wife broke the silence.
Uh-oh, I groaned inwardly. What else?
She smiled. "How will we explain why we weren't at the picnic?"
"That's easy," I said with a wink. "I'll just tell them the truth … I was on the road."
David Stroder is a pastor and freelance author who lives in Nevada.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.