Examples of FIML Practice: Tomato Sauce

It’s less than a week before the winter solstice and our vegetable garden continues to support a few hangers-on such as cabbages, arugula, and leeks. But the bounty of summer is a distant memory. And so we are now starting to dig into our pantry of home-canned goods.

I have only been gardening for a few years and canning for even less. I have not yet gotten to the point where I can reliably produce the very high yields I desire. My insecurity about this is what primed me for a neurotic reaction the other night.

In an effort to conserve our limited supply of homemade tomato sauce from our own homegrown tomatoes, we occasionally use store-bought sauce instead. This is what we did the other night. When we sat down to eat, my partner almost immediately began commenting on the dinner. “Your sauce is so much better,” he said. And then a few bites later, “This store-bought sauce just doesn’t make me feel as good as yours does…there’s just no substitute for homegrown tomatoes.”

Neurotic human that I am, I could not help taking these comments as a reminder of my failure to grow enough tomatoes so that we could have homemade sauce as often as we wanted, which turns out to be pretty often. I was pretty sure that he wasnt intending to remind me of my failures as a gardener. But not being totally sure, I responded by growing a little bit sullen and wishing he would stop making those comments.

“Yes, yes, I know homemade sauce is better. Don’t worry, I’ll grow enough tomatoes next year. What else can I say? For now, can’t we just enjoy our dinner?” I said, probably somewhat sharply.

At this point we commenced with a FIML analysis, during which I learned that my partner had only been trying to compliment me when he made those comments. The rational part of my mind had suspected this, but FIML gave me a way to make sure, so that I wouldn’t leave the table believing that I might have been indirectly scolded. The exchange went something like this:

Him: OK, stop. What is in your mind right now? Why do you sound upset?

Me: I just wonder why you keep making those comments. I think the sauce tastes good.

Him: It does taste good. I was only commenting in that way to emphasize how much better yours is.

Me: But we know that homemade sauce is always going to be better. I guess I’m wondering if maybe you’re subtly grousing about my not having made enough to fully stock the pantry?

Him: No, not at all.

Me: So, there’s no part of you that’s criticizing me for not having grown enough tomatoes last summer?

Him: No, there’s none of that whatsoever. I was simply trying to say, “Honey, your tomato sauce is far better than any commercial sauce and I really appreciate it.”

Now, this is not just some typical make-up session where the offending party says what s/he thinks the other person wants to hear in order to smooth things over. This is a FIML exchange in which I have the opportunity to find out whether my suspicions are true about what my partner is thinking. Prerequisite to FIML are mutual agreements to tell the truth and to believe the other person. So, I can be confident that my partner is telling the truth (“No, I was not criticizing you”) and he can be confident that I believe him (“OK, then I guess I was just being neurotic”).

In that particular exchange I was shown that what I had reacted to was a phantom in my own mind. It had nothing to do with what my partner was thinking.

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