Say Cheese: A Relationship Lesson

| January 1, 2018

I wasn’t going to share this story. It’s personal but now I have no choice. I had a conversation a few minutes ago and saw the positive impact this story had on a marriage under stress so, now I have to share it.

An acquaintance told me he has been separated from his wife for a year and that they’ve tried to reconcile with little progress.

He volunteered they were respectful of each other but they couldn’t have conversations about their relationship. It was as if there was an invisible barrier.

I heard ‘invisible barrier’ and my internal voice whispered. “Tell him the story of the cheese.”

The story the ‘cheese’ begins with my wife Patricia and me in the front room having a glass of wine and she said. “We could improve on our marriage if we could communicate better. Let’s go to a counselor and see what we can learn.”

My reaction was “Let’s do it because I can’t remember not being married to you and the hour glass is running out of sand. If we want to improve it’s now or never.”

Here comes my attempt to recapture six hours of counseling conversations.

Patricia saw me as coming on too strong, like an authority figure and to protect herself she tried to please me.

My response was I didn’t want a people pleaser I wanted the Patricia who had a successful career and started community projects that years later are ongoing.

In addition to people pleasing, she took any suggestions as criticisms and a threat. This really put me on my back foot. I’m a coach and tell my clients a way to know how their actions impact others is through feedback and suggestions for improvement.

We are at an impasse on feedback. Patricia, the people pleaser, won’t tell me how I impact her while I want feedback to improve and open up our communication. I can’t change my behavior if she keeps stuffing her feelings and won’t speak up.

The solution is to find a way Patricia feels safe letting me know I was upsetting her without telling me I was upsetting her. Is that possible?

The counselor looked me in the eye and said, “Listen, don’t comment.”

She turns to Patricia and said, “When Kent upsets you, you say cheese.”

Looking at me, “You now know what cheese means.”

This story doesn’t have a happy ending, however, this is a happy beginning.

Life is a journey. Patricia is the child of an alcoholic. You can research the impact which is what I did. Here are some of the characteristics of children of alcoholics. These don’t all apply to Patricia but they give me a perspective and help me not be as judgmental.

  • Uneasy with authority figures
  • Protect by pleasing people
  • Lose identity in pleasing
  • Criticism or feedback is experienced as threatening
  • More concern over others than self
  • Let others take the initiative
  • Dependent, terrified of abandonment
  • Willing to bend to hold on to a relationship
  • Fear being abandoned emotionally


I reread what I’ve written knowing I can’t go public without Patricia’s approval. I have to show her what I’ve written.

I had second thoughts about doing this until the lunch I had yesterday. It was with the pastor of a church who I’ve known for a long time. I told him the story you just read. His reaction was, “This may be why my marriage is a frayed and this gives me hope.”

I do think the story gave him hope. Perhaps it will do the same for you.