This past Monday, I was working in my office with a couple that I have been seeing together for the last several months. They were in the midst of one of those couple’s crises that all of us run into now and again during the course of a long-term relationship. A new baby at home was followed with John losing his job. Those two events sent John and Karen far into a code red on the stress meter individually, as parents and as a couple.

John in particular was not handling things well. During one argument a few days earlier, he lost his temper and punched a hole through a kitchen wall. Another dispute led to him driving erratically, running off the road and ultimately threatening to get out and leave Karen and the baby in the car, on the curb, to fend for themselves.

For her part, Karen was angry and made it clear she was at the end of her rope. “I’m done,” she said more than once during our 45 minutes together.

Much of the session was spent speaking to John, walking through some strategies that may provide help in handling his recent “short wick” temper. He was accepting of the advice and also agreed to meet with a psychiatrist to see if medication, even if for just a short time, might be helpful to keep him calm and less reactive. That is not to say that he was without complaints or criticisms of his wife. From John’s perspective, he was really trying but getting nowhere. He did the laundry, took care of the baby and also ran out in the evenings to do food shopping. None of that helped and only served to fuel his temper. “I do all I can,” he said. “I mean, I know she is the breadwinner now so I get that I have to do my part with Emma and around the house. But I get no respect, no appreciation. I’m just running in place. So yeah, I get angry.”

A week later, John came in by himself, still reeling from the constant bickering with Karen, the most recent incident having occurred after he returned home from the grocery store. Karen needed sugar, a specific kind of sugar. “She wanted confectioners sugar. I came home with granular sugar. My first mistake,” he said, implying there was a second.

Karen also asked that he bring home some oranges. “The bags were on sale, so I grabbed one of those,” he said. When John got home, Karen immediately laid into him about the sugar. “I’m sorry,” John told me, “but I really never knew there was more than one kind of sugar. That was nothing compared to the fuzzy orange though.”

Apparently after giving him the business over bringing home the wrong sugar, as Karen was emptying the bag of oranges, a rotten and fuzzy one bounced out. She had a meltdown, screaming at him for wasting their money on rotten fruit. “The fact was,” John said, “that even counting the rotten one, I still got a better price on the bag than if I had just bought a couple of the others that were not on sale. Not that it mattered any. She was pissed.”

As he was telling me the fuzzy orange story, I was laughing a bit because David and I have had similar disputes over me buying bad produce. I am not really a fruit eater and usually just grab the first apple or box of berries that I see. That often results in our tossing away a bad apple, some rotten fruit and yes, a fuzzy orange now and again.

John and I talked about how he might diffuse Karen’s reaction, should it happen again. I suggested that he calmly tell her that he was sorry, but at the same time remind her that he went to the grocery store, did his best and, after all, it was one less thing that she had to do.

The two of us laughed. “Tell her to embrace that fuzzy orange,” I said.

-Julie Bulitt, LCSW-C is a licensed clinical social worker, having worked for more than 25 years with individuals, couples and families. Her private practice focuses on family, couples and individual therapy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Executive Functioning coaching. She presently serves as the in-house therapist for The Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her new book, THE 5 CORE CONVERSATIONS FOR COUPLES is co-authored with her husband, a Maryland divorce lawyer and will be published by Skyhorse Publishing and Simon & Schuster e-books in February, 2020.