Lessons from an old pot – or how to revive your Relationship

I recently discovered an old Potjie Kos pot (it’s also called a Dutch over and looks like a witches cauldron).  I had purchased this with great plans for fabulous slow cooked meals over an open fire at my rural section in the mountains of Erewhon.  Sadly the pot had spent a year by the shed rusting and was now in pretty bad shape.

As I looked at this rusty, cobwebbed hunk of metal I have to say I seriously thought about dropping it in the bin and stumping up for a new pot.  It occurred to me that it is a feeling shared by many people in relationships.  They look at their partner and the very visible issues in their troubled relationships and find it easy to look longingly at the idea of a new ‘fresh’ start.

What held me back from this easy route was an inbuilt understanding that this pot was worth saving – they are expensive – well made and will last many generations.  It wasn’t the pot’s fault it was rusty – I left it out.  It deserved better care than I had given it.  

That was the moment of change as I started to commit to the process of restoration.  The next step was preparing to get dirty – this pot was rusty I changed into work clothes so I could be focused on cleaning not keeping clean.

Secondly I got advice – I went online to find out what had worked for others I found a number of useful tools and a certain amount of rubbish.  I was on google recently and typed in relationship help Auckland (where I live).  Prominently featured was a paid google advertisement that went along the lines – DON’T WASTE MONEY ON COUNSELLING – TRY THIS FIRST.  Curious I signed up to be strung along by one form to another to another to finally be present with a short snippet collated from what I had submitted with more details to follow if I just paid for the detailed report.  This kind of thing is frustrating but a common part of the search for resources.  Friends, neighbours relatives all have their tips about how to help your relationship some of them are incredibly useful – others are more related to their own issues, biases and preconceptions – a certain amount of healthy sceptism is a good thing to be balanced with a bit of ‘let’s give it a go”.

Thirdly I got some tools – steel wool, vinegar and baking soda figured prominently.  I wanted something tough but not toxic.  Boundaries in relationship are like this they force us to take responsibility for our actions and they limit harm to us from others.  If TV is dominating the relationship send the T.V. to the repair shop – get it out of the bedroom.  If you have neglected your personal hygiene and self care – go get a makeover, do your hair get a new outfit, throw out the old shorts that are 3 sizes too small and covered with grease.  Take responsibility for what you eat.

Fourthly I persisted – multiple layers of rust were ground down I boiled vinegar and baking soda to clean the inside then scrubbed it again – my fingers got raw I got sweaty and dirty and I had my daughters making helpful comments like, “That’s never gonna work Dad”, and, “I’m not eating out of that”.

Finally the pot was clean and no doubt had the charming taste of vinegar and baking soda so my next step was to change the taste in the pot to do this I grabbed a chicken carcass vegetable scraps an onion some salt and pepper and I boiled up a glorious stock.  It’s amazing how quickly we can let go of those things that connect us as a family wether it’s eating meals together, singing silly songs in the car, decorating a christmas tree together.  In my practice I often have to remind couples that learning to communicate better is not just for talking about problems – in the long run it’s designed to help you share better with your lover how interesting, amazing, captivating and incredible you find them and what precisely you most enjoy.

The final step was to soak the pot in oil then heat it to form a protective layer.  Oil like tenderness makes a durable and surprisingly strong surface that seals out rusts holds in cooking flavours and makes the pot easier to clean.  The one thing I want any of my couples to learn is the simple daily practice of sharing one genuine appreciation.  This habits builds a wealth of softness and strength that helps couples through the tough times.  Gottman, the fame couples researcher identified this as the single common characteristic of happy couples – tender appreciation.

The pot was ready – the cooking began and I tell you it was worth the effort – and the girls loved it.  Good relationships are immensely hard work but most things that matter are. 

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