How Mayonnaise Can Save Your Marriage

There’s a glass bottle in our cupboard that contains homemade salad dressing. It’s a combination of olive oil and flavored balsamic vinegar that we pick up at a local specialty shop. The owner showed us the appropriate ratio to use to get the best results.

Whenever we put in on the table, the oil is floating on top of the vinegar. We have to shake it up to get it to mix. But we have to drizzle it over the salad quickly or it separates again. Sometimes it mixes well, while other times it still seems to separate again the moment we stop shaking it.

I figured it had something to do with the different types of vinegar. There had to be something that made some mix better than others. So I did a little research.

In the process, I learned a new term that I had heard, but never understood: emulsification.

I turns out that when you shake the oil and vinegar mixture, it breaks the liquid into tiny droplets. The droplets aren’t really mixing; they’re just hanging out temporarily, like people who just walked into a crowded event with thousands of people.

It looks like they’ve combined. But eventually, the droplets rejoin their friends in small groups and the liquids separate again.

But there are things called emulsifiers that can slow that process down considerably. Emulsifiers are different types of food you add to the mix that keeps those droplets separated longer. They work at the molecular level (which is why it’s off my radar – my high school chemistry teacher suggested I find a career in writing).

It turns out that certain herb-based vinegars blend better, because they coat the molecules so they don’t reattach as easily. That’s a simplistic perspective, but it explains why some salad dressings stay mixed longer than others.

But my favorite discovery was egg yolks. One description said that the molecules in egg yolks have sort of a head and a tail. One end is attracted to water molecules, while the other end is attracted to oil molecules. So they act as a bridge between the two to hold them together. It’s kind of a chemical matchmaker to keep totally unique types of molecules connected.

imagesMayonnaise is a great example. If it didn’t contain egg yolks, it would separate in the refrigerator over time. But with the yolks, it’s filled with tiny matchmakers that hold the whole thing together. That’s why we don’t have to stir mayonnaise each time we use it.

OK, maybe mayonnaise isn’t the healthiest thing in the fridge. But it’s a great metaphor for relationships.

Here’s my take on it:

There are “salad dressing relationships” and “mayonnaise relationships.”

Salad dressing relationships consist of two unique people trying to blend together. They live in the same bottle, and they’re trying to become one. But their different temperaments, personalities and interests drive them apart. They try to find common ground, but end up irritating each other. Over time, they get used to it and take each other for granted.

They’re together, but living separate lives.

Mayonnaise relationships have the same unique people trying to blend together. But somehow, it works. Their relationship is stable, even in the middle of the tough patches in life.

They have emulsifiers.

What are the emulsifiers that make the difference?

  • Unconditional commitment – Something powerful happens when there’s an atmosphere that says, “You’re stuck with me . . . I’m not going anywhere.” Those are phrases that need to be verbalized often, not just assumed.
  • Courtesy – The closer a relationship becomes, the more important it is to monitor respect for each other. Courtesy is the “golden rule” in practice, valuing others in the same way we want them to value us.
  • Mutual benefit – When conflict comes or we need to solve a problem, it’s healthy to look for solutions that benefit both of us.
  • Ownership – Healthy people take ownership of their emotions. If we blame someone else for the way we feel, we’ve given them control of our emotions. We can’t stop the feeling, but we can decide how we’re going to respond.
  • Identity – Marriage is a team sport – a single unit made up of two unique individuals. They each make a unique contribution that’s distinct from the other members of the team, but they work together to accomplish a common purpose. The strength of any relationship is the distinctness that each individual brings.

They say that the only things that would survive a nuclear blast are cockroaches, Spam and Velveeta cheese.

I wonder if mayonnaise would also be on that list.

I wonder if my marriage would be on that list . . . and I think it will, if we add the right ingredients.


What would you add to your marriage to make it last?

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books – including “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys,” “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions,” and “Dealing With the Elephant in the Room.” (See Book page)

  • Jenni Key

    Love it! And what a great explanation of emulsification, coupled with how it applies to marriage. True–those simple elements of courtesy, deference, laughter, identity are crucial. I just ran into a couple celebrating their 55th anniversary by breakfast out at CoCo’s. The fact that they do that EVERY day didn’t matter, they said… 🙂 just that they were together.

    • Jenni – It’s always a treat to see your name in my inbox, comment section or FB page – thanks for connecting! I thought I had responded to this, but realized when I went to post today that I had been simply enjoying your response all by myself. Much better to share the joy – so, “right back at’cha!” Thanks!

      • By the way – I’m finishing up a book deadline, so am posting infrequently at the moment . . . which is why it took me a while to notice my lack of response . . .