Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships — with romantic partners, family members, co-workers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!
Q: Cooking has been one of my favorite hobbies since I was a kid, and I love cooking for my girlfriend. Usually, I cook our meals before she comes home from work, and we enjoy dinner at home together. But she recently made the choice to go vegan, and I find our dinners to be frustrating and a little stressful. I’m a meat lover, and I don’t particularly want to give up my favorite dinners, but I also want to support her. How do I support both of us without going vegan myself?
A: Different diets or food preferences can be difficult to navigate in a relationship. On the one hand, meals can be a time of connection for a couple, and sharing the same meal is a part of that. On the other hand, we all want to eat foods we like.
My husband and I have been faced with this challenge in our relationship as well. It started when we first met, on a small scale, because I love fish and he hates fish (he can’t even stand the smell of it!). Once we felt we had settled in well with this difference, I began having health issues that required that I completely change my diet — so we had to readjust again. What we have realized is that this issue is not going away, so we have to manage these differences on an ongoing basis in a way that doesn’t build up resentment. This requires a lot of open, honest communication.
According to John Gottman, an average of 69 percent of problems that a couple will face are perpetual problems, meaning they are not solvable. His research shows that the “Masters of Relationships” (couples who deal with these problems well) are continually dialoguing about their differences and finding temporary compromises along the way. This is the approach that my husband and I have taken, and one that I encourage you and your partner to take as well.
The key to success around navigating different food choices is to be able to talk openly and honestly about how you’re both feeling — and to find compromises. This is a process you will have to do over and over again when the current compromise you have is no longer working due to changes in life, routines, or one person becoming unhappy with the current compromise.
No one can tell you how to arrange your mealtimes in a way that will work for you. Only you and your partner can decide on this. But it will require you both to honor one another’s food preferences and give a little, while not giving up too much of what you need. Consider trying a few of the solutions that my husband and I have found successful: Substitute some ingredients in your current dishes to make them vegan, make meals in which you can both eat shared side dishes but with different mains, eat out at places you both enjoy, or try out new dishes together.
All through this process, you and your partner will need to dialogue — come up with some compromises and see what will work for you. The key to success with this perpetual issue is to make sure you are both communicating openly, and working as a team to manage it.
More from Asking for a Friend here.