When you start dating someone new, it’s easy to agree on everything—at least it was for my husband and me. You like dirty martinis? Me too! You like bagel Sundays? What a coincidence! You put milk in your coffee? Yep, I think it tastes better that way too. When you’re lost in the bliss of newfound love, it’s easy to simply say “yes” to everything.
But after months of drinking a bit too much, eating out a bit too often, and regularly saying “yes” to things we previously saved for cheat days, the indulgence got old. And once the honeymoon period started to wind down, new habits (and preferences) started to reveal themselves.
I vividly remember dropping my first truth bomb. While strolling through the grocery store, we stopped in the refrigerator section to stock up on breakfast staples. My husband reached for the Greek yogurt, and I unleashed. “I don’t like Greek yogurt,” I said.
He was shocked. We’d been eating it every morning for the past year.
“And do you mind if we start buying almond milk?”
I then proceeded to reveal that I also didn’t care for store-bought granola, that I wasn’t that crazy about red meat, and that the coffee beans he loved were too bitter for me.
After that, the honesty floodgates were open. I learned just as many new things about him, and at moments, we felt like strangers—when it came to food.
While my husband could eat chicken every night, I like eating a mostly vegetarian diet. His favorite breakfast is cereal; mine is soft-boiled eggs and sliced avocado. He can drink three cups of coffee a day and sleep like a baby; I function best when I stick to tea. For me, indulgence is dessert; for him, it’s red meat. As a long-distance runner who is naturally lean, his body craves carbohydrates and processes them like a pro. As a yoga- and barre-devotee with a rounder physique, I feel (and look) my best when limiting grains and gluten. In many ways, we’re opposites. Yet we eat most of our meals together.
Here’s how we found a middle ground.
With the abundance of health-related content on the internet, it’s easy to think we know the best way to eat for our body. As someone who works in the wellness industry, I definitely thought I knew—and when it came to food in our relationship, I thought I knew best. But shoving advice down your partner’s throat rarely ever works (trust me, I tried). So instead, we saw a nutritionist together.
Though we saw the same nutritionist, our appointments were separate, which gave us ample opportunity to ask our own questions and learn about our own bodies. I learned that eating too much fat—even healthy fats—disrupts my digestion, that my body prefers cooked vegetables, and that I benefit from more animal protein in my diet.
He learned that he had to eat more to fuel his exercise regimen, that a higher protein breakfast gave him more energy, and that eating grains at night improved both his digestion and sleeping. But the most important takeaway was that because our bodies are different, our needs are different, and that’s OK.
Embrace a Happy Medium
It’s easy to fixate on differences, but one of the keys to our harmonious kitchen is focusing on our similarities. Though we may not see eye-to-eye on ice cream—I can’t live without it; he avoids it entirely—we both love eating healthy and feeling good. And though our list of differences is long, our list of like-minded flavors is longer.
Some of the things on our mutual love list: salmon, tahini, arugula, eggplant, curries, zucchini noodles, lentil soups, sweet potato chili, veggie kabobs (really any kind of kabob), Caesar salad, shakshuka. When we changed the conversation to what we both love, as opposed to what we don’t, we realized it was actually pretty easy to enjoy the same meal together.
We also make a concerted effort to let the other live a little. Because he loves chicken, we cook it at least once a week. Because I love my morning eggs, he’ll eat them with me occasionally—and even cook them (he makes a mean scramble). We give and take and sometimes we simply eat different things or use different toppings. For example, if he’s craving meat and I’m craving veggies, we’ll make a grain salad and use whatever protein or add-ons we fancy. Same same, but different!
Communication Is Key
I’m a firm believer in communication—in and out of the kitchen. In fact, if we’d been more open with each other at the beginning of our relationship, we could’ve been eating in harmony all along (and feeling a lot better too).
While it’s the hardest thing to stick to—and do in a thoughtful way—I also think it’s the most important. This means everything from saying “no” (“No, I do not want another drink”) to being open about what you need (“I’m not feeling great. Can we cut back on eating out?”) to asking for help (“I’m trying to quit sugar. Can we keep dessert out of the house?”).
It can also be difficult to figure out how to communicate in the right way. For instance, I can get frustrated when I want to share a pasta dish, and my husband wants fish. While I know he’s making an effort to eat healthier, I want him to be my partner in crime (and I’m not shy about saying so—as he’s not shy about declining, repeatedly).
And I know he feels frustrated when a cheat meal on Friday spirals into a cheat weekend, and we both wake up on Monday feeling like crap—with me being the instigator. Learning how to say “no” and express what you need thoughtfully and without any finger-pointing is hard, but it’s what makes communication work. My husband and I work at this every day.
First and foremost, it’s OK to like different things! We know a couple where one’s been a vegetarian since age six, and the other is a diehard Paleo fan who eats bacon every morning. They’ve been together for 11 years. Having different tastes and different needs is a-OK. And in all honesty, your differences are what make you such a unique (and wonderful) pairing.
So be honest. The best way to get to a neutral ground is to talk about what you need and to listen to what your partner needs. Odds are, there will still be plenty of things you can eat (and enjoy) together. And you’ll likely be a lot healthier—personally and in your relationship—for it.