Remember how weird it was when you discovered that your boyfriend’s family had wine with dinner or that he leaves dirty dishes in the sink overnight sometimes? You may not have realized that some people put anchovies in their salad until the first time your girlfriend cooked for you.
As your relationship has progressed, you’ve no doubt been introduced to your loved one’s “cultural differences” – the ways in which growing up in a specific family influences a person’s behavior and preferences. You may have found them charming, or just a bit strange, but every time you accepted them, you strengthened your commitment to the person.
When you move in with a person, family culture can affect everything from where you store your dishes to who buys the groceries. Facing with so many differences at once can be confusing and frustrating, but you can get through it if you stay focused on what’s most important.
Make a Plan
The more time you spend working out where things will go and who will do what before the move, the smoother your transition will be. When I moved in with my first husband, I spent several hours unpacking the dishes and putting them away, only to have him come behind me and move them all. I was upset and he was annoyed.
Eventually we worked out a plan to store the dishes in a manner we both found convenient, but we wasted a lot of time and emotional energy working at cross purposes first.
Communicate Diplomatically and Sensitively
During the same move, my new husband handled his feelings of “culture shock” over our different ways of doing things, by pointing out what he saw as flaws in my processes. I didn’t load the dishwasher right or make the bed with tight hospital corners.
I decided the best response was not to argue, so I told him that since he was so much better at these things than I was, he could be responsible for them from now on. It didn’t take long for him to figure out that he was not coming out ahead, and to start discussing issues with me in a more constructive manner.
And FYI, you should always be prepared to carry out any threats – um, concessions – you make. For the rest of our marriage he was, in fact, responsible for the dishes and sheets.
Create Tie Breaker Zones
This is one of those things we often do subconsciously, but it’s not a bad idea to vocalize and formalize it to one another. Designate certain areas of responsibility as primarily hers or primarily yours. You’re a great cook, and she can’t open a can of soup? You should be the ultimate authority in the kitchen. That means if there’s a culinary disagreement, you’re the tie breaker.
Let It Go
Things are going to be different in the home you make with your mate than they were in your childhood home. That’s o.k. You’re going to have to compromise on some things, and so will she. Stay focused on the reasons you want to spend your life with this person, and ask yourself, “what’s more important, the arrangement of the clothes in the closet or the beautiful, smiling face of the person who organized them?”
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