- Relationship conflict comes from an infinite variety of sources, but lifestyle differences can be especially hard to manage.
- There are practical ways to deal with compatibility issues between vegetarians/vegans and carnivores, significant others with low sex drives and high sex drives, and couples from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
- Communication, compromise, and common ground are crucial to keeping love alive when lifestyles clash.
- Meat, sex, and money probably shouldn’t be dealbreakers unless deeper values are informing someone’s lifestyle.
One thing that we’ve all learned from romantic comedies is that significant others can live in harmony even when their lifestyles are radically different. For example, one SO might prefer reading on the couch to running triathlons. One SO might spring out of bed at 5am to get a headstart on the day while the other hits Snooze repeatedly. The social butterfly vs. the recluse. The messy person vs. the tidy person. The freelance artist vs. the 9-5er. Intimate partners overcome lifestyle clashes all the time. Drastic variations don’t mean incompatibility. Sometimes they just make movies—I mean relationships—more interesting.
But cross-lifestyle relationships aren’t always easy. And when it comes to meat, sex, and money, couples may need to work a little harder to reconcile their differences. Here’s some guidance for how to bridge the gaps, or how to say goodbye when necessary.
Vegetarians and Meat Eaters
Vegetable people and meat people are both worthy of love! (Though vegetable people will enjoy that love longer due to increased longevity. Not that I’m biased in favor of a life-giving, happiness-bestowing, plant-based diet.) Can vegetarians/vegans share a bed with carnivores? It seems to depend on the intensity of their dietary values. A vegan who believes that people who eat meat qualify as murderers may have trouble looking their burger-loving spouse in the eye. In that instance there’s a divergence in core values, not just lifestyle. But a laidback vegetarian who avoids meat for the sake of their health and the planet might be more accepting of their SO’s choices—and kitchen aromas. If a couple’s critical values align enough to survive the meat clash, then they have a fighting chance of staying together. They just need to follow this advice:
- Compromise. That is, make minor adjustments, but don’t consistently give up your own happiness for the sake of the other person. A carnivore should be willing to add a few more plant-based meals to their repertoire, and a vegetarian should be willing to subsist on bread and salad at an SO’s favorite barbecue joint every once in a while. Both partners should be willing to make small changes.
- Respect. You don’t have to understand your partner’s lifestyle, but you do need to respect it. You can tease your SO in a loving way, but the humor should be harmless, not mean-spirited or judgmental. Don’t use mealtime as an excuse to convert them to your way of life.
- Engage. Show interest in your partner’s lifestyle. Ask questions. Have healthy debates. Do a book exchange: her keto manual for your vegan cookbook. Be willing to see the other person’s perspective. Agree to disagree.
- Remember. When you’re butting heads about Thanksgiving dinner, try to remember all the things you have in common. You both like ketchup. And candy. And the beautiful children you’ve raised together.
- Plan. Date nights shouldn’t be spent berating your SO about the limited vegan menu options. Plan ahead to avoid conflicts. Look at the restaurant’s website in advance for heaven’s sake.
- Establish. Make clear rules regarding domestic meals and their preparation. Is it okay to cook together, then add the carnist’s meat and cheese at the end of the process? How do you feel about cross-contamination? Do you need to cook separate meals, with separate utensils, pans, cutting boards, etc.? Do couples always need to eat together?
- Be considerate. If you’re doing the grocery shopping, check ingredients closely. Share refrigerator space so beef chili doesn’t get more real estate than broccoli crowns.
- Be flexible. People change. Let them. Your lifelong vegetarian spouse may suddenly develop a hankering for bacon. Your carnivorous SO might start grilling plant-based meat.
Low Sex Drive and High Sex Drive
Significant others can also have wildly different sexual appetites. Your libidos might sync at the beginning of a relationship, then gradually become imbalanced. One person isn’t getting enough sex while the other person is getting too much. Then negative emotional patterns might come into play. One person wants more intercourse, then feels rejected when their SO isn’t feeling it. Over time, the SO feels pressured and guilty, and the person with the higher sex drive feels hurt and neglected. So what can you do?
- First, acknowledge that no one’s sex drive is wrong. You’re just experiencing a mismatch. It’s not fair for one partner to say that their sexual desires are healthy and their SO’s desires are unhealthy. This is biology we’re talking about.
- Rule out medical and psychological reasons for a lack of sexual desire. Are you or your partner on a new medication? Has something changed hormonally? Is someone going through an emotional difficulty? Is someone overstressed or feeling underappreciated? A lot of things can cause hyposexuality. Psychological factors can also influence hypersexuality. For example, some people may cope with anxiety through having more sex.
- Communicate. Yes, sex can be sensitive to talk about, but committed humans can do difficult things. What are your underlying beliefs about sex in long-term relationships? Do you think couples have to be in sexual sync all the time or something is wrong? Open communication can clear up misunderstandings like “This is my fault” or “You’re not attracted to me anymore” or “I feel like you only like me for sex” or “I didn’t realize we were having a problem.” Empathize with each other’s point of view.
- Talk about what worked in the past. Reminisce about a time when you two were both super into your sexual experience. Could you try to rediscover similar turn-ons?
- Plan your sexual encounters. It may not sound sexy, but if a high-sex-drive partner knows that sex is definitely happening on Saturday night, they may not nudge their low-sex-drive partner as much during the week. And the low-sex-drive partner may be able to prepare mentally or physically (by getting in touch with their body), so they’re more in the mood when sex-time rolls around.
- Get creative with physical affection. (These compromises can be PG-rated or X-rated.)
- Don’t cheat. Infidelity is not the answer. But sex therapy or couples counseling might be.
Rich Background and Poor Background
Financial conflict is one of the main reasons that people get divorced in America. In her book “Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages,” author Jessi Streib proposes that partners from different socioeconomic backgrounds tend to have differing beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. For example, someone who grew up in a blue-collar family might be more spontaneous, while someone who grew up middle-class might prefer to plan and manage. In couples, these differences might play out in money-based conflicts about the best way to go about getting a new job, or whether or not to save for a rainy day. So if one partner grew up rich and the other grew up poor, what’s the best way to find financial harmony?
- Talk about money. Don’t wait until you’re fighting over the credit card bill to have these discussions. Try to agree in advance on some financial boundaries, budgets, and goals. Hold periodic state-of-the-bank-account meetings. What’s your financial picture as a couple?
- Recognize class-based strengths. Celebrate your complementary traits. According to Streib’s book, someone from a lower-class background might be better at going with the flow, maintaining an identity separate from work, and being emotionally intimate. Someone from a middle-class background might be more organized or managerial because they experienced the world as predictable and stable during their upbringing.
- Don’t ask your SO to change. But forced conversion is different from healthy influence. Emily Simonian, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Thriveworks in Washington, DC, says it’s a relationship red flag when a partner can’t accept influence. “If your partner is unwilling to compromise,” says Simonian, “or even hear the smallest things that others suggest to them, you might want to rethink taking the relationship to a more serious level. Accepting each other’s influence is vital to a harmonious partnership because it illustrates a crucial act of love: the ability to consider each other’s thoughts, feelings, needs, or desires—not just your own.”
- Allocate tasks that play to a spouse’s skill sets. For example, the SO who grew up wealthy might be better at managing the 401K, and the spouse who grew up disadvantaged might be better at making every dollar count on vacation.
- Recognize your own class biases, and your own privilege. Remember that what you grew up thinking was normal was maybe not your SO’s normal. Do you judge people harshly who grew up with money? Do you subconsciously believe that being poor is some kind of personal failure? Class is difficult to discuss in part because it’s so moralized in America. Try to remove the judgment and empathize with the person.
An Ode to Love!
Now that we’ve covered meat, sex, and money, this seems like a good time to wax philosophical about the nature of love. Love shouldn’t erode your own values. Love shouldn’t change who you are. Love stays alive through common ground, romantic comedies, and ketchup. Love can unite the vegetable people and the super rich people and the people with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). But if your vegan lover won’t kiss you within eight hours of your eating a chicken nugget, you may need to rethink your relationship.