"Can you cook together?" is one of my favourite questions to ask any couple, it's a seemingly innocent question that is guaranteed to cause a stir (pun intended).
"Are you being SERIOUS ?" or "What? Of course not !"
are the most common responses and I'm yet to hear a cheerful
"Yes, it's our favourite way to relax".
Let's face it, the kitchen is definitely a battlefield with each side struggling for control, then you add time pressure and hungry people as it's no surprise most of us find it a stressful challenge to cook with our partner. Usually we can predict exactly how it's going to go wrong, before it does.
In our house, I am a tidy cook, bordering on pedantic. I need a clear work surface, I chop neatly, I clear away to peelings immediately... AND I am far too slow for my speedy husband who dives in, creating chaos along the way. I can't believe that he can shower the place with flour - AND LEAVE IT THERE. He finds it ridiculous that my carrot slices are the same thickness give or take 0.05 mm. He and I should know better because we know what's going on. I have a Be Perfect Driver, he has a Hurry Up Driver and human beings revert strongly to their Driver behaviour when stressed. Tabi Kahler, a Transactional Analyst, defined 5 Drivers: Be Perfect, Be Strong, Please Others, Hurry Up and Try Hard. Most of us tend to have two dominant Drivers and simply put they are the result of how our parents encouraged us to behave as kids.
Their names are self explanatory, but here are some clues to how to spot them:-
Be Perfect: neat in appearance; count points off on their fingers as they speak.
Be Strong: have little facial expression or movement in the body; remain calm even in very stressful situations.
Please Others: raise the tone of their voice at the end of each sentence, smile and nod a lot, raise their eyebrows.
Hurry Up: do foot or finger tapping, sighing, finish other people's sentences.
Try Hard: their body is generally hunched, leaning forward with a crumpled face, two lines going up between their eyebrows, start many things at once.
Understanding our own primary Drivers can really help us modify our behaviour and make us easier to get along with. Understanding our partners Drivers should help build empathy and tolerance. It's helpful if you know the 'antidotes' to each one:-
Be Perfect Good enough, is good enough.
Be Strong It’s OK to ask for what you need.
Please Others Consider your self as well.
Hurry Up It’s OK to take your time.
Try Hard Just do it… and finish it!
So, on a good day in our kitchen, I can chop roughly, in a timely way and he can slow it down to wait for my output. And we have agreed that we can gently remind the other of their Driver behaviour without repercussions (sometimes through gritted teeth if we're both hangry). Things still simmer in our kitchen from time to time, but they rarely boil over!
This is a good example of managing a Perpetual Conflict. Prof. John Gottman, the world renowned expert on relationships has found, after 40 years of research, that it's a complete myth that all relationship conflicts can be resolved. In fact only 31% are solvable, leaving a massive 69% that keep recurring. They are perpetual, they reoccur due to the fundamental differences in our personalities, Drivers being one example of personality difference, level of introversion or extraversion being another. There are three steps you need to take to manage Perpetual Conflicts:-
Accept that you have personality differences.
Talk to avoid gridlock and resentment.
Seek to manage the conflict, not avoid it.
So it may be from understanding and accepting your own and your partners Drivers that you can work around each other in the kitchen and if you can't, then you can agree NOT to cook together.
So why is this important for Expat couples? Understanding how you both react under stress and how you can work to accommodate each other is useful for any relationship, but particularly for Expats. Expat couples, especially in their first year living in a new country, tend to experience more stressful situations than normal and will have a smaller support network to help ease the pressure. Taking an everyday situation like cooking together provides a simple insight into how you interact and gives you the opportunity to practice how to modify your behaviour, to get along more easily in stressful situations.