When I introduced a forum thread asking folks to share their top three challenges in going Primal, one issue got major traction: the S.O. factor (significant other, for those of you not into the whole online brevity thing). It’s a familiar story. One partner takes on a new health commitment. Life changes for that person. He/she goes through struggles, triumphs, growth – an entire physical and psychological process that potentially leaves a relationship chasm in its wake. Then there are the logistics, a menacing obstacle course of loaded questions and irksome details. Do you still eat together? Who cooks (not to mention shops)? Do we have enough pots and pans to make two different meals each night? How do we handle the kids’ food? Finally, what does it mean for the arrangement when one person’s food expenditure overshadows the other’s?
I’m not talking, of course, about couples who follow individual but similar lifestyle paths. Few people have a fully Primal S.O., and most people don’t exactly consider that a deal breaker to begin with. As many of you noted in the forum, it’s good to honor individuality in relationships. It certainly keeps things interesting. My wife, for example, eats fish but not fowl or red meat. While I’d prefer she join me in devouring a rack of lamb now and then, I understand and even empathize with her reasoning. I also recognize that she’s one of the healthiest people I know. She merges the Primal philosophy with her own chosen values, and the result is pretty impressive. Because her diet obliges certain restrictions, she’s more diligent than I am, I’ll admit.
What I mean here is a true Grok/Korg match. One partner is living (or approaching) Primal, while the other is fully entrenched in CW – or maybe worse. Some couples comfortably and successfully adopt a “live and let live” mentality with ne’er an argument to ruffle their domestic bliss. Others struggle at times, harboring low-grade resentments or continuing disappointment that their partners – however supportive – don’t take up the cause. For a few, the contrast ignites epic conflict akin to a veritable clash of civilizations.
In the forum, there was back and forth about the social and emotional significance we attach to food. It’s not a religion, many said. It shouldn’t derail an otherwise good relationship. Others countered that it was indeed a creed of sorts. As a significant dimension of one’s lifestyle, our food choices inevitably become imbued with our individual values – and even with our identities to a certain degree.
With this deeper facet – and the day-to-day logistics – in mind, here are a few targeted suggestions for both staying true to your Primal quest and keeping peace in the shared kingdom.
Be Comfortable With Your Choice
No, really. Don’t shoot the messenger here, but sometimes others’ divergent choices get under our skin because they’re a constant reminder of our own ability to fall off the wagon. There’s a certain vulnerability to living against the current of a society, let alone one’s own household. It takes a greater commitment – not a white-knuckle, hold-your-breath, dig-in-your-heels declaration, but a deeply personal kind of pledge. It’s a decision to live in the moment and make the best choice for yourself in that moment. No one can undo or undermine your commitment without your permission. It’s accepting the ultimate responsibility. Going Primal may not always be convenient or easy. Likewise, relationships are always convenient and easy either.
Dial In Your Expectations
Don’t start your journey with the grandiose (albeit ideal in my opinion) vision of a happy Primal family. As my mother used to say to us growing up, “You worry about you.” It’s your choice, your path. Would you travel down it knowing you weren’t going to be accompanied by your partner or other loved ones? Well, there you go. Be an example to your partner, but enjoy and own Primal living in its own right – not as a constant representation of the cause, so to speak.
To Each, A Pantry of One’s Own
It’s a similar sentiment to the old adage, “good fences make good neighbors.” A little space can sometimes be enough to keep you from feeling inundated by the alternative choices residing in your household. Claim a space for your stuff and make no apologies. As for shopping and spending, be prepared to sit down and have a practical negotiation with concrete, unimpassioned terms.
Gather the Support You Need
Your S.O. can’t provide for every need or play every role in your life. We all know this, but making/going through a significant transition in life sometimes clouds our judgment. You deserve respect, of course, but fill in the support you need with friends, other family members, online communities (wink), etc. Take the pressure off your relationship, and you’ll likely both feel freer and happier. It’s a funny thing: when you finally let an issue go, that’s when people can surprise you the most.
Research suggests that couples treat divergent dietary paths in much the same way as other conflicts or differences in their relationships. (I guess there’s cause for a potentially heartening – or unsettling – realization there.) It’s a question worth exploring. I obviously believe that going Primal is a good choice, but if your S.O.’s lack of conversion is nagging at you so dramatically that it’s undermining the fundamentals of your relationship, it might be time to examine the issue from a broader, deeper, or more emotional angle. (a.k.a. It’s never really about the toothpaste cap.)
That said, I think it’s fair to feel disappointed, even saddened, by a partner’s disinterest in maintaining his/her health. If you’re taking it upon yourself to stay in good shape and put life in your years (not to mention years in your life), you might wonder why the other person won’t hold up his/her end of the bargain. What exactly, then, is the understanding behind a relationship? I’m going to venture that it isn’t about being in lock-step at every turn, in every moment. Nonetheless, I think it is about explaining why you care. (Then there’s always the jaw-dropping, stunning example you set….) If you’re in it for the long haul, there’s time to grow together – or to realize that some commonalities just aren’t compulsory for lasting devotion and domestic harmony.
Readers, what say you? Are Groks and Korgs compatible? Have you found a way to peacefully coexist in the kitchen, or has going Primal changed the game with relationships for you? Is it ever a deal breaker? Share your thoughts, and thanks for reading today.
Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.