If you find tempers flaring in the kitchen more than usual these days, get expert tips on how to stop fighting over cooking.
Quarantine has taught me a lot of things.
It’s taught me to be grateful for my health and to never take the time I have with loved ones for granted. It’s taught me to more carefully assess risks and to practice patience. It’s taught me to be creative with my free time.
It’s also taught me that it can be hard to share space—especially in the kitchen—with your significant other. When the lockdown first started in mid-March, my husband and I were living in a teeny apartment in Brooklyn. I’ve been working from home full-time since 2016, but my charming S.O. and I were suddenly in each other’s bubbles pretty much all the time. We’ve since moved to Philadelphia, where we have a lot more space, but our kitchen is still on the small side by most standards.
Over the last few months, my husband has taken up lunchtime cooking projects, started collecting hot sauces in our kitchen cabinets, tried his hand at homemade gnocchi, and more frequently wandered in to say “’Sup?” while I prepare dinner. Quarantine has scrambled life for so many of us in so many ways, and our handle on personal space is no different. If the kitchen was once solely your “turf,” I’m willing to bet that the lines have blurred at least slightly since March.
With this in mind—and knowing that so many are struggling with these shifts—I looked to relationship experts for advice on how to avoid tension and arguments in the kitchen with your S.O. Keep scrolling for their suggestions!
1. Keep Your Spaces Organized
In my personal experience, things can get tense in the kitchen when there’s confusion about who is occupying and working in which areas. Am I chopping vegetables for dinner on this patch of countertop or is my husband using it to take apart our robot vacuum to figure out why it hasn’t been picking up my dog’s ample fur for the last week? Is my husband rinsing dishes in the sink or am I deep cleaning it?
These questions might sound a little ridiculous in theory—shouldn’t we be able to sort all of this out fairly automatically?—but anyone who’s found themselves moving (or trying to move) through their kitchen on autopilot knows that you can easily find yourself feeling frustrated as you (literally) bump up against your partner while carrying out kitchen tasks. Some prior planning might actually be required.
Divorce Harmony marriage mediator Dori Shwirtz notes the importance of keeping kitchen spaces organized to minimize opportunities for argument. Talk with your partner about what chores you’ll be taking on and in what spaces or areas you plan to do them. Ask them to do the same. With practice, you may find it easier to negotiate around each other without this kind of explicit communication and organization, but in the meantime, it’s better to be proactive.
2. Know When to Stop Participating
Licensed psychotherapist and author Tina Tessina lists this one as a key tip for avoiding arguments in the kitchen and pretty much everywhere else. “Disagreements always require two people,” she says. “If you don’t participate, your partner can’t argue without you. If the issue arises at an inopportune time, you can just find the temporary solution—temporarily give in, get quiet, and leave the kitchen — and wait until things calm down to discuss what happened.”
Stepping away from the kitchen argument may also give you some much-needed space to consider if you really do want to come back for round two of the discussion. Was that argument about the right way to cut tomatoes really worth all of that emotional energy? Do you really want to talk any further about your partner’s apparent lack of respect for the best approach to cleaning the fridge?
Chances are that much of the tension was actually rooted in being in tight quarters. By choosing not to participate in the argument, you can gain that perspective. And if, on further examination, the issue is still worth further discussion? You can at least take it out of the kitchen, where the delicious food is made.
3. Make a Schedule
It’s my personal opinion that there are very few things that can’t be solved with a nice schedule. If you and your partner are consistently arguing over the same kitchen tasks, it might be time to establish a set schedule for each week, per Her Norm founder and dating expert Sonya Schwartz.
Who is responsible for cooking on which nights? Who is responsible for cleaning up from dinner? Will one partner unload groceries after the other does the shopping once a week? Who will make sure all of the surfaces get wiped down, and when will that happen? Get all of this in writing and get ahead of at least a few potential arguments in the process.
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You can even post it right out in the open if that helps.
4. Stop Trying to Multitask
Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid all potential arguments. Sorry! It’s a fact of life—and of relationships.
If you do find yourself squaring off with your S.O. in the kitchen, though, there are ways to prevent things from heating up more than absolutely necessary. As much as we value multitasking skills, doing too many things at once while also trying to find our way out of an argument can make things worse.
“When a couple is arguing or trying to resolve an issue while cooking, cleaning, or doing other tasks, they are not giving each other their undivided attention and will not be able to solely focus on the problem at hand,” relationship expert and Datingpilot contributor Stephania Cruz advises. “Doing other tasks while trying to resolve an issue can also send the message that the issue is not of high importance to the person being preoccupied.”
Once a kitchen argument kicks off—no matter what it’s about!—step away from the dishes or the stirring or the scrubbing. Ask your partner to do the same. Focus on sorting through your conversation before resuming your tasks. Things will be resolved much faster.
5. Share Your Skills
Consider resetting the tone of your kitchen by turning cooking into an opportunity to have a date and swap your culinary knowledge. “Taking turns cooking meals for the family is great, but it would be a loving feeling if both [partners] teach each other a meal they prepare best,” Schwartz suggests.
Choose one night every month for one partner to teach the other how to cook something they love or make really well. You’ll know ahead of time to prepare for a sweet night in the kitchen together, which may inspire you to let down your guard before the cooking process starts. This kind of cooking lesson may open up space for conversation about your family history and food memories. Plus, you’ll both be better equipped to step in and cook a special meal for your S.O. in the future!
6. Set Boundaries
And when all else fails, a relationship can always benefit from healthy boundaries, in the kitchen and elsewhere.
“It’s vital to set boundaries,” Shwirtz says. “If you enjoy being alone in the kitchen to do your thing, let your partner know. Even if you are at home [more], a regular schedule should be put into place so you both can function to the best of your ability.”
Don’t be afraid to ask your partner for what you need!
Header image courtesy of Arno Images / Cultura / Getty Imges