Whether you’re talking about using paper or cloth napkins at the table, making a big deal about birthdays, serving certain foods at holidays, or sending greeting cards or not, most of us take for granted the habits and customs of our family. When being faced with another person’s customs it often is shocking and can feel just downright wrong.
If you’re visiting a friend’s house it’s possible to be gracious about whatever strangeness you encounter for that one occasion, but what if the odd behaviors are those of the person you are planning a life with or his or her family and friends? Many of these issues just don’t come up while you’re dating but the first time you have dinner with your sweetie’s family you may be in for some surprises. “You say prayers before eating? I didn’t know you were religious” or “Your brother calls your parents by their first names? My father and mother would faint if I did that.”
The differences you discover are fodder for some very important discussions, the sooner the better, and the less judgmental the attitude about the customs you find strange the better too. I was married for more than a year when I realized my young husband never addressed my mother. He waited until she was facing his direction before he spoke to her. When I asked him about it he said he didn’t know what to call her! “Couldn’t you ask her preference or say what you’d like to call her and see if she finds that acceptable?” Neither my mother nor my husband ever felt comfortable with each other throughout the 13 years of my marriage while I adored my in-laws and both thought of them as and called them Mom and Dad long after the marriage was over. I never figured out for sure how much of an effect what each of us called our in-laws had on our relationships, but I’m sure it was major.
Some differences between one’s family traditions and the other’s are easily solved by a statement or two. “I would like to have a Xmas tree. Is that alright with you?” “We never had one growing up; I’d love it!” or “I’d be really uncomfortable with a tree in my home. Could you confine one to your office?”
Some family traditions will clash and never be resolved satisfactorily. Do you go to worship service with your partner’s family if you’re not a believer? Do you ever get to vacation where you want to go when his/her friends and family always go to their beach cottage or ski cabin?
The sooner into an important relationship of any kind you discover what you feel are the strange customs and habits of your sweetie or spouse the sooner you can come to some acceptance or begin to seriously examine whether this will be a deal breaker.
What’s important is an attitude of accommodation. Not “You’re way is weird and mine is right” but “what can we work out here so we are each pleased at least some of the time?”
You have my permission to still believe his or her ways are strange if you promise to think that only in the privacy of your mind.