This post is by contributor Shiri Raz, PhD Candidate.*
Dan and Jessica were the loving and supportive couple everyone wanted to be like. They met in high school, got married and had two beautiful daughters. Dan admired Jessica and Jessica had always told her friends that Dan was the perfect husband. Nothing seemed to separate them or interfere with their harmony. But one day everything changed.
Jessica went out one evening with a friend and Dan, who stayed home, turned on Netflix and browsed for something interesting to watch. The documentary Cowspiracy caught his eye and he decided to give it a chance. When Jessica returned home, Dan had long since finished watching the film and was now reading information he had found online about the animal food industries. Jessica gave him a kiss goodnight and went to bed. In the morning, when they both woke up, Dan felt like he was no longer the same person he had been the night before.
The documentary made such a big impression on him that he decided to stop consuming all animal products and become vegan. He asked Jessica to watch that same documentary and become vegan like him. Jessica refused gently, saying she wasn’t up to such a change in her lifestyle right now, but she promised to help and support him as much as she could.
At first, Dan was able to accept her offer and appreciate the vegan food Jessica was preparing for him. But soon after, they both found out that living like that wasn’t as easy they thought it would be. Whenever Jessica went grocery shopping or made any dish that contained milk, eggs or meat, for herself and their daughters, Dan became very upset. He could not hold back his opinions and feelings about animals and veganism and found himself making very harsh accusations against her. After a while Dan would have trouble falling asleep beside her, sometimes even resenting being near her. On her part, Jessica kept telling him that he was being extreme, domineering, imposing his views on her and that she felt like she no longer knew him. They both felt like there was this huge gap between them, leaving them angry and helpless.
The story of Dan and Jessica is not an unusual one. It is the story of hundreds and thousands of couples around the world. Couples in which one spouse switched to veganism. The gap between these life partners is significant and constant, causing a lot of strain and stress on their relationships.
The best way to deal with this gap between two partners is through mutual understanding and a reciprocal acceptance of their difference in opinions and the way they view reality.
For Dan, the vegan partner – the world as he knew it is now gone. Everything that was familiar, tasty and inviting is suddenly shocking, violent and incomprehensible. Hamburgers are body parts of a living being that was alive up until recently. A glass of milk is a testimony to the cruel practice of mother and offspring separation. Omelets are a reminder of male chicks that are of no use and are therefore killed on the day they hatch. For vegans, every animal-based product contributes to a chronic traumatic experience, which they cannot escape in a world that relies on the use of animals.
For Jessica, the non-vegan partner, the experience is equally frustrating. For her, the world has not changed, but her partner’s behavior towards her has changed and became unbearable. Her partner is now bitter, critical, accusing and judgmental. And there’s nothing she can do to stop this change. A change which, of course, also leads to a shift in their household’s consumption and nutrition habits, which she did not choose. It is challenging for anyone to live under a watchful eye and constant criticism, it is even more challenging for a non-vegan who tries to support their vegan partner, cook vegan food, go to vegan restaurants et cetera. It’s hard because no matter how much she tries, it’s never good enough. For every stumble, she gets a failing score from him.
A mutual recognition of each of the partners different realities is the first step in dealing with the gap. Like in the famous Rubin vase optical illusion where one sees two faces and another sees a vase – while one sees a familiar dish and family tradition, the other sees injustice and body parts of a dead animal. These different ways in which reality is experienced evokes entirely different emotions, which lead to distinct behavioral choices. A mutual understanding that each partner experiences a different reality reconciles and provides an explanation to negative behaviors in the relationship with a better chance of bridging the gap.
Non-vegan partners can acknowledge their partners’ agony over the tragedy of animals, and vegan partners can see and acknowledge that their partners are making efforts in the name of love and their relationship. Mutual acknowledgment, empathy and consideration are the first and fundamental steps in dealing with the gap.
With mutual acknowledgment and empathy towards each other’s feelings, Jessica and Dan got to know and understand each other’s personal experience. Dan learned to appreciate Jessica’s efforts and significant concessions for him, in light of the fact that she does not view reality like he does. Jessica learned that Dan’s behavior towards her stems out of the pain he feels for animals, and that he is still the kind and sensitive person she had married – the same qualities that make him such a great partner and at the same time so susceptible to react strongly to animal suffering. He is making small compromises, and she tries as much as possible to avoid eating animal products at home or in his presence.
They both learned that with mutual understanding, acceptance, learning to cope with unpleasant emotions, and focusing on the positive efforts they both make for each other – they can bridge any gap and love can truly triumph.
*This post is by contributor Shiri Raz, PhD Candidate.
Shiri Raz – PhD candidate; psychoanalysis and hermeneutics program at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. Shiri focuses her research on the psychoanalytic and linguistic aspects of people’s mental attitudes toward the consumption and use of animal-based products.
Shiri serves as a therapist for couples and individuals, specializing in work with vegans and mixed couples (vegans and non-vegans) in Israel and worldwide (through video chats). She is an animal rights activist, academic lecturer, resident lecturer for the Vegan Friendly association’s educational program and for the Animals Now (non-profit) organization, and a public speaker.