Help me manage my husband's controlling habits about supper!
January 11, 2013 8:36 AM   Subscribe

How do I kindly and gently tell my husband that sometimes I just want to eat exactly what I want for supper and I don't want or need his help in the kitchen?

Tomorrow night I would like to eat spaghetti and meat sauce for supper, exactly like I make it - Catelli dry pasta, homemade meat sauce with tomatoes, mushrooms, ground beef, etc. This is real comfort food for me, I enjoy making it and I can't remember the last time I had it.

We were talking at breakfast this morning and my husband asked me what i would like to do for supper tomorrow night - go out, order in, make something special, etc. I said what I would really like for supper is spaghetti and meat sauce. Immediately he starts with the requested changes - fresh pasta instead of dry, fusilli instead of spaghetti, meatballs instead of meat sauce and so on. And he'll help (meaning he will get in the way and throw a fit when I want to salt the boiling water for the spaghetti)!

Please note that we almost always have what he wants for supper. It is just easier to eat what he wants than argue for something I would like.

Any suggestions?
posted by Minos888 to Human Relations (86 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How you handle this is going to be completely dependent on your relationship and personality types. What I would do is say, "I love you" [kiss] "now please go away so I can cook dinner. I'll let you know when it's ready."

If you aren't comfortable with being quite that blunt, then just say, "This is an easy one - I'll handle it tonight. You can just go relax and [insert whatever he likes to do here, i.e. read, watch TV, play video games, work on art project, etc.]"
posted by something something at 8:38 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Tell him, "I like it this way and I really want to make it my way tonight. If you want your own special dinner, you can make it for yourself, but I'm going to have this."
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:39 AM on January 11, 2013 [35 favorites]

Can't you just say "That sounds delicious, but i'm really craving it a particular way. We'll make it your way next time."

If you can't, I don't think the real problem is the meal choice.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 8:39 AM on January 11, 2013 [111 favorites]

I would just say "I don't usually mind your input and help, but this time I really want to make it the specific way I'm describing and to make it on my own. Why don't you chill out and watch tv/read your book/do your hobby and I'll let you know when supper is ready."

FWIW, my fiance is mega annoying when I am cooking anything. Constant observing and suggestions and double checking. It drives me absolutely mad. He and I have talked about it and he doesn't mean it as hovering and making sure I don't screw up, it is his way of 'helping' and having it be a group effort and be something we're doing 'together'. I have told him I actually find it pretty annoying and insulting (No, I'm not going to use that metal fork on the non-stick pan! Give me some credit!). The result is that he asked me to TELL HIM when he is being too controlling in the kitchen and tell him to GTFO and let me cook in peace. I still let him hover and suggest most times, but when he starts critiquing how I'm stirring my soup I just tell him to scram, he kisses me on the cheek, and then he goes away until I'm done. Problem solved.

I think you and your husband need to have a clear conversation about this.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:39 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Argue for what you would like. Or have a discussion about it. If you don't say what you want or at least say that you don't want to have to say it, he can't know that he's steamrolling you.
posted by Jahaza at 8:40 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tell him what it means to you to be able to make what you want for dinner tonight. "Look, I haven't had this in ages and it's such a comfort food for me. Thanks for understanding!"

Offer to order him something if he decides that he doesn't want to eat what you're making if you want to be nice...or suggest that he do that for himself if you don't.
posted by inturnaround at 8:41 AM on January 11, 2013

And he'll help (meaning he will get in the way and throw a fit when I want to salt the boiling water for the spaghetti)! Please note that we almost always have what he wants for supper. It is just easier to eat what he wants than argue for something I would like.

Is he this childish, controlling, and unreasonable in other aspects of your relationship?

This is a serious question - if so, and this just one symptom of a larger issue, I think you're going to have to attack the core problem with a serious talk, couples therapy, or some combination of the two.

I absolutely would not tolerate this kind of selfish, manipulative behavior from a partner on an ongoing basis.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:41 AM on January 11, 2013 [42 favorites]

"Sweetie, we almost always have what you want for supper. Tomorrow night I would like to eat spaghetti and meat sauce, exactly like I make it. This is real comfort food for me, I enjoy making it and I can't remember the last time I had it."
posted by payoto at 8:41 AM on January 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

Do you eat together every night? Could you alternate who decides what to have for dinner during the week? Like, "Ok, tonight is my night, we're having spaghetti with meat sauce." Doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't cook together necessarily, though.
posted by MetalFingerz at 8:42 AM on January 11, 2013

If he wants it his way, then he makes it 100% while you sit down with your feet up.

Or you make it your way and if he doesn't like it, he can eat crackers for dinner.

Or you can wait until he goes out with his buddies and you can stay in and have it your way.

It's up to the nuances of your relationship (which we don't know) how you communicate these options to him.
posted by mibo at 8:43 AM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you know he's going to "throw a fit" when you want to salt the water for pasta, and that you almost always do things his way rather than deal with the inevitable argument, may I suggest the correct next step is to draw a line in the sand about how you are your own person and if he doesn't like how you do X then he is welcome to do X himself but you will brook no arguments about methodology, and if THAT causes an uproar, then the next step is divorce?

I know that sounds ridiculous.

But honestly, the dynamic you describe is wrongheaded and sick and symptomatic of the beginning stages of an abusive relationship.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:44 AM on January 11, 2013 [14 favorites]

"I'm not sure if you realize that we always do it your way. When are we going to do it my way?" (or, "Don't you think it would be fair to do it my way at least once in a while?")

If he can cook, you also have the option of asking him do the cooking if he wants to dictate exactly how everything be done.

By the way, what's up with the fit about salting the water?
posted by Dansaman at 8:45 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think your issue in this relationship isn't food.
posted by xingcat at 8:50 AM on January 11, 2013 [14 favorites]

As far as I'm concerned, not salting pasta water is grounds for divorce.

All levity aside, you need to be able to have a conversation about this. Marriages are about compromise, and sometimes compromise comes in the form of: "Honey, tonight I'm really craving spaghetti with meat sauce, I'd really appreciate it if we could have it for dinner. We'll do it your way next time." No telling him that if he wants to make it differently he can do it himself, that's inviting him to just take over dinner whenever he feels like it with no regards for what you want.

Is he this controlling about anything other than food?
posted by lydhre at 8:50 AM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sounds like you could benefit from some structure surrounding dinner planning. At my house, after various struggles like the one you describe, we generally just designate a "meal captain" who's in charge of all the planning and leadership for that particular meal. Captain doesn't necessarily need to be the one to perform all the shopping and prep and cooking and whatnot, but they do need to be responsible for figuring out everything that needs to be done and clearly delegating any tasks not physically performed by themselves.

The other person is the first mate. First mate obeys orders, basically. (S)he can make requests ("Honey, is there any chance we could do unsalted pasta water? I just hate that super-salty taste so much"), but not really suggestions, and certainly not changes to the plan. Captain still gets the final say in whether any first-mate meal requests are granted. Feedback from the first mate on the quality of the food is welcomed, but must wait until a minimum of one hour after the meal has been consumed.

It all sounds a bit formal, but honestly, it's so nice to have a chain of command where cooking is concerned, so everybody knows exactly when to take control and when to step back, without one person necessarily taking on all the physical work while the other person just watches TV or whatever. You don't have to have a permanent captain-- we generally alternate-- but once you've got the system in place, then getting the pasta you want is as simple as saying, "Hey, can I captain dinner tonight? I've got this comfort pasta I was dying to make."
posted by Bardolph at 8:51 AM on January 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

I reread the question, and I'm starting to agree with above posters. If he is as unyeilding, demanding, and controlling in other aspects of your life, not just cooking, then I would really start to wonder just what kind of dynamic was established in my relationship. Maybe I/we are over reading things, but I'm not sure that we are... I just can't imagine a healthy relationship where this would be an issue. To me it is perfectly reasonable and acceptable saying that this time you're going to make it your way because you are making your comfort food, and if he objects that strongly to how you're making it then he is welcome to find his own dinner that night. I just don't see how this would be a big deal. It isn't like your way makes it somehow inedible to him. It sounds like he is controlling it for the sake of controlling it.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:51 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

The easiest way to do this is not discuss how the pasta is going to be cooked at all and banish him from the kitchen. Advertise is as you, alone, cooking dinner.

Out of sight, he can't throw a fit about small details he's rather change.

Also, if he does throw a fit about this sort of stuff then find a quiet time away from the issue and tell him that it upsets you when he throws a wobbler over trivial issues and you'd wish he stopped.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:52 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does your husband cook? It is not clear from your question.

If so, I suggest taking turns cooking. And the cook decides what will be cooked (The cook may take suggestions but is free to ignore them too)
posted by vacapinta at 8:52 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

...if THAT causes an uproar, then the next step is divorce?

I know that sounds ridiculous.

I think that probably sounds thoroughly reasonable to many people reading this question. It is reasonable to not want to tolerate living like that. What you are describing would be a clear-cut "DTMFA" situation for me.

It is worrying that you want a "gentle" and "kind" way to approach somebody who is "throwing a fit" over salting water. Some couples do seem to thrive on a bit of trivial drama; I don't get it, but. But clearly you and your partner are not cut from the same cloth.
posted by kmennie at 8:54 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

But honestly, the dynamic you describe is wrongheaded and sick and symptomatic of the beginning stages of an abusive relationship.

Oh, come on. I can get this way about food, too, when my GF cooks. People can be weird and particular about food. Just tell him what my GF told me when we started arguing about this. "When I'm in the kitchen, I'm cooking the way I like to. When you cook, you cook the way you want to." If he's reasonable, he'll live with that. If he's not, then you have deeper problems.
posted by empath at 8:54 AM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I really need to emphasize that he is only this way about supper!

He is not childish, controlling and unreasonable in other aspects of our relationship :)
posted by Minos888 at 8:54 AM on January 11, 2013

How long have you been married?
posted by infini at 8:56 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Take turns cooking.

On his nights, he can make what he wants, within reason (you can't absolutely hate the dish, or be allergic to it, without other options provided.) On your nights, same thing - you get to determine the meal.

No backseat driving/cooking allowed!
posted by barnone at 8:56 AM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't think he's necessarily controlling. My husband can be the same way--he thinks about food a lot (I would never be thinking about what to cook for tomorrow's dinner at breakfast today, but my husband would). Other than "pitching a fit" about the salt, it may be that Minos888's husband just likes to think about food and how to prepare it, and Minos888 has never told him that she feels left out, so he has no idea ("It is just easier to eat what he wants than argue for something I would like").
posted by payoto at 8:56 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was on your side until you stated you don't salt your pasta water.

(Kidding! But really, salt the water, OK?)

It sounds like he is right about one or two things, and you are right about the rest. His being right about one or two things REALLY goes to his head, doesn't it?

Does he at least do the dishes after you cook?

Fresh pasta is not always the right answer, dried is preferable for certain recipes, and that is a fact. I'm sad for you that your man is so controlling.

This is less about dinner, and much more about respect.

Your guy doesn't have a lot of respect for you. I think you should open a dialogue with him about that in front of a neutral third party.

Don't be stubborn to make a point as you work through things. Salt the damn water if that is best practice. Do kick him out of the kitchen and make pasta and meat sauce your way whenever you feel like it. Get it?

See a counselor. The tit-for-tat nature of your disagreements don't make for a sustainably happy marriage.
posted by jbenben at 8:57 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Omigod, the overreactions here are wild.

Does he ever cook? If so, suggest that when he cooks he makes what he wants, and when you cook you make what you want (within reason, of course - neither of you should be making things that you know the other just doesn't like at all if you're cooking for both of you).

You should be able to have exactly what you want for dinner some nights, but he should too. It should be a give and take.
posted by amro at 8:57 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If he gives you any sass, you shake your head and stare him dead in the eye and say "This is a Minos888 jawn, no substitutions; strap in and enjoy the ride, or get the heck off the road." If possible, follow this by blaring Steppenwolf's Born To Be Wild.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:57 AM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

My husband and I are both strong-headed cooks. Sometimes we can work together effortlessly to cook something, and its great.

Sometimes I'll have a recipe or dish in mind and he'll turn his nose up at something, think it's weird, why would you cook it like that? Why did you buy that kind of spinach? etc. I do the same, I'll sometimes criticize him for being too messy, using too many utensils, making too much fuss, etc.

In those situations we set clear boundaries. "I'm driving this meal, you can assist me or go set the table." Or, "I don't care how much of a mess I make, I'll clean it and you can assist me or leave me to my own devices." I personally know I was taught to cook by a pretty hovering-critical parent, so part of that is ingrained in how I think about cooking. Maybe something similar is the case with your husband.

Maybe alternate weeks or meals. You pick the dishes to cook, you cook them your way, you are "Captain" of this meal. He assists you, and vice versa.

If that doesn't seem reasonable to him, than you've got other issues going on.
posted by fontophilic at 8:57 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Tell him you are cooking dinner the way you want to eat it, and that if he would like something different, he is more than welcome to go to McDonalds or order a pizza, or whatever else he wants.

This is really weird. If you told him that you wanted it a specific way, and he's not OK with that, then there is more going on than just meal preferences. Part of being a couple is letting your significant other get what they want sometimes, even if it's not what you want. If he can't do this, than there is a problem.
posted by markblasco at 8:58 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you should tell him that there are certain meals you really like that you rarely get to have anymore because you have been letting him have his way on dinner for a long time now, just to avoid starting an argument. And then propose that you alternate nights picking what to eat for dinner, with the caveats that the choosing person make an effort not to pick something he or she knows the other hates, and the non-choosing person not complain unless he or she really, powerfully dislikes the dinner choice.

Which he should agree to, because it's perfectly reasonable.
posted by BlueJae at 8:59 AM on January 11, 2013

We've been married (fairly happily) for a long time - 16 years. I was just looking for some advice about how to say "Back the F*ck off - sometimes I want to eat exactly what I want without advise or input from you" without actually saying it.
posted by Minos888 at 9:00 AM on January 11, 2013

In that case, what I do is jokingly shoo the person out of the kitchen, literally telling them "shoo, git, go, out" while waving a kitchen towel in their general direction. This works best if they already know they're being annoying but can't help themselves without a bit of a reminder.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:00 AM on January 11, 2013 [16 favorites]

Does he KNOW that your making it your specific way matters to you this time?

If he is used to being able to make substitutions and changes then fair enough for him to expect to be able to do it now. Maybe he just isn't aware of the reasons why you wanted it that specific way.

EDIT: upon reading your latest reply, that is something you decide upon in advance. Have a conversation, explain to him why it is important for you to be able to sometimes make a meal exactly the way you wish, and that you promise to tell him when those times are so that he knows substitutions and suggestions aren't welcomed.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:01 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with just telling him that it's comfort food and that you're doing it your way for that reason.

Anecdote time! I like to cook and I like to "improve" things. In a similar conversation about dinner, my partner told me he wanted mushroom rice for dinner -- a favourite childhood meal. He could make it, he said, because it's just minute rice and condensed mushroom soup. No no, said I, I will do it. And I made it with fresh brown rice and real cream and fresh shiitakes and sherry. And it was all wrong, and my boyfriend was super disappointed.

Unlike what some in this thread are saying, I wasn't intentionally being disapproving or controlling or disrespectful -- I was just trying to make something better and make my boyfriend happy. He told me after dinner that what I made was lovely, but it wasn't mushroom rice, and that maybe he could do it next time. I wanted to argue: mine was BETTER! But I accepted that, for him, it wasn't and now he makes the mushroom rice.

Unless your boyfriend really is the way others suggest, tell him that while you understand that his way may be considered better (this is a white lie, of course!) what you want is your comfort meal and you hope he'll enjoy it as much as you do. If he's kind and respectful (updates suggest that he is!) he'll understand. Tell him that you're cooking yourself tonight and that maybe tomorrow he can , on his own, cook what he wants.
posted by AmandaA at 9:01 AM on January 11, 2013 [18 favorites]

For a practical solution if taking turns does not work and he is not able to compromise:

- Use the same tomato base to make two sauces, one with meat and one with meat balls.
- Cook differently shaped pasta if you have to.
- Have the same salad and dessert.
- Enjoy the meal together.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:01 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

As someone who is married to a picky foodie and cook, three suggestions:

1) Send him out for wine while you cook.
2) Have him make his version alongside yours as friendly competition. PRO TIP: It doesn't matter who wins.
3) Let him know you need to do this sometimes, and that it has absolutely nothing to do with the culinary achievement ladder he has in his head.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:01 AM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Omigod, the overreactions here are wild.

W/ the additional information from the OP, I agree that my original reply is an overreaction.

But I think we've all see AskMe relationship questions where this kind of issue is just one facet of a much larger problem.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:03 AM on January 11, 2013 [10 favorites]

Can you give him an alternate task? Tell him you'll handle the main dish and he can make salad? Just straight up tell him you have a plan and you don't really want to change it? Set aside one day a week for each of you when you'll be solely responsible for dinner?

I'm disturbed by this unsalted pasta water thing and I'm not even much of a pasta eater. That's just wrong.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:05 AM on January 11, 2013

He might not know that this particular meal is important to you, is my generous interpretation, especially if you usually don't object to him having it his way. Making that clear would be the first step if you haven't already. You might be able to accommodate some of his desires, if you wanted to. Probably it wouldn't be too difficult to cook both kinds of pasta and share the sauce, or something.

But honestly, dude is going to have probably 80,000 odd meals in his lifetime, assuming he lives to average life expectancy. If he can't let you have this one, then I think you might have a bigger problem, you know? Being a foodie-type or whatever is one thing, but it bugs me that you seem to feel like you have to find a way to "kindly and gently" explain to him that... he is living with another person with their own tastes that are equally valid?
posted by lwb at 9:07 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

When he asked about dinner, how did you respond? Was it along the lines of "I'm thinking of making [food dish]" or was it "I'm making [food dish]"? If you qualify your desires, he may be taking that as uncertainty and then trying to "help" by making suggestions etc.

Your response doesn't need to provide reasons for your position or be a big dramatic discussion of "you never let me choose dinners!" or anything, just a politely firm, "Thanks, but I've been lusting after this childhood recipe for a while and I'm going to follow the original recipe." Or, for levity, "The original recipe has a giant helping of nostalgia all over it, so I'll be following that one!"
posted by bookdragoness at 9:10 AM on January 11, 2013

I was just looking for some advice about how to say "Back the F*ck off - sometimes I want to eat exactly what I want without advise or input from you" without actually saying it.

Honestly I think you should be able to say, "Hey, husband, sometimes I want to eat exactly what I want without advise or input from you, and I'm sorry but tonight we're having Meat Sauce Pasta a la Minos888" without it causing any sort of marital rift whatsoever. Say it with a laugh, and accept zero substitutions.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:10 AM on January 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

Just to provide another possible perspective, this:

Please note that we almost always have what he wants for supper. It is just easier to eat what he wants than argue for something I would like.

sounds really bizarre to me. I know (or I suppose?) that most couples/families do it this way, but I grew up in a household where we frequently made ourselves different things for dinner because we all wanted different things, was fine. If being married means I can rarely have what I want for dinner, I think I'll stay single, thank you. So in your place it would not occur to me to do anything other than say, "OK cool, that sounds good, I'll make my pasta and you make your pasta and we can eat them together."

(And as someone who loves but reacts badly to salt, I'm on team un-salted water!)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:11 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd just like to point out that the suggested substitutions sound really trivial to me, to the point that I would still consider them all basically in line with your request for "spaghetti with meat sauce". I know I would be completely baffled if someone I knew was going to the internet to help stop me from suggesting fresh pasta instead of dried.

If it really is super critical that these components remain exactly as you specified, then you need to be extremely clear about that. Like straight up "this combination of ingredients is sacrosanct to me." Do not waffle about shooing anyone around or making up errands for them, just say that it's not just the meal that's important, but these specific ingredients that are important to you.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:11 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is no "nice way" of saying this in this situation. That's why professional kitchens are so fraught with drama!

It sounds like your husband has strong ideas about the kitchen and thinks he is the Head Chef. On nights you want to be Head Chef, tell him to fuck off.

Dried pasta for meat sauce. Just FYI. You need the texture of cooked dried pasta to stand up to the density and weight of the meat sauce. It's good you know this. So kick him out of YOUR kitchen, and get on with it!!

(Edit: Thanks The Deej!)
posted by jbenben at 9:11 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was just looking for some advice about how to say "Back the F*ck off - sometimes I want to eat exactly what I want without advise or input from you" without actually saying it.

This just doesn't work with some (most) people. Sometimes you just have to say it.
posted by headnsouth at 9:12 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

My first reaction was feeling sad that he doesn't seem to get more honest pleasure out of seeing your happiness when you get to eat your very-very-favorite spaghetti recipe that you have made in peace.

Why doesn't that represent a greater pleasure to him than whatever boost he gets from "winning" again + what he believes is his recipe's marginal improvement in flavor?

That's the question I'd pose to him, anyway.
posted by argonauta at 9:15 AM on January 11, 2013

[Folks very seriously shut up about salting pasta water, it's not the question.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:15 AM on January 11, 2013 [17 favorites]

"Back the F*ck off - sometimes I want to eat exactly what I want without advise or input from you."

I think your own phrasing is perfect, delivered with a smile and a kiss.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:16 AM on January 11, 2013

I have to speak up for Minos888...she DOES salt the pasta water! (as all right-thinking people should).

I would just tell him that you have a real craving for some comfort food, and you don't want help in the kitchen. Hold the "fuck off" in reserve for if he doesn't, you know, back the fuck off.
posted by maryrussell at 9:16 AM on January 11, 2013

I was just looking for some advice about how to say "Back the F*ck off - sometimes I want to eat exactly what I want without advise or input from you" without actually saying it.

Spray bottle? That's what I do to get my cat off the counter. Not even kidding.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:18 AM on January 11, 2013 [15 favorites]

I think this is just sort of a translation issue. Your husband asked what you wanted for dinner and you answered with some foods. But really what you want is to cook dinner, am I correct in that? Like you don't want him to cook it exactly your way, or would that be an acceptable compromise and he won't do that? He's within his rights (though a little pushy to my read) to be like "Okay if you want THAT I am going to cook it like THIS" but if what you want is to cook dinner and he's saying no no no, he'll do it, that's a different sort of problem.

I used to have this problem where my SO would be cooking dinner but I had like ten different little things that were important to me in how it was done (size to chop the vegetables, etc. I sort of cringe looking back on it) and realistically that was sort of not cool on my part. It was fine if I wanted to cook it on my own, or to basically be the dinner captain as someone mentioned upthread, but not okay for me to want a thing and then tell him exactly how to do it. Unless maybe it was my birthday and even then, maybe not...

It seems like the two of you are both nitpicky and detail oriented which may be one of the reasons that you get on well generally but you may have to make this interaction, the what to have for dinner action, more structured so that he's not steamrolling your preferences and you guys are both clear how to split things up in terms of desires and ways of accomplishing those.
posted by jessamyn at 9:21 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your question was, "how do I tell him kindly and gently." I think the phrasing you are looking for is, "actually I'm really craving it my way, so I'm going to do it like [this] this time."

Also possibly useful if he comes into the kitchen: "Hey you know what? Part of the ritual of this food for me is the solo prep, so go ahead and watch Breaking Bad in the living room and I'll call you when I'm done."

"Oh, I'm sorry that doesn't sound good to you honey, but I really need this just this way tonight. It's ok with me if you prefer to make yourself something else after I'm done cooking, if you find you really don't like the way it turns out."

The only excuse for objecting to salt in the pasta water is if he has high blood pressure -- does he? Because otherwise wtf.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:22 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you feel so voiceless in your marriage after 16 years that you feel unable to express an honest opinion about what you want to eat then maybe you need to make meals more structured (He decides/cooks/orders out Mon, Wed, and Fri - you decide/cook/order out Tues, Thurs, Sun - Sat you alternate weeks). That way when he imposes on you you can say "sorry, the schedule says tonights my night but your suggestion sounds great for tomorrow". Later on with the experience of being assertive you will be able to state your wants clearly without having to rely on some external schedule.

Also, have a look at the Dance of Anger (it isn't all about anger) - it really dives into this idea that so many women have that the "man's" preferences are always more valid to the detriment of both parties. I think if you husband knew how upset you were about this issue he would feel sick - there is no way he had the intention of making you sad about a bowl of pasta.
posted by saucysault at 9:41 AM on January 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

"baby, I love you, but I really want to make it like this." *blow him kisses*, *proceed to make the meal you want*
posted by Neekee at 9:47 AM on January 11, 2013

"I've thought about tomorrow night's supper again, Love, and, you know, I'd actually just like to have it the way I would be comforting to me. I'd be glad to have it that other way next week." (but only if you actually are glad, otherwise leave that out)

If you need to address the possibility he might not eat it your way: "I understand. I'd still like to make this, and you should get to have something in or out that makes you as happy."

It does seem like an open discussion about you getting to have foods the way you like them for some reasonable percentage of the time needs to be had, though. If he's thoughtful in all other ways, emphasise that: "Honey, you are such a wonderful partner, and I'm so happy to know we're able to talk things out to make them even better. Since our spaghetti dinner conversation the other morning, I've been thinking about how I'd like to cater to my personal tastes more regularly. I've got ideas, and maybe you do, too. When can we talk about that?"

Obviously, do this once you do have some ideas for frequency, responsibility, and maybe even a few likely dishes (that shouldn't matter too much, though) along with an offer that if something is particularly outside of his interests, he's free to cobble something else together. Letting him know you want this conversation ahead of time gives him a chance to not feel sprung upon, although he may want to discuss right away, so pick a moment to broach it when that would be okay for both of you without causing tension just by taking the time.

If he won't hear of it (either your individual supper request or the overall conversation) or chooses to eat something else every single time you cook, then I think a counselor might be in order. Sometimes couples do need a little outside help to tweak weird little things like this. It happens. Even (maybe especially) in wonderfully long-term partnerships such as the one you have helped cultivate.
posted by batmonkey at 9:58 AM on January 11, 2013

"Honey, this is our home, not a restaurant. We only need one chef each night. It's too stressful for me otherwise. Also, new rule, to keep it simple and stress-free: whoever makes the dinner decides what goes into it. Tonight, I am making dinner, with my spaghetti recipe. This is comfort food for me, and I need it. If you don't want my spaghetti, I guess we could just each fix our own dinners and eat separately-- but I'd really like to share my spaghetti with you. Tomorrow, you get to choose."

And then stick to your guns! That's really important. I know it is easier to just give up and give in (believe me, I do!), but this is bigger than deciding what's for dinner.

I'll be painfully honest with you and share how I know this. I've been married for over 23 years now, over half of my life so far.

My husband has a tendency to want to control things, too. I was the peacemaker in my own family growing up (my sister had a pretty dominant personality). I naturally fell into this role of Always Making Everyone Else Happy. That meant, usually, putting my own wants and needs last.

So, like you, I used to just give in because it was exhausting to argue about even the littlest things, when my spouse so obviously cared about them more than I did. They must be important to him or he wouldn't make a fuss, right? Obviously, I rarely made a fuss because then Everybody Might Not Be Happy!

So I'd just do things his way, and then Everybody Was Happy!

Except me.

My husband, like yours, has pretty strong preferences, and I'd feel responsible every time he was annoyed or dissatisfied with something. I'd apologize for everything that went wrong (because I wanted him to Be Happy!), even things beyond my control. it got so bad, I was apologizing for bad weather, heavy traffic, whatever, just so he wouldn't be annoyed (and thus unhappy!). And he's a Type A person, who gets annoyed a lot. I wasn't used to that.

Thing is, he gets annoyed, he vents, he lets it out, he's fine. But me? I got stressed, sick, and depressed. My physical and mental health just tanked.

If you tend to put others first, and marry someone who does the opposite, you can fall into this dysfunctional pattern for years. i know, I did it. Finally, something in me just broke. I started to realize I had become such a chameleon for him that I didn't even know who I was any more. That's not just rhetoric-- I went into therapy because of this.

You're married. Maybe, some day, you want to have kids. You'd want to model a strong, healthy, independent adult for them, right? That's what it took for me to get myself back, ironically. I wanted my kids to be, not just happy, but successful and confident, too, so I had to embrace that goal for myself.

Really, stand up for yourself right now, have your damn spaghetti the way you want it, and don't feel bad about it, either! Yes, it's a little thing now, but you need this little thing! Make sure he hears you now. You'll save yourself a lot of stress (and medical bills! And therapy bills!) in the long run.

Good luck. Me mail if you want, even just to vent. It's okay! I get it. :)
posted by misha at 10:13 AM on January 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

The few times my husband done something similar while I am cooking, I thousand yard stare him and say "I'm making this and you're going to eat it and fucking like it." Then I distract him by doing something completely stupid like making my nipples talk (feeling magnanimous and silly) or challenging him to a dance off with the overall theme being "u mad? watchu gonna do about it?" (slightly bristled, but happy to let it go) or chasing him and while trying to flick his crotch (annoyed).
posted by spec80 at 10:14 AM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

When this kind of thing happens in my kitchen, I narrow my eyes, gesture menacingly with my chef's knife, and say "No backseat cooking!"
posted by HotToddy at 10:16 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just call a "fendfor" day.

"Fend" "For" yourself. You make what you want, and he makes what he wants. My wife and I have one every once in a while - we both like it...
posted by Leenie at 10:38 AM on January 11, 2013

I am married to someone with stringent food preferences. Every now and then, I declare that I'm eating X for dinner and his choices are: a) eat what I'm making when and how it is served to him, or b) feed himself. There is nothing wrong with that.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:38 AM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is where you just say, "that sounds nice. I'm gonna cook what I want from 6 to 6:30, and then you can have the kitchen and cook what you want after that. Please stay out of my way before then though, otherwise I may coat you in pasta sauce for being a nosy backseat cook! ;)"

And then if he protests, just be like, "No, I'm serious. I'm cooking what I want, you can cook what you want after. No interfering with my kitchen time. Period."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:39 AM on January 11, 2013

We've been married (fairly happily) for a long time - 16 years. I was just looking for some advice about how to say "Back the F*ck off - sometimes I want to eat exactly what I want without advise or input from you" without actually saying it.

My parents have been married for 35 years. My mom does absolutely all of the cooking, my dad is completely useless as far as food prep goes, and he knows better than to say a single thing about the way she cooks.

However, he does give her occasional crap about how she eats (she is, objectively, a really sloppy eater, at least in the privacy of her own home), and to that she responds thusly:

"Back the F*ck off - sometimes I want to eat exactly how I want without advice or input from you."

Seems to be working for them.
posted by phunniemee at 10:47 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since you asked for advice about what to say, I can tell you that in my house the magic words are the very same ones you used at the beginning: "comfort food". My husband knows that if I am feeling like I want comfort food, then a can of Dinty Moore beef stew is 1000 times better than the best, most freshly prepared slow-cooker stew recipe. The reasons are deeply ingrained in my childhood, and sometimes, that's just what I want. Not "beef stew - so let's find the best recipe and work together", but "a can of that crappy Dinty Moore". And that's what I get. He can have something else that night, and I'll be happy to help him if he needs help. And some later time, we'll make stew the way he likes it and that's great, too, for that night, but this night I want comfort food.

So I really think you need to say something like: THIS meal is a comfort food for me, a reminder of some happy time in my past, and I am really craving it, EXACTLY the way (my mother?) used to make it. And I'd like to make it all by myself, please. Next time we have meat sauce, we can do it your way, but tonight, I really want it this way.
posted by CathyG at 10:48 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should communicate that this is something you specifically want to eat; not because of its culinary history or make-up, but more because it makes you happy, and he would be helping you by letting you prepare it exactly as you want to. (which is also the vibe I get from your question).

My brain works differently from my wife's and there have been a few instances where I have been very persistent about something she wants or is doing (like cooking), when I think I know a "better" way. I don't do this intentionally, and it's come out with friends and family as well. (I am working on this as a whole.)

Regardless, I do this out of love, and with my wife I do it because I want her to have the most enjoyable experience possible, but I fully admit that it can quickly and unintentionally cross the line into controlling and dismissive when I get my "know it all" ego involved.

After a few arguments, where I didn't understand why she was so mad, we came to the agreement that we would let each other know that when we want or are doing small things a certain way that the other person may not necessarily agree with--we simply let the other know that we are doing this because it makes us happy, and the other person would actually be helping if they just let it be.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:49 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have a terrible habit of being overbearing in the kitchen when my husband is cooking. He does everything wrong: starts things at the wrong time, doesn't use lids when he should, leaves the oven door open while searching for potholders and losing all of that previous heat, it's horrifying.

But none of that stuff really matters because he gets food on the table and it's yummy. I have to make a very concerted effort to shut my mouth and let him cook the way he cooks or leave the kitchen. Whenever I notice myself falling back into Kitchen Dictator mode I physically remove myself from the kitchen. And I have given him permission to shoo me away, which he has a really hard time doing.

When I am cooking I feel absolutely in my right to kick him and the teen and the dogs out of my kitchen, usually with the snap of a towel because that's fun.

I agree that giving him something to have control over would help. Maybe he could make the salad while you simmer the pasta sauce, maybe he could select the wine or the dessert. But until he is able to share space in the kitchen without taking over, alternating days when you each are responsible for the meal.

But you have to communicate very clearly that the days that you are responsible for the meal, there is to be no input from him unless specifically requested. Instead of telling him to F off and providing a list of reasons why you don't need his help, just tell him "I don't need your help, shoo."

And then snap his butt with a towel. It's fun.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:58 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Along the lines of what AmandaA said about mushroom rice, Mr. crush and I have this disconnect sometimes. Like he says "let's have mac n cheese for dinner" and he's thinking Kraft from a box with frozen peas and I get set up for bechamel. Basically, we deal with it by talking. Sounds facile, but if he says "I want mac n cheese for dinner", I ask "Do you mean your frozen peas thing from a box or should I cook?" and he either says "the first thing" or "if you want to cook, please do."

So in your case, I'd just gently respond with "no, sweetheart, I want my spaghetti dish the way I always used to make it. I understand if you don't like it or want it, but I do and I'd appreciate you're not interfering with it. Can you fend for yourself for dinner if you don't want this or should I heat up leftovers for you?" I wouldn't bring up the "dinner is always your way and I'm tired of it" during the conversation about the particular meal.

I've also had to ask him more than once not to stir things that don't want stirring, not to move things I've set up mise en place and not to turn on lights I have intentionally left off. It's just part of adjusting to living together. I try not to sound annoyed and he tries to remember that I've asked before. So just do that. Kindly ask that he leave you alone to cook, if you have to say "Sweetheart, you know I love your company but I'd like to do this alone, please" then say that. He should be enough of an adult to give you some room.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:15 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Honey, I'm really craving spaghetti with meat sauce for dinner tonight. I'd like to make it for you the way I like it, and we can do fusilli with meatballs another time, okay? It's my turn to pick what we eat, and I want to cook for you while you [relax on the couch] [drink a glass a wine] [admire my ass in this skirt while I cook]."
posted by booknerd at 11:17 AM on January 11, 2013

Fiance and I both have strong opinions on cooking on how dishes "should be" which now works just fine.
There is a difference in our conversations about meals when I say "Let's have brussels sprouts" which means we will talk about how we both want them that night vs "I want to make MY brussels sprouts" (that he inexplicably hates and won't eat even though I think they're the bomb).

Or when he says "I'm making butternut squash soup" I know I can add some input about what I think we should have in there, vs when he says "I'm making MY butternut squash soup" which means he is making the unacceptably unblended chunky mess he thinks is good, and that I should accept that or find me own dinner.

It's just about a very small differentiation up front. Next time try saying "I want to have my special comfort food spaghetti" instead of "spaghetti" which seems general and can invite discussion.

It's ok to eat different things from each other at home sometimes too.
posted by rmless at 11:24 AM on January 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

Upon reading other responses, I don't think it's necessary to shoo him away from the kitchen because at that point it is already too late in the conversation about what is being made. I think if you don't want input, that should be clear before you start cooking. I wouldn't like to be shooed or dismissed and it rubs me the wrong way when people think the kitchen is just theirs.

If a dish isn't open to discussion, don't discuss it. Say "Tomorrow I am having [definite, strong] MY special pasta. Do you want to eat that with me or do you want to make something else for yourself?"
Then if he says "oh fresh pasta, meatballs blah blah"
You say "No, I want MY special pasta my way. Do you want to eat it with me or do you want to make something else for yourself? Maybe Wednesday we can try the fresh pasta thing."
posted by rmless at 11:30 AM on January 11, 2013

It's up to you and how much extra work you want to do, but there is the option of making his pasta the way he likes it and yours the way you do. Allow me to elaborate...Mr. Adams does so much for me every day (if I'm out of pop he'll run out to the store to buy some even when I insist that water is OK, stuff like that) that I don't mind the extra work involved if I decide I want something that I like for dinner that he dislikes. I'll prepare his portion the way he prefers or make him something entirely different, if that's what he wants. But, again I emphasize the fact that I do this because he is so undemanding in every other facet of our life together (we'll be celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary in April) and because he does everything in his power to make me happy. I feel like it's the least I can do to, say, grill him some hamburgers because he's not a fan of pork steaks (especially the garlic-laden way I prefer to cook them) and have two completely separate entrees cooking at the same time. And he has learned over time that when I say "I've got it under control, off you go" when he starts hovering over me while I'm making tuna salad to ensure that I'm doing it the way his mother used to, or similar scenarios, that one more suggestion from him and that food is going down the disposal.

Long story short - if, as you say, this is the only area in which your husband is that particular, perhaps you can make his portion separately when you're preparing your own special pasta. If he objects or complains that it's inefficient for you to make two separate pots of pasta, just look at him lovingly and tell him that it's your pleasure to make something special just for him.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:42 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

We've been married (fairly happily) for a long time - 16 years. I was just looking for some advice about how to say "Back the F*ck off - sometimes I want to eat exactly what I want without advise or input from you" without actually saying it.

Sometimes you just have to say it.

It's only dinner for chrisake. He should be able to deal with it.
posted by freakazoid at 11:45 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I don't get it -- why can't you say just that (maybe minus the F bomb and plus a smile and an endearment)?

Maybe you're trying to avoid a blow-up. But if stating a need = him blowing up, then (as others have suggested) the problem is way bigger than dinner.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:57 AM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

We've been married (fairly happily) for a long time - 16 years. I was just looking for some advice about how to say "Back the F*ck off - sometimes I want to eat exactly what I want without advise or input from you" without actually saying it.

Can you two say "Back the Fuck off" in any other aspects of your relationship? For example, what happens when ya'll want to see different movies or go to see friends? Can you apply those methods of getting your way to this particular situation?

What worked in that cabin time and space boundary question? Can you apply that here?

For what it's worth, my wife says "I love you, but go away" or "Shoo, go away" and we have enough background that I'm ok that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:10 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

We're same thing, genders reversed here. What works for me is, "yes, that would be even better, but I'm after a specific thing here, and it has to be done like this."

That is, separate the refusal of the "help" from any value judgment. I admit that I'm not saying my way is better. I'm saying its necessary to get the specific thing I want. Which is also not "better" than what she would make. It's just a different thing. That I want today.

It's because she IS a better cook than I am that she wants to help. I need to remind her that I'm doing it "wrong" on purpose.
posted by ctmf at 12:22 PM on January 11, 2013

We've been married (fairly happily) for a long time - 16 years. I was just looking for some advice about how to say "Back the F*ck off - sometimes I want to eat exactly what I want without advise or input from you" without actually saying it.

Make a fancy sign saying "Tonight's Cook Is" with 3 tags (your name, his name, both names) to hang off of it, and make a ritual out of putting it up.
posted by yohko at 12:36 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Somewhere along the way my husband and I figured out that we can't really cook together. It just doesn't work. So if we do make a meal together, than I'll handle the main dish and he'll handle the side dish or vice versa.

This has worked pretty well for us. So in this situation, I would make the pasta and he would handle the garlic bread and salad and setting the table. And I would leave him alone about the garlic bread and salad and he would leave me alone about how to make the pasta.

YMMV but that's how we handled it.
posted by bananafish at 12:49 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

There was an excellent New York Times piece about just this issue.

I showed it to my husband and ever since then, my code phrase when he gets overbearing is "stop alpha-ing me."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:48 PM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is he trying to control or is he trying to participate but then getting all superior about it?

I say this because when I'm cooking , my husband might say "Aren't you going to do it this way? What are you using the butter for again in this? Is this bowl and this utensil and this other utensil out for a reason?" And I'm all GRAR DON'T SUPERVISE.

When he's cooking, I might say "Let's caramelize the onions slowly instead of just frying them! Uhh, wait, they won't cook right if you chop them rough like that, but you don't have have to fuss with it, it's my bright idea, I'll do it. Umm, you're putting the water on already, but these aren't going to be done for another 25 minutes?" And he's all GRAR I'M NOT DOING IT WRONG.

OBVIOUSLY, in the first example he's meddling and in the second I'm trying to collaborate. Right? No wait, in the first he's just trying to make sure I have plan and in the second example I'm making things more complicated than necessary. Right?

Yeah, so....we do what bananafish does.
posted by desuetude at 1:51 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Question: Is your husband generally a more skilled cook or "fancier eater" than you?

I think sometimes the more skilled person at a task often tends to want to have things at their level, assuming that the "simple" food is only because the other person doesn't have as much kitchen competency, not because the person actually prefers the simpler dinner.
posted by corb at 2:04 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

'Comfort food' is the closest thing we have to sacred in this house. Taste is too personal to always compromise and you shouldn't always have to eat what the other person wants.

I do 99% of the meal planning/cooking/whatever, so I just make sure we have stuff the other person likes in the house in the event of a sudden hot wings (yay!) or chorizo (boo!) craving.

Seriously: Call it comfort food night and eat what you want without interference. I can't believe there isn't something he would like to eat that you wouldn't touch with a Geiger counter. Use that to your advantage and everyone wins.
posted by Space Kitty at 3:51 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seriously, I do not understand how complicated this is, or why you would have to come up with some careful diplomatic phrasing to persuade your husband to let you make spaghetti. If he's truly not a controlling person, and is just picky about food, tell him "make it that way when you're cooking" and carry on your business. Seriously I would not go all deep-talk about this. The only worrisome thing to me is that you hesitate to just tell him to back off; and that confounds me, unless you are passive in other areas too, in which case you need to work on assertiveness more than you need to work on cooking.
posted by celtalitha at 4:56 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

By the way; I have way different tastes in food and nutrition than my fiance', and yet we can bicker about it (almost daily!) and still keep it lighthearted. In the beginning, I was always trying to health-ify him, and he would get sulky and feel like I was being judgy and critical when I just thought it natural that everyone would want to eat healthy and he was obviously just lacking the know-how. That took a couple talks about where we each were coming from (me = perfectionist, health nut, snacker, doesn't cook complicated stuff like ever) and him (mom made full course meals every night, on his own he lives off takeout and potato chips). So it's not that it has never been an issue, I just don't really understand being together 16 years without confronting it and telling him to, in your words, "fuck off" about your cooking. The lack of communication is what confuses me.
posted by celtalitha at 5:04 PM on January 11, 2013

> Question: Is your husband generally a more skilled cook or "fancier eater" than you? I think sometimes the more skilled person at a task often tends to want to have things at their level, assuming that the "simple" food is only because the other person doesn't have as much kitchen competency, not because the person actually prefers the simpler dinner.

For me (the fancier eater/cook), it's not a judgement on skill or sophistication, it's that all mentions of food or ingredients, let alone actual dinner suggestions, are totally irresistible jumping-off points for inspiration. So in my brain, it goes like this:

I love satisfying simple dinner, sure. And ooh, we just happen to have an ingredient that would be a totally amazing addition...and what if we do this other thing with it! Yay, we're so creative, my brain is so excited! [blink] Huh, why do think that I think that your cooking is boring, it's great, what do you mean?
posted by desuetude at 6:25 PM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

I know exactly what you mean because my dad does it and it drives me CRAZY. To the point where I've stopped cooking unless I know he's out of the house or completely occupied. If I had problems communicating with my husband the way I do with my dad on this issue (when I tell him to back off, he doesn't, &c.), it would be a real problem for me. You really just have to be 100% honest with your husband and if he won't listen, make a deal out of it until it sinks in. Sometimes people are dense about emotional/comforting things like food. I would just keep being dead honest in a tone that suggested that my needs were totally reasonable (maybe combined with the joking "SHOO! GET OUT!" that the young rope-rider suggested, I use that a lot on my bf when I feel annoyed but know it isn't a big deal).

Don't give in all the time, man! I know it's just dinner but as wonderful as he is he's being a baby about this at least. It looks like you might periodically have trouble with this issue-- other people steamrolling you with their wants, while you struggle to communicate what will make you happy-- and I guess what helped me learn to do that was to realize that they weren't particularly thinking about my needs when they "insisted" on waterskiing all afternoon or eating spaghetti their way, and by giving in to them all the time I was maximizing their happiness and minimizing mine. And when you do that for too long, you snap. Imagine how they would react if you turned the behavior around on them-- most likely they would insist on their happiness and beg you to leave them alone. Which is kind of what you should do. Some people (often women) feel responsible for social cohesion in a way that means putting themselves second all the time and it's not cool or good for them (us!). Good luck!
posted by stoneandstar at 11:48 AM on January 13, 2013

Tell him to make his own dinner if he doesn't like the way you're making yours. This whole "communal feeding" thing is stone-age bullshit. Cook what you like, and if he doesn't want it, he can have something else.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 7:31 PM on January 16, 2013

I'm glad to see Minos888 came back to explain it was just about supper. I think I know a possible reason. Food and eating -- and the steps involved in making it -- are deeply personal experiences tied up in life experiences, cultural background, family, and subjective tastes. For that reason I've noticed it's more likely for people to get much more controlling about food than they do other aspects of their life. When the OPs husband makes suggestions like this, I suspect in his mind he sees himself transforming something wrong into something right. Imagine if, on your wedding day, your spouse-to-be suggested wearing a pendant made out of a dead, decaying rat. For some people, cooking the wrong food or preparing it in the wrong way has just the same level of perceived awfulness.

turgid dahlia 2: "This whole "communal feeding" thing is stone-age bullshit. "

I've encountered this attitude before. It's hard for me, personally, to not feel a bit hurt when someone I love and care for does not want to share the same food as me at the table. For some reason I don't feel the same way when we go out to eat. There is something about a meal at home that makes it seem less special if it is not a meal shared.

But the problem is not that he wants you both to eat the same thing. The problem is that he wants you both to eat what he wants to eat (and because of this, wants you to cook it the way he wants it cooked).

You have to attack this from two standpoints.

First, you have to let him know that you respect his tastes and feeling about the food. Maybe tell him something along the lines of, "The next time I feel like making pasta and don't already have a recipe planned, I'll keep in mind your preference for meatballs." or "What if next week we tried fresh pasta with xyz sauce?" It may be enough for him to know that you know what he likes to eat (as if 16 years of marriage wouldn't do that!).

Second, you have to let him know that having ownership over your food (and your cooking of that food) is as important to you as it is to him. Right now he mostly eats what he wants to eat, so he might think that your tastes aren't as important to you as they are to him. You must gently disabuse him of this notion. Explain that since this is a meal you really want to eat, that is what is being cooked, and that is what you are going to be eating.

Finally, it sounds like you do most of the cooking and he does most of the choosing-what-gets-eaten. This is not fair. That is not the balanced relationship between spouses; that is the relationship between a restaurant and its customer. If he wants a certain kind of food cooked a certain kind of way, tell him he is free to don the apron and cook it on his own.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:04 AM on January 17, 2013

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