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'Everything has to be planned': How to have a successful relationship with a German

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
'Everything has to be planned': How to have a successful relationship with a German
A couple in Passau, Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Armin Weigel

We were flooded with more than 100 responses in just a few days to our survey about the secrets of a successful relationship with Germans. From grappling with directness and punctuality to embracing cultural differences, here's what our readers had to say.

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Even the survey title might leave you wondering if there’s some sort of joke behind it. Can you have a successful relationship with a German - a people traditionally renowned for bluntness and rigidity?

All joking aside though, it seems a few of our readers really have cracked the code - or at least gotten firsthand experience of the cross-cultural pitfalls that can come up when you love a German, whether you’re dating, living together, or married.

What’s more, a sizeable chunk of our respondents have committed to their German for the long haul. 43 percent of those answering our questions are married to a German - the biggest single grouping in our survey—so there’s hope!

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Just over 20 percent of our respondents live with their German partner, while 22 percent are going steady. Recognising that things don’t always work out - 11 percent of our respondents are divorced or separated from their German. But that obviously doesn’t mean they didn’t learn a few things.

READ ALSO: 10 reasons why you should date (or even fall in love with) a German

Cracking the punctuality expectation

One of the most common responses - and frustrations - of our responding readers in relationships with Germans is the cultural obsession with punctuality, exact timing, and a lack of spontaneity.

“Everything has to be planned,” “having to schedule every tiny interaction ahead of time,” or some other variation - is a phrase we heard in irritation from plenty of loved up, but frustrated readers. Another joked “schedule spontaneity.” One Venezuelan reader in Frankfurt wrote that the fact her German partner 'can’t cope when plans change' is the most annoying part of her relationship.

Plenty of our respondents advise you to keep your watch working because you’re just going to have to accept how Germans view lateness - not favourably at all.

But one American reader in Hamburg, married to her German husband, advises you to communicate clearly that you’re expecting a bit of flexibility. Once advised, her husband seems ready to meet her halfway.

“I’ve made sure to tell my husband that I will be ready AROUND a certain time,” she writes. “If I tell him an exact time, he expects me to be ready at that time.”

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Die Große Liebe

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Overly literal and direct? Understanding—and toughening up—with your German partner

What cultural differences impact a relationship with a German?

“The directness, for sure. I think everyone will say that, haha,” wrote Jessica, who lives with her German partner.

And sure enough - most did.

German directness can sometimes manifest itself in humorous ways for some - who find ways to laugh at how their German partner can be so literal.

“On his birthday, my friend made a joke saying ‘I hope that she has given you your annual gift haha’ (meaning sex),” says Jessica. “He looks confused and responds ‘well, of course, isn’t a birthday gift always annual?’”

Reader Nate had another example: “I said ‘how do you like the pasta?’ - the reply? ‘It’s fine, but you’ve made better before.’”

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READ ALSO: 8 phrases you need for getting romantic in German

But obviously, German directness, especially in a relationship, can sometimes hurt. Here, our readers also suggest trying to understand that your German other half is dealing with a cultural difference just like you are.

“In Brazil, it’s common to use non-verbal communication to indicate discomfort, or to say things indirectly,” says a Brazilian reader living with her German partner in Vienna. “Being too direct is seen as rude or aggressive.”

But to someone raised in a culture of directness, this can come across as passive aggressive and leave them confused. “If something’s bothering you, why not just say what it is so we can solve the problem faster?” – they might wonder, perplexed as to why you might be leaving them guessing about how you’re feeling.

Here, many of our readers suggest embracing the German way - at least to a point - and confront any cultural differences, yes, directly.

A love heart with the words: Ich hab' dich lieb in a shop window in Dortmund.

A love heart with the words: Ich hab' dich lieb in a shop window in Dortmund. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Ina Fassbender

“Be clear with expectations or with what you want, don’t assume,” says Carina, who is married to her German partner. “Try to explain why you have a different opinion, how is it viewed in my culture so he or she can see where you’re coming from, without judgment. Also allow your partner to explain. Respect differences and embrace the positive side of both cultures.”

“I say what I expect from him instead of assuming he will know,” says a married American in Karlsruhe.

One reader says once you embrace German directness, you might grow to prefer it.

“The level of directness is different, but I like it because it leads to better and more open communication and fewer misunderstandings,” says Hannah. “Honestly, she got a bit more Americanized and I got a bit more German. We both just share feelings and discuss things in the moment. We don’t let anything fester too long.”

READ ALSO: ‘Germans are brutally honest’: How hard is it to date in Germany?

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How to warm up to German coldness

Another common response was that German partners can sometimes feel cold and distant.

“He needs prompting for romantic gestures,” says Jillian, a Canadian married to her German husband. “But he also sees women not as objects, but as equals - which is lovely. I’m used to seeing objectification as attraction, for example, commenting on how I look.”

Others find it hard to figure out just how their German feels about something - mostly because many don’t express themselves with the same enthusiasm that might be evident in some other cultures.

Germans aren't known for overly romantic gestures. Photo: Freepik

“His ‘it tastes good’ would equal my ‘this tastes ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! THANK YOU SO MUCH!’” says Dylan, an American when talking about his German boyfriend.

He warns against falling into the trap of “believing they don’t love you because they might not be as verbally expressive or overly exaggerate their emotions,” he says. “The way they display their love and affection might be different from ours.”

Many of our readers advise watching out for how Germans might show their love for you through actions, rather than words.

READ ALSO: Love in Germany: 1.5 million relationships are between a German and foreigner

Embrace the cultural differences

Finally, just get used to the fact that there are some things you’re going to have to live with that might seem a little strange.

Whether it’s a love for bottled water rather than tap, döner, bread for dinner (good old Abendbrot), trying to get your head around two duvets on your bed, or the constant need for fresh air (yes, Lüften) - it’s never a bad thing to have a sense of humour about the serious business of having a relationship with a German.

Thank you so much to everyone who completed our survey. Although we weren't able to use all the responses, we read them all and they helped inform our article. 

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