Friday, February 1, 2013

Red and Yellow Flags of Intercultural Relationships

These flags could easily apply to many countries, not just India. However, I have limited experience with those countries so if some things I say here may be different that what you've experienced with other countries.Actually, most of these could apply to any relationship - even if you're dating the same race, same city or even the boy next door!

In any intercultural relationship it can be difficult to know what things are cultural concepts and which are the work of a scam artist. You can't rely on face to face interactions, body language or even word choices to know when someone is using you for the wrong purposes. It's even harder to see some of these issues when you're blinded by love or infatuation. Normal, healthy relationships don't come with impossible demands. Always remember that.

It's also important to remember that people do not get better after marriage. Whatever you are willing to tolerate before marriage, will escalate and become worse after marriage. Something about that piece of paper and ceremony seems to make people think they own you, you're not going anywhere and thus they can get away with more. This doesn't always happen but it can.

Expensive gifts - In Indian culture the price is not considered an issue when purchasing gifts. Only the happiness and the emotions the person will feel when receiving it do. So it's not uncommon to be gifted expensive gold jewelry, iPhones, laptops, etc. If your SO (significant other) asks you for these items then that is not a problem. You can accept or decline. Try not to feel pressured to purchase them just because you were asked. It's common for them to voice their wants.
  • Yellow Flag - If they ask you and you hesitate or voice concerns over pricing, shipping safety (as in you don't think it will make it there alive/in one piece/etc. and they pressure you.
  • Red Flag - You've already said no to gifting the item and they continue to pressure you. This is a good sign that they either think you're there to cater to their whims or they are not concerned with your financial situation or thoughts and feelings. If they can't care about you in this aspect, then they won't be any better caring about you in other areas either - like health and well-being. You could wind up in a very dominating/abusive/selfish relationship and you won't be the one reaping the benefits.
Religion - It's one thing if they tell you about their religion and what it means to them. It's another thing if they insist on or push you to convert. I would even break this down into denominations for the Christian churches. If you're Baptist they should not push you to be Methodist for example. Yes, I understand it's highly beneficial for a couple to worship together but it should not be forced on you at any time. There should be no mandates for how often you must attend their church 'as a family,' etc.
  • Yellow Flag - Using terms like "as a family" to make you feel like you have to go. 
  • Red Flags - Setting ultimatums that you must attend the church/gurudwara/temple or insisting on conversion before or after marriage. This includes if they want you to convert so they can get married in a special church or for the purpose of marriage registrations.
Residence - There is nothing wrong with wanting to live somewhere specific. Many Indians may want to live with their parents out of respect, guilt, etc. They may even have ideals about certain cities outside of India that they want to spend most of their life. Discussing it and agreeing to live in a specific place is not a problem.
  • Yellow Flag - Telling you before marriage that they could never live anywhere but with their parents. This is a very close-minded mentality IF they have never lived anywhere else. They could be speaking out of fear or it could be they come from a domineering family. Either way you need to find out before you commit to the relationship for life.
  • Red Flag - Disrespecting your country and demanding that you live in India. Whether it be in the family home or not. If they cannot respect your country and your culture, they will never respect you. You will always be associated with the country and they can't reasonably rebuke the country and not include you. This eventually leads to you having (or feeling like you have) a lower place in their life. It can become demeaning and abusive.
Children - This is a HUGE change in any relationship. You must discuss your willingness, timing and plans for having children (even if you plan to be spontaneous about having them) before marriage.
  • Yellow Flag - Inability to agree on the number and timing of children. Sometimes these things take a lot of time and thought and sometimes you must have one to fully understand how much work they are. You will have to judge whether your Indian partner is simply not understanding the time, effort and money that children require or if they're being selfish and controlling with their views.
  • Red Flag - It's a deal breaker for your Indian to demand you start trying for children immediately after marriage or that you stay home with the kids once they are born. It doesn't matter if they say they are concerned for your health and welfare. If you give in to these demands (or any demands for specific timing you don't agree to) then the next thing could be to isolate you at home with the kids and never help you raise them. DO NOT.....I repeat....DO NOT agree to have children you don't feel ready for and if you've never stayed home to care for kids and value having a job then don't agree to that either. It can easily destroy you if this is not the kind of lifestyle you want.
I've listed what I feel like are the top 4 biggest concerns facing intercultural relationships. What are some things you feel like could become an issue if you can't agree on them before marriage? What are some deal-breakers that you think others should never compromise on?


  1. 'Normal, healthy relationships don't come with impossible demands. Always remember that.'

    How true that is. This goes for friendships, family, business & all human relationships.
    I recently had to 'defriend' a supposed friend of 15yrs for 'impossible demands'.
    In intercultural 'desi' (Indian or Pakistani) I'd be wary of the 'choti bahu' treatment-
    'Daughter-in-law' = house slave.
    Nothing personal, just realize you are the lowest member of the household- even the dog has higher status than you.
    Certain members of my husband's family insisted he was of 'bad character' because he put me (his wife) before his family.
    Never mind that I was miserably pregnant, better educated, better financed, & had already paid for these family members' food and rent for a year as well as bought them expensive gifts. They also stole items out my suitcase in our room (jewelry, 2 cameras, make up- they actually wore the make up in front of me).
    When these family members insisted my husband leave me because I was 'old and fat' (I guess pregnancy was no excuse for a 'choti bahu' to get 'fat') I unfortunately had to make my husband choose- me or them.
    He chose me & we've never been to their home again nor received any sign of contrition.
    I've met several western wives of Indians & Pakistanis that have gone through this 'choti bahu/house slave' crap- rich & middle income, educated or non educated- I've seen this 'family hierarchy' thing enforced in every social strata. Not to say that it will definitely happen to you- but definitely be aware of this possibility in your Desi intercultural relationship.

  2. I'm sorry about your friend. That can't be an easy loss. You bring up a good point about being the choti bahu. I had a small taste of it and it's ridiculous. I can't stand for it. There can be a balance between wife and family but it seems only the educated or cultured understand that. It's so sad.

  3. If your are marrying into a 'Desi' family you might also want to be aware that 'borrowing' ANYTHING (from money to jewelry to misc. things like hairdryers etc) does NOT mean you will EVER get it back.
    Beware, beware if you insist on an object or money's return tempers may flare- and most likely you will never get the object back unless it is broken.
    Yes, 'defriending' people is not easy. As you get older things change, not always for the better.

  4. Oh yes, and it's considered rude to ask for it or imply that you want it back. I've seen relationships end because someone asked for their phone back. And you're not supposed to say no if someone asks you for something either.