Monday, October 28, 2013

Overcoming Your Reactions When You Realize the Cultural Differences in Your Marriage

It happens to many of us. We meet a wonderful person who enriches our lives and enlightens us. We begin a relationship, we advance through the levels of togetherness and at some point we decide we are ready to face the rigors of an intercultural relationship. Then just when we think we have finally started to figure things out, we are proverbially slapped in the face by some cultural aspects we never expected to see.

This is something I have had to face since hubby arrived here in the US. When I met hubby he was such a sweet man. He flattered me with his words and drew me closer to him. When I visited him in India and we got engaged, he was shy and still very sweet. Afterward it was much harder for us to be separated and while he was still sweet, the long distance was bitter.

Then I moved to India and though we had our adjustment issues, he was still quite modern and he spoiled me. So even though we argued over silly things, our relationship was still quite good. We both worked toward making our little world a happy place. (This is not including my sickness, etc. I'm referring only to the relationship for the purpose of this post.) We grew together as a couple and I developed a strong fondness for my husband, beyond the love feelings, that I knew I would never find anywhere else.

Then I left India and we managed the long distance much better this time, though thankfully it was not as long as before. Then hubby came to the US. It was quite a shock to his system. I had anticipated most of what he would go through since I now had some experience with culture shock myself. I was never so thankful for this blog because I could look back at posts and remember how things were for me. I could let him read the posts and we could share about what he was going through and we could work on any issues he was having to try and help soften the blow culture shock was dealing him.

But it didn't take long before it happened. He hit the homesick phase where you try to recreate your old world in your new world. I remember going through this phase quite well. I spent massive amounts of money 'comforting' myself with things from home. I began to crave foods I never liked while living here in the US. This phase proved to be quite hard on hubby.

For him, instead of craving things that he never ate in India, he began clinging to cultural aspects that he never upheld before. This is where my shock came in. I wasn't prepared for how to help him through these things and to still maintain the same level of connectedness we had before. So what I did was write. I wrote all about what was going on and how I was dealing with it and managing and I took to heart the advice I was getting from trusted confidants. I've decided to share some of the wisdom here, lest others find themselves in a similar position.

I'm sorry. I know that's probably a little vague. Basically what happened is that I became shocked and alarmed at the customs my husband had decided to engage in/uphold/enforce/demand, etc. I needed to learn how to live with my husband again. Just as I became a much different person in India, he became a much different person here in the states.

Coming into this relationship I had no idea what Indian culture, Punjabi culture, Amritsari culture, Hindu culture, etc. were like. I met my husband as if he was just a man who had traits I wanted in a man. He was a human to me and that is all. I have had to learn all about the cultures in his life as I go on this journey. In my learning I have had many reactions to these cultures, some good, some bad. This is what I learned about overcoming those reactions - because sometimes even your positive reactions can be deemed as negative!
  1. Forget about right and wrong. In intercultural relationships, your moral code (your thoughts on right/wrong) is the worst guide you can use to try and gauge many situations. You cannot think about how you would have handled a situation, what you would have thought about someone/something in your partners culture, etc. by the same rules you grew up with. 
    1. One good example - if you're going to church services and your Indian spouse wants to wear a full suit and tie, let him. Even if you are dressing in business casual attire. It's fine to let him know that being formal isn't required but don't push and don't allow yourself to think he's overdressed. So what if he is, he's happy and he's living by his own standards.
    2. There are times when right and wrong transcends cultural boundaries. Like with any form of abuse. Lay out ground rules for your relationship based on things you can both deal with. For example, you should never tolerate hitting. Unfortunately, Bollywood (and Hollywood) sometimes glorify a slap to the face but this is wrong in any culture. Don't be deceived by pop culture into thinking that this kind of behavior is acceptable in India.
  2.  Refocus your perspective. Try to imagine you're actually Indian. Just close your eyes for a few seconds and think about all you've learned about India and your husbands state culture, religious culture, etc. Now apply that and ask yourself how you would react/behave if you were in the same situation as your husband. Using my church example again, think about how Indians dress when going out to church. For those who don't go to church, remember how they dress for the office each day.
  3. Imitate your spouse. Many of us joke about how we catch ourselves doing the typical Indian head wobble but in reality this is a very good thing! It's good to put yourself in your spouses position and act like they do. It can really help you bond - as long as you're not doing it to make fun of anyone or for malicious reasons. This could actually be a fun couples activity. Let your husband be western while you be Indian. Dress the part and act out each others roles. You might be surprised at what you can learn about each other and yourselves.
  4. Create cultural connections. Sit with your spouse for a few minutes and discuss what is important to each of you for bonding. For example, does your husband need you massage his temples after a long day of work? Do you need him to sit at the dinner table with you while you eat? Is date night critical for you? How often would you like him to bring your flowers? How much time should you spend with in-laws (in-person and on the phone)? Think of all the things you could do together and schedule them into your lives.
  5. Give until it hurts feels good! Compromise is at the heart of every relationship obviously. In an intercultural relationship your sacrifices may just be different. Ask your spouse what things he feels are important for you to do for him. Tell him what things are important for him to do for you. Then compromise on which ones you can follow through with. Are you comfortable with touching his feet? Will he cook dinner when you work late? Will you change the way you dress to cover more skin? Will he have to get used to you wearing tank tops outside of the house? Will you continue to cook with onions and garlic? Will he have to adapt to eating some western foods?
You will need to continually review these items and grow and adjust on a regular basis. As your relationship matures, it will become easier to tackle these changes head on. None of these changes should cause you to lose your sense of self and your spouse should never ask you to change completely. These are only compromises you both could make in order to have a happier, closer relationship with each other.

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