Throughout my marriage, there have been several times when I have gone to speak with friends about situations and they simply do not understand. These conversations can be simple: what one wears to a wedding, or complex: the history of faith and its roots in culture. Many times I end up frustrated because I feel like instead of having a friendly conversation, I am defending cultural views/beliefs. These experiences have lead me to develop tips for being in a multi-cultural marriage.
– Hold on strong to the truths you know within your relationship. There will be times when people question elements of your marriage. Often it is because they come from a different culture and they do not understand beliefs within other cultures around the world. This can create friction, confusion and headaches. One small example that I quickly learned about in my marriage was the concept of framing favors as questions, or statements. In the American culture, we are taught that you are respectful of others by asking them to do something. If I was busy trying to prepare for company, I would ask my husband, “Can you help with the dishes while I XYZ?” This bothered him so much and I could not understand why. Now, to be honest, it is still odd to me, but let me explain his cultural viewpoint. In my husband’s culture, you do not ask your family to do you a favor; you tell them to do it. As a family member, you are expected to do things to help the family unit as a whole and so one should not have to ask you to complete a task. Asking the family member to do a favor is seen as offensive because you are questioning if they are willing to do their part. This was far from my interpretation of the situation, but throughout the initial months, I attempted to retrain myself in how I phrased favors. I did not try to change it because my husband’s cultural view is correct and mine is wrong, but rather because the more valuable aspect was that I wanted my husband to know that I respect him and I did not wish for my wording to come across as otherwise. At times, you may find yourself wanting to shout at others, “What don’t you understand!?! Not all people have the same beliefs as your culture. That doesn’t mean one is more ‘right’ than the other.” (More examples of that in the next bullet point.) Instead of shouting statements like these, just focus on the truths that have been developed within your marriage. As long as the two of you understand where the other is coming from, or as long as you stand together despite your differences, this is all that matters. One of the many beauties in a multi-cultural marriage is that your children will be blessed with having a well-rounded view because they are exposed to different cultures and you can teach them the strengths within those varying cultures.
– Come to peace with the understanding that some people will never understand views that differ from theirs. No matter what I said, certain family members could not understand the fact that I covered my head during a ceremonial event out of respect for my in-laws. Additionally, there were also individuals from my own culture who questioned my actions behind my back, without ever coming to me to hear the reasoning behind this gesture. I tried to explain it in cultural terms. That got me nowhere. Then I pointed out how many American actresses adapt their dress code when they present themselves in areas where cultural views are different from their own. Again, nowhere. Lastly, I pointed out that religious buildings in Europe have specific dress codes that must be adhered to if you wish to get a tour of the structure. Guess what… yep, got nowhere. So I gave up on explaining that situation. Then there’s the other cultural side to our family; the side that looks at me as if I have five heads when I try to explain that I already have a commitment for Wednesday of next week on my calendar. When it comes to scheduling and planning, I’m 100% American and that is something that will always leave confused facial expressions on the faces of my husband’s family members. However, at the end of the day, I just have to find peace in the fact that some people might never understand aspects of a culture that is different from theirs.
– Remember to put your love for family members before interactions of differing cultural practices. One of my biggest weaknesses is that I cannot stand lying. It eats away at my bones and leaves me angry for a very long period of time. Now, I understand this is not healthy and it is something I’ve been working on, I’m just far from mastering the art of “letting it go.” There have been times when I interacted with different cultures and their view of a “lie” is different from mine (I’ve been told I am a very black-or-white type of person. So take that as you may when understanding my interpretation of the term “lie.”). I have been told that some Asian cultures will openly lie to “save face” with others. This is something that I do not understand. It was not a part of my culture growing up and it directly violates a lot of what I was taught about morals; however, not all cultures are the same and just because a belief is held one way in my culture does not mean that my culture must be right. Another example is a belief from my religious culture to order my priorities as: God, spouse, children (and I honestly admit that this was not always something I had agreed with when other Christians shared the Biblical teaching with me). I recently shared this viewpoint with an in-law. She was taken aback by this concept and shared that she believes your children should come before your spouse because they came from your body. Thankfully, we were able to put our care for one another before our different viewpoints and we ended the conversation by agreeing to disagree. In a multi-cultural marriage, our cultural upbringings may leave us viewing some concepts very differently, and at the end of the day/week/month/year, we will still have different opinions instilled in us from our varying cultural backgrounds. The key is that we must put our love for one another before our interactions – both with others and one another.
– Continue to share your unique views because it may lead to others reflecting on the beauty of diversity throughout the world. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that many people whom I speak to struggle with understanding views that differ from theirs (including myself). Due to my interactions with a variety of cultures, I have been exposed to learning about many views/practices that are different from those that I grew up around. One example is the concept of arranged marriage. (You can read more about my development in this area at this blog post.) Since I have come to understand another way of viewing this practice that takes place in many countries around the world, I try to share some key points that I discovered when the topic comes up. In the American culture, this is a concept that is viewed as wildly bothersome, but I still share what I have learned to respect about the practice in an effort to help others to understand another way of viewing the event. As I share my experiences with various cultures, my goal is not to change others’ thinking, nor to tell them they are wrong, but rather to give them the opportunity to reflect on the beauty that exists within diversity.
– Sometimes…just shut up. It’s that plain and simple. My personality has strong ties to stating what I believe is true and vocalizing it until my point gets across (Not a trait I’d recommend to others as it can cause multiple challenges.) This trait often led (and sometimes still leads) me to stating my view again and again. A minor example, I am a firm believer in young children having schedules and routines. Now, I’m not crazy about it; I do allow flexibility and sometimes we have days where we “go with the flow,” but overall, in my interactions with children, I have learned the value of schedules and routines. That being said, my Little One (1-year-old) has an afternoon nap and a bedtime that fall within a certain time period (not on the dot every day). I have found that this routine in our schedule leaves Little One happy and content. My husband’s culture does not necessarily have this type of parenting and that has led to many conversations between a family member and myself (And this is also a conversation I’ve had with some people from my own culture who have a different parenting style). This person has explained to me the viewpoint that parents should control their children and that the child will fall asleep when he/she is tired. I understand that thinking and I even tried it a few times, but it was not what worked for Little One. During the times I have ignored his nap schedule, or his bedtime, there was a lot of screaming and tears (which is very abnormal for him). So, in this case, with our different cultural takes on what is the “right way” to parent, I chose to just shut up. Don’t get me wrong, inside I want to scream and shout examples of why my view is correct in this situation; however, I have come to realize that this will get me nowhere. I just need to shut up, nod politely and keep going through the day. It’s a balancing act, sometimes you explain your culture’s belief/practice and see what comes from the conversation, and other times you share it once and then you just have to be quiet.
All marriages have challenges; that being said, multi-cultural marriages face a unique set of challenges as you blend two cultures together and try to unite families/friends that share different beliefs/practices. I am so honored and happy to be in a marriage where we are bridging two cultures together. There are times when we disagree, but there are far more times when we are able to pull the best from both cultures and shape them into that which we value in our home. I hope these tips served as a helpful tool and as encouragement to anyone out there who is in a multi-cultural marriage. May the beauty of differences shine through your living example.
Ahmeli… that we learn from different cultures in an effort to develop a more united world.
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