Surviving Intercultural Marriages
Updated: Nov 27, 2020
(6 Tips that apply to all marriages)
Ever heard of the quote by Art Williams: “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”
Or, how about this one by Nicholas Sparks from The Notebook: “So it's not gonna be easy. It's going to be really hard; we're gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, everyday. You and me... everyday.”
Yes, we love them, but reality isn’t always so romantic…
When my husband proposed to me seven years ago, this is what he said to me: “It’s not going to be easy, but it is going to be worth it”. With tears of joy running down my cheeks, I did not fully comprehend then what it all really meant, and we got busy organising, planning and celebrating our engagement until boom… the reality of it all finally hit us both…
We both come from very different cultural backgrounds; my mother is Spanish, my father was Italian and I was raised in the South of France. My husband is British Pakistani, raised in Pakistan and Abu Dhabi, and came to London for his higher education.
We have three beautiful, smart and very curious children – all below the age of four (yes, there is never a shortage of cuddles) – and we face all the challenges of having to manage work, personal life and our sanity as a couple.
1 - How has having children changed our life?
It has been a period of shifting priorities; we’ve had to better manage our time together, alone and with the children. Communication has been most important – before and after having children. Remember that if you don’t communicate your feelings honestly, it is hard for the other person to know how you are feeling – which can be a recipe for misunderstandings and chaos.
My Tip: Disagreements in how to raise your children do not mean that your marriage is going downhill, it simply means that both of you have to work a little harder, compromise a little, and find a middle ground.
2 - Curiosity can save the day: While it may seem hard to understand why something is important to your partner, remaining curious about your partner’s point of view can help you gain the trust and respect that your partner is seeking. An exercise that we as a couple often follow is a 5-min task where we take turns to talk about our everyday marital challenges without interruption. This exercise takes practise in order to work, but the key to it is genuine curiosity and an honest attempt at listening to each other without judgement.
My Tip: Revive your dinner date and get to know something new about each other by carrying coaching cards (http://www.barefootcoachingcards.co.uk/couples) – yes, I have tried these!
3 - Less Arguments and more Respect: Don’t we sometimes think that we know what the other person is thinking? In fact, we assume that we know better, and in doing so we unconsciously turn our minds off from the listening mode. The exercise here is to try and change the thinking pattern of thinking you know everything about the other person, including how they think. Ask questions – at least two or three – before getting into an argument. Personally, I find this the most challenging to implement, but the key here is remaining kind towards one another.
My Tip: Remind yourself of the qualities in your spouse that most attracted you to them.
4 - Compromise gets easier when you understand the other person better: A good exercise in coaching is where you imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes. While it is not an easy exercise, the results can really make a positive impact on your relationship.
5 - Remind your partner what you admire most about them: Do this often. Appreciation is often lost and forgotten in marriages, especially when we face opposing opinions. Remembering that just like disagreements, there are also agreements, and celebrating that is important. Small gestures of kindness, like sending your partner a short email with a list of all the things about them that you are grateful for can become positive building blocks in a marriage.
My Tip: Always remember to show your appreciation in actions and words – and on a regular basis. This advice is especially helpful when faced with conflicting opinions.
6 - Marriage is not a race: It is a journey. Always remember that you are not competing with your partner over an idea or tradition, but rather that you are both on a journey together. You are on the same team.
My Tip: Sometimes while it may seem that there is only one way of doing things, it is also helpful to remember that we can take different approaches and still reach the same outcome.
I try hard every day to follow these tips and approaches. Sometimes I win, but on other days I fail. Regardless, I start again everyday with my learnings, in an attempt to make our marriage better – and I remind myself of all the positive energy that brought us together in the first place.
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