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In Cross-Cultural Marriages
vast majority of calls for marital counselling come from women. In
cross-cultural marriages, the complaint is often that the husband is either
verbally abusive or alternately, cold, rejecting and passive aggressive. In the
first case, the woman is of British decent and in the second case, the woman is
of Eastern European or Middle Eastern decent. The husband is from the
As the marital therapy unfolds in the first case and issues of domestic violence are explored it becomes apparent that the husband is not hurling demeaning remarks and is not name-calling. Rather, he, as per the Seinfeld show, is a loud talker. Here the husband has only two settings on his volume control, off and full volume. Further, he is likely to come closer to his spouse than she is comfortable with, particularly in view of the loud volume. She on the other hand, being of British decent, tends to be far more quiet and subtle in her statements, demeanour and conversation. She is overwhelmed by him and quietly withdraws. He, feeling unheard due to the increasing distance or the subtly of her reply, comes yet closer and actually increases the volume. She then feels verbally attacked and harassed and complains so. He, on the other hand, feels vilified and in upset and anger, manages to get louder still. The dynamic carries on until the relationship collapses. He is blamed as abusive.
the second case, the woman of Easter European or Middle Eastern decent complains
her husband is cold and rejecting. Like above, as she advances loudly, he now
retreats feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with her intensity. He is
vilified as passive-aggressive.
Although told from the point of view of the woman, these dynamics are as easily told from the point of view of the man. Underneath both sets of conflict however, is an abject lack of understanding and appreciation for the impact cultural differences between the couple. As a result of the lack of understanding, persons are apt to ascribe pejorative, negative motives onto the other person, believing their behaviour to be sinister in nature as opposed to simply being a culturally determined difference between them both.
many of these same couples will argue they had the same goals and dreams upon
marriage and even still, they now seek to end the relationship for the hurt
feelings that have developed the result of their differences in communication,
particularly as it relates to emotional expression and intensity.
throwing out the marriage and laying blame on each other, couples are advised to
step back from the brink and give greater consideration to these cultural
differences. Thereafter, they must discuss the impact of the differences upon
their relationship and after that, discus ways of accommodating to each other.
While some may argue that “this is who I am” or “why do I have to
change”, they must understand that any good marriage requires the partners to
make accommodations to each other for the higher goal of marital integrity.
Neither person or culture should have to take a second seat to the other, but
both must modify some behaviour to improve tolerance and management of the
cross-cultural marriages continue to rise, more attention to accommodating to
the differences will improve marital relations and the children of these
marriages can come to enjoy very rich and multifaceted heritages.
you are in a cross-cultural marriage in distress, rather than looking badly upon
your partner, consider discussing your differences in emotional expression and
what this means to you. If you are loud, consider the impact of your style upon
your partner and reduce the intensity. If you are quiet and reserved, hang in
before removing yourself and let your partner know if you are feeling
overwhelmed. Use your words, not behaviour.
Couples can learn to accommodate to their cultural differences and clear
(Gary Direnfeld is second generation Canadian of mixed Polish and Russian decent.)
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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