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Marital Fulfillment: Tips for Intercultural Couples


Through my personal & professional coaching practice, marital issues often come up as factors affecting a client's personal & career goals. Intercultural relationships is an area of personal experience, as my own marriage is one such relationship. It is commonly known that these relationships have unique concerns due to differences in upbringing, culture and language.

For the vision of one person lends not its wingsto another person.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

The area of Japan in which my husband (Japanese) and I (American) live is a stunning example of how one spouse's vision can be starkly different from the other. This area is an ancient, rural village. If an image would help you, visualize the couple in the portrait "American Gothic." Male and female roles tend toward the traditional and are sharply delineated. One gets the sense that many relationships here, including marriages, are bound by duty and obligation. If my partner were an American, there would be no chance that he would choose an area like this in which to settle. My Japanese husband, however, thought nothing of introducing me to his home in this remote area.

My saving grace? I had lived in Japan previously and had a reasonable idea of what to expect in terms of male/female roles, social norms and the educational system. I would highly recommend anyone considering an intercultural marriage to take a joint trip to your partner's home country, and observe your partner interacting with family and friends. One common reason for marital discontent is that the expatriate partner, when in his/her country of origin, can revert to cultural norms which may be unfamiliar and even offensive to outsiders. Gender roles and attitudes are a common area in which behavior can vary between countries.

Reading about the experiences of other international couples is helpful in lending perspective to concerns that may come up in your relationship. One book I have used is Intercultural Marriage: Promises & Pitfalls, by Dugan Romano, Intercultural Press, 1997. Some topics covered:

values
food/drink
sex
male/female roles and rights
time management
ultimate place of residence
punctuality
politics
friends
finances
in-laws
social class
religion
raising children
language and communication
stress and conflict
illness / suffering
ethnocentricism
trailing spouse issues
death/funeral expectations
promises
helpful factors for marital success
practical considerations before taking the first step
phases of adjustment

Intercultural couples have a tendency to work harder on their marriage, since differences are expected and can be more pronounced. The couples that are most successful keep working on their concerns, learn to develop a sense of humor about small differences, and realize they are not going to see everything eye to eye. All this is to say that concerns

are to be expected, particularly in international relationships, and you're not alone.

One more book I'd like to mention is: The Premarital Counseling Handbook, by H. Norman Wright, Moody Press, 1992. This book is meant for counselors, but I found it an easy read. What I like about this book is that it talks a bit about reasons why people choose a partner from a different culture and what the implications may be. Some people look for an escape from their current life problems or even their country. Others look for novelty, a change. Some marry out of a sense of charity, as can be the case when partnering with an immigrant or a potential emigrant in a disadvantaged situation.

Appealing stereotypes, though often misleading, of a partner's country and people, as well as a perceived increase in status, can also serve as motives for a transcultural partnership.

A different language is a different vision of life.--Federico Fellini

If you are living in a foreign country long term, are not familiar with the language, and are having communication concerns with your partner, you might consider picking up the language at at least a basic conversational level. Then, see if your understanding of the culture, as well as your partner, increases. I speak Japanese fairly well, and also find the written aspect fascinating. An iconic language system (such as the kanji utilized in Japanese), provides an excellent way to derive insight into Japanese culture. One book I referenced describes the kanji for "onna," or woman, as the shape of a woman pregnant with child. Other well-known kanjis that reveal Japanese culture are: "otoko," man, comprised of the kanjis strength" and "rice field." "Sensei," teacher, is made up of the kanjis meaning "born ahead/older." "Oku" in "okusan," wife, means "in back/inside/hidden." My husband affectionately calls me "maesan," lead person/person in front, when he would like a favor from me.

And last but not least, when working issues out with your partner, do consider the power of the metaphysical world. Techniques such as kything, where you co-create positive outcomes, can be powerful in bringing solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. Keep your options and your mind open on the road to marital satisfaction.

Do you have questions about intercultural relationships?

Feel free to contact me at mailAThersheywier.com (substitute @ for AT)

2005, Hershey Wier

Hershey Wier, BS Education, MBA, is a Career & Self-Development Specialist specializing in holistic, creative approaches to career and life transitions. Visit http://www.HersheyWier.com


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2005