I’ve been happily married for over a decade to someone from another country and culture. And like many folks in my shoes, sometimes I forget how far I’ve come from the early days in my relationship…from those arguments, misunderstandings, and stumbles to where John and I are now.
I was reminded of this after seeing the following comment:
I took the chance to read once more your post on cultural differences in intercultural relationships, especially today since I am back to South France after a week spent in Tokyo; I was there for work, commuting everyday from my boyfriend’s place (he is from Inner Mongolia, now living and working in Japan).
It was a hard week, under many aspects. I will quit my present job and move to Japan in August this year, and we already made plans for the future, everything is almost set, but last week we often discussed over each other’s “domestic” habits.
I wanted to ask if you, or your husband, ever felt that the other, sometimes, does not think/understand that there is always “another side of the coin” speaking of how things should be done or viewed. I feel this way, now, but also believe some time together, only the two of us, and at a normal rhythm, is what we need.
Oh, believe me, I’ve been there.
When my husband and I first started living with each other full time in Shanghai, we definitely had our share of ups and downs:
Like the weather, relationships have their own rapid fluctuations — as I have discovered in this month. In only a few minutes, your congenial conversation might end with the thundering echo of a slamming door, just as ours did a few weeks ago, when John and I were sitting on the bed after eating dinner. I bolted down the street to my yoga class, hoping the asanas would help to cloud over the events of the evening. But in the end my eyes let out a deluge of tears. And, to my surprise, when I came out of the gym, there was John sitting on the steps, ready to clear the skies with an apologetic embrace.
This wasn’t the only inclement moment this month. Frankly, not a week has gone by without some petty quarrel — and it has brought me into a strange fog of anxiety and depression.
I should have seen it coming. We’ve both been burdened with a potentially explosive combination of ingredients: John with his thesis and test preparation; me with applying for John’s green card and my work. Throw into that your standard communication gaps between men and women plus cultural misunderstandings, and you’ve got a volatile combination that even the sturdiest chemistry lab hood couldn’t protect you from.
Ironically, I least expected cultural differences to get in the way of my relationship with John. When you’re in love with someone from another culture, when you treat them as your equal, it’s easy to forget that you learned different ways to respond to problems, and different ways to communicate.
Whenever people start living together full time, I think there’s always going to be an adjustment period for everyone. You’re seeing more of that person, right down to those everyday home behaviors you didn’t really see before (like how they deal with chores at home). But when you add cultural differences into the mix, you’re dealing with a whole lot more.
As I wrote above, sometimes I didn’t even think about the cultural differences — when I probably should have acknowledged them more. John and I had different expectations for a lot of things we had initially overlooked, such as how to tackle and resolve conflicts. Tempers flared and sometimes we said things we shouldn’t have. (Ouch.)
Honestly, I think it took us a few years to work out those “kinks” in our relationship and really get to a place where we understood each other. Where we were willing to listen and adjust how we responded to each other. Where we could, as the commenter referenced above, acknowledge that there was more than one way to do things. (For example, John learned how I liked to be talked to during an argument, while I learned to tone down my anger and control my temper.)
Getting to that point takes time, patience and a willingness to make things better. And sometimes it doesn’t happen through conversations alone. Early on in our relationship, I remember how watching American movies and TV with John actually deepened his understanding of my own habits. (Like how I love to spontaneously dance around the house whenever I hear a great song. 😉 ).
To all of the cross-cultural and international couples just starting out, I wish you lots of understanding in your journey to marital bliss. John and I weathered those hardships starting out in our marriage…I know you can too. 🙂
P.S.: I also recommend checking out this fantastic guest post written by Ruth of China Elevator Stories titled Yin-Yang: On Love, Fighting and Finding Harmony in a Chinese-Western Marriage.