When I work with couples in marriage counseling one of the first questions I ask is “what does marriage mean to you?” Marriage therapist Dr. John Gottman focuses on identifying shared life dreams as a glue that can hold marriages together. Both partners need to support each others’ life dreams, and ideally these should be compatible, have some overlap, and be motivational and inspirational for both. Life dreams reflect a shared meaning in life.
But what happens when culture influences a life dream, and both partners are from different cultures? A couple comes to mind, where the husband is from a traditional Eastern mind-set: marriage means being responsible, a care-taker and good provider. To him, these main factors qualify him as a good husband. But his wife was raised in the West, and to her marriage means loving compassion and respect for each other: it’s not what you DO for your partner but how you make them FEEL. And though she’s well provided for, she doesn’t feel the love.
Psychologist Robert Sternberg said loving marriages need friendship, commitment and passion. My multicultural couple can’t relate to this – except for commitment based on the needs of their children, they can’t agree on what friendship and passion even mean. Marriages where there are no shared life dreams, are on shaky ground. When the very definition of marriage holds different meanings, how useful is my therapeutic intervention: “so, what does marriage mean to you?” This vital question needs to be discussed BEFORE getting married. The meaning of marriage in many cases has already been formed through learning from the parental model of marriage, and through the process of enculturation. Doesn’t it make sense to explore these concepts before tying the knot, so a couple can develop a common, mutually agreed upon life dream – one that forms the foundation for spending their life together meaningfully?
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA