All too often I see multi-cultural couples in therapy who’ve been together for a year or so; the novelty of marriage has worn off, and now they are realizing things that usually only surface after you’ve been living together for a while. While the foundation of a good marriage can depend on things like friendship, commitment and a shared meaning in life, each of these factors varies significantly according to cultural norms. It can be hard enough for a homogenous couple to adapt to marriage. A multi-cultural couple has to adapt at a whole different level.
For example, a common problem I see in multi -cultural marriages is differing expectations regarding the rights and responsibilities towards the in-laws. The saying goes that in-laws can make or break a marriage. The collectivist mind-set takes it for granted that in-laws are part of the immediate family, they must be respected, involved and prioritized. It’s expected that in-laws will participate in all aspects of family life, and sometimes even be key decision makers. This view is not shared by those with an individualistic orientation, who may interact with in-laws on a “by invitation only” basis, and who value privacy, autonomy and independence. Another old adage is that you marry a family – this is so true for many cultures where joint living is the norm. In most of the cases that I’ve worked with, the adjustment has to be done by the young couple – rarely does the family system change to accommodate new blood. Just like in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where the influence of the girl’s traditional family was all-powerful, and her husband adapted to it. Continue reading
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