Saturday, May 31, 2008

Maintaining Strong Marriages In A Different Culture

Transitioning to living in a new culture is often difficult enough for anyone. However, for married couples it doubles the stress of acculturation due to shifting roles. My friends and I have been discussing how to keep our marriages strong while living in a different culture. Displaced African had an excellent point about collectivist cultures where marriage means being married to the family as well not just the individual spouse.

I learned marriage was a communal affair when observing my extended family at home. In the Kamba tradition (Kenya) the girl 'lost' her bed in her parents home and was no longer expected to spend the night if she had a fight with her husband. I remember family members encouraging fighting spouses to work it out and everyone got involved in keeping the marriage strong. Sadly, that communal support is hard to find living here in the US or other developed nations that are moving away from traditional marriages. As a married woman and a marriage therapist in training - I've learned a few things.

Research shows that couples who stick it out when they feel unhappy in their marriage will often change their tune within 5 years. I know this goes against radical feminist ideas on 'individual rights to happiness'. The right to happiness is highly overrated when it trumps the long-term health of your children and the family unit. I know it sounds dark agish but hear me out. I'm an educated woman, but my education and life experience have taught me that love relationships are all about compromise and as the Bible puts it "putting others welfare above our own". Marriage is NOT a 50/50 affair, its switches to 90/10, 30/70 depending on the situation. One spouse gets sick, the other has to do double duty, one gets laid of, the other has to work harder etc.

It's difficult to make it in America on one income. One struggle my friends and I identified is the dual-earner role that most couples assume due to college bills, childcare and healthcare costs etc. Some husbands do not realize they are no longer in their home countries where nannies were easily affordable. Husbands need to realize the wife is just as tired when she gets home from work and offer to help bathe the kids, prepare dinner, do the dishes, pack lunches etc. If you want to score in the bedroom - it begins in the kitchen. Wives will not be sexually inclined when they are thoroughly exhausted and feel the husband does not acknowlege their efforts at home. A recent study showed men who performed housework often had more sex - there's one for ya! Happy wives make happy homes!

The wife also needs to realize the additional pressure her husband is experiencing. Chances are his qualifications and education back at home are not being recognized as a new immigrant here. Providing financially is a man's badge honor, help him by not nagging him over working several jobs in the meantime. Male egos are really fragile - surprise, surprise! That macho African man (any man) is putty when you question his ability to provide for the family and insinuate he is not man enough. Be tenderhearted and encouraging and do not try to usurp him or compare him to other more established men. In Biblical homes men are the head of the home. Hold on - remember wives are the neck - and we know the head goes where the neck turns!

Find legal ways to provide an additional income and you'll be surprised at the information available from your local chamber of commerce and local non-profit family agencies. A good source of direction is your local library, a United Way website and churches among others. In the meantime, remember to keep your marriage strong, don't give up because of transitioning stress - it will make you stronger as a family. Call your parents and family back home and ask for emotional and prayer support. We might not live in community here as we did at home but we have the internet, the phone, church and often great neighbours. There's help, don't let your marriage tank.


  1. Personally, where I am in my thinking, I think that this Western obsession with individual happiness is so misguided on so many levels:
    1) A lot of us don't tend to have choice over what makes us feel good, these emotional associations tend to occur as a result of complex mixtures of nature, nurture, the people around us, marketing, natural disasters that to automatically assume that what makes you feel good is in your best interests is really not smart.
    2) Focus on pleasure in the short term tends to take away from pleasure in the long term. Instead of discipline we chose to succumb to temporary greed and fear and throw our future down the toilet.
    3) It makes people commodities: The first rule of morality, the only rule that Christ left in regards to people - love them as you do yourself. Just like you are willing to work on you and love you and give yourself pleasure on joy surely you must give unto others.
    To be honest I could have written a mini post but decided I wouldn't over type and clutter up your comments section.
    Thanks for the trackback and thanks for the phenomenal resource via this blog. Should you ever wish to guest post on my blog and give us younger people advice for the day we want to get married....the invitation is wide open.
    Be blessed,

  2. Yesterday's sermon in church was titled 'Before you say I DO'
    Preachers (husband and wife combo) listed 4 stages of marriage: Dream, Disillusion, Discovery and Dance. Turns out Disillusion is stage where most divorces occur. You are right by saying that if couples stick it out, then they discover the best of the other person and get to go on to the dance phase where they are in true harmony.

  3. Being in a relationship with a person from different culture is tough enough, i never even think about getting married with her!

  4. "Find legal ways to provide an additional income"--- totally love that line as if we would consider anyother way :-)

    Anyhoo, it can be difficult at times being married in a different culture, because of all the pressures that society puts on individuals.

    I find that it's best for me and my husband when we consistently reiterate our goals and objectives, and remind ourselves why we are in it together, it's so easy to get distracted and be caught up with the madness.


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