Material taken from “Intercultural Marriage”
By Dugan Romano
Source: Sakina08’s Blog
Foreword by Sakina08: “Since I am in the field of multiculturalism and work with people from all different nationalities, and have friends from all over the world, intercultural relationships and marriages are of great interest to me. I have never been interested in my own kind (find it too boring!), and am eager to learn more about the inner workings of mixed marriages. I recently came across an excellent book entitled, “Intercultural Marriage” by Dugan Romano, and found the ideas in it so helpful that I decided to start a series of posts summarizing some of the major points. InshAllah, I hope that it can be a help to you as well!” [end quote by Sakina08]
Just as in a same-culture marriage, there are several phases of adjustment that couples commonly experience after marriage. Intercultural couples face unique challenges in each of the adjustment periods which can seem confusing and can even cause serious issues in the relationship if not fully understood and dealt with appropriately. These phases of adjustment are very similar to the phases common to culture shock – so imagine if you are going through the phases of marriage AND the phases of culture shock at the same time (which is probably common for many intercultural couples)!
Phase 1: Honeymoon
The first phase of adjustment is termed the honeymoon phase. All couples go through this, although those who dated extensively beforehand may have completed this phase prior to marriage. Couples in this stage are blinded by their attraction for one another, hormones and chemicals abound in the brain (see Helen Fisher’s work on YouTube for info about ‘the brain in love’), and as a result, often fixate on all the positive aspects of the other person, and ignore or downplay the negatives. Differences are fascinating, thrilling, novel, and romantic. Research shows that couples typically stay in this phase anywhere from a few months to 2 years.
Phase 2: Settling In
After the initial excitement starts to wear off (as is necessary for normal life functioning, and helps the couple to spend their energy on raising children instead of solely on each other), the next phase begins – the Settling In phase. The couple begins to relax and be themselves and show more of their true colors. True habits and differing ideas about manners begin to show up, and characteristics (both personal and cultural) may start to be more of a concern than they were before. An Arab husband’s penchance for protectiveness may seem a bit controlling to a Western wife, and a Western spouse’s individualistic outlook may start to seem a bit selfish from Asian (collectivistic) standpoints. This is the stage when arguments may start to creep in, and the rosy glow of a picture-perfect, fairytale romance begins to fade. Reality hits, and the couple begins to see how similar or different they really are, and their own, deepset, often unchallenged or even unnoticed beliefs and views are now being challenged and questioned. Ideas about husband/wife roles, how to raise the kids, appropriate relationships with family members and in-laws, food, table manners, religion, and on and on will be brought to the forefront. If a couple finds themselves having many cultural differences as well as individual and personality differences, the relationship may be so ridden with problems that it does not last. Others, however, are able to work through their differences and make it to the next phase.
Phase 3: Life Patterns
This is the point where the path of the relationship can take a drastically different course. Some couples end up separating due to the differences being too great and not being able to compromise and work through them.
Others may give up dealing with ever-recurring problems and ignore them and sweep everything under the table (i.e. the head-in-the-sand method). Tension, anger, and unresolved conflict still exists, but neither partner is willing to find a workable compromise. These relationships tend to result in separate, loosely connected lives, and the relationship is experienced superficially.
Still others choose to focus instead on all the positives of their partner and the relationship, helping put the problems into perspective. The problems may still exist, and some of them may be ignored, but at least the couple is determined to see the glass as “half-full.”
The last path a couple can take is to willingly accept the fact that in order to have a fulfilling and successful relationship, they should constantly communicate and negotiate with one another, realizing that although there will always be new issues to solve, finding a workable solution involves exploration, creativity and flexibility. Differences can instead be viewed as an exciting, welcome challenge as opposed to a stressful, anger-filled, emotional nightmare. Such couples also become less rigid in their thinking, and begin seeing many issues as less life-shattering and more minor.
Although a couple may fall into one particular pattern of coping with differences, this pattern does not have to remain static; it can change and fluctuate. A couple may move forward to a more healthy way of functioning, and then suddenly regress backward, due to an unexpected or stressful event (which often sends us back into our comfortable, familiar and cultural ways of coping and dealing with life). If you find yourself stuck in a pattern that isn’t working, try to figure out what exactly that pattern is, and begin to introduce healthier ways of coping with conflict (i.e. communication, honesty, respect, and flexibility). Certainly, you can’t change your partner, but you can change yourself and how you react to your partner. When you change your part of the interaction, your partner will have no choice but to readjust along with you in some way or another.
After all, if you married someone from a different culture, the differences are what you drew you to them in the first place, right? If you desire a relationship free from differences, a. first of all, such a relationship doesn’t exist, and b. you definitely should not be married to someone from a different culture!
If you are in an interculteral marriage/relationship, what phase are you in? What difficulties have you faced, and how were you able to overcome them?
To begin the series on intercultural marriage, beginning with a discussion about who exactly tends to be most attracted to intercultural relationships/marriages in the first place seems like a good place to start. It’s certainly not for everyone, as mixed marriages are full of unique challenges that married people from the same culture may never face.
In Romano’s book “Intercultural Marriage,” she lists 5 common types of people who tend to be involved in intercultural relationships. The first type is the Romantic type: those who see people from other cultures as exotic, fascinating, and thrilling. These people may find people from their own culture boring and predictable, and thrive in the mystique of people from far away and foreign lands.
The second type is the Compensator. These people often feel like something is missing from their lives and believe they have found it in another person or culture, as they believe elements from that person/culture fulfills what is missing from their own. Romano notes that this type is found even in couples who marry from their own cultures, who are simply looking for someone to fulfill what they lacked growing up.
Rebels are slightly different from the compensators in that they dislike much about their own culture and are intent on finding someone from somewhere else. Sometimes they have a specific target culture in mind; other times they simply take whatever fate brings them.
Internationals, the next type of people drawn to intercultural marriage, are those who lived outside their native countries for most of their lives, and are typically children of missionaries, diplomats, military personnel, and so on. These people often do not feel as though they completely belong to one particular culture, as they tend to have been influenced by several cultures and therefore have a wide appreciation and love for differences.
The final category is comprised of Others. These people may not fit into their society and often are ostracized from it. Finding love in a different culture is a way to find a place to fit in and be accepted. Some of them are not considered to be attractive in their native culture, and have better luck in another culture. Others are part of a minority and find acceptance in another culture. Still others live in poverty and marry as a way to improve their quality of life.
Sakina08: After writing this, I began pondering which type I am, and it seems that I’m a mix of a few of them. Basically, I’ve always been different from everyone else, so I can relate to others who are different and appreciate differences more readily. I think that the world has so much to offer, so many different ideas and ways of thinking that can add a great deal to my life (making me a bit of a compensator).
I moved constantly growing up, so I was always the outsider, always the new kid, always unsure of the local habits… since I was mostly home schooled, that added a further dimension because I wasn’t really part of mainstream American culture (making me somewhat of an International type, even though all my moves were domestic). I recall one instance when I had just moved to a new town and was at lunch at school (I happened to actually go full time to public school that year). One kid decided to start pestering me with questions, asking me things like, “Are you a dork?
Are you a retard? Are you a b*?” I repeatedly answered with a resounding, “NO!” Finally he asked, “Are you a virgin?” I was about to repeat my answer when the girl next to me grabbed my arm and whispered, “No, don’t say no! Say yes!” I wasn’t sure if I could trust her or not – why would I say yes?!?! I had no idea what it meant but it didn’t sound good… But after a few seconds of indecision, I gave in and said yes, and the kid, disappointed, gave up and left me alone. This is just one example of all the vocabulary that I was completely clueless about (college was eye opening, haha).
I also was a double major college and earned two master’s degrees (I have way too many interests), so I’ve never really fully fit in with my classmates either (in addition to being home schooled and not really having a hometown or childhood friends!). And to top it all off, now I’m a White, American Muslim convert, so my being different is now very visibly apparent, due to my hijab!
Alhamdilulah, I like it though; I enjoy being different, and would feel bored, unmotivated, and unchallenged if I weren’t with someone who wasn’t different as well. That I think, makes me a Romantic as well.
Out of these 5 common types, which one are you?
Tara Umm Omar: I think I fit the description of a Romantic type since I find other cultures intriguing, hence my major in Anthropology. I also like to travel and learn about other people’s way of life. However I didn’t plan on marrying a Moroccan or a Saudi…it just happened that way. I was ostracized during my early school years due to being hearing impaired so I guess that would make me a compensator. I also consider myself a rebel because when I was younger, I didn’t want to date/marry my own race. It wasn’t about their color, it was just that I had a negative perception of Black men. I thought all they did was get girls pregnant and leave them, were in prison for various crimes or dead six feet deep in the ground. I was interested in Hispanics/Italians and never in my wildest dream thought I’d marry Arabs. When I married my Moroccan ex-husband, my brother was angry with me because he thought that I had never given a Black man a chance. Well I turned around and married a Black Saudi so there lol masha’Allah. Would love to hear from others which type they are insha’Allah!