A Lifetime of Explanations, aka an Intercultural Marriage

Today I want to go into the topic of intercultural marriage. I prefer the term “intercultural” instead of “multicultural” in this case because I think that I represent my family culture and B represents his family culture. That equals two cultures, and I feel “inter-” makes more sense than “multi-” in this case.

I absolutely love my marriage. I could not think of a more appropriate person to be in a lifetime partnership with than my husband. But we are different from each other in a number of ways. Some of our differences include: age, skin color, fitness level, nationality, first language, enjoyment of cuddling, etc… Even with all of these differences, we have the most honest and secure relationship I could ask for.

Ok, enough with the mushiness. On to the facts:

There are plenty of pros and cons that come along with being married to a person who is from a place completely different than you. I want to just touch on what I believe to be the biggest pro and the biggest con of being in this type of relationship. I like to get the bad things out of the way first, so I’ll start with…

The Biggest Con:

Confusion. Confusion is the biggest con that directly relates to my marriage being an intercultural one. On the surface, every marriage (that I’ve seen) has its share of confusion simply because a marriage, by definition, consists of more than one person. When more than one person attempts to share a life, there will be things that come up that result in confusion.

However, in the intercultural type of marriage, I think the level of confusion is more on the fundamental level because we grew up in such different environments. When two Americans from Western North Carolina’s Small Town Friendly (shout out!) meet up and begin living a life together, they automatically have at least some ground in common. Logically speaking, the confusions that come up in their day-to-day life should (hopefully) not extend into the fundamental level of either person. They should (probably) have mostly “surface confusion”. Logically speaking, the same should be true for two Indians from a Kolkata suburb in West Bengal. In these types of marriages, there are plenty of common things that the individuals can take for granted, in a good way. These common things could make people in these types of marriages feel more secure because they feel they know their partner very well. (I am aware that this is not always the case, individual results will vary. 🙂 )

B and I however, “suffer” from “core confusions” in addition to these “surface confusions” because we have our typical married-people differences plus the fundamental differences that come from being born into two vastly different societies. These fundamental differences were bred into us and fostered over years of exposure to one specific flavor of life. These differences affect how we communicate, how we relate, and even how we love. This is where our core confusions come from.

They manifest themselves in various ways as well and can be difficult to comprehend and learn to work around. These core confusions are evident when one of us doesn’t grasp why the other reacts to something in a way that doesn’t make sense, when one of us notices something the other would never have, when one of us communicates differently than the other would prefer, and the list goes on.

I think the worst way these “core confusions” manifest themselves is when we are in the middle of a discussion/argument/heated explanation and the phrase “You just can’t understand” is uttered in an attempt to end the discussion out of tiredness or lack of motivation to continue until an understanding is reached. This type of statement inherently shifts the blame onto one person and isn’t really fair.

I believe that the failure of the one person to understand properly is simply a reflection of the other person’s failure to explain properly (again, individual results will vary…). This directly relates to what I think is

The Biggest Pro:

Self-knowledge. I know myself now better than I ever have before. This may not sound like a big deal to some people, but I believe it is one of the most important things one can do. I believe people live their daily lives with “rose-colored lenses”, especially when they look in the mirror. We like to only acknowledge the parts of our self that make sense and make us look good. We take how we grew up and make that our identity, not stopping to question why or if it is a beneficial point of view to adhere to. For example, where I grew up, children are expected to accept whatever their parents/elders say just “because I said so”. I think this works for young children up to a point. When children start to become grow into real life people, they should be encouraged to question things in the pursuit of knowledge. Young adults (and old ones, too) should know that they would benefit from being lifetime learners. And the more one can learn about oneself the better.

Being in an intercultural marriage forces me to get to know myself better so I can explain myself better. In our goal to have the most honest marriage we possibly can, this means I have to be as honest about my thoughts, feelings, and motivations as I can. This means I have to acknowledge the negative things along with the positive. I must be able to critically assess myself. This is a difficult thing to do alone, but I have the perfect person to do this with. He is honest with me about me. He does not sugar-coat things just to make me feel a temporary warm and fuzzy feeling. He is honest with me so I can have a long-term happiness.

Are people in intercultural relationships the only ones who have self-knowledge? Absolutely not. But I do think we are more apt to strive towards it earlier and more willingly because we need to explain ourselves a little more frequently than others because of our core confusions.

There are of course other pros and cons of being in an intercultural marriage. Look for more to come!