Cross cultural relationships

By: Khalid Iqbal, founder of Rahmaa Institute

Aslam is from Hyderabad India, married to his American classmate Ann. They had known each other for five years before they decided that they were right for each other. It was the happiest day of her life when Aslam proposed to her and soon after they decided for a marriage date. His family flew in from India for the wedding and stayed with them for a few months. Soon Ann realized the difference in the two cultures. She wanted to wear the dress of her choice at the wedding but her mother In Law insisted that she wear the Indian traditional wedding dress that she brought from India. Soon the house was hustling with relatives with no privacy for the newly married couple. The smell of curry started to bother Ann, it seems that it was now a permanent aroma of all her dresses. Even her colleagues at work started to comment on that.

After a few days she asked Aslam as to when the guests are going to leave and he responded angrily that they spent so much money to travel to the wedding at least they should be able to stay their visa duration of three months.

Aslam didn’t feel like the same old one that Ann knew. He was more into the Indian traditional cultural things such as food, hygiene, standards, and rituals. Ann initially felt the charm in the traditional stuff but wanted Aslam to accept her culture and rituals also. It seem that his culture was over shadowing her Judea Christian traditions. While being friend for five years cultural differences that could result in marital issues were never discussed.

All relationships are to some extent cross-cultural, in that both parties come together from different families to build a new unit together. Within India there are dozens if not hundreds of distinctly different cultures. Sometime within the same state of Kerala the culture and tradition from the South is different than the one from the North. Same thing is true for Arab, Far East, or within Africa. There are distinct cultural differences with Europe or in the US between the Northern and Southern States.

Many couples take the cultural difference as a joyful learning experience and adjust try to adjust to it, for them this will be a natural set of compromises to which both partners will adjust naturally over time. For others the differences can be fundamental, with one finding it difficult to understand the others way of looking at the world and vice versa.
It is natural for one to have loyalty towards our own culture and traditions. This may lead for many to find it difficult to understand another’s especially in a close relationship situation like husband and wife have differing beliefs, it is these feelings that can be pushed to the forefront, overwhelming the individual feelings we have for one another.

Cross cultural issues often lead couples to different interpretations of an activity or event. Individuals view and analyze issues according to their own understanding and background and may lead to very different or opposite conclusions. Some of the issues faced by couples include loss of identity, conflicts over differences in fundamental beliefs, religion, finance, husband and wife responsibilities and obligations, dealing with opposite sex, clashes in parenting tactics, struggles with pushy and / or unsupportive families and different interpretations of an event relating to some aspect of differing cultures.

Our counselors at Rahmaa spend considerable time counseling couples who come from two different cultures. It helps them to bring the differences in the open and discuss how best to deal with them. Counselling for cross cultural issues can help couples step outside of their restrictive cultural identities to see one another with greater clarity. There may not be consensus on every issue and point but at least it give them time to listen to one another thinking in an objective setting. A god counselor can lead the couple to a new level of understanding, to be ready for any misunderstanding, and give them the tolls to overcome obstacles and a plan for moving forward for a happy family life.

We strongly believe that that there is benefit and barakah (blessings) in diversity.

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