Why managing cultural differences may be a challenge in intimate relationships

While it can be said that each family creates its own culture - and therefore cultural differences are ubiquitous in any long-term relationship - there are special challenges when marrying someone from a culture different to our own.

Some of the commonly reported challenges are:-

* where English is one person's second language misunderstandings are more likely to occur, especially in the realm of intimate communication where we try to capture more subtle shades of meaning.

* differing cultural norms about expectations of men's and women's roles, the way family life should look etc.

* taken-for-granted assumptions about how things are done can very widely from one cultural context to another - for example, some cultures may consider that keeping things secret in order to protect another person is essential, while others may think trust depends on having no secrets.

* the migrant experience may mean we either want to distance ourself from our family's culture in order to assimiliate into Australian life, or we cling tightly to the rituals and meanings that we hold dear from our childhood, that we fear may be lost. This can emerge particularly once children come into the picture - we want them to have access to the riches of our culture, and may struggle as they adopt the ways of a different culture, either our partner/s and/or that of the prevailing culture.

When couples experience difficulties with communication, resolving conflict etc it may be important to understand some of these undercurrents, and to work through the complex task of creating a couple/family culture that captures the essence of both partner's cultures in a way that works for both, and honours the needs of each person to create a relationship that consonant with his or her cultural values.

Even working on acquiring skills in communicating better and working through disagreements may need to account for cultural sensitivities - it's no good learning ways of communicating more assertively if my partner interprets my assertive techniques as disrespectful or even rude. Tehniques themselves may have to be modified to suit cultural differences, and this has to be negotiated.

What may be most important is to remember that perhaps part of what drew us together in the first place may have been in part our cultural differences, and that to be able to harness the strengths and resources from both, in an atmosphere of respecting and valuing these differences, can only enhance the quality of our relationship.

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