“When feelings are valid, perception can still be unreliable”, is a quote I stumbled upon from cross-cultural marriage and parenting consultant, Estrelita Gracia Siburian, S.Psi., M.Sc.’s Instagram page.
We often convince ourselves and the people around us that what we see and feel is real, when in fact, our reality is very subjective as everything we feel is a result of our past lessons.
A lot of differences in emotional meanings and ways of expression in various cultures arise in cross-cultural relationships. Something we think is normal can be very triggering for our partner. For example, some cultures are accustomed to eating with their hands while in the western world, cutlery is nearly always used.
Mindset, decision making, emotional expression, etc. are based on culture. Society is broken down into those who believe the cultural difference is normal and those who say the opposite. Estrelita believes that, because everyone’s born and grows up in different families, each human being is definitely different in their way of perceiving, analyzing, feeling, and making decisions.
“We live in an interconnected world. Global society has been projected with diverse issues from multi-faceted dimensions.
Problem-solving towards handling cultural differences is needed to acknowledge and accept the existence of individual uniqueness regardless their race, ethnicity, religion, ideology, and/or nationality,” she explains.
Family and culture have strong significance to one another, especially in a cross-cultural relationship; how it affects relationships before and after having bundles of joy come into the picture. According to Estrelita, each family has its own culture, described as morals, beliefs, values, rules, rituals, and traditions that are inherited from each generation.
“It’s like a basic compass for the children to adapt in society,” said Estrelita. “A family’s culture has a series of life-based values ingrained in our mind and body. We learn and re-learn another value as we grow older and are in bigger social networks.”
Culture generally teaches an individual how to perceive, feel, and act in different situations. Understanding culture begins with understanding what’s visible. Simply start with what values you live by, day-to-day. This can help pinpoint the way you perceive right and good, wrong and bad in terms of manners, customs, viewpoints, attitudes, feelings, and perceptions.
After all, values are a part of our identity and a philosophical foundation of our life. It explains the reason behind all our actions and is the reference we use to evaluate situations. “Parents play a significant role in values. The way they nurture their kids through daily interactions will enact an inner connection of understandings between one value and another,” explained Estrelita. It gives a sense of purpose; a purpose to become a better, authentic person. “We feel ‘alive’ when we can live out the values we have as a life guidance.”
Cross-cultural relationships begin with personal insight obtained from the process of learning; formal educational systems, family, social interactions, and religious leaders. Values, principles, customs, rituals, traditions, and habits are understood and derived from the smallest unit in society, i.e. family.
The Ecological Theory from Bronfenbrenner states that family is known as a microsystem that can have a significant influence on a person. Parents are the first cultural knowledge resource for a child. Before children can connect with the global society, they learn the core values, beliefs, principles, and ideologies from their parents. An individual then builds up their connections based on their needs and preferences for fulfillment. Peace and calmness are determined by how frequently we live by sticking to our true selves.
Estrelita observes that marriage to a spouse of different ethnicity, race, religion, or even country is often seen as something many people want. Say you and your significant other are planning to get married; being culturally different, marital preparation is highly recommended.
Couples in cross-cultural relationships are more likely aware of their underlying tangible and intangible differences. Estrelita talks about the cultural iceberg, an analogy of culture that was developed by cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall. Referring to the polar ice caps, understanding culture is depicted as being deep, with have lots of hidden aspects underneath the visible attributes on the surface. Therefore, before a couple is about making a lifetime commitment; they should openly discuss their hidden aspects to attain mutual cultural understanding.
Religions, traditions, communities, educational systems, and extended family members depict a set of real attitudes towards differences. Ways to respond towards people with different skin colors, ideologies, languages, nationalities, and religions will be imitated and memorized by the children in future generations. Integrative work between family, school, neighborhoods, religious groups and other social communities plays a significant role in molding the children’s multicultural perceptions.
Exposure to diversity will determine flexibility and adaptability in the global society. Contrary to popular belief, living in a multicultural country will not automatically make us grow up with social empathy, open-mindedness, and tolerance on an individual scale. “A baby is born without any social skills. Parents surround themselves with certain skills and environments to create familiarity towards diversity.
Thus, the earlier we immerse a child in diversity, the better they can adapt within the global network,” she explains.
Additionally, diversity can be a double-edged sword if relationships are built without tolerance. “Addressing feelings assertively and listening empathetically is key to assuring and comforting each other. Without belittling each other’s struggles and sacrifices, it’s important to state a specific appreciation and admiration for each achievement,” Estrelita adds. Although it’s just a tiny step, honoring your partner every day regarding their courage to stay committed, and openness to try the unfamiliar, should be seen as affirmative action.
The three magical words: “please”, “sorry”, and “thank you”, draw deeper affection between a couple. A family can have a high conversational culture, where communication on any topic is unrestricted, whereas another family may be the opposite by having low conversation orientation or not being very open with one another. Thus, awareness of cultural understanding given that someone’s cultural viewpoints can be identified only if we’re aware of how tolerant, flexible, and open we can be toward differences.
Yet cross-cultural relationships have their obstacles starting from values, principles, characteristics, down to habits leading to much-needed effort and compromise from both sides. Dr. John Gottman from The Gottman Institute believes that every relationship is cross-cultural. Each family has its own culture, likewise, each grown individual has values, principles, characteristics, and habits. Flexibility, adaptability, curiosity, and empathy (FACE) are four basic skills to make an intercultural relationship work. A relationship with different backgrounds definitely has double challenges, as well as double happiness.
“The first step before we agree to make any adjustment is being clear about our needs and preferences,” Estrelita points out. Needs can’t be compromised and must be fulfilled since it relates to basic fundamental values and principles. Meanwhile, preferences are the likes or dislikes when we fulfill those needs. They are more flexible since there are some alternatives in the frequency, duration, and situation.
Secondly, being empathetically assertive in delivering our feelings is tremendously important. Instead of blaming the partner’s character and capability, we must learn how to address our feelings by talking about the specific situation or reason that triggers us.
“Lastly, tune into our partner’s inner world starts from listening empathetically. What is their current cultural struggle? How do they feel about living in the current culture? What can you do to make them feel better? There’s no way of understanding someone except giving undivided attention to them without making any judgmental comments,” she says.
With language and culture, understanding someone from their way of thinking can determine our depth of kinship. Parenting plays a significant role in children’s development. The language that parents use to communicate daily with their kids will help them get some insight into their parents’ culture. Learning culture by speaking the language itself will help kids understand their parents’ way of thinking and problem-solving. Likewise, having regular, open discussions with kids will help them understand the concept of multiculturalism.
Two models can be instilled: the one person-one language (OPOL) model explains that one parent can communicate with one language to the kids to help them understand both of the parents’ native languages; kids are known as the champion of new learning, and the one setting one language (OSOL) model explains how willing parents are to compromise and be flexible to speak in different languages in social contexts.
Differences are feasible in any sort of relationship. Having a safe space to communicate and understand the way we are can minimize underlying issues in the future.
Get in touch with Estrelita about intercultural relationships, marriages, and other family topics via Instagram @estagracias, Estrelita Gracia on LinkedIn or email [email protected] Visit Instagram @momentizing, Momentizing on Facebook, website www.momentizing.com or email [email protected] and WhatsApp (+886)958 575 465 for global citizen’s mental health and cultural adjustment topics.