SELF HELP RESOURCE - Relationships / Marriage


Meet Mrs.Preeti Jain Iyer - a Marwari, who has lived all her life in Calcutta, now married to a Tamilian, born and brought up in Mumbai. A symbol of Nation Integration, wouldn't you say? But people like Preeti are not few and far between, in fact inter-cultural marriages are on a rise in today's urban India.

As people leave their hometowns in search of greener pastures, it is natural that they gravitate towards others who have common beliefs and values, so what if their cultural backgrounds are not same. It is no surprise that these young and mobile Indians choose to marry outside of their community. While this is great for National Integrity, as Chetan Bhagat points out in his famous "2 States", and it can be very romantic and exciting to love someone different, don't let the attraction of forbidden love distract you from the challenges that an inter-cultural marriage brings along. Don't fall into the myth of thinking that your love for one another can overcome anything life throws at you. Small efforts to prepare for possible challenges will go a long way in making the marriage more fulfilling.

Some Challenges

Language Barrier

When couples from different communities tie the knot, it is likely that their mother-tongues are different. And even when the couple might be able to communicate in a common language, many have trouble fitting in with the in-laws because they are unable to follow the language. People might feel left out or even side-lined when they don't know what the others are discussing. And try as you might, the tendency of people to revert to their mother tongue at times of stress cannot be altogether eradicated. Hans, a Dutch man who married a Bengali woman once asked his mother-in-law what "Chhaagol" (goat) means, because that what his wife called him every time they had an argument!

Differences in Values

Most cultures have their own value system, for example, in certain cultures extended families and social expectations are given more importance than in others. It is possible that your spouse may not be very "traditional" in his approach and yet she/he might instinctively subscribe to some of the values she/he has grown up seeing. Every time Venkatesh (Preeti's husband) met someone from his wife's family he was expected to bend down touch their feet to ask for blessings, so what if the person was Preeti's Maternal Aunt's Co-sister's Brother-in-Law!

Religious Conflicts

If your spouse of her/his family wants you to convert and take up their religion think long and hard about your religious values and the importance it holds in your life. Do also reflect about what expectations they might have of you in future, before you take the plunge.

And even if there is no pressure to convert, if you choose to marry someone from a different religion, chances are that there might be disagreements in the way festivals are celebrated, holidays are spent and even what the children are named. Fatima, who married a Punjabi, was never asked to give up her religious beliefs but the problem arose when Karva chauth was in the month of Ramzan. She was at a dilemma whether she should open her fast after sun-set or after moon-rise!

Sex Role Expectations

Along with differences in values, there are often varying sex-role expectations in different cultures. Coming from a liberated Kannadiga family Sharmila couldn't bear to be dressed as a Christmas tree, donning all her jewels and covering her head with the "pallu" of her saree when she visited her in-laws in their small UP village. While she still made her peace with the expected attire, she couldn't understand why all the village women gave her dirty looks when she addressed her younger brother-in-law by his first name!

Economic Adjustments

Although a factor in most marriages, due to differences in financial status, economic adjustments can be magnified in inter-cultural marriages if there is a difference in the way finances are handled and decisions are made. Some cultures focus on savings more than others and when Priya's husband wouldn't feel comfortable spending on a flat screen TV, she realized that it was because of his upbringing that made him shun expenditure on luxuries.

Fear of Abandonment by Family, Friends, Spouse

Vishal's parents were very unhappy when their only son decided to marry a hard-core non-vegetarian, and he was afraid his parents would never be comfortable living in his home where his wife cooked non-vegetarian food.

In situations where one goes against their parents' wishes there is always a fear of being cut-off from the rest of the family. Even in situations where the parents give their consent, the individual may fear that there might be a gap that may never be bridged. In a lot of situations it's not just the individual but even the whole family that might be abandoned - when Fatima's cousin got married, she was shocked to find out that her parents were not even invited only because they allowed their daughter to marry outside the community.

How to Overcome These Barriers

Learn about one another's cultures. Every culture has their own way of doing things and the best way to avoid future surprises it to learn as much as possible about the other culture. If possible spend some time getting to know your partner's family and their way of doing things.

Discuss your cultural differences regarding topics such as religion, diet, birth control, parenting preferences, grief, finances, sex, extended family relationships, gender roles, communication styles, and traditions.The more you know, the easier things get.

Communicate well in at least one language: In a country like India, where the dialect is said to change every 200 Kilometres, it is quite likely that there will be linguistic differences in an intercultural marriage. Since communication is the key to any successful relationship, it is imperative that both partners speak a common language. It would be ideal if one could speak or at least follow in the partner's mother tongue, but being able to express one's feelings in a common language is vital.

Accept that cultural roots go deep and that people don't change easily or quickly. One's basic beliefs and values are often closely linked with their upbringing and what they have seen in their family of origin. Often these are deeply ingrained and difficult to change.

It is possible for a person to change or adapt their outward behaviour, but often the core values may not change. For example, one might change their dressing style but they are likely to continue to hold on to the value they give to religion or finances.

Focus on the positives - Unlike fairy-tales, marriage is not a "happily ever after", but the beginning of a journey that has its ups and its downs. So on a difficult day, count the blessings. Focus on the good things in your partner, the small things they might do for you, the times they would have supported you. In fact, every time your partner does something nice for you, tuck it away in your memory to retrieve at a time when you are upset.

Look at what you have in common - Focus on factors that unite rather than ones that divide - for example, perhaps you both have the same goals in life, or maybe you both share common values with regard to finances, or raising children. Smaller differences may arise, but as long as you keep in mind the larger similarities, differences can be overcome.

Talk about each other’s traditions-  Each person might have some aspects of their culture or family tradition that is close to their heart - if there is something important to you that you wish to pass on to your children, discuss and negotiate with your partner. Do keep in mind that your partner may also have traditions that she/he may want to pass on, so keep the discussion open and perhaps you can frame a unique combination of cultures that your children can follow!

Discuss expectations in the areas of mealtimes, holidays, finances, sex, chores and roles. As mentioned earlier each family and culture may have differences and its best to discuss and be aware of them beforehand. Get to understand your spouse's expectations in terms of what the children will be called, which festivals will be celebrated and how etc. Also discuss the expectations from one another in terms of roles and responsibilities.

Also keep in mind that regardless of the preparation, there might be a bad day or a time when you feel overwhelmed. At such times speak to a trusted person to gain objectivity and to vent the emotions.

Latest Comments

venkateshr70 on 23 Sep 2016, 09:47 AM

having married under inter culture category,i really appreciate the information given by you and i am experiencing those challenges already for the last 21 years.I only feel that one should have lots of open mindedness,compromises and patience when looking for this kind of relation. Can i discuss all the above barriers and challenges with my son who is 19 years old and has joined in degree college recently .Because we do not know how to explain him about the intercultural marriages to him.Please help me.