Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché:
As soon as I was old enough I ran from my home. In my country woman are peons. There is no divorce. It is seen as a man’s right to have extramarital relations and a man can just buy another wife if he’s unhappy with the one he has. If a woman returns to her father’s house after being married, she will be beaten.
So I came to America. I got an education and a profession; but then I got married! At first things were great. He let me enjoy my freedom and independence. That was, until we had children. Now, after four children, I might have just stayed in my country. Although he doesn’t beat me he does nothing to help. I have grown to resent him. I feel very isolated since I do not relate to American women of my own race. It’s ironic, because people from outside our race lump us all together. But being raised in my country is like coming from a different planet.
I feel stuck and do not know what to do. I can’t divorce him. He is a great dad and my family would disown me. What am I supposed to do?
Culture is comprised of traditions. Traditions are something you can opt to follow, or not, but you can’t opt out of culture because it is the base of your knowledge; it’s you! Opting out of a culture is tantamount to unlearning how to read.
I have seen many people try to marry into other cultures to escape their own but they don’t really understand the values and expectations that they jump into. And a good understanding of your own behaviors is required before you can understand someone else’s.
People don’t always voice their expectations of each other but these expectations can shape each other’s behaviors over time nonetheless. I suspect that when a problem arises in your marriage, you do too much mind reading and express too little verbally. What you accept may be out of sync with what you would prefer to receive.
You need to talk seriously with your husband. Create some new traditions, perhaps with the help of a counselor. You could also choose to explore one of the cultures around you… all cultures have different rules and expectations. Choose one that suits both of you; but that is a conversation which must be well understood.
When people jump cultures the most powerful thing they lose is community. Community is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it provides support; living apart from a community places stress on families and individuals alike. However, community is also the force that perpetuates any atrocities that exist within a culture.
Your job as a parent is to create or find a healthy positive community for your children so that they won’t be trapped in the same cycle that you are trying to escape.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: cultural differences aside, there is one tradition that should carry forward into relationships wherever you go: TALKING between partners. You have to be able to identify and talk about problems or they can’t be solved.
Perhaps when you left your old culture behind, you expected everything about yourself to change along with your new location. But this makes about as much sense as it does for a junkie to think that if they simply stop using drugs, then everything will be fine. Unfortunately, the problems that drove a person to take drugs don’t miraculously disappear when the drugs are taken away. All this does is uncover them.
You are the same person you always were, and YOU chose your husband. It is not surprising that after a number of years, you began to unconsciously fall into the same sort of relationship that you saw around you as a child.
The key word here is “unconsciously.” Childhood programming is so reflexive that we seldom realize we are doing it. This is why TALKING is so important. Talking is not unconscious, it is in the moment and to the point, especially if you also seek the perspective of a third party counselor.
Chances are that your husband has not deliberately fallen into his role any more than you have deliberately chosen yours. I suspect that if the two of you can start a healthy dialog, you are going to be able to bring your relationship to a point where you can consciously build a better future.