When it feels like there’s a right way and a wrong way, it’s really just the way of your home country.

Have you ever had the thought, “If she really knew what I was saying she couldn’t possibly be responding to me the way she is?”  Or, perhaps the opposite – “If she really knew me, she would never have said that in the first place?”  When two people form a relationship it is a cross-cultural experience, even when you come from the same city, town, ethnicity, and religion.  How can this be, you ask?

To help couples appreciate partner differences, a therapist friend of mine uses the metaphor (which I have now adopted) of two partners coming from different countries. The idea is that when you meet and fall in love, you are faced with the challenge of learning about your new love, as well as all of the cultural norms and traditions that accompany your partner’s family (home country) and their ways.

All families create a culture of how things are done, how love is communicated (or not), and what the expectations are for who you are becoming as you grow into adulthood.  We all have our own very unique brew of life experiences from our separate home countries – which gives shape to our beliefs about how things should be, or perhaps how we expect they will be even if they aren’t when we get into a relationship.  

In my home country, we always ate dinner together, at a table, TV off.  We cleaned every Saturday morning and each of us had our separate chores.  We always kissed each other before going to bed.  We didn’t talk back, and we didn’t lie – or else!  And college was just that thing you do after high school, no discussion.  Our home had a revolving door, a very social place with friends and neighbors visiting most days.  It was also common to have someone living with us (an exchange student, friends in transition, a family from out of state going to IU, etc…). We spent most evenings together watching TV, but the oldest person always controlled the remote control (and I was not only the youngest but for many of those years I was also the remote control!)

This is a sampling of the way it was in my country growing up.  It’s not right, it’s not wrong, but it was the way of my people When we enter relationships we are faced with negotiating traditions, and ways of being, and being together.  Whose way is going to be THE way that things are in our newly created melting pot of love? This is where it gets tricky.

What is it like in your home country?

So when you find yourself asking, “Why on earth does he_________?”  Or “Who in her right mind would think that it’s okay to ________”.  Or, “If she loved me she would __________.”These and similar thoughts are simply judgments.  These are the thoughts that create a struggle in relationships. The goal in love is not to make each other a clone of oneself.  The goal in a loving relationship is to cherish and respect one another for who she is and to help her become who she wishes to be (not who you wish her to be).

Spend some time learning one another’s love language (look for a future newsletter on the topic of love languages), customs, and ways of being in the world, and in your relationships. Get real intentional and very conscious about what’s really going on.  Are you rejecting the ways of his world?  Are you expecting her to be fluent in a love language that is not native to her?  Recognize your differences as opportunities to really know one another.  Find ways to make room for these differences without judging one another as “right” or “wrong.”  Do what works.

Learn more about the impact of your unconscious mind here.

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