Updated: Apr 25
Marrying a person who has different culture is indeed challenging. However, there are some approaches that we can take to reach a consensus among ourselves. Before going further, it is better to first understand what culture is. There are so many scholars who define culture, however, I personally cannot agree more with Holliday (1999) who divided culture into two. To understand this better, let’s imagine that culture is a bunch of icebergs. There is a part that you can see clearly, and there is a part which you cannot see easily which in fact, could be bigger than the apparent part.
Holliday (1999) named them as Large Culture (LC) or non-essentialist, which is a culture that can be seen easily like food, traditional clothes, historical figures, heroes, tourist resorts, and Small Culture (SC) or essentialist. This one cannot be seen easily such as the reason behind the lifestyle of someone, practices, and the way of thinking. When compared to each other, LC and SC can differ in terms of the hardships level one can face when trying to adapt to the culture of others. No matter some elements in LC can be hard to adapt in practice such as food or traditional clothes, it is still much easier compared to the adaptation to SC.
The reason behind the difficulty of adapting the SC – as stated above – is its intangibility. To further explain this fact, a man cannot understand the social and historical background of his wife at one look.
He needs to invest his time and go deeper to learn the reasons behind the mentality of his wife regarding family, community, religion, history, patriotism, etc.
For me, it took a long while to comprehend my husband’s sense of nationalism. At first, I found his excess in loving his country was very strange. However, the more I read the history of his country, the better I understood why he can be so hardliner in his views of patriotism. And this process of comprehending did not take as short as my attempt to adapt his cuisine.
If one can ask what are the approaches to take in order to reach a consensus in cross-cultural marriage (CCM) I would say:
Firstly, listening to understand. Some people tend to listen to prepare the answer (Deardorff, 2020). However, in this case, the wife and husband should only focus on listening to each other and the only goal should be to understand the purpose. The more couples listen to understand, the better they can be involved in the cultural, historical, and sociological background of one another. Eventually, the elements of small culture can finally be recognized and eligible to deal with.
Secondly, being open-minded. Couples must approach small cultural facts with open-mindedness to ensure a healthy and long-lasting relationship. However, that open-mindedness should not mean that couples have to embrace every small cultural facts and practice of each other without question. What it means by that open-mindedness is basically zeroing your mind while approaching your spouse’s small culture, listening, learning, respecting, and analyzing the applicability of it. Once the couples can approach the small culture of each other with respect and eagerness to understand, then it does not matter if they cannot practice it in their life. Cultural and religious backgrounds and personal principles might cross-in that process if couples would push to adapt to the small culture of each other.
Thirdly, being patient. As mentioned above, adapting small cultures might take much longer while learning and practicing large cultural practices. In several attempts, couples can fail to comprehend the meaning of those small cultural facts and fall desperate sometimes. As time is the healer, the best remedy for the probable deadlocks in that long-term process is showing patience and having the belief and self-confidence that you can achieve this goal.
Last but not least, there is one more thing which is highly essential, that is, the common language. Surely, CCM involves the essence of a common language. A common language is highly essential, especially it can help us to connect and express the same sense of living. This can be more useful when finally couples raise their children. It does not matter if one of us cannot master the mother language of our spouse. However, if we do, it would be a great deal in terms of connecting our world into our spouse’s family and relatives. This way, we indirectly get helps to learn our spouse’s culture entirely. For example, we can find out what cuisine our spouse has grown up with, what kind of games our spouse has played in his/ her childhood, what kind of family ritual s/he has had for certain cultural events. In a nutshell, good communication is the key to reaching a consensus within a CCM. Listening to understand, being open-minded, being patient, and having common language seem quite general. However, the practice can be done in more detail. That would be another topic to discuss in depth.
Deardorff, Darla K. (2020). Manual for developing intercultural competencies: story circles. London & New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Holliday, A. (1999). Small Cultures.Applied Linguistics, 20(2).237-264.
Written by: Oktavia Herawati, 26, Indonesia
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