Thursday, April 17, 2014

Culture Shock

It is very rare for someone to marry and not experience a bit of culture shock.

Regardless of whether the two are next door neighbors or from different countries, culture is present in every individual's life. The way your parents do things is part of  your culture, and no two parents do things the same way.

I have several family members who have married incredible people from different countries. They are making it work, even though there have been a lot of differences to overcome and work through.

Personally, I love learning about other cultures and I like to know how other people think. My own situation isn't nearly as complicated as learning a new language or an ancient way of life.

I simply grew up on the western side of the United States while my husband grew up on the eastern side.

For the most part, things haven't been too shocking. We have really good communication, and we've been able to find compromises for most things. If you want some examples of things that have come up in our marriage though, I'll give you a few.

Grig calls his mother's sister awnt (aunt), while I refer to my mother's sister as ant (aunt). This has been a family joke for a while, but we finally decided to try to refer to the people on his side of the family his way, and my side of the family my way. That way, we figure that the kids will know who is related to whom. It's been working so far, but we'll see how things go.

Another difference that has emerged is Grig's desire to have the children call me ma'am. In his culture, that is a term of respect, and he wants to the children to respect me. From my point-of-view, that is something that you say to an older woman that you don't know very well to show respect. It seems distancing to me, but I have decided that if that is important to him, I can live with it.

These seem like tiny things, but in a lot of marriages, cultural differences like this can tear relationships apart. It is important to put the other person's desires before your own in order to make a marriage work. Like I said before, we talk a lot and we have great senses of humor. I am extremely stubborn occasionally, but with the help of the Lord we've been able to make it through every disagreement.

Grig and I don't fight and argue. We do disagree, which I think is healthy for a relationship. For a long time, we had an ongoing 'argument' (more of a fun disagreement really) about whether bears or wolves were smarter. That is, until Grig decided he likes wolverines more than bears anyway, and the joke was pretty much dropped.

Though we each came from a different parental culture, our goal all along has been to form a new, wonderful culture between the two of us. Part of the excitement in marriage is trying to figure out how WE want to do things, not how our parents did it. We may borrow heavily from our own experience, or make up new things all together, but as we decide together, it brings us a lot closer.

There is NO ONE RIGHT WAY to do things within a home. There is not one single right way to raise children, celebrate Christmas (or any other holiday), or earn a living. (There is one way to get to heaven, through following our Savior, but that journey is different for each of us.) When people tell you how to raise your children, understand that the method their teaching you worked for them, but it may not work for you. Talk to your spouse, pray, and follow your instincts. Listen to your children. Allow them to grow in their own way. No child is exactly like another, and you may need to have different forms of discipline for each.

Discover how to make your spouse feel loved, and then take time to do something special for them. As we become less involved in what we want, and more involved in making those in our lives happy, we become happier ourselves.

Don't let culture shock get in your way. Instead, try to understand and come to love that culture as much as you have come to understand and love your spouse. Their culture, history, and mistakes have turned them into who they are today. Love the whole package, and work on growing and improving together.

Please share with me your experiences of times that you have overcome culture shock in your marriage. I'd love to hear them.


  1. Our biggest culture shock (other than the obvious) is the food. We had a hard time finding something that we were both willing to eat. And to some extent, we still have difficulties with that, but we've both learned to compromise. Words and phrases came easy since we just taught one another what we say, so we speak like each other.

    1. Thanks for sharing that! Sometimes food can be a culture shock for us as well. Grig doesn't like fruit (or anything else) in his jello. Go figure.