Crossing the great relationship divide

Updated: 2014-03-28 07:43

By Zhang Yuchen (China Daily)

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Creating the 'third culture'

By Roy Huggins

While most couples that come to therapy report communication problems, a major characteristic of international couples that don't share the same native language is that they may, literally, have trouble communicating difficult or subtle ideas to each other.

What's worse is that when one partner's language skills are strong but not perfect, they may easily misinterpret idioms and subtle expressions of emotion without knowing that they have misinterpreted them.

Like any couple, international couples need to be able to work together, identify misinterpretations, and treat them as an everyday challenge that committed partners run into, rather than letting them blow up into arguments and fights.

The deeper issue for many international couples in conflict is the need to create what I call "third culture." It is not uncommon for one member of such a couple to decide that their partner needs to change his or her behavior to conform to the other partner's cultural expectations.

For example, an American may expect his or her Japanese partner to speak up and be assertive, and the American may be disrespectful and unhelpful until the Japanese partner does so. A Japanese partner may nag and berate the American partner and refuse to give hugs or say "I love you." Both behaviors might be seen as acceptable within each partner's own culture, but the couple needs a new, third culture where each partner's needs are respected and fulfilled.

Both partners need to commit to a process of improving their relationship and making it healthy. They can get professional help to do that. But if they can really commit to making the relationship a healthy one and obtain helpful information about doing that, they may be able to do it themselves.

Roy Huggins is a professional counselor in Portland, Oregon. He spoke with Zhang Yuchen.

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