Where do we go from here? Cross-cultural couple struggles for a place to root.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
One of the most frequent topics that comes up in both couples therapy with cross-cultural couples, as well as in individual therapy with clients in a cross-cultural relationship is that of geography. Arguments over how to get to the dinner date? Not quite…
In cross-cultural relationships there is an issue that inevitably arises: that of where to live.
What initially was not an issue, or perhaps even a romantic tale of how the relationship began (i.e. I dropped everything and moved to Buenos Aires for love) eventually takes on a different valence. As the couple solidifies and begins to make projections regarding their future, be it related to careers or raising children, the geographical battle begins.
The particular shape this battle takes depends on the couple. It can be overt and placed on the table from the start that one member of the couple is not willing to continue living abroad ad infinitum or it can be an unspoken issue that rears its ugly head in other ways.
For example, it can manifest itself in feelings of resentment towards the other member of couple because of all the sacrifices one is making by living in a foreign country, or it can be a weight upon the person wanting to leave in terms of the responsibility that this would imply with regards to “making” their partner move abroad.
Either way, it is a reality that cross-cultural relationships are faced with an obstacle that other couples, of the same nationality, are not. What effects does this have on the relationship?
First of all, there is an alteration of the temporal nature of the relationship. This means that cross-cultural couples are often faced with having to define their relationship faster than other couples. In order to be together and explore whether or not the relationship is feasible, one person might have to move to another country. This might even mean living in the same home as they are getting to know each other.
Another effect is that often times one member of the relationship is stripped of their support network, a situation that can put heightened pressure on the couple. This means that the partner that is “local” often has to play the role of friend, family, partner, confidant, cultural guide, etc., for the “visiting” member. On the other hand, the “visitor” feels that they depend excessively on their partner and can feel an exaggerated sense of vulnerability.
So the what’s the solution? While the problem is unique to cross-cultural couples, the solution is not. Like all obstacles and conflicts that arise in a couple, the real battle plays out in how the couple is able to resolve these conflicts. The skills a couple needs in order to overcome obstacles are universal: empathy, communication, understanding, compromise.
The real challenge at hand is to change the focus of the conflict. At the end of the day, while it is a singular obstacle, it is an obstacle, nonetheless. It’s not really about geography, after all. It is the particular shade that the conflict might take on in this type of relationship but, at then end of the day, all couples face them. The question is, do they have the skills to overcome them?