15 February 2014

Blending Well #1: Study each other.

Welcome to the first post in "Blending Well: A mini-series on cross-cultural marriage." You may click here to read an overview of the whole project or dive in with this concentration on learning about your spouse from all angles: in and out, past and present, here and there.

Study each other.
While this happens normally during dating, we can slack at studying our husbands after "I do." But this is the way to learn about them and therefore to know them as best we can. It's naive to think that our lives will blend well without us trying to understand each other.

In literature, we have flat characters and round characters. (Humor me: I'm a literature teacher.) The flat characters are only seen from one angle, often good or bad, or identified by one outstanding trait. Round characters, by contrast, are visible from various viewpoints, making them more real and more understandable.

It's obvious which of these is the preferable choice for our husbands. Yet in our marriages, it's much easier to default to "flat character" mode. We can look at our men and see them from one angle instead of taking a considerate walk around the situation to broaden our perspectives.  What's worse is that if we see them as flat characters, we often become indifferent to them--seeing them as predictably disappointing.

So let's work on this. Let's look at them from all angles to know them better.

In and out.
Cultures shape our emotional expression. Some hold things in. Some let all out. Just because your husband doesn't show any outward reaction doesn't mean he isn't affected. And point the finger back at yourself too. He may think you are showing too much emotion when it's merely cultural for you to outpour your feelings. And vice versa.

Do not assume that what you see is what you get. Dig past his surface expressions and reach his heart.

Try this:
Learn his language. While this can be taken literally (and that would be good!), I mean it figuratively here. Even if you both speak English, your way of speaking will be different. Study how he communicates and give him grace when you listen. With time, you will converse as easily with your husband as you did as a child with your parents--but it comes with practice.

Past and present.
We are all affected by our past experiences: no surprise there. I once read a short story explaining how any one can still act like a child because we still have that child within us. Each year, we grow a new layer but still have the smaller one underneath--which makes us much like the Russian nesting dolls, or matryoshka dolls.

So if you can't make sense of your husband's behavior, maybe that's because it's part of his past--and you didn't know him when he was that age. But you can still understand him

Study his layers. Study each doll within each doll within each doll...
What was it like growing up in his family?
How did his parents treat each other and the children?
What were the culturally accepted roles for men and women?
How were children expected to behave?

Consider these questions and the millions of others that can help you understand your husband's childhood self. Ask him directly and/or do some research. Study him to know him.

Try this:
Observe him with his parents, siblings, and even extended family. This will help you understand how he was raised, which will almost certainly be different than your experience. Befriend his relatives and get to know your husband's childhood through their eyes too.

~True story~
[I learned a lot about him and his culture] when I visited his home and hometown for the first time and when I finally met his siblings and cousins and when I saw how my husband acted/dealt with his family during certain situations.  It gave me pretty good ideas where he comes from in particular situations. :)


Here and there.
Have you noticed how most people change their behavior when in different environments? Maybe an accent emerges, or a usually fastidious person becomes sloppy, or a wife suddenly seems invisible to her husband.

Before attacking your husband with sharp criticism ("Who ARE you?!"), consider the scene. Instead of "who are you?," you may want to think of "where" and "when." More than likely, your husband's new personality is just him transported--and he doesn't even know he's acting differently.

And don't forget that you are susceptible to switch personalities too.

~True story~
Whenever we visit my home, I become more critical of [my husband] because he doesn't fit in as well as all my other friends and family members. And he looks different. After several awkward visits, I finally realized this and now try to be super aware of how I'm acting, to accept him and welcome him and remember that I can't expect him to be a natural in a culture he didn't grow up in.

Try this:
If possible, visit his hometown with him. If he bounced around a lot as a kid, you can ask him to take you to a place that means a lot to him--which may not be where his family is living now. Observe how other people are acting. Observe how your husband acts. Remember that you're the guest--and learn.

So those are three ways to study your husband and his culture: three ways to walk around him to see different angles to his personality and to make him a round character in your book.

1. In and out: Figure out if he shows his emotions or hides them.
2. Past and present: Get to know the childhood inside him.
3. Here and there: Remember that a change in location often triggers old habits.

~True story~
When we were first married, I think just being understanding and open minded helped us a lot.  Not just tolerating something that either one of us did, but really seeking to understand.

"Not just tolerating"--that's the goal. We want to understand our husbands!

But that also doesn't mean we allow horrible behavior just because it's cultural or part of his past or accepted in that region of the world. {Never should a wife accept abuse as cultural or habitual. It's always wrong.} What we're advocating here is knowledge, which can then lead to heartfelt and meaningful conversations. But we'll talk more about that (communication) in our next post, coming in a few days.

God bless your marriages,

{with much thanks to the women who shared their experiences and wisdom drawn from their own cross-cultural marriages}

What other ways have you found helpful to study your husband and learn more about him and his culture? 

Coming up next in our series: Communicate everything. Please check back! Or you're welcome to connect with us through email (in the sidebar), Facebook, Google +, or Pinterest.


  1. This is very important Malia. When we take time to understand our husbands, we no longer get unnecessarily upset about somethings they do. Thanks for sharing all these perspectives, do have a super blessed day!

    1. Well said! Thank you and be blessed as well. ^.^


Note: Comments awaiting moderation may not appear for several hours or--if the kids and I fall asleep at the same time--at least a day. Thank you for your patience and please do not feel deterred; your feedback and insight are most welcomed!