Patricia Redlich

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cultural Differences

1st November, 2009


Four years ago I fell in love with a great man. We are still together, both in our early '30's. My boyfriend is keen to settle down now and get married. But Eeven though I love him dearly, I'm terrified of committing to marriage. I don't know if we're truly compatible.

Being totally honest, we come from different backgrounds and see the world in different ways. We joke about it, but it's getting harder and harder to find common ground. We disagree on a lot of things. I feel ashamed sometimes, like I'm a snob, or too judgmental about decisions he or his family make.

Our differences work both ways. He often tells me to come down off my pedestal, or calls me 'the high class one'. And I get frustrated when we have a row. A classic example is a recent disagreement about his father, who has just been diagnosed with a serious heart condition, but who continues with his life-style of smoking, drinking and eating the wrong foods, despite strong medical warnings. When I said my piece, my boyfriend gave the old 'well you would say that' routine reply. The same happened when I saw his sister giver her small child a smack, and I voiced my disapproval.

What will happen if we marry? Can we find a middle ground? As a partner, my boyfriend is very good to me, kind and thoughtful, and we have such fun together. It's a relief to be with him as I can let my guard down and just be myself. I know he is fed up too, wishes I was more like him, and not so righteous. What makes it all more difficult is the fact that I'm very close to my parents and they don't approve of him. This breaks my heart as I feel they're not proud of me, and that I have disappointed them.

Let's attempt some clarity here. Two things are getting confused here. Does your boyfriend actually think his perhaps actually share your views on say his dad's carelessness about his health, or his sister's smacking of the child are a good idea? Does he share their value systems? Or does Does he, in other words, simply dislike your way of pronouncing on such issues, while at the same time actually agreeing with you? Even the most mature of us get can get our back up if our family is criticised because we feel it's a dig at us too. And very often it is.

Let me put it a different way. Why do you feel the need to openly pass judgment on your boyfriend's family? Why do you feel you have to let your opinion be known? Is this perhaps your way of checking out how your boyfriend sees life? Do you think, for example, that he would hit your child if you had one together? And if this is what you fear, do you think criticising his family is the best way of finding out? Isn't it possible he's just being defensive, or plain browned-off, in the face of your righteousness?

Don't get me wrong. Standards can make, or break, a relationship. And yes, a person's background matters. It may not be the defining moment, because people can break free of their family norms, but it does matter. So yes, if your boyfriend's family behaves in a way that is short on standards, than a warning flag should go up. That's not snobbery. That's common-sense. If you don't believe in smacking children, to stay with the example, and your boyfriend does, then you're in for a very bumpy ride. Rows will be inevitable. Snobbery is different. Snobbery pre-supposes that standards are strictly a question of class, that quality automatically comes with money, or social standing, or accent, or family name. And that's just not true.

It's hard when parents disapprove of our chosen partner. It makes it all the more important that everything in the garden be perfect. But of course everything is never perfect in a relationship. Compromise is the key to any successful togetherness. I imagine your parents' disapproval is probably sharpening your criticism, highlighting the differences between you and your boyfriend. Their disapproval is undoubtedly also fuelling your need to voice your feelings so emphatically. Stamping your foot, or being righteous, is your way of carrying the flag, of saying this is who I am and where I come from. And that, in turn, must seriously stick in your boyfriend's gullet.

You won't be happy if you and your boyfriend fail to share basic standards. You won't be happy, either, if you keep harping on your differences, rather than treasuring your togetherness. You won't be happy if you continually feel you have to prove who you are by shouting your beliefs from the rooftops. You won't be happy if your sense of allegiance to your parents makes you constantly critical of the man you love. And nobody can solve any of that except you. All I can say for sure is one thing: If you constantly put someone on the defensive, you will never truly know what they think, or feel, or believe. So stop saying anything critical. Just zip up. Listen and observe instead. That way you'll really hear what's in your boyfriend's heart and head.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design