How much should you change to adapt to your spouse’s culture?

I’m back!  I must admit I have been craving writing after my little hiatus away. After I said I was having a break from blogging, I had many people from around the world contact me to say that my blog had been an important outlet of advice for them, helping them to navigate many issues they have faced in their own intercultural relationship. So, thank you for all the support, I am very heartened.

My husband and I just got back from our honeymoon in Europe and on the way back to Australia, I was on the plane looking at R thinking to myself ‘look what he has done for me’.

That might sound weird, but let me explain.

Most Nepali people don’t even know what a honeymoon is.

I know a few Nepali couples who have lived in a Western country for most of their life who have gone on honeymoons but a quick poll of my 40-50 Nepali friends is evident enough- no- they didn’t go on a honeymoon.

After marriage in Nepal, it is very uncommon for a newly married bride and groom to go on a holiday together somewhere for a romantic time.

To be honest, the whole notion of romantic gestures in Nepal are rare (yes some people will disagree with me) but compared to Western culture, romantic gestures such as honeymoons are very uncommon (happy to be challenged on this if any of you have any evidence!)

So, I had to explain to Rabindra what a honeymoon is and why it’s important to me. Yes it’s part of Western/Australian culture but it’s also a helluva good idea to have a break after a stressful year with the wedding!

It took Rabindra a while to get used to the idea of a Honeymoon…(hhhhmm a good two years) but he came around and agreed to my idea of an overseas honeymoon.

Anyway, back to the point of this blog, which is this: how much should you change to adapt to your spouse’s culture?  In a recent interview I did with a magazine, I was asked about what advice I would give to others in an intercultural relationship.

My answer was something that has only come to me  very recently, only in the past year or so. It was this: “It’s important to compromise but it’s also important to hold on to our own culture and not lose who we are. If you change yourself too much to adapt to your partner’s culture, you will lose your own identity.”  

 

This is still the most powerful advice I’ve ever given myself.  

I often think about the changes both of us have made to adapt and be apart of each other’s culture.

It’s virtually impossible to not change when you are married to a person whose entire culture, background, and even basic ideologies are different from your own.

I feel like I have made many changes to adapt to Nepali culture, but Rabindra has too.

For me, learning the language, dressing up in sari etc, taking tikka, wearing sindoor, marking Nepali festivals, cooking Nepali food etc and trying to understand the different parts of Nepali culture, are just some of the changes I have made.

While I am open to making compromises there are some parts of Nepali culture which I will stand firm on because they are against my core values, something which I am not willing to change.

I disagree with many parts of Nepali culture, for example,  the exclusion of girls during their periods because they are ‘unclean’, the inequality women and girls face in all facets of life and many other patriarchal parts of Nepali society which are too extensive to list here.

Essentially, I try not to sweat the small stuff. If it’s an important matter, I will try really hard to understand him and where he  or his family is coming from. But if it’s important to me, I will express myself and not give in.

Maybe the next time you are facing an issue with your partner or in-laws, ask yourself , is this really important to me? Is it a part of my identity and what matters to me? Or is it more of a small problem which we can discuss and face together?

It may sound like simple advice, but I hope I have explained a clear enough distinction between the two.

The honeymoon is just a small example of what Rabindra changed for the sake of me. This was also not a part of his core values or ideologies therefore he could openly change.

Other parts of his culture such as not eating beef and honouring his elders, just to name a few, are part of his core values and ones which I do not expect him to change.

I honestly belief if you change your own values, it will only lead you to have regret, dissidence and resentment in the future.

In all relationships, there is give and take. But in intercultural relationships, a great deal of effort and understanding has to occur to ensure there is an equal balance of give and take.

How much have you changed for the sake of your partner’s culture?

Are there things you will stand firm on, against what your partner or in-laws believe in?

Or have you changed for your partner and regretted it later?

Have your say

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29 Responses to How much should you change to adapt to your spouse’s culture?

  1. Great post. I couldn’t agree more! Pick your battles with yourself and others, learn and grow from other cultures, but stay true to yourself.

  2. Really interesting article thank you so much for writing it 🙂 these are things that are continuously going through my head as my relationship progresses with M, especially now I am in Nepal.

    Do you think you have found the complete balance for both your identities and your relationship now?

    • Hey there, not a complete balance as new things always arise and new conflict can occur but we really have gotten better and I think it will only improve from here. (I hope!)

      I have been reading all your blogs about your trip and eagerly awaiting more posts. how it’s all going? I think I will send you a private email 🙂

  3. Nice to see you back in action! I think this is the million dollar question and something that will be different for every relationship. I don’t believe there is a perfect balance out there which works for everyone. Can’t agree with you more how important it is to maintain who you are in these types of relationships. It is something that has been a big focus for me since getting married.

    • Hey! I’ve been loving your blog! I always read it but don’t always comment. your wedding photos were amazing by the way.
      any advice you can give me on this one is appreciated! hope you guys had a fab time in Dubai x

      • I think this topic is always a work in progress, but am going to give it a good think and write a blog post in the near future! 🙂 Thank you so much re the pictures and Dubai was amazing – would definitely recommend!! xx

  4. Sylvia says:

    Oh my goodness thank you for this post. I’ve checked out your blog before and noticed that you hadn’t posted in a bit. I’m happy, I feel like this post is so perfectly aligned with me right now, I’m soon to be married to my nepali partner. I love the great advice you’ve shared, I’ve also been thinking about how I can adapt to a more nepali way of living, without losing who I am. Communication and sharing feelings is really important I’ve found. I’m glad to hear you went on a honeymoon, bless you and your nepali hubby.

    • Thanks Sylvia. Glad to hear your advice about communication and sharing feelings, it really is the best way to avoid issues in the future. All the best with your impending marriage, hope to hear from you again 🙂

    • hungrydai says:

      Its absolutely true Sylvia. My wife is a Nepali and we live here in Kathmandu. Our nephew has just married and there was never any talk about a honeymoon. I’m not sure if they even know what it means. The family here is Newari and they are very easygoing and the women who wish to, will have a drink with us in the evenings sometimes. Very sadly a huge number of marriages between Nepali men and foreigners is purely for immigration purposes and hearts get broken at a later date. This has happened with several of our friends in the UK and Australia too. I am very happy for the genuine marriages but the cultural differences can be really tough if the couple decides to live here in Nepal. One of our dear friends has just had her heart broken by a ruthless Nepali man who deceived her. Sylvia, I haven’t changed at all since I came to live in Nepal. My wife hasn’t changed either. We just have a great understanding that we are from different cultures. I don’t sit through pujas and she doesn’t drink. I have a fantastic relationship with all the family and we laugh and joke endlessly. I sure don’t recommend that you change at all but just be respectful and understanding of your partner’s culture. Wishing you lots of love and happiness Sylvia.

      • ANepali says:

        So true, i am from Nepal, and i agree, there are a certain percentage of people who just want to escape the life from this politically fractured country, and marrying a foreigner only to divorce at a later date is not a new idea here, and it’s easier than getting a VISA.

        In fact, i remember when i was a school kid, a 7th grader to be exact, one of my friend boasted and implanted an idea in me on how he would marry a foreigner and divorce her at a later date, so as to get a Green Card for himself.

        I’m an adult now, but as a kid then, i smiled and cheered back, not understanding that it was in all sense a crime. While it disturbs me now, but yeah .. that was the time when i learned that this “idea” existe. And i have heard this being practically followed a lot.

        So yeah … people should not mix, but that’s their choice, so if they wish to, anyway, they should make sure it’s not with the “hidden agenda”.

      • hungrydai says:

        Hi ANepali. Yes it’s absolutely true what you have written about the mixed marriages. Mine is hugely successful and nobody in the family is hoping for a visa but in almost all the cases I’ve seen, immigration and visas are the main reason for the fake love and marriage. Sometimes both husband and wife are in on the act and they know what is going to follow later but in so many cases heartbreak follows after the permanent residence certificate and/or citizenship. Yes there are genuine mixed marriages based on real love but they are sadly in the small minority.

      • Hi Dai, I’m not sure if mixed marriages based on love are in the small minority, maybe in the Nepali-foreign relationships but overall they are probably on par with other marriages

      • ANepali says:

        @dai, I agree, and sometimes i am ashamed of being a Nepali, you see, the political situation is getting worse, the puppets are selling the country to India, there is lack of jobs here, among other problems, and all of this is increasing the love for migration to the West.

        In fact, one of my not-so-close relative is one of those, i don’t know her exact age, but she must be between 37 to 40, she is a mother of two, a widow (her husband was hit-and-run when she was 7 months pregnant with 2nd child), she is not good in English, and just about 7 months ago, she was chatting with some person from Denmark, I guess# her daughter helped her in chatting. IDK what she chatted, but she magically got reply that she would be ‘called’ there (that’s what she told).
        Now who knows inside stories? but something dirty is there – says my mind.

        Her daughter married to a Nepali, they talked about marriage, and the boy fell in love, the two got married just because the bridegroom was working in Japan (girl’s inside story) LOL And the bride’s grandmother even said (in private that) she should leave him because she could get another Nepali working in some other country!

        Now I hear she (relative) is going to the US because another relative of ours is getting pregnant in America, and has ‘called’ her for taking care of child. She barely speaks English, I asked my mom “how is she going to work in US, when she can’t even speak English properly?”, to which my mom replied “I think working for Pakistanis and Indians in taking care of child” !

        When compared to any American, even I can’t match their speed or such, and accent also makes difference, I wonder how she is going to even live there.

        And then there is other side, intentional Fake marriage, I have heard of a couple who got VISA in US, and now I hear from my mom that each of them will take 1.5 million rupees as fee, and do Fake Marriage with some other person – so that the ‘customers’ will also be able to go to US.

        Their ‘lust’ for the West just amazes me. When all the young, adult go to other countries what will be the future of this country with toddlers, women and the old?

        Ahh, letting all this out is such a pleasure …
        Regards,
        ANepali

      • hungrydai says:

        Hi again A Nepali. Yes the number of these fake marriages is huge and seems out of control now. We even have relatives of this family doing it. I have no idea of the expected fee for the UK. The UK Home Office doesn’t seem to know what’s really going on unfortunately. The last case I heard of with this relative was a young Nepali guy who went to the UK on some pretext and somehow arranged a fake marriage to a British woman. When he got his permanent residence or UK passport he started the divorce proceedings and is now planning to marry a Nepali girl who is also a relative of this family. Now Beli is very excited about going to the UK and I wonder who she will marry later on etc etc etc… A Nepali, are you Shrestha ? Our family here is Shrestha but they don’t speak the Newari language. Do you live in Kathmandu? My real home is in Bournemouth, UK and I’m hoping that I’ll be there with my wife soon.

      • ANepali says:

        @dai, Hi again, the whole ‘trend’ (is that the correct word for it?) is disgusting. There are lots of people seeking PR in UK here, but I have read that UK is quite expensive to live in and such, and I wonder if those people read those sorts of things. But they have special lust for US, you know, because of America’s DV thing…

        Anyway, I am from Kathmandu, but i am not Newari, i am of a chhetri/Kshatriya caste. BTW, The whole politics of this country, does it not discourage you or something?

        I always get a bit ‘surprised’ when people from the West say they will come here, maybe
        because of the never-ending political crisis here….

        Regards,
        ANepali

      • hungrydai says:

        Hi again ANepali. The secret is not to care about politics. I’m even the same in the UK and I don’t care. Nepalese politics are so boring and I can’t follow them at all. We can’t believe most politicians anyway. Have a good evening ANepali and I’ll be drinking a big glass of red wine up here in Satungal. regards, Dai (my nickname)

  5. Ms.Z. says:

    This is really well said, Casey. Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of how much you’ve actually changed just to avoid arguments/confusions/miscommunication. Just as you said, it’s important to stay true to yourself, while honoring your partner’s culture as well. Being in an inter-cultural relationship is no easy task!

  6. sanityvows says:

    Hey! I have nominated you for the Liebster Award! Waiting for your new posts! 🙂
    Check this out….
    http://sanityvows.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/the-liebster-award-d/

  7. James says:

    Nice read as always, I agree your sense of value!

  8. Great article! When you marry into a totally different culture both people change so that both cultures and identities can be represented. This becomes especially important when you have kids. Mixing is so beautiful. My husband and I embrace the beauty of both our cultures and religions.

  9. ally says:

    Hi Casey great to see your blogging again.
    Nepalese culture can be so overwhelming at times, that its easy to fall into the trap of taking it all on board and then you look up one day and find yourself disappearing. I think one of the mistakes I made was I wasn’t conscious enough about it. I was so busy trying to learn the food, language , social rules etc.that I didn’t take the time to question whether it was something that was worth learning. Or incorporating into my life. BUT eventually the pendulum swings back, and you figure out what’s important to you and what’s not. We’ve discussed this previously. I think when it comes to family pick your battles, If your only living with your spouses extended family for a short period of time then I would be inclined to be very compromising and not rock the boat at least until you get to know each other better. But if for instance if you were going to live with them in Nepal or if they were going to come and live with you in Australia then I think everything is up for discussion, especially if you have children.
    One thing that I’ve only recently come to realize is that for us as western women because of the inherently sexist nature of so many of the cultural rules and norms in Nepalese culture. I think it can really undermine your self esteem. I am a feminist, but too often over the years I have taken on board the negative opinions of Nepali people in my life. Just because I am opinionated, loud, chatty, independent, occasionally cranky, do not ask for my husbands opinion or permission about everything I do, am not deferential to him, will disagree with him in public, and most importantly do not think my gender should dictate my behavior ! does not make me a bad person, it makes me a normal Australian woman.

    • hungrydai says:

      That’s right. Just a normal person and not one living constantly with guilt feelings

    • ANepali says:

      @ally, there is a cultural difference that causes the problem … but when I read your post .. I remember one story …

      There was a Nepali, American couple (the wife was American), one day she was waiting for the husband to come with gas to cook, when she found out that her husband had given bribe to the shopkeeper to get the cooking gas without delay, she refused to eat LOL

      Turns out, she thought Police would knock the door arresting her for bribery too .. and was unaware that – in Nepal, it’s not uncommon for some people to pay a bit more (sort of bribe) to get cooking gas without delay ..

      I couldn’t put it down more simply, but it gives me a good laugh every time I remember that, that was also because of the difference. haha

  10. Von says:

    Im an Aussie happily married to a Nepali guy for 6 years. I would say as a westerner, part of OUR culture today is being quite aware of and accepting of different cultures, whereas in Nepal many people don’t even know there is a different way of doing things.
    I do have to say my husband has almost completely submerged himself into western culture and I always remind him that he needs to hold onto some part of his Nepali side and teach that to our children.
    I guess he’ll never lose his love for khasi ko masu, wai wai and chapal haha

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