So you’re in an Intercultural Relationship and it’s reached a serious stage. Now you want to tell his/her parents. What to do?
You go online and research and research and then research some more to find that one answer. The one magical answer that will get the resounding yes from his/her family. It’s got to be out there right? Wrong. There is no magical one liner that you can use to convince anyone of anything.
What there IS though, are some steps that you can take and some perceptions that you need to get rid of as well as some preparations that you can make.
The very first rule…communication. Just because your love is from another country doesn’t mean that they are from another world. We all want the same thing and really, we all share commonality no matter where we were born. If you were dating someone from the US, you wouldn’t just take a back seat to your relationship and wait for them to tell you what’s going on would you? I know I wouldn’t (and didn’t). I asked questions, I let my fiancé know what my thoughts were, my opinions and ultimately what I was looking for out of our relationship. If you’re in a secure and mature relationship, you should both feel comfortable enough to talk to each other about potentially uncomfortable topics. At least you should if you’re considering marriage.
Please remember, this is my advice and it’s only based on what I’ve experienced and my own thoughts. It’s not a sure fire way to get you to your end result (marriage) but it may help.
- Understand not only your perspective other’s culture, but their religion, where they grew up, their extended family, their education and family structure. This may sound like a lot but I’m not asking you to write a 1000 word thesis on this. All I’m saying is to get as much information about it as you can. Sure, online information is good, but the best thing you can do is talk to your boyfriend/girlfriend (fiancé?) and find out their take on it.
- Discus the problems you may face in your relationship. This may be the hardest conversation you’ve ever had, but if you are both prepared to talk about it, you’ll both be better prepared to deal with it when the time comes to talk to the parents. Some questions I asked were the following:
a) Where will we live?
b) If we live in India, will it be co-joined family?
c) If in the US, are aware of the issues with getting a Visa?
d) Are we prepared to move ahead without consent of family?
1. Can you (your intended) or I deal with the fact that the family might never accept this union?
e) What are our combined expectations for the future of our relationship?
1. Do you want a stay at home wife?
2. Do you want children?
a) How will they be raised?
3. Religion practices
- Discuss what some of his/her parents issues with your relationship might be. Knowing this ahead of time will help you to know what kinds of questions you will need to address and also give you a better idea of how to approach telling them. Is it going to be strictly that you’re from the US? Here are some of the issues I’ve seen in my research and the main questions that the families involved raised.
a) Age of the couple
b) Fears of US perceptions of marriage and divorce (they do not like the idea of divorce in India.
1. Will their child keep practicing his/her religion? Will you practice it?
1. They will be afraid that their child will lose his/her roots by marrying outside of his/her culture. Are you willing to learn it and incorporate it into your future life together?
1. They might fear losing their standing in society. How can you help them deal with this? Anyone else in the family or their social sphere had a similar relationship?
2. If you’re moving to India, they may also raise questions about your ability to live there. Remember, life there is much different and in comparison to living in the US, it can be hard until you have experienced it. You’ll need their help and support.
- Make up a strategy for how you will tell his/her parents about your decision. This one is key. The way you word your first introduction of this idea to the parents are essential to the tone of the future conversations you will have with them. Remember, while you are both ‘children’ to them and do need to show respect, it also does not mean that you have to adopt the tone of “Mother May I?” It is essential that you maintain an adult conversation with them. Explain that you know the good and the bad that can come of this and your reasons why you still want to move forward with it. Your plans for over-coming issues. The things you’ve discussed (see above). Show them that you are an adult making adult decisions and they will be less likely to heap on the “you’re a child and can’t make decisions for yourself”. I’m not saying that they won’t still say this (they may) but now you have a foundation to stand firm on. You wouldn’t build a house on quicksand, why do that to your relationship and future?
- Take a deep breath, and have patience. Keep talking to each other and keep the lines of communication open to them. Keep a positive attitude. Understand that this will be hard, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel…eventually. Stay committed and firm to each other. Remember why you got into this in the first place and don’t forget that during all this you also need to have some fun with your intended. Laugh.
- Remember, anything that his/her family might say is not personal nor is it a personal attack against you. Most likely they haven’t even met you, right? Have they travelled extensively? Visited the US often and for lengthy stays? No? Ok, ask yourself this, what do you know about Russia or North Korea or even Iraq? You know what you’ve seen on the news or read in the papers right? Maybe watched a few movies that took place there or the characters were from there? What are your perceptions of those places and people? Are they good? Positive ones? Neutral? Be honest here, it’s just you and yourself. I know I can say that I had my own assumptions about India before I visited there (“What do you mean there is no Starbucks??????”). Going there, I learned so much more then what I had seen in the movies or heard on the news. And I realized that my perceptions of India after going were much more positive than they had been before visiting. Now, why are you going to expect his/her family to be any different from you? Everyone has misconceptions about things they don’t know or understand. Everyone is afraid of things that they don’t know or understand. Nobody likes extreme change. And lastly, they are parents who love their child very much and want what’s best for them. It’s a lot to ask them accept on the first attempt, or even the second or third. You need to give them time to adjust and you need to not let things they do or say affect you personally. Keep these things in mind, keep a sense of humor to extent about the whole situation, and remain respectful to them, your intended and yourself. And remember to breathe.
Also, read Aditya’s post on Intercultural Marriages and Relationships. You need to understand, both of you need to understand, that no one can make you do anything that you don’t want to do. Anyone who tells you that they can’t do something because they owe someone else something (their life, future, etc) is coping out of their own life out of fear.
Let me give you a real life example from a friend of mine. She lived in the south east US and her fiancé was from north India. When they decided to get married, they hadn’t really taken the time to form a strategy. Nor had she met anyone in his family yet. They just kind of jumped into telling his parents and unfortunately did it at the most inopportune time. His parents, needless to say, were not only not happy, they were hysterical. The father immediately threatened disownment and the mother held a knife to her breast and threatened suicide. No joke. The whole family was up in arms, even his brother was against it. Now it wasn’t as if his family hadn’t expected him to come home and speak of having a love marriage, he had been telling them for years that was what he wanted. He had resisted an arranged marriage at every turn. They knew this was possible. It wasn’t that it was a love marriage but that it was to a girl from outside their culture, religion and caste. She couldn’t change who she was, and because of the way he handled the introduction of her as his intended (she wasn’t there at that time either), it left no room for him to tell them about her. Her character, background, personality and why they fit together so well as a couple were never even talked about with his family. And they never gave him the opportunity to tell them after that. After about a month, he finally caved in and not only broke up with my friend, but also cut off all contact with her as per his parents’ request. She was devastated and couldn’t understand why he hadn’t stuck by her side as he had promised her he would. Now she understands it was because they didn’t really have any answers to their own hard questions, let alone any the family might have had (if it had even gotten to that point). Nor did they have any kind of plan or strategy about how to talk to them to begin with.
The moral of this story is your intended alone knows how their family is most likely to react. If you are serious about this relationship, you need to talk to each other and make a plan and goal together. Having this ahead of time, when things become hard, makes it easier on you both. Instead of dealing with hard issues exactly when the situation is at its hardest, you’ve got a grasp on what the answers are already and that will give some comfort.
Another point I would like to make, is that during my research, I found a lot of people asking for advice from other people but it didn’t seem that they had taken a lot of time to talk to their intended. One question I saw went something like this:
He said he wants to marry me and for me to come live in India with him, I’m wondering how to get my visa because he’s going to talk to his parents soon. I know he’ll do a good job convincing them so I need to hurry.
After reading this, I had a lot of concerns for this girl and for her future relationship. First, shouldn’t she be asking him how to get a visa? Second, shouldn’t they discuss as a couple how and when his family should be told? Just having total blind faith in your loved one is very romantic and mysterious but not very wise. I love my fiancé and trust him with all my heart, but he is human and we are a couple which means we need to work together and not just blindly lead or follow. To me, it just sounded like this couple got all wrapped up in the rose glass colored world that they had created and hadn’t really discussed any hard line issues or made any plans. I mean to be honest; the visa issue is the lowest priority on my list. It’s an issue yes, but not the most important one right now. A visa will come and go, but my life is going to be for many years more and I need to know at least a basic plan of how I’m going to live it.
Needless to say, I followed up on her story and a couple months later I saw another post from her saying she needed advice on how to get her fiancé back. Apparently his family hadn’t appreciated the idea of their pending nuptials and nipped that relationship in the bud. I couldn’t help thinking, that if the girl and her guy had talked about what all the scenario’s were of telling his parents and what they would do in each situation, that things wouldn’t have gone so south for the both of them. Or, at the very least, if they had decided that they would part without his parents’ permission, she would not be so completely lost and devastated. Knee deep in tissues yes, but not utterly wrecked by the unexpected. Does this make sense? Yes, it’s hard to have these conversations, but heck, if you can’t talk to each other about these hard issues now, what are you going to do in your future relationship when a hard issue comes up? Hope it will work itself out? Assume that the other person is taking care of it?
I hope this helps you out somewhat. I do plan on writing up a quick and easy to read point by point strategy you could use or at the very least use as a starting off point for your own.
But don’t wait on me, go ahead and start talking to each other now. Be open and honest with each other and remember to stay that way no matter what happens.
I wish you all the best!