International marriage: What’s it really like?

I have been asked many times what it’s like to be in an international marriage. People ask me if it’s difficult to communicate, whether we have cultural miss-understandings, etc. They say, surely it Thailand_mariage_certificatemust be more difficult to be in an international marriage than to be in a marriage with someone from your own culture. I say that it depends much more on the individuals than it does the country they are from.

I am Celtic American and my wife is Thai. I met her at the guesthouse she operated in Phuket when I went there on a scuba diving vacation. I went back there several times on my next few vacations. We have been together for nine years, now, and married for three.

Obviously our national cultures are very different. There are cultural expectations and ways of communicating that neither one of us fully understands about the other. Our relationship works, though, because we are both flexible, tolerant and willing to learn about each other. This is the same formula that works in any good relationship, I think.

Micro-cultures

For me, the biggest cultural difference between my wife and I is not the countries we grew up in, but the fact that I am male and she is female. This difference in gender culture causes more miss-understandings between us than the fact that we are from different national cultures.

Male and female cultures are different in any country. We communicate differently, solve problems differently, and have different emotional needs. It seems to me that this cultural difference is our biggest barrier to clear communication.

One way that my wife and I are culturally very similar is that we both grew up in the countryside and have both lived in big cities. We both enjoy the restaurants, excitement and nightlife of the big city, but we are most happy when we are hanging out on our farm in the peaceful countryside. We understand a lot about each other because of the fact that we both grew up in the countryside, even though our hometowns were worlds apart in distance and national culture.

Understanding each other’s culture

I am very fortunate. My wife is westernized enough to understand my culture quite well, yet still traditional in her values. Both of these points are good for our relationship.

We are both willing to learn about each other’s culture and try not to force our cultural perspectives on each other. This is good in theory, of course, but we do try to keep that outlook.

I need to try to remain flexible and not resist the cultural pressures she lives with. I have had to learn what her family and others in her culture expect of her. I’ve had to learn what it means to be the oldest sister in Thailand and the high importance placed on a woman’s relationship with her mother. I continue to learn more about her culture all the time, as she does mine.

Communication, and Miss-Communication

Fortunately for me, my wife speaks English fluently so we are able to communicate very clearly in English. We do miss-communicate, of course, but I’m quite sure that is the same for any two married people.

Unfortunately for her, though my Thai is functional and slowly improving, it is not good enough for me to discuss anything really important in much depth in Thai. At times, I think this must cause her some stress.

Miss-communication is quite normal in any relationship. I say one thing and she hears another, or vice-versa. In our case, this is usually due more with what’s on our mind at the time rather than lack of language skill. If we are speaking English, we are mostly on equal ground.

It’s more that, day to day, we get busy, we don’t pay attention, and we miss-communicate about small things. This is completely natural, she’s a woman and I am a man. We communicate differently.

When we do have problems and miss-understandings, we are able to talk about what happened and how we misunderstood each other. We are both able to admit when it was our fault, and of course stick to our guns when we are sure it wasn’t!

She and I communicate more clearly than I have with any woman from my own culture. This is not because of national culture, but the fact that we have learned to communicate better with each other than I have been able to do in the past.

We communicate well and both have a strong desire to make our marriage work. I believe that with these two things, any two people, whether from the same neighborhood or from different side of the planet, have a pretty good chance of making a marriage work.

I am very happy in my international marriage. OK, let’s be honest, we’re not in bliss every single minute! We are married and marriage is not always easy, between any two people. But I am happy to be with someone who continually works with me to keep our relationship healthy. I was unable to find that in my first 40 years back home in my own culture.

Surprising similarities

When I step back and look at our relationship, I see more ways that we are similar than we are different. In many ways, she has traits that are very familiar to me. In psychology, they say that it is common for people to marry people like their parents. I find it very interesting that I came halfway across the world and found a woman who is very much like my mother!

My wife is very similar to my mother in many ways, such as intelligence, humor, values, strength and rural up-bringing, even though we grew up on opposite sides of the world. It is fascinating who we are attracted to and where we find them.

I have been very fortunate to meet someone in Thailand who has values, desires and communication skills similar enough to mine to make our international marriage work very well. That is much more important to me than what countries we are from.

What are your thoughts on international marriage? Are you in an international marriage? Are you interested in one? Please leave a comment below.

Joe

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