“If you have differences in your marriage you can try to realise that it is actually a cultural difference. Try to have an open mind, and you might find out that it is a cultural difference, and it might become an understanding rather than a quarrel.”
“Myself I would ask for more help from other people, especially just when the baby was born, I tried to managed just on my own. I would tell to myself and my husband and it takes some time to adjust to new situation in life, you don´t have to know immediately what to do when the child gets sick or it´s difficult to sleep. Things will arrange, most important is to take care of yourself (the priority, when mothers fine, all family is fine!) and your partner and of course your child. Taking care of the baby comes easily, it´s more difficult to remember yourself and your marriage!”
“As a mom and the Finnish person in this relationship, I think the workload and stress has been doubled as I have to deal with all the paperwork, Kela, this and that - basically everything. Even though my husband has learned a lot it is still me who has to take the responsibility for everything, as some things are just impossible for a non-Finnish speaker to understand. It's hard and you have to be strong.”
COUPLES IN THIS SECTION
Intercultural relationships are as diverse and as unique as monocultural relationships. That means that each couple and each couple’s story is different. Having said that, couples are also similar in many ways and when it comes to challenges there are issues that are common to all couples, particularly those with children. The typical challenges include adjusting to life changes, juggling work and family, and finding time for one’s partner and the relationship. In addition, both intercultural and monocultural couples argue about similar type of issues: communication, lack of one-on-one time together, money, sex, division of labour, annoying habits, in-laws and kids. Having said that, there are also some issues that are more typical for intercultural couples, and some issues that are unique to intercultural couples, especially parents of intercultural families.
“It’s sometimes challenging to find the balance between family-responsibilities and taking care of oneself.”
CHALLENGES RELATED TO IMMIGRATION
The one thing that sets intercultural couples apart from all other couples is migration. In order to live and be together one or both partners in an intercultural relationship have had to leave their home country behind and start a new in another one. For the overwhelming majority of expatriate partners and intercultural couples migration is a wanted, desirable and positive life change, but because it involves challenges (such as learning a new language, finding a place to work or study, and making new friends) it also involves stress, worry and anxiety.
Most intercultural couples have already experienced one major life upheaval before the birth of their child: migration to another country. Becoming a parent is also a major life change and, just like integration, parenthood is a life-long process that requires adjustment.
Those intercultural couples who become parents immediately or soon after the migration of the expatriate partner, have to deal with two major life changes at the same time. For some couples the overlapping of these separate but intertwined processes can put a strain on their relationship and their resources can be stretched to the limit.
Immigration-related issues can also have an influence on those couples who have had time to adjust to the changes that immigration entails. The expatriate parent can struggle with questions such as: Is this a country where I am going to live for the rest of my life? Is this the country I want to raise our child in? What is my place in here? Do I belong? How do I see our future in here? How do we keep in touch with my parents who don’t live in here? And the Finnish partner may ask herself or himself: Do I have to deal with everything that involves taking care of things in Finnish? Is my partner happy here? Does my partner want to move back to their home country at some point and what will we do then?
“It has brought more meaning to our lives as individuals and as a couple. Sometimes it's hard not having time together and dealing with a lack of sleep, but all the difficulties have made us stronger.”
CHALLENGES RELATED TO PARENTHOOD
Parenthood is a wonderful life event that changes everything. The changes are overwhelmingly positive, but having a child will also challenge you, bring you to tears, crack you up, and make you forget what you urgently had to do. Some parents find it hard to accept how their life changes: it wasn’t what they expected happen and it isn’t what they wanted to happen. These parents weren’t expecting mental stress, sleepless nights, baby vomit on their shirt, physical exhaustion, battles with defiant toddlers and financial concerns, and they certainly weren’t prepared to compromise or to put some of their own ambitions and dreams on hold for a while. They wanted to have it all and not to have to give up on anything. And now, instead of concentrating on the many positive changes that a child brings, they concentrate on the things that are different in a negative way and on the things that they have “lost”.
So how can you best adjust to change and cope with challenges? Firstly, it is important to accept change and to know that people experience transition to parenthood differently. It is also important to realise that even though your relationship with your partner will change, and even though life with a little one can put an enormous strain on the bond with your spouse, you can reconnect with your spouse on another level and grow your relationship stronger and happier than ever before by communicating openly and supporting each other.
“The most challenging thing for me has been the different approach we have to communication. If there is a problem, I like to confront it and speak about it but this can be challenging, I think, for a Finnish person as it's seen as being critical and can be taken as hurtful rather than trying to resolve a problem. Over time through experience and understanding this issue is slowly resolving.”
CHALLENGES RELATED TO RELATIONSHIP
Communication is rarely straightforward and can become even more complicated when people use a language that isn’t their mother tongue. In an intercultural relationship, one or both partners often speak a language that is not their native language. The one for whom the language is a second language has to put significantly more effort and time into communicating. Not only does this cause some strain, it can also be the source of numerous misunderstandings every day. All the little signs and signals, that are so natural to native speakers of a language, are missed, or misinterpreted.
In relationships where both partners are speaking a foreign language when they talk to one another, the situation puts equal strain on both parties. Most often, both partners speaking English works well for the first few weeks or months of dating, but as a relationship becomes more serious, one or the other partner may begin to feel that they cannot fully express themselves to their partner.
Communication is absolutely vital to any relationship being sustained and developing further and more deeply. If both partners are keen on working on their communication, and they are both willing to put a lot of extra effort into communicating in their intercultural relationship, the relationship has a good chance of blossoming. On the other hand, if one or both partners are unwilling or unable to spend substantial time and effort on communicating with each other, challenges, most likely, will appear. This becomes even more concrete when there are children involved and not so much time to concentrate on one-to-one communication.
“ Maybe try to embrace the differences in the sense that, rather than making obstacles of them try to make them opportunities for growth and personal introspection, as well as a learning process. It can be very hard sometimes because you have to face things that you wouldn't normally have to, but try to think of it as something you can really gain from. “The cultures make up a lot of who we are and how we act and it's good to bear that in mind.”
“Agree of a week plan - I have two days of my own in a week, when I can do whatever I want after work and I don't have to take care of anything at home. My husband doesn't plan anything on those days and if he has to, we swap. He also has two days a week for his hobbies and 3 remaining days are family days. There are no exceptions from this rule and I think that's worked WONDERS for us, taught us mutual respect and let us focus on our hobbies and such while having a small active child.”