Relationships Magazine

Every Couple Has Differences. Inter-cultural Couples Just Have More of Them.

By Internationalcouples @icouples

Hi all! Today we are hosting a guest post written by Susan Heitler, Ph.D. co-founder of PowerOfTwoMarriage. Enjoy!

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Dr. Susan Heitler

What can be done about the reality that cross-cultural coupling means that the loving partners will face many issues about which they differ?

The good news is that resolving differences in a way that yields a solution that both partners like is mainly a matter of technical skills at shared problem-solving.  Learn the three steps for turning His-Way versus Her-Way conflicts in Our-way solutions and life together can flow smoothly.

 

Here’s an example.

Bernie comes from Spain where dinner is served at 9:00 p.m.  Bonnie, his wife, expects to sit down for the evening meal at 6:00. 

 Bonnie and Bernie at first fell into the trap of arguing over whose way was preferable.  Big mistake. 

 What helped? 

 1. Change winner-loser, right-wrong conceptual frameworks to Both Are Right thinking.

 Bonnie and Bernie decided to agree that both of their supper hour ideas are legitimate.  They realized that they would both feel calmer if they regarded both options respectfully rather than assuming that one was right and one was wrong.

Yet, alas, Bonnie and Bernie   again found themselves locked in a tug of war.  Now the issue was who would get their way, who had more power.

2. Let go of tug-of-war games.  Switch to exploring underlying concerns.

The couple switched from a tug-of-war over their preferred solutions to exploring the underlying concerns to which each solution was a response.

Bernie explained that, having grown up in a family and a country where dinner was served at 9:00, his stomach didn’t tend to feel hungry until then.  At the same time, he realized that lunches in his home were lengthy and lasted quite a bit later than lunches in the US where they now were living.  Maybe that was part of why later dinner worked so well at home but left Bonnie starving and irritable by the time they ate.

Bonnie added that she was generally very hungry by the time she returned home from work, often too hungry even to cook something more than pasta or omelets. 

3.Create a win-win plan of action.

Now that the couple had more understanding of the various underlying concerns motivating each dinner-time tradition, the goal became creation of a solution that would work for them both. 

The key to solution-building is for each spouse to suggest what he or she might contribute to a solution that would be responsive to all the concerns. 

Bernie offered to relieve Bonnie of cooking for most nights.  Bonnie offered to stock up on bread and cheese that they could nibble, maybe even with a sip of wine, when they first returned from work. 

Both of them agreed then that when they first returned from work they would enjoy a half hour of sitting together, tasting cheeses, and sharing about their days.  Bernie then would cook dinner while Bonnie had time off for exercise, phone calls, bill-paying and sometimes even just delighting in reading a book.  Bernie loved cooking, so he could enjoy relaxing in the kitchen with a cookbook in one hand and a potholder in the other. 

Note that Bernie and Bonnie avoided the trap of agreeing to compromise.  Dinner  at 7:30, midway between their two preferred times, would have been unsatisfactory for both of them.  Compromise often proves to be lose-lose.

By contrast win-win problem-solving yields a plan of action responsive to all the concerns of both parties to the conflict.  No one "won" their original solution.  Both "won" in the sense of having created together a solution responsive to the concerns important to each of them. 

Both of them agreed then that when they first returned from work they would enjoy a half hour of sitting together, tasting cheeses, and sharing about their days.  Bernie then would cook dinner while Bonnie had time off for exercise, phone calls, bill-paying and sometimes even just delighting in reading a book.  "Time-off" like this would be a treasure for her.

 Bernie loved cooking, so after their cheese tete-a-tete time he would enjoy relaxing in the kitchen with a cookbook in one hand and a potholder in the other. Having snacked earlier together, Bonnie loved the idea of time for herself until dinner, which they'd aim to enjoy around 8:30, earlier enough for Bonnie and late enough to feel familiar and comfortable for Bernie as well.

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Susan Heitler, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Denver whose books From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two (published in 6 foreign language editions) bring conflict resolution understandings from the business world into the world of therapy and family life.

There’s more on acknowledging and figuring out what to do with cross-cultural differences in Dr. Heitler' s blogpost on psychologytoday.com

 Also, her couples’ skills website at PowerOfTwoMarriage.com has tips and skill-builders for couples who want to insure that they will long enjoy a strong and loving marriage.


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