Becoming the Odd Couple
After more than five decades, "I Love Lucy" fans still laugh at Lucy Ricardos clashes with her Cuban-born husband. But tying the knot can be a "cross-cultural" experience even when the bride and groom come from the same country.
Deborah Dunn, a licensed marriage and family therapist, frequently sees these "cultural" conflicts. "Many couples struggle with vast differences in tastes, traditions and cultural practices," she says.
Problems often arise because we marry our opposite then try to change that person to be like us.
Although John and Linda Higgins both grew up in Illinois, their backgrounds seemed worlds apart. After their wedding, the couple moved to Johns hometown of Rankin, population 617 and 40 miles from the nearest sizable town. They settled into a family homestead that needed lots of work. Coming from the Chicago suburbs, Linda found the change a shock to her system.
John felt perfectly happy, but Linda remembers being lonely. "I wasnt unhappy with John, but with the environment," she says. "So I constantly looked to him to fulfill my needs." Her desire for frequent visits with her parents brought additional friction. John hated the traffic near Chicago, so Linda often made the trip alone.
When Linda realized how her dissatisfaction was creating a barrier in their relationship, she decided to be proactive. "Either I had to adapt and make the best of my new life, or else the marriage wouldnt last. Then I'd really be unhappy."
After Linda made the effort to find friends and social connections, she felt more at home. The couple stayed in Rankin 15 years. They now live in a town of 2,000 only a couple hours from Chicago.
Bill and Mary Murphy brought different childhood experiences to their marriage. Bill grew up around maids, cooks, gardeners and a country club. He never had to get a job or help with chores. Bill admits that he only made his bed a few times while he lived at home.
Mary started working in her parents drugstore at age 10 and soon added baby-sitting and ironing for other people. She sewed most of her clothes, shopped at discount stores and managed weekly household chores.
During the first years of their marriage, Marys upbringing served her well while Bill struggled. "We went into youth ministry as soon as we were married and were very poor," Mary recalls. "I was more ready for that than Bill, so he had to learn to do without."
But Mary was not ready for Bills attitude toward housework. He expected her to do it all, even with an outside job. "When Bill realized that the children were copying his behavior, he completely changed," Mary says. "He still doesnt do much cooking but helps around the house."
After 36 "sometimes rough" years, Mary and Bill complement each others backgrounds and temperaments. "Our advice would be to hang in there and learn from each other," Mary says. "Discuss your differences, and try to determine how you can adapt to each other based on whats really important to the other person."
Jack and Camille James grew up in families with similar values and personalities, but they were born 16 years apart. A friend had arranged a blind date between the two strictly for fun, with the understanding that neither party intended to get serious. Jack and Camille, though, were immediately smitten with each other, but both knew the obstacles that would lie ahead.
As Camille completed college, she laughed with her roommates about falling in love with a 37-year-old. Jack wondered if the age gap represented too large a difference in perspective for a successful marriage. How would they determine whether to have children if they married?
But a few months after Camille moved away to attend grad school, Jack proposed. After serious discussions, the couple felt prepared for a future together, but one last hurdle remained telling Camilles parents.
"The news shocked them, Im sure," Jack says. "After all, her mother was only two years older than I was. I told them I understood their concern and if I were in their shoes, I would feel the same. Eventually, they saw our resolve and gave their blessing. After that, they never questioned our decision."
The couple solved the problem of having friends in different age brackets by making new friends at church who fell in between.
"A lot of people questioned our judgment about getting married," Camille says. "Many people thought it couldnt possibly last. Its been rewarding to show people that we knew what we were doing."
"[Once couples] realize they should value each others differences rather than trying to change them, the marriage becomes a lot easier," Dunn says. "However, couples who have difficulty with this often fear that marriage will rob them of their identity and all sense of their original selves. So they engage in power struggles. But each usually ends up feeling devalued, detached and lonely. The key is in affirming, compromising and even celebrating the others differences. That builds intimacy in marriage."
When couples agree to treat each other with respect and to face challenges as a team, they will discover, as Camille did, that despite cultural differences, love conquers all.