When we think about culture, it is useful to think along seven dimensions:
- The Universe and how we got here.
- The Meaning and Cohesiveness of Family.
- Emotional Expressiveness
- Interpersonal Relations and Power Dynamics
- Dyadic Relations and Patriarchy
- Gender Roles, and Elements of Gender and Orientation Expression in Safety
Culture describes a constellation of attitudes with a prized, second-rate, and marginalized set of beliefs about these topics. It is a social burden for each engaged member of a culture to filter all the possible ambiguities of the human condition through these interpretations. Frankly, some of these cultural presentations may be maladaptive.
Inner experience, as well as outer behavior, are shaped by culture, and this fact must be front and center in couples therapy as well. The seven dimensions become an endless source of comfort and conflict to the International Couple.
For example, let’s take the very first topic; Time.
Western-European cultures and their Anglo-American counterparts tend to be very future-oriented. Time is a relatively small unit of measure when you are always living on the edge of the future.
Traditional, present-oriented cultures tend to see time as described by the day that is given to you. When work is done, free moments are best used for restoration and renewal, for tomorrow is another day.
No one cultural ideal is ever purely past, future or present-oriented. It is more about the degree of significance and importance.
A difference in the appreciation of time can be a profound source of attraction in the early years in a relationship, but can also become a source of friction, such as when an International Couple become empty nesters.
The way these seven dimensions of culture play out can also impact what sort of multi-cultural foundation, over time, you are offering your children.
Kids may become primarily identified with the parent with the dominant culture or religion. They may or may not chose to acknowledge their other parent’s differing cultural identity. This issue of dominance and cultural identity is one of the areas where patriarchy sometimes wreaks havoc.
Or children may choose to identify with their minority parent because of abandonment issues, or cultural proxemics. They may avoid embracing a dual heritage, minimizing contact altogether with their other parent’s religion or culture. But sometimes the marginalized parent’s lack of influence is self-inflicted.
Universalist/Disaffiliates may refuse to accept any notion of cultural transmission, or they might choose to create their own. The challenge for these creative types (which typically emerge in the individuation struggles of adolescence) is that cultural assumptions generally lurk unseen in the corners of a young relationship. Couples may not behave as culturally unencumbered as they would like to be regarded.
Synthesizers are people who are somehow able to incorporate and integrate some version of their actual cultural legacy. The diverse parts need not be balanced, but they have a real acknowledgment of the importance of all of their cultural inheritance.
Understanding your cultural pattern along these seven dimensions might trigger a great discussion with your partner about theirs as well.
How will you and your partner manage differences and honor shared values?
What languages will your children speak?
How will you both decide to move through time together?