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Ask Ellie: Cross-cultural marriage won't last without adjustments

Couples struggling with differences in mixed-race/cross-culture unions, can strengthen their love through communication, understanding, counselling

Dear Ellie: I’m a Spanish woman married to a Japanese man. He’s amazing, caring about my rest and well-being. He cleans the kitchen and does the laundry before going to work, so I can sleep longer though he works more hours than I do. He’s calm, respectful, always reasonable.

But after five years married, I feel that I don’t know him at all. It’s a cultural issue difficult to resolve.

Japanese people don’t discuss problems/job issues at home so as not to “dirty the [home] environment.” They hardly express feelings or give opinions, avoiding imposing them on others.

I’ve tried to have deeper communication but he doesn’t really know what I need, or how to do it.

In his culture, talking about himself is seen as self-centred. But he doesn’t understand another type of communication/expression in a marriage.

He suffers, knowing something makes me unhappy. This stresses us both but I can’t let it go.

I need more intimacy, communication and better knowledge of his problems/fears.

How can I help him understand the functioning of a relationship like the one I’m used to, and together find what’s comfortable for both of us?

Frustrated

Mixed-race and cross-cultural marriages are fairly common today. Love crosses geographical boundaries. But cultural norms from the past don’t always change easily.

You see your husband as “different” … helpful, caring, respectful. But unexpressive about feelings. You define that as “Japanese.” But it could also be behaviour learned directly from his parents, or his own previous relationships.

Consider how your own assumptions affect your union. You expect him to understand “a relationship like the one you’re used to.” How can he, unless you describe it and what it achieves?

While cultural backgrounds do affect relationships, most people travel and marry “the other” because they dearly want/love that person.

Adjustments are inevitably needed.

However, if he can’t adjust and you can’t accept or adapt to the current situation, the marriage won’t last.

Reader’s Commentary regarding encouraging sexual relationships into your older years (July 19):

“Why, if you don’t want to, should you have to? I’m tired of being harassed for sex throughout my lifetime.

“I’m now well past menopause, no estrogen, no elasticity, no libido. So what? Get over it and stop asking me for something I can no longer give and causes me physical pain.

“I’ve talked to numerous professionals, tried this, that, everything. It’s over, leave me alone.

“Why does everyone insist that you should keep looking for solutions? I just want to be left alone.

“If I have to have sex to have a relationship, I’d rather be single. Please consider this valid solution in your future responses.”

Tired

Ellie — I agree, it’s your life, your choice.

But for those who want sexual intimacy to be a part of their life for as long as possible (based on their physical/emotional/mental health), it’s still a positive relationship factor, so long as it’s safe and mutual.

But since you’ve felt “harassed” for sex throughout your lifetime, it’s no surprise that you now want no part of it.

Meanwhile, you were wise to at least “talk to professionals” to determine if abstinence was the only choice for you, especially given the “physical pain” that sex during menopause caused you.

Yet many couples in their senior years still appreciate the loving/tender aspects of intimacy even without physical sex, but instead with verbal exchanges and stroking without the physical efforts of sexual intercourse.

Yes, “Tired,” your solution is valid, for those who feel as you do.

FEEDBACK regarding a drug that “saved my hair but I think it killed my libido” (July 22):

Reader (male) – “Simple. Stop taking hair-loss medications and start wearing stylish hats. What’s actually more important?

“He’s got an incredible wife to put up with eight years of a husband who puts the amount of hair on his head as a priority over their relationship with her (both sexual and obviously emotionally).

“He needs to stop with his vanity. Accept that he will lose some hair and get a hairstyle that matches what he has.”

Reader (male) No. 2 – “I honestly cannot understand the extent that vanity will drive people, men and women alike.

“One of my excuses for baldness is that I blame the headboard. Most ladies I’ve met really don’t care what is or is not on “top.” It’s what’s inside that really matters.”

Ellie’s tip of the day

Couples struggling with differences in mixed-race/cross-culture unions, can strengthen their love through communication, understanding, counselling.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.