My husband has always been an “American” like me, just the Central variety.
But his becoming a U.S. citizen four years ago didn’t make us the same. Whether you are in a relationship with someone who was born in the same city or on a different continent, people are different. The two of you are going to feel that you are from different planets from time to time. Our experience is that the answer to bridging the cultural gap is always love.
Here are three things that we make a priority in our marriage:
1. Put others ahead of yourself Victor and I are alike in many ways. It was our similar interests that attracted us to each other in the first place. But we are also complete opposites in other areas. Most of these differences are insignificant. But, believe me, his preference for tortillas with every meal is not.
For me, making Victor’s daily staple is another expression of this most simple of all acts of love. This man grew up eating them fresh every day and I quickly realized what I was buying at the store wasn’t the same as homemade. It was a big deal to him for me to learn the family recipe from his mother. I watched her shape tortillas by hand so I could serve him his favorite tortillas with the perfect air pocket. It was only love that drove me to learn such a time-consuming and labor intensive recipe because, frankly, I can live without tortillas.
Just like I work to put my husband before myself, I am blessed because I know that Victor also puts me before himself.
2.Celebrate each other’s holiday traditions Christmas is December 25th–always. Not in Central America. Victor always knew Christmas to be December 24th, and there were always visions of fireworks dancing in his head, not sugarplums. Independence Day? July 4th, right? Sure, but also September 15th (in El Salvador anyway). The list goes on, and I could choose to ignore these days because Victor is living in America now. Holidays are also an opportunity for us to focus on a division or to embrace change out of consideration for each other. But I see remembering his culture as be an act of love and kindness. And the end result is that we get to do a whole lot more celebrating than our neighbors.
3.Learn to speak each other’s language One of my family’s challenges is to maintain a bilingual household. Victor was fluent in Spanish and English when I met him. My Spanish was textbook only, and feeble at best. If my husband is practicing kindness, then he will be patient with me when I speak slowly in Spanish or use the wrong words. If I am practicing kindness, then I will keep trying and studying because this language skill is not for my benefit alone–it is for our children as well. My level of fluency will affect their level of fluency, and to be a part of that language gift to them will afford them better jobs in the future, a deeper understanding of their culture, and a more intimate relationship with their Spanish-speaking relatives.
Our distinct personalities mean that we have very different communication styles extending beyond just differences in native language. He shows very little outward emotion; I wear my feelings on my sleeve. He is quiet, I am loud.
I know that I have some pretty annoying habits, like my constantly rearranging the house. He will calmly ask, “Where are my pajamas today?” or, “Is this a playroom now?” I never detect any annoyance with my oddity and is willing to relearn the whereabouts of everything. Despite our differences, my husband and I show how much we care about each other by learning each other’s languages.
A friend of mine told me early into my married life that kindness is the key to a successful marriage. Whatever gaps exist in your marriage– choose kindness. Put your spouse’s concerns ahead of your own. Celebrate your differences and learn to adapt to them. Chances are the effort will be reciprocated. There is no gap that love cannot bridge.