Marriage, Inlaws and Cross Cultural Issues

It is official! My sister has finally booked her plane ticket which means my whole family will be for my vow renewal in about five weeks.  Granted ‘whole family’ means my mum and my sister.  I come from a very small family where both my grandmothers died before I was born and grew up with not a single cousin.  However if my dad was still alive you bet he would be here in a heart beat to support us.  I could not feel more blessed or more excited to see my kin.

Unfortunately I found out a couple of days ago that my husband will only have his father here to celebrate our ten years of marriage.  Despite years of rocky relationships with his side of the family we still have held out that change could happen.  That they would accept us a family. The problems all boil down to not meeting expectations and misunderstandings in our cross cultural relationship.  However you do not need a Third Culture Kid upbringing outside the US for this happen.  This could be the same situation with couples from families in different parts of the US with how vast and different the culture is through out the country.  

If you have been reading this blog for a bit you will know that I talk often about how life is not easy.  It is a valuable life lesson I work with my kids to understand.  We both come from families that did not talk and though there was lots of love lacked the intimacy.  It is something we have realised through our marriage and through what we want to change to be different for our kids. Marriage is not easy and ours took may pitfalls into a near divorce.  The silver lining is that life is also beautiful.  Through it all my husband and I are still married, are finally living in Europe, and are more happy now than ever.  To be celebrating ten years of marriage and to renew our vows in front of our family and friends is a big deal to us.

We, my husband and I, wanted this celebration to finally bring together the two families.  We can see how most of all the problems have arisen while on my in law’s turf.  My husband and I thought that having his family around my family and our friends and in our home country would help them assimilate to how our family works.  As a third culture kid and an American raised abroad there are many aspects of our life that they have not understood nor accepted.  From moving around a lot I know the easiest way to understand a new culture is to fully immerse yourself in it and get to know the people.  That was our hope from this summer.  I was finally excited to not have to ‘act’ a certain way or pretend to be someone we were not just when his parents were around because they live by different expectations.

It makes me sad for my husband.  Especially because I know how close he and my dad became and how proud he would be to support us.  I am also sad for our my kids. This is not the first time they have missed out on time with grandparents because of self imposed drama.  Last summer after a confrontation with my mother in law she left the state for several weeks, only wanting to return after I was back in England.  I wish I could say I am the root cause for it all, but it just happens over and over again. It is unfortunate.  However not all families talk about the problems.  They happen, no one addresses it and then they smile and act like nothing happens until it carries on into the next blow up. It is not healthy and though I cannot force my in laws to like me or to be here and support us I can share with you lessons I have learned from it all.

Just because it is different, it does not make it wrong. This is a sweet and simple statement from Disney’s Merlin animated film that I have used over and over with my in laws.  It is pretty much my go to answer when we run into differences in understanding about something.  If you just think about how big the world is, how many countries and cultures are within it, and how many different ways people live life day to day.  Not every one believes the same thing and it is okay. Would you go into someone’s house in a country across the world from you and preach to them about why their way of doing something is incorrect? Perhaps looking at close relationships the same way can help to understand those with different views. 
People Grow and Evolve. Yes it is true you cannot change a person, only they can decide to make the change for themselves.  People however do experience personal growth.  You cannot say that someone is a certain way or is a certain person because of something they said or did a decade ago.  We are also learning lessons continually in our lives.  However we are all also in different stages of our learning.  Just because you have learned the lesson on how to deal with personal conflict with others, does not mean someone else has learned it yet.  I have learned that instead of letting the hurtful words of other affect you, to be patient as they work through those important life lessons. This was something brought up by my friend Patricia this week. 
Don’t play the blame game.  This is a daily lesson I am helping my sons learn.  When confronted with why they are not ready for school, they are both quick to throw each other under the bus.  As adults I have noticed how the weight of exhaustion or stress can easily aid in placing the blame elsewhere.  I have learned the easiest way to avoid placing blame is to listen to the other person.  You might realize that they are really trying to reach out to you and all that it takes is deep breath and to be the bigger person. 
Don’t talk bad about others.  Most often from my experience people say the most cruel things about others because they are either deflecting from their own persona anxieties, stress, and hardships or because the unknown of the situation has them scared.  If people are saying bad things about you, sometimes it is best to just block them out.  Soon enough people will realize that they are spending more time bad talking about you than working out their own issues in their life.  If someone is constantly that unhappy there is a root issue that needs to be addressed.  I read a really good book years ago called ‘How to Be an Adult‘ which talked about how unresolved issues as a child can greatly affect our relationships as an adult.  
Life is short. Don’t waste your life on earth.  I wish I could have had just one day left with my dad to tell him how much I loved him and to say goodbye properly.  I wish I could have him back in my life so that he could be here this summer for our vow renewal.  There is nothing but death that would stop my parents from being here with us this summer.  The worse thing in life is to live with regrets and time is something you can never get back. 
You have to confront life to get past obstacles in life. Otherwise you are just running away from the problem. Confrontations are not fun, simple, nor easy.  But like ripping off a bandage, they have to happen if you want to heal wounds.  If you do not talk about things it does not make them go away. It only makes them fester and grow a toxicity inside you ready to blow.  When that happens it usually just makes the wound larger, it does not solve the problem.  You cannot run away from things or expect other people to speak up for you on your behalf just because you do not like it. If we as humans liked confrontations I think the word would be called something with a much softer tone to it.  The point is as an adult we have to learn how to confront others and how to work through problems.  We are all different and we may not always get a long but we can work through issues as adults. 
Be a positive person or get professional help if you are not. This lesson is what has made me indifferent to my entire in laws family.  You cannot change a person and if they are constantly upset, negative, angry, or putting toxic energy towards you than it may be a red flag that they are harboring much deeper issues.  If you cannot find the positive in people or in situations, perhaps it is time to seek out help.

Be Assertive.  I talk about things in my family.  I use things that happen in life and in current events to teach my children life lessons and to open up conversation. I do not believe in covering up the truth with sugar coated stories.  I really think the worst thing you can do is to not talk about something.  If I am having a bad day I would rather my husband know about it, than hope that he has magically gotten a sixth sense between when he left for work and when he got home.  You have to be assertive and act.

We have the power of choice.  You can choose how you act or react to situations.  I chose to Let Go when it came to things out of my control.  I also choose to be honest to my blog.  I love to take photographs and it is nice to be complimented on them, but I feel in turn I like to be open with my thoughts.  I think the worst thing is to be alone, to feel alone, or to have no one to talk too.  If you feel that way, feel free to talk with me as I have been there before.  It is through talking and through letting go that we can live life as adults and enjoy each precious day we are blessed with in our life.

Q: Have you ever experienced trials with families when it comes to different expectations or cultural differences?  How have you gotten through it?

  • Melyssa @ The Nectar Collective

    Loved this Bonnie and your advice is soso wonderful! I loved that, too. I have to say, you are so strong for working through the difficulties with your in-laws so gracefully. I think I am a pretty sensitive person and even more so when I feel like I am being criticized. I can’t imagine having to deal with in-laws that didn’t approve of me in some way, but truly it is their loss and it sounds like they are just those type of people. Congratulations on your vow renewal! How wonderful and inspiring, especially given the turmoil you’ve mentioned your relationship had years ago. I’m really happy for you and thank you for sharing this great post. :)

  • Rachel

    I haven’t had the best relationship with my in-laws, for cross-cultural reasons as well. Of course, I haven’t had that many years of knowing them yet, so I have hope that our relationship will improve in the future. The problems seem to come from me not meeting their expectations, obviously because I’m from a different culture and I don’t know what their expectations are until they let me know that I’ve failed. I think next time we visit them I will be better prepared. It can be so confusing and so hard when the family of the person you love most in the world simply won’t love you the way you are–you do have a challenging situation!

  • Kelly S

    OH MY! The trials I’ve gone through with in-laws. First, I love this post. Written so beautifully. Second, having German in-laws has been a trial for me. My father-in-law and I literally didn’t speak for 3 years, and we only lived 5 miles apart! Even in similar cultures in-law relations can be difficult. If you add in different cultures, nationalities, languages, habits, it can be very difficult. My in-laws didn’t like how I raised my children, I didn’t like how they treated their son (my husband). So many times I just wanted to stand on the kitchen table and shout “Can’t we all just get along?!” I finally patched things up with my father-in-law when we became very ill with dementia and I realized he was so different from me because he grew up so different for me. For him Nazis were real people, not characters in films. War on his home soil (Prussia and then Germany) was a reality. His own father was a prisoner of war of the Russians. Starving in the winter after the war was a reality. I came to appreciate differences and I realized that I would never get him to see my point of view. If he couldn’t come to me, I could try going to him. Good luck. I hope everything goes well for you. And congrats on the 10 years!!

  • Bailie @ The Hemborg Wife

    Ahhh this spoke to me too, my in laws I would say tolerate me but have never taken anytime to get to know me as a person in the last 5 years of my being with my husband and sadly I do not think they ever will but I am happy without them!

  • lost in travels

    you are one of the strongest women i know.i can’t imagine how difficult it would be to have such strife in your family and to know that one of the people who dint’ participate in that is now gone. i’m so sorry to hear ll of this, it’s so unfortunate. i hope that you have a beautiful day and i love reading through the things that you’ve learned. i think that’s one of the most important things. that we can survive hard times and learn something through it.

  • Erika @

    You know, it’s so funny the timing of this post… because I can definitely relate to this. My family is much smaller, but I still get this. I think my nomadic nature can make people feel dizzy sometimes, or make it seem like I don’t take life seriously. It’s a challenge sometimes. Also, I love when you open up on your blog! You are very honest, you don’t sugarcoat, and I think it’s part of what makes you stand out! :)


  • Amanda

    I’m always so thankful that my immediate family gets along. I definitely don’t take it for granted that I have great in-laws either. I really admire that you are trying to make things different for your kids.

  • Quinn @ Kimchi and Sweet Tea

    Wow! So many things you wrote in this post ring so true in my life. My dad’s family comes from old money in a southern state & live by the motto ‘If the silver is polished. . . ‘ – this isn’t a real motto, it’s something said in my family to describe acting like nothing happened. Short story to sum up that motto: My dad’s mom walked in on my dad’s dad sleeping with another woman. Instead of canceling Thanksgiving dinner the next night, my grandmother polished the silver and set the table – they are still married today after many more of these instances. My mom comes from a family where they talked through everything.. My mom still doesn’t understand my dad’s family & my parents are now divorced. Fortunately for me, I was exposed to both of these family dynamics and learned a great deal

    All of this prepared me for my own marriage. My in-laws are Korean and don’t speak much English. We joke that I know more about the Korean culture than my husband because I have done so much research to try to understand my. inlaws. We also joke that if my mother in law could speak English, we would definitely not get along. Koreans place so much value on male offspring (I have 2 girls) and women aren’t really out spoken. . . compared to American culture – Everybody has an opinion and lets you know it.

    All of this to say: Love the post! Sounds like you get it and those kids of yours are going to be the most well-adjusted kids on the planet! good job momma!

    Happy 10 years (in a few weeks)

  • Sara Louise

    How wonderful that your sister is able to celebrate with you! I’m sure she that her love and support on the day means the world to you :)

  • Bonnie Rose

    This post has made me so happy, because I feel to blame regarding our lifestyle. It wasn’t until I learned the TCK term from your blog that I realized I wasn’t alone in needing to ‘find home’. Also funny enough my husband is even more of a traveler now than I am ( which is stunning) as I get panic attacks when on planes with my daughter ( scared her insane tantrums will be unleashed in a confined space!!) so it isn’t as enjoyable as it once was. I long for finding home, an accepting and multicultural place. Funny enough I am a huge Murder She Wrote fan and the fictional town Cabot Cove is so alluring to me, as the people are friendly and are characters. I’ve always hoped to find a place like that, but have yet to. Most probably because it’s fictional :)

  • Bonnie Rose

    And I know what you mean regarding inlaws and cross cultural issues :)