Even though we are only one year down the track, and relative 'newbies' to marriage, I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few thoughts regarding what I have discovered about cross cultural marriage thus far.
To give some background. I come from white middle class Australia. I have had a largely Christian upbringing, and the opportunity to receive a well rounded basic education and a couple of university degrees. I have two loving parents, and two sisters.
I have travelled a little around the world, and found myself in Zambia on a short term mission 4 years ago, where I first met my wife (for the full story, read my blog at www.beninzambia.com/news). Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and an Australian can expect to live around 81 years. (www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/as.html).
My wife is one of 13 children in her family; a black working class family in Zambia. She too has been raised in a loving Christian household, and has received a reasonable education, and some tertiary, recently completing a diploma of teaching. She has lived and worked as a teacher amongst the some of the poorest communities within Zambia.
Zambia is a deprived nation, with about 86% of the population living in poverty (www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/za.html) and an average life expectancy of 52 years. Growing up in Zambia, she has had a first hand understanding of living in poverty, and all social issues caused by impoverishment.
Because of our very different cultural backgrounds, I had more than a few concerns about what challenges we would face in marriage. I had many questions about what she expected from a husband, and how I would meet them. I had questions about family and extended family, what they expected and how we would manage that expectation.
I had questions about visas and where we could live, children and how we would raise them, arguments and conflict and how we would resolve issues. On the surface of things, there seemed to be a never ending supply of differences that could trip us up and break the harmony in our relationship.
We often discussed these differences at length before getting married, but now, one year down the track, I am finding that it's the similarities, not the differences which have the most influence over our relationship. I'm happy to say that many of the deeper concerns about culture have disappeared as we have been able to openly discuss many of these and begin to form our own marital culture.
Surprisingly, the source of our relatively few issues, has been communication itself! Slang and phrasing, play such an important role in communication, especially within the context of the Australian vernacular, and so quite often I feel I have effectively communicated something to my wife, and she is left uncertain of what I have said.
My wife has spoken (and taught) English for most of her life, and so for us, understanding the literal meaning of what is being communicated between us is not an issue. It's the understanding of how each of us communicates that causes the greatest ambiguity.
This is especially so when talking about an emotional subject. To give an example, the other day, I felt I had somehow upset my wife, and I wanted to correct this. She had been quiet for a little while, which is never a good sign, so I asked her if I had done something to offend her. Our conversation came to a posting on Facebook, so I asked her what it said. Her response to the question was 'You can read...'.
Normally, I would understand her response as an invitation to, 'Have a read through the Facebook post and tell me what you think...' – which was what she was actually saying. Unfortunately, as I already believed her to be upset with me (which, thankfully, in this instance she wasn't), I interpreted 'You can read...' as an upset remark 'You have the ability to read, why don't you read it yourself?'.
I had misjudged how she was feeling, and it affected my ability to correctly understand what she was saying to me. As a result, I became offended and this inflamed the situation. It took a few more upset remarks and a little while before we realised what had happened, and were able to sort it all out.
Overall, I've discovered that cultural difference is not a boundary to relationship, rather its an enrichment as it has opened both of us to a wider experience of family, and a better appreciation of what it means to be part of God's family. We both share a deep belief in and love of Christ, and as such, we share many common values and beliefs.
It is this foundation of Christ which effectively unifies us in our marriage; two people with completely different upbringings, from intensely divergent cultures, who in Christ, have the same desires, values and moral grounding. In John 17:11, Christ prayed for His disciples, asking that '...they might be one as we (Jesus and the Father) may be one'.
In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, all believers are unified, and as such have more in common with one another than difference. We all (believers) share the same desire to know Christ, and to live lives that would make Him proud. Culture is often seen as a boundary, and we can tend to express culture in terms of difference.
Over these last few years I have found that in Christ, culture is not the cause of differing beliefs and values, but rather its an influence on how values are expressed.