Cross cultural blues

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: I love my husband dearly and I know he loves me a lot. His mother and little sister live with us. I was the breadwinner basically paying more than half the costs of the mortgage, utilities, groceries etc. while he waited for his green card. A few months ago I lost my job and my severance has run out. I am home a lot with my in laws and its a constant battle about how I want the house to look. One day I changed something and my mother in law started crying. When I asked her what was wrong – she said nothing. A few days later, my husband got angry with me for washing dishes since it made noise. When he told me to stop, I told him no – it needed to get done. Then a big fight ensued. I wanted him to get rid of steam so I allowed him to leave. Then he came back wondering why I didn’t try to stop him since his mother tried to. Then he pushed me (BTW – I am 15 weeks pregnant). So I called the police then he was very remorseful but ranted about how if the police took him away his mom and sister would be deported. Since then, I told him that I can’t stay in this house anymore with everyone here. Personally my finances are strained and I can’t afford to take care of 2 more mouths to feed while trying to save up for the additional mouth I’m carrying. I gave him the option for he and his family to stay in the house while I leave (him and I own the house) but they have to pay all the bills. He refuses. Lately it seems that we want to reconcile, but I know his obligations to his mom and sister. Soon he’ll be sending his sister off to college and sending his mom back to her husband in Pakistan.
My question – is reconciling even an option in this case? Should i be waiting for him to figure out what he wants to do? Currently, I’m looking for a job and getting as much assistance as I can right now before I find one – how do I cope with all of this?

A: My guess is that you and your husband underestimated your cultural differences when you married. Instead of arguing about who is right, the two of you need to look at the assumptions you each hold regarding roles in your household. It looks like your husband and his family are operating from typical Pakistani traditions. As I understand it, a son’s first obligation is to his mother. He and his family expect you to show respect for your mother in law and sister in law by putting them first As an American, you have different ideas about a woman’s role, particularly since you have been the primary provider. My guess is that you see your husband’s mother and sister as guests in your home and that you expect them to be helpful and to be appreciative of all you have done for them.

Before you decide whether or not to “reconcile”, I think you need to have a long, private, heart-felt talk with your husband about the differences in your assumptions about how a family should operate.

You say you love him. You have a child on the way. It’s worth it to see if you can reach a meeting of the minds and hearts. You could adopt Pakistani family roles. They could adopt modern American roles. Or the two of you can come up with a unique blend that takes both of your worlds into account. If you can’t come to an agreement on one of those three possibilities, the fourth option is to separate. There isn’t a right answer except what you can all live with in harmony.
I wish you well,
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Oct 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). Cross cultural blues. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/10/18/cross-cultural-blues/