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Communication Problems in My Intercultural Marriage

26 September, 2017
Q As-Salamu Aleikom sister. My problem is with my intercultural marriage. I live in England, he is from the Middle-East. We are both practicing Muslims although he is a born and i am a convert Muslim. We live in Europe. We do not have kids yet, and honestly, i am concerned to have kids with him. My problem is that I feel we are continuously misunderstanding each other and cannot communicate effectively. I feel often he does not understand what I am saying, and I have trouble seeing the issues he brings up in an argument. We have a different mother tongue but has a language we both know very well. I told him many times that it can only work if we respect each other’s opinion and accept that we can have differences even if we are both Muslims, and we can come up with a win-win solution. We can sit down and discuss in a kind and nice way. It does not have to be always an argument. We talked about this and thought we opened a new page, but he goes back to the same behavior. I wish he has more empathy toward me. But the problem is that the blame is on me always. When he gets upset from me, obviously I am blamed ( he does not even think of maybe he did something that triggered this behavior from me, other times I completely do not understand what’s his problem), and if I have an issue, I am blamed as well – I am the too sensitive, I am the one misunderstanding the situation, I am the wrong to feel hurt and upset – so with him these „I statements” are not really working with him. He is extremely defensive: when he gets upset, he yells, then when I still have a different view, he goes into silent treatment for days. I am really tired of this that we cannot talk about plans and daily things because it will create an argument. I came to the point where I want to do my stuff – taking courses, visiting my friends, or doing my own stuff – in a secret so i do not have to inform him and so he won’t find anything in it to argue about. I know my mistakes, I told him about it and I really try to work on them – but he needs to see his own mistakes also and work on them as well. How to convince him to talk nicely with me and instead of silent treatment try to communicate more effectively?


In this counseling answer:

“My experience in working with many wives and couples over the years is that culture clash is rarely the actual problem. What is more often the problem is dealing with individuals who have an immature understanding of marriage and its commitments, and are emotionally and psychologically unprepared for a meaningful relationship with another individual.”

As-Salamu Aleikom sister,

It sounds like there is a lot going on in your marriage right now. You are doing the right thing in reaching out. I ask Allah (swt) to grant you the guidance and support you need.

It’s Not (Usually) About Culture

When two people are married and they are from different cultures, it’s easy to think the marriage suffers due to a culture clash. My experience in working with many wives and couples over the years is that culture clash is rarely the actual problem.

What is more often the problem is dealing with individuals who have an immature understanding of marriage and its commitments, and are emotionally and psychologically unprepared for a meaningful relationship with another individual.

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While you and your husband are from different cultures, and you are a convert, it sounds like the challenge you are facing isn’t his culture, but his personality.

His behavior you are experiencing isn’t linked to any specific culture in the world. It’s found universally, which means that his behavior is extremely familiar to someone like myself or anyone else involved in counseling others in a relationship.

Respect is a Two-Way Street

All couples experience ups and downs, go through arguments and disagreements and find it difficult to communicate at times. The challenge is in determining what is normal and expected from symptoms of an unhealthy relationship, or one that is quickly headed in that direction.

One of my main causes of concern is that you have mentioned that your husband blames you for everything that goes wrong or looks for faults in things you have done even when there is nothing to fault like expressing feelings of your own. We need to examine that a little further.

A relationship cannot survive if the husband and the wife don’t respect the feelings of each other.

You either end up with one person becoming a doormat in trying to appease their spouse’s feelings all the time at the expense of their own feelings, self-confidence, and self-worth, or consistent full blowout fights which run in a circle of negativity.

Huge Fight → Quiet Period → Desire for Connection → Brief Happiness Together → Rising Tension → Huge Fight.

Neither of these two options is healthy options, and both can become even more destructive in the long run. I wouldn’t want either of those options for either of you.

If this cycle along with being blamed all of the time sounds familiar, then it’s time for you to speak to someone outside your marriage directly for some help.

Get Support for Yourself

My first piece of advice for you is to get some outside support for yourself. Whether that is a counselor, therapist, or a coach, I recommend finding someone who is in your corner to help you decide how to navigate not just your marriage, but help you build your life around it.

You need to continue having friends, doing things you love, and talking to or seeing family. Nurture your faith with Islamic environments which are positive for you; take walks outside or exercise and work on meaningful goals.

Your marriage is a huge part of your life. While you work through it, I want you to take care of you and the rest of your life. Otherwise, you may lose yourself in trying to solve something that cannot be solved on your own.

Many people often recommend couples counseling. While I agree with that, the unfortunate reality is that many individuals like your husband may not be willing to go in for any kind of support. If he is, that’s awesome, and I highly encourage you to take that route.

If he’s not, then you need to go ahead because you deserve that kind of private space, support, and opportunity to think clearly.

When I work with a wife in relationship coaching, we focus on a specific and recent event that has occurred. We’ll break it down and look at what happened and see things from another perspective.

Then she is better able to determine if she does, in fact, have some blind spots in her behavior which contributes to the stress and fights or if she has done everything she can possibly do and her spouse is still behaving in the same fashion.

We can look at new techniques for her to try, and along the way, find out if this makes a dramatic difference which she is pleased with or if things remain the same. In this case, we discuss what needs to happen for her to consider safely leaving a relationship.

Determine Your Boundaries

No one else lives on your skin and in your marriage. This means that no one else can tell you what to do about your relationship. It’s up to you to decide what your personal boundaries are.

What will you tolerate and what’s crossing the line?

When is the impact of the marriage starting to show up in other areas of your life and where can you contain it?

How do you feel about yourself in the marriage versus how you feel when you are alone or out with friends or working?
What kind of expectation do you want to communicate to your husband and what will be the result if he isn’t able to meet it?

Let Go of Trying to Convince Him

You, or anyone else, cannot convince your husband to speak more nicely or stop giving you the silent treatment. This is his choice behavior to handle his own feelings. He will only change when one of the following occurs:

1) The risk of what he loses from that behavior is more than he wants to gamble with.

2) The pain of him choosing that behavior is worse than the pain involved in changing his behavior.

Keep Taking the High Road

While it’s easier said than done, I encourage you to keep taking the high road in your marriage. Avoid screaming, yelling, foul language, or doing anything that doesn’t honor the person you want to be in your life.

Work at it for the sake of Allah (swt) and seek reward for going above and beyond the situation. Allow this test to help you come closer to Allah (swt) rather than farther from Him. The more you do this, the more clear your path of what to do will become, in sha’ Allah.

“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace.” (Quran, 25: 63)

May Allah (swt) help you,


Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.

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