Wa ‘Aleikom Salam Sister,
It seems as if you are feeling afraid and alone in a strange land where you do not know anyone, and where the culture is very different from what you are used to. You did not mention how long you have lived in Iran or how long you have been married, though.
Two key experiences that can cause severe distress are culture shock and homesickness. You have described culture shock to me in this post. I believe you are also missing your family and your homeland very much. These two conditions can cause depression if you are not very careful to address your experience.
A very important factor with this situation is how well you and your husband communicate. And of course, one of the most important factors to consider is whether you are safe living in Iran as an immigrant woman.
We will address culture shock and the feelings of being homesick and the process of integration into a new culture. But fist, I want to address your concern that if you went back to Germany, you would hurt you husband and your feelings of urgency about this matter.
In a culture like you live in, pride is very important. It is possible that we are addressing two levels of possible “hurt” should you go back to Germany without him. One, of course, is the emotional attachment that you both might have toward each other. The other is pride and how your husband will be able to function in his community and with his family if you leave in such a way that will embarrass him.
In such culture, it is very important to address this. If your husband’s reputation is damaged, it can cause him serious difficulty. Most family decisions are discussed with the husband’s parents. It is best for your husband that you have his family’s blessing to go back to Germany if you can find the patience to gain that. I am not stating that this is required, but it is best for your husband, and it is the best way for you to remain in good standing with your relationship with your husband.
If you were to go back to Germany, it would be best to have an excuse other than your being upset with the culture and having difficulty integrating even though this is your heartfelt issue. However, it is likely equally true that you are missing your family and they miss you. This is condition that your husband’s family is more likely to empathize with and understand. If you decide to go back to Germany, explore the ways in which your family might need you and ask permission from your husband to be with your family for this purpose.
Let’s now look at culture shock. I do not know how long you have been in Iran. But it takes about two years for an individual to adjust to another culture. There is a very long process. First, the individual misses his/her own culture and might be both intrigued and appalled by the culture she finds herself in. There is almost always fear. This fear is not irrational either. If an individual does not learn how to integrate into a culture, the person can be in danger simply because this individual is an immigrant, and it is the immigrant whose behaviors and thinking are “different” according to the community. The stranger cannot expect to change the people whom she is trying to integrate with, but rather the stranger must accept and adapt to the culture in which she is living.
For now, if you are undecided as to whether or not you want to remain in Iran, for knowing the laws and the culture, and customs, it is important for you to find an ally. You will want to find a woman who the family accepts and ask her to help you to understand and integrate into the culture better. This humble act will help you to be accepted. It is wise for you to take this step even if you only plan to remain there for a short while longer.
It is also true that you need a friend so that you will not feel so alone. This will help you to minimize misunderstanding and upset between you and your husband and his family. One way to do this is to prepare yourself psychologically. Tell yourself that you are on an adventure and you are in Iran to learn about humanity, human nature, and the Iranian way of life. The only way to do this is by total emersion. A cultural anthropologist would give up a lot to have that experience. So, think of this experience as something good.
You likely had many expectations about marriage and family and relationship when you married. However, those expectations were likely unconsciously biased by your own cultural “programming”. This does not mean that your expectations are not good, or that you should not seek a life that meets these expectations. However, you are not going to have those expectations met where you are in the culture that you are in now. And, the reality is, you are there now. So, put all of your expectations and disappointments away for a while because you are going to “play a new game” for a while. You do not have the lifestyle that you think you want-but you do have an opportunity to learn the Iranian community culture.
So, while you are deciding whether or not you will go back to Germany and what your approach about that will be when the time is right, go with the flow. Just experience and learn. You don’t have to agree or change, but you do need to keep your ideas to yourself and you can’t express them where you are. However, the more you relax and just listen to the people that are coming into your house day and night, and the more you copy their customs of eating and relating, the more you will learn and this will only enrich you in the long run.
After you have had a chance to participate and relax with the culture of a small community in Iran and with your family, you will know if you can live this way long term or not. You will also have endeared yourself to them and earned their friendship with you. This way, if you decide to leave, you will not offend anyone and, you will have made friends.
After a while, an individual who is acculturating to a new way of life begins to become more comfortable and the fear subsides. Eventually, the individual will sometimes even completely identify with the new culture and actually reject his or her culture of origin for a while. In a way, this is necessary, however you don’t have to feel rejecting or judgmental about your culture of origin, but to completely immerse oneself in the present culture is part of integration process.
Then after this phase, the individual usually finds a way to balance living in her current culture while keeping some parts of her culture of origin alive within her own household. This way you learn to honor yourself, and what made you who you are, while living according to the ways of the people you are with. If you are able to accomplish this, you will feel at home in the community that you find yourself in.
You most likely already know if you will be able to adjust at this level or if you need to go back to Germany. If you cannot adjust then it is better for you and for your husband to find an agreement so that you can go back.
Now let’s turn to you emotional condition. You are homesick. Before you decide whether or not you can adjust to your new culture, determine the level of homesickness that you are experiencing. If you are really aching to be with your family and friends in Germany, this heaviness in your heart might be clouding your ability to discern whether or not you are upset with the culture that you find yourself in. So, try to separate these issues so that you can make a clear decision based on how you feel about each separate issue. For now, make sure you are writing letters and e-mailing your family. If you are allowed, try to Video call them regularly. This will help you a lot whether you decide to stay or you decide to leave.
Moving from one country to another is always difficult. Changing cultures that are so very different from each other is even more difficult. I pray that I have given you a perspective to ponder that will help you work through this difficult time. I am also wondering if your husband is willing to go back with you to Germany or if that is an option.
So, give all of this some thought. Then give yourself some time to feel what is going on with you and what your needs truly are. Don’t make any rash decisions; after all, you do have a husband and you need to take into consideration what level of bond you have with him and how your decision will affect you on that level. So, go slow, and evaluate your situation, be mindful of your approaches with others, and then when you are clear and certain about your course of action, use diplomacy and kindness in executing that action.
May Allah help you,
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