In my work and my life, I have met with many courageous bi-cultural couples. Typically, one person in the couple has the “home field advantage” — that is, they currently live in their “mother country.”
The partner who’s living in their mother country has the home field advantage.
Sports fans know all about the home field advantage. When your team plays a home game, they’re much more familiar with the little quirks of the field. Plus, more fans attend to cheer them on from the bleachers. When you factor in possible travel fatigue on the visiting team’s side, it’s easy to see the benefits of playing at home.
So what does this have to do with bi-cultural relationships? Let’s take a look.
- The “home player” speaks the language fluently, making it easier to get a job and earn money. They’re also more likely to have more personal connections and professional opportunities.
- The “away player,” on the other hand, faces some challenges. They must learn not just a new language, but new social and cultural practices as well. All the familiarity has disappeared from their life, and they lean on their partner for almost everything.
Anything that involves a steep learning curve for the displaced partner falls on the home player’s shoulders:
- Holding down a job to provide financial stability
- Setting up and maintaining bank accounts
- Navigating any immigration snags
- Helping with getting work papers
From a place of love, they take this on, often on top of their regular job. Unfortunately, nobody ever told them that this job doesn’t end. No matter how comfortable the away player gets over time, the home player will always be better connected to the culture.
What was once an equal relationship now suffers from a drastic power imbalance. But wait a minute! You’re a couple — doesn’t that mean you’re supposed to be a team?
Stuck in a Losing Streak
I’ve heard it from a few of my clients, on both sides: “I didn’t sign up for this!” When they fell in love and decided to relocate, neither partner planned for this power imbalance. How does this imbalance show up over time?
- The away player often feels frustrated and helpless. They may even be jealous of their partner’s freedom. Once independent and confident in their environment, they now depend on their partner for everything from simple tasks to financial stability. How they wish they had the home field advantage!
- The home player, however, tends to feel resentful and angry. They’ve had to take on so much, and still their partner can’t operate like they did in their own country. For months or even years, they’ve performed an exhausting job, but their partner barely acknowledges their hard work. Surprisingly, having the home field advantage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
During difficult times, we all make the mistake of thinking our perspective is the “true” one. Naturally this leads to more fighting, less connecting, and isolation from your partner. With all this resentment, anger, and irritation coming in from both sides, no wonder you don’t feel like a team anymore! And when you don’t act like you’re on the same team, everyone loses.
Getting back your team spirit is as easy as 1-2-3
So many couples I’ve met in this situation refer to themselves as foolish. When that happens, I like to remind them of how brave they are. It takes courage to show up and choose to love each other, especially if you’ve been off-balance for years.
The good news is, you can get back to the same side. Here are three steps to help you get back your “team spirit.”
#1: Focus on communication. Practice horizontal listening with your partner. Sometimes, you don’t need to fix their unhappiness — you just need to connect and relate with compassion.
#2: Change your perspective. Examine the situation from another angle by stepping into your partner’s point of view. Take the time to appreciate each other and be curious about your partner’s experiences. Like a magic eye drawing, you’ll find that something new emerges.
#3: Study and practice forgiveness. Of course you and your partner haven’t hurt each other intentionally, but you still need to repair the damage. Forgive yourselves, and each other. This transformational skill can heal your heart.
Navigating a bi-cultural relationship has its challenges, but they’re worth the hard work. Remember that bi-cultural relationships enhance creativity, one of the eight Self qualities. Combine that creativity with calm, courage, and compassion, and you, too, can reconnect with your teammate-for-life.
“Marko Dević” by Flickr user Aleksandr Osipov is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.