ERP 349: Navigating Cultural Differences In Relationship — An Interview With Dr. Kathrine Bejanyan

By Posted in - Podcast December 6th, 2022 0 Comments

Childhood, environment, culture, religion, and background all have an impact on who we become and how we perceive ourselves. These factors also influence how we present ourselves in relationships.

Most relationships start out with the lovely phase of courting and falling in love. Up until differences arise, everything seems to be perfect. These differences can be significant life choices like having children, purchasing a home, moving to a different country or city, or even something as basic as eating habits. Dealing with cross-cultural differences makes this even more challenging.

Dr. Kathrine Bejanyan discusses the typical issues that couples from various cultures encounter. She acknowledges that some sacrifices are necessary for the relationships to work, but she also expresses caution, saying that some sacrifices are not worthwhile.

In this episode, she discusses how to resolve disagreements with your partner or get yourself ready for a successful relationship with someone from a different background.

Dr. Kathrine Bejanyan is a practicing therapist specializing in the areas of dating, relationships, and cross-cultural topics. Her practice focuses on working with individuals and couples on love, dating, and relationship issues, with an emphasis on building deeper intimacy, connection, and authenticity in their love lives. Outside of her private practice, Kathrine is a speaker, consultant, and lecturer in psychology. She holds a Ph.D. in social psychology and a Master’s in counseling psychology.

In this Episode

5:31 Dr. Kathrine Bejanyan’s keen interest in understanding cultural dynamics.

11:34 How overcoming struggles fosters relationships and individual growth.

13:50 Defining the problem before solving it.

17:38 Typical issues that cross-cultural couples face.

20:04 The importance of curiosity in a healthy relationship.

26:33 How to handle cultural differences in relationships.

36:29 Cultural identity is dynamic rather than static.

48:42 How to connect with Kathrine.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Recognize that the other person may not share your worldview in the same way that you do.
  • When faced with conflicts, talk to your partner about it rather than taking a defensive stance.
  • If the person you want to date comes from a different cultural background, learn as much as you can about them by doing research, watching movies about their culture together, reading books, and listening to podcasts.
  • Examine whether you’re prepared for that kind of relationship.
  • Step out of your comfort zone.
  • Don’t make sacrifices that will diminish you or cause you to feel insignificant. To become more is the ultimate objective. If you’re not becoming more, that’s not a relationship you want to be in.

Mentioned

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Connect with Dr. Kathrine Bejanyan

Websites: kathrinebejanyan.com

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/dr-kathrine-bejanyan

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Dr. Kathrine Bejanyan, thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you for the invite, I’m happy to be here.

Yes. I know you do so much to support couples and people in relationship navigating intimacy, and you support in very practical ways. So we’re lucky to have your voice here and helping people implement practical skills. One of the topics we were going to be geared towards is the topic of finances. I’m just curious, if you want to share anything else about you that will help people get to know you a little bit better, and how you came to support couples and how this became your focus.

So originally from California. But currently, I’ve been living in London for I would say the last over 11 years. I have a private practice here, which is licensed in the US, but I also came and did a PhD here. There’s a series of reasons how I ended up here. But throughout, psychology was always like a strong point of mine, I just enjoyed it a lot. And then ended up working in the realm of cultural psychology, and also working with individuals, and slowly ended up sort of becoming more and more clear that I wanted to work with couples. Initially, I went in when I was doing my interning in the States or my practicum, I was working in women’s shelters, and I was working in domestic violence and sexual assault. So female empowerment was a big concern of mine, a big sort of area of interest. 

Then, to my sort of naive thinking, I thought: Go in there, explain what healthy relationships are like, support these individuals get out of these toxic dynamics, and then boom, they can then live happily ever after! But what I quickly realized is that there’s a lot about our childhood, our environments that we’ve grown up, our culture, our background, that determined who we become, how we see ourselves, how we see relationships, and how trusting we are of the world and others in it. And a lot of our choices come from that space. 

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“So it’s not a simple task of having intellectual knowledge to be able to make right choices. Our emotions, our internal world guide a lot of our choices, in ways that we’re not even aware of.”

So that was sort of my first entry into like, ah, relationships are a lot more complicated than they seem on the surface. Then I ended up in Hawaii, I was working with a military in the similar realm, in domestic violence and such, and I encountered a lot of cross-cultural couples there. So soldiers would get stationed somewhere, they’d meet someone, and they’d fall in love, get married, and then eventually they’d end up in the States, and then things would start to unravel. When I looked at these couples, I thought maybe they just weren’t in love, initially; maybe that dating period was rushed. And what I often found out was they had really lovely stories about the dating and falling in love process. But when they eventually started to build a life together, their understanding of what a relationship is, based on different cultural backgrounds, different upbringings, what they expected from the other, what roles each expected themselves and the other to play, all that differed. And the more they differed, the harder they had in creating a life together. There was a lot of friction there, and then it started to wear away at the love. So then it became a really sort of strong interest of mine to understand cultural dynamics. 

That’s how I ended up in London, ended up coming here and doing a cross-cultural psychology degree, and then eventually, setting up a practice. So because of the different experiences I’ve had, I’ve realized that there’s much more to having a successful relationship than just falling in love. There’s the falling in love, there’s the feelings, and then there’s the actual relationship part. So I always tell my clients, I don’t have any stake in whether how you guys feel about one another. But I do know how to develop and help you develop a healthy relationship. So we can do that; we can develop conflict resolution and clear communication, and how to manage finances in a relationship, something we’re going to talk about today. Help you deal with all of those issues, and then underneath that, help the love that if you have for one another will thrive. So we step out of the way and love let love do its thing. But when you haven’t got the practical stuff done, the practical stuff really starts to create friction and starts to weigh down on that love. Eventually, that love just can’t overcome all of the issues of differences that come up in a relationship. 

There’s so much in what you’re saying. I hear you, and I absolutely agree with you. Somehow sometimes, depending on our cultural messaging, the idea that love will conquer all, that that is potentially a real setup. I do believe what you’re describing, in the romance stage and the bonding and the developing of that connection, and then when we’re confronted with differences that feel conflictual, I think every couple has to negotiate that. However, when we’re talking about cross-cultural or bicultural or however, even if one person’s bicultural, and then you have someone who’s from a different culture, and then you’re maybe contending with multiple cultures to straddle, that just in my mind, adds a layer of additional factors to consider and much more to manage. 

I am just also wanting to say how excited I am about the cross-cultural conversation if we can pivot towards that, and maybe talk about finances or maybe not. But is that something you’d be willing to pivot towards? It just feels like such a gift to have your perspective on that.

Of course, absolutely. It’s one of my most favorite topics to talk about, so sure.

Okay, great. I have had many listeners even wonder about some of the complexities, and even dealing with families. Because depending on our cultural background, and the expectations of the in-laws or the extended family, that can get really complicated. So I just also want to acknowledge. Well, first of all, before I go there, slowing down, do you also agree that most couples have to contend with negotiating differences?

Absolutely, every couple does. What I often say to people is that we have this belief system, really reinforced by romantic movies and our western narrative, that relationships are about happiness and love. In reality, that is not what they’re about, they’re about growth. And what happens during growth, we struggle. We are confronted with our own limitations, with our ego, with areas of us that are underdeveloped, that have been hurt, wounded, all that stuff. So a relationship is going to hold a mirror to all of those areas; you cannot get away from those challenges. So if you are willing to do your own personal work and hold that mirror up, that your partner is amply going to constantly shine at you, and take accountability for what’s coming up that is your part to play and work on that, and they do the same, then the result of that, the consequences of that is growth and happiness and connection. Without that, without that self-development and willingness to engage in that struggle and learn and grow, you are going to be miserable, and relationships can become then really a source of pain rather than any source of happiness.

And I would add too, additionally, it can be very constrictive. It’s almost as, the way of adapting is we just get narrow in our way of living because we don’t want to rock the boat. But then we really constrict the sense of passion and intimacy and the growth, as you’re referring. 

Well, Kathrine, I also want to mirror and reflect back to what you’re saying that, as you talked about the dynamics that are often unconscious, and the blueprint that we got from growing up, that that’s often at play, and you’re also seeing the practicality. It seems like you have a really great blend of having the awareness of what informs our perception and our experience in relationship, as well as what are the moves that we’re making, and the practicality of implementing that. Would you agree? Because it does sound like you offer such practicality that can be utilized. But if we don’t understand maybe the deeper threads of it, it can be difficult to sustain.

Yeah. When people come in, they’re usually like: Give me tools, help me figure out conflict resolution, how to communicate. But before we can implement the tools, we have to know the problem we’re working on. So those are tools, yes: how to speak to one another, how to be more patient and compassionate, how to exercise certain skill sets. But if we don’t know what we’re working on, on a deeper level, those are just band-aids that we sort of keep putting over the problem. I often say, issues in a relationship are like symptoms to deeper stuff going on. So if we figure out how to manage money, let’s say, but there’s underlying unconscious issues that are playing out between the two of you, that will just then manifest itself in another problem. So we have to first get to the deeper stuff, the deeper layers, and then use those tools to then help heal at a deeper level, and then deal with the practical issues, the way that that issue has been manifesting in real life, then we deal with that as well.

I’m smiling because I’m just always so in awe of the curriculum that’s available in intimate relationships. Because as we’re talking about perhaps our relational, even attachment, ways of being in relationship, and how complex and important that is to recognize, like our fears and our traumas and our wounding. And when we talk about culture, a lot of that is unconscious. Again, it’s like the water we’ve been swimming, and that we don’t really always analyze or really look at. Then when we enter into relationship, it’s like, the blending of two seas that are different, and we just don’t always know. So where do we begin with this conversation of culture, where would you like us to have our foundation here?

Well, I will say, back to your point that in every relationship, there’s going to be differences. I think in cultures, sometimes those differences can be amplified. Like you’re saying, culture can often be so internalized, because it is what it is. As soon as we’re born, we’re born into a culture, and we pick up on all of those rules and expectations, all that, from such an early age, before we can even speak. So we don’t even know how it affected us on a cellular level. Those differences can sometimes be really amplified if we’re coming from very different cultural contexts in a relationship. Just being aware that what we find and hold as the norm, the way to do it, because that’s all we’ve known all of our life, may not be the case for the other person. And that’s where the conversation has to start, in acknowledgement that what we’re doing isn’t the only way to do it, and being curious about where this other person is. 

It’s funny, the way that it can come around in the simplest things. Like, I had a couple constantly fight about their eating habits. He felt that her eating habits weren’t clean enough, there was too much pastries and sugars and stuff. And lo and behold, when he went to visit her country, he realized that’s what they eat in the mornings; they have a pastry with a cappuccino. So he came back going: Oh my God, this huge area of conflict, where I looked at her as a flaw in her thinking process and a flaw in the way he she takes care of her body, had nothing to do with that. 

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“That’s the trouble sometimes. We can assign character flaws and personality flaws to the individual, not realizing that this is a cultural norm that they’ve grown up with and adopted.”

Yeah. It even occurs to me, as we’re talking about differences in conflict, perhaps the way we resolve conflict could be very different, and also different culturally.

Yes, definitely. Like, for some individuals, open conversations are not the thing to do. What’s respectful actually is to avoid it, is try to go with the flow; you just don’t discuss problems openly, that’s seen as rude and disrespectful. So if you’re coming from a cultural framework where you talk about everything, again, that’s going to be a problem. I think, because we’re in a Western context, we can talk about the norms here that I tend to see. But that is one of the big ones, that we hold communication and open direct communication as such a high value on our list. And when someone is not able to do that, or they’re much more indirect in the way that they express themselves, you think that, again, that’s a flaw in their development; they just don’t know how to, or they haven’t learned how to. Maybe that is the case, maybe they haven’t developed that skill. But there’s a reason why they haven’t developed it. Maybe for them, being more self-sacrificial, or putting the group needs or the relationship needs beyond their own, is a higher virtue. 

So while you’re demanding all these things from them and openly communicating, and then come to realize years later that they’ve been giving in and giving in, all of a sudden, it’s like both people can grow resentful. The one that’s the open communicator can feel like, well, you didn’t tell me you had these needs, so how was I supposed to know? The other person often feels like, look at the amount of sacrifices I’ve made, look how selfless I’ve been in this relationship, and never once have you sacrificed your own wants for me. Communication style, conflict resolution style can be very problematic if there’s big differences.

Again, I want to echo the thing we’ve both identified, that a lot of these will exist in relationships between people of the same culture. And sometimes, when we have cross-cultural relationships, that it’s amplifying because there’s maybe more or the differences are so great. What else would you like to name that are common difficulties for couples straddling different cultures?

One of the big ones is dealing with family. The expectations around family involvement: whether it’s going to be sort of a nuclear family, we’re going to break off and we’re our own people, or we are being integrated into a greater family framework and extended family are more involved. So that’s another big one. The hierarchy of who can say what, who do we go to for what information? Again, as the couple deals with, are they the sort of ultimate or do they refer to the elders in their family? The other area could be finances, certainly: who holds the money, who earns the money, how is the money spent? Children: whether we have kids even, but how we deal with kids and how we manage discipline? How we’re expressive not only in terms of conflict, but our affection, our show of respect or affection for the other person? Some people are a lot more stoic in the expression of their feelings and needs. On a really sort of practical level, just like eating habits and sleeping habits and stuff can be very different as well, and certainly work habits.

And with the education that you do and the support that you offer around this topic, what are some of the places to start as far as building awareness around differences? How do you help people navigate this?

It’s whatever they bring to the session. So my form of therapy is, we’re not going poking around to find problems or find differences, we’re going to allow whatever is coming up in the relationship to lead us. So if a couple is coming in, and there’s a certain theme that keeps coming up in their relationship where they can’t seem to resolve or there’s a lot of conflict, that’s where we start to focus. I will say, the go-to isn’t necessarily, oh, it must be a cultural difference. But that’s one of the areas that we explore it. We first look at the individual, their own sense of values and identity. Then, where did they grow up, what was their family context like? Then environmental impacts: country, culture, religion, things like that.

So would you say that, as a couple is negotiating cultural differences, that the process might be similar to what any couple will go through? That is to slow down when there is tension or emotion, and let’s look at what are we both feeling, and can we understand the deeper layers of that, and can we have vulnerability and share that with one another? Yet, perhaps, when there are cultural differences, that might require a lot more slowing down and being curious, as you mentioned, and having inquiry about: Oh, it was like that, or it was like this, without a lot of judgment and just real openness. Is that true?

Yeah, that’s definitely it. Curiosity is the key to any successful relationship. Because as we both stated, differences are going to come up, they’re supposed to come up. A relationship really forces you to look at yourself: who am I, why am I the way that I am, why do I feel the way that I do, why do I think the way that I do, why do I express my needs the way that I do? I would say romantic relationships are like that, like almost like no other. When you think of your parental relationships, or even your relationship with your kids or friends. With your parents, you eventually grow up and you go off and you form your own family. Your kids grow up, they leave you they go and do their own thing. Friends, as close as they are, they have their own home and household. 

But your romantic partner, if you stay together, that’s the one relationship where literally every decision you make, from what time you get up, because they’re right there next to you in bed, what you eat, how you spend your money, how you spend your free time, what upsets you that you bring home to the other person. Almost in every way that you are impacts that, either directly or indirectly. So like, if they have problems with the ways that you are, you wouldn’t have known about it. People say things like, no one’s ever seen this as a problem in me. I say, well, no one’s ever had to live with you on such an intimate level, and in no other relationships do your decisions directly impact the well-being of another human being. 

So relationships really force you to look at yourself. So being curious about yourself and your partner is the key to having a successful relationship. When your partner is accusing you of being a certain way, rather than going to a defensive stance, I will say, from their position, they have to be very careful in how they word things, so it doesn’t feel like an accusation. But if you were able to, rather than think about defending your position, but really sort of just going: “Yeah, I don’t know why I do things that way, I don’t know why I have to manage the household in a certain way, why is that?” I think a lot of people think, well, who cares? It is what it is. But if it’s coming up in the relationship, it’s a problem, and just telling your partner to get over it, sometimes that’s necessary. But often, that will just build up resentment and lead to unresolved issues that will lead to bigger and bigger issues. 

So the earlier that you get together and things come up, and the more willing you are in that space to go: “Oh that, let me look at this, and this is why I think this way, why do you think this way, and where does that come from, and where do then we fit in together,” the better. If you develop that ability early on, when the stakes are really low, then you get into the habit of communicating with one another at that level, that level of intimacy. So as your problems grow bigger, your way of managing and your emotional resilience to manage that becomes more effective and easier. 

It’s almost as if I wonder if you would recommend couples starting out, that are negotiating cultural differences, to prepare themselves for these kind of things?

100%, for sure, for sure. Because you won’t know differences until they come up. So in the beginning, you are really wanting to know about the other person’s position. You don’t want to become really emotionally invested in this relationship, and then suddenly figure out that on a really fundamental level, once you get married and move in together, that “Oh, by the way, your in-laws are going to be coming and going as they please. Or “Oh, all of a sudden, no, we don’t have two bank accounts, we’re married now, it’s all going into one.” So at that point, there are certain things that are issues we’re not going to deal with until they come up. But when they come up, they are intensely personal issues, and it’s hard to backtrack. 

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“If you’re coming from a different cultural framework, please do your due diligence, and watch cultural movies together, podcasts, read books; do everything you can inform yourself about the other person. Because whoever your partner is, whatever they bring to the table—the good, the bad, the ugly—you are taking on. So you have to be prepared to take that on.”

It’s all well and good to sort of say: “Well, I’m going to reject, their values aren’t my values.” But again, it will impact you on a day-to-day basis, and you can push it out of your household or out of your life. But that’s a significant part of your partner then that you’re pushing out, and that’s not a healthy relationship where people have to cut off parts of themselves just to be able to stay in that relationship. 

Look, I will also say, maybe their identification with their culture isn’t that strong. So that also can be the case as well. But I will say some people say that, and then actually, in practice, it’s a lot stronger. Also, as people get older, their identification with their religion or their culture does become more stronger. So yeah, it’s worthwhile knowing it. I will say, the couples that I’ve seen that have had the most trouble have gone in there with the most lack of awareness. They’ve really relied on this fantastic love story. Because something about being brought together from different cultures, it’s like, you weren’t supposed to be together, but you ended up together, the universe brought you together. So there’s a lot of destiny and just romantic notion that can play into that narrative of falling in love for those couples. Then outside of that, when they actually get to the real life part, suddenly, they’re like: Oh my God, but I thought the love that we had that was so great and so intense, and it helped us merge the gap between these two cultural frameworks, that meant that we’re soulmates and this should be easy.” So those are the couples that I’ve seen struggle the most.

It’s so devastating to confront real life day-to-day, as you described so well, moment to moment, and all the different decisions that need to get made, it’s really, really difficult. That love and the essence of that is still there and is unlimited, perhaps. But we are human beings, and we are making decisions, and we do have certain limits and boundaries. So how we negotiate all of that does require other skill sets. Also, when we look at the cultural context of this and the cross-cultural context, it does remind me even of the maybe more romantic notion of, I don’t see color. Just this kind of attitude of like, we’re all equal, which is a beautiful sentiment, and it perhaps is diminishing the value of different experiences and different cultural understandings. What would you say?

Absolutely, yeah. I certainly don’t buy into that. I think that everything about us makes us us, and it’s important that that gets acknowledged. But I think when we’re saying that I don’t see any color, we mean that people on a very basic level are all equals, and that’s true; we value humanity, regardless of your color, creed, race, whatever, the same. So we value human beings the same. But we haven’t had similar experiences, and that has to be acknowledged. Different things like the color of our skin, or where we’ve grown up, or whether we’re male or female, or whether we’re from Western or an Eastern culture, has had a fundamental impact on the way we see the world. So to gloss over that, I think is really harmful. It doesn’t recognize the beauty of the human condition and our own unique struggles. So it’s important to value that about your partner, and there’s something so loving about people expressing interest in those differences. 

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“When you know that you have a significant part of your identity, and your partner comes from a completely different frame, and they’re genuinely interested in understanding that about you, there’s nothing more loving than that.”

So I think that when we talk about rational approaches or practical approaches to relationships, sometimes people think it takes away from the love story. In my experience, it actually adds to the love story. It shows that I genuinely want to understand you, I want to get you. I love you, saying I love you, but I might not know you. I have strong feelings that are drawing me towards you of attachment. But especially in those early years, when you fall into that sort of lovey-dovey stage, it’s like, you might not know that person very long. That’s where it’s really interesting to me, where people really uphold that as the highest level of love. It’s like, on what basis? You don’t really even know this person, you haven’t even shared experiences. So when two people actually really engage in the process of seeing one another, or really understanding one another—having those kind of real, sometimes awkward, uncomfortable, deep and intense conversations—that’s where I think true love, genuine love, those are the moments that that love is built on.

I feel my heart just responding to what you’re saying, and recalling times where I’d been in a setting and someone’s had an opportunity to bring a dish from their childhood, or if they’re in a different culture, from the culture they grew up in, or their heritage, and just seeing the smiles and the memories. It’s so important to be able to honor that, I just feel like it’s such a gift to be able to hold space and have reverence for that. So I feel there’s such resonance with what you’re describing. 

I’m also aware that some couples will choose to have children. When you use the language of how much one wants to take on, if we are going to have a child together, that’s a whole other thing around, what’s the environment in which we’re honoring the cultures we come from, and that our children are going to be bicultural? Is there anything you want to say there?

That’s why when people don’t feel that it’s important to explore each other’s cultural identity, this is where it really becomes significant. If you are going to have kids together, that might not be important to the two of you. But it might be important to your child. So you’ve got to have that information because they’re looking for you. Because culture is something, again, that’s not innate. No is born with innate cultural rules. It’s something that is passed down from the elders to the others. So if you decided you’re not interested in cultural identities or cultural information, and your kid is now looking at you for the guide—well, what about this part of me, what about that—and you don’t have that kind of information, that part of them leaves to be unexplored. 

So I think the more complex individuals that we have that have different aspects of them, that they’re not sort of like one-dimensional individuals, if we can help children expand their sense of self and develop very different aspects of them, the more successful you are in the world. Because you’re flexible and you have different perspectives, and you can relate to people on multiple different levels. So I think that’s one of the values of being a bicultural couple, you get to equip your child with different perspectives on the world, and that’s cool. That’s really cool. They’re going to be a lot more flexible and adaptable in the world than they would be when we come from one perspective.

Yes. And while there might be more complexity, that there’s something about tradition and being in a more uniform culture that we don’t have to question and evaluate, and maybe be so discerning about. But the contrast is someone that is negotiating more. We don’t want to ignore that, because one can feel lost; there’s not such structure, there’s not such a woven path that one can just follow. So it might take more consciousness, more intention. As you’re describing, helping the child know where they come from, know what the different parts are from. It’s not feeling as lost, there’s this sense of development, one can identify and know and feel integrated. 

Also, I love that you named earlier—I know there’s so much more to this than what we’re giving justice to—but in one’s own adulthood and personhood, that there’s a development in one’s identification, whether or not it’s race or culture, if like one person moved to a different country. That identification is likely going to have a developmental process. Do you want to say anything about that? I know you kind of mentioned it already, that it’s not static.

Yeah, it’s not static, because our identity isn’t static. If we look at ourselves, who we were five years ago, 10 years ago, it’s very different than who we are today, and will be different five or 10 years from now. So we are sort of ever-evolving individuals, and there’s nothing fixed about us. We’re not also born as fixed individuals. I think people think that their personality or their identity is innate, and it’s largely not. If we took you today, whatever framework you’ve been born in, and we drop you halfway across the world in a completely different context, you would think differently; your hobbies, your interests, your wants, your desires would be very different, and so would your emotional experiences. 

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“So we have to acknowledge that our identity is ever-evolving, and it’s this interplay between us and the way we engage with the world and the environment.”

Part of that evolution is our cultural identity. What I’ve seen is that as people tend to get older, they start to get more curious about their background and their heritage. I certainly see that with clients that come in here. One of the things I strongly, strongly encourage my clients is to engage with their parents as adults, not just from like a parent-child dynamic, but just as the man or the woman that raised you. So beyond the scope of a parent, as a human being, as a person, as someone with their own story. It’s really interesting how exciting that is for both individuals, to see your parent as a person, as an individual. Then you start to get that sense as well, that if you come from a different cultural background or religious background, you start to get sort of curious about some of the things that were told to you as a child, that you were raised with, that you saw, that as kids you could care less about. I just want to go off and play, it’s sort of a burden, all these traditions and these expectations. But I think as adults, you start to appreciate the traditions, what they’re trying to imbue, what that actually means. So I start to see people get back and get curious and want to implement more of their cultural identities or traditions, now as adults, into their home.

Absolutely. Even as you describe, if I were to go to a different country and be plopped there, there’d be a whole piece of my wanting to feel accepted and belonging and perhaps trying to learn about the culture that I’m in, and trying to implement or take on some of that. But then, how do I still hold where I come from? Like, it’s not an easy thing to negotiate and who we are and being in different cultural settings. 

Well, I know there’s so much more here, and I’m just wondering if you want to share a story or anything that you see based on your work. Because we’ve talked a lot here about the difficulties and the complexities of what maybe a cross-cultural couple or a bicultural couple will contend with. But also, do you want to talk a little bit about what it looks like, and being able to overcome that, and any tips and tools that you want to encourage people to be aware of that you haven’t already named?

Yes. So often, anything that’s more difficult in life, if we’re able to overcome that difficulty in a really healthy way, in a significant positive way, it tends to be more expansive. It allows us to grow more, to see more; the benefits, the rewards tend to be bigger, the harder the struggle. I would say that definitely is aligned with cross-cultural couples. The challenges that come up can be more varied than when you come from very similar backgrounds. They can be a lot more deeper, they can really cause quite a lot of conflicts in your relationship. 

Now, with that said, if you are able to maneuver that correctly, come from that curious place, really try to learn and understand more, then you yourself develop quite a bit. The norms and the standards that you’ve held, the expectations that you’ve held, that are set in stone, suddenly, are more flexible. And in that flexibility, when you start to see that actually, the world can work in a different way, what you gain is choice, which is like that’s the cool part. But in order to have choice, you have to first be able to challenge your own comfort. Then when you are able to step out of that comfort zone, suddenly, it’s like: “Oh, I can actually do it this way, and this way, and this way.” And a new world like expands. 

It’s often what I hear, being in London, being an expat. I come across a lot of international individuals where they’ve lived in different places, and that’s the thing that we value the most. Like, above and beyond all the challenges, and you go to a new place, you have to adopt, and you have to figure out, and you have to develop new community and all that, there’s various challenges that could come from living in different countries. But what you develop is this richness of understanding, both in the way that you feel about the world and the way that you see the world, and that is invaluable. 

So cross-cultural couples, that’s what they bring to one another: the promise of expansiveness, of greater flexibility, of a greater understanding and feeling about the world at large. So if couples are able to do that, their appreciation and love for one another not only grows, but their appreciation for the support in helping their own individual growth grows as well. So those couples, they’re solid couples, because they can take from the different cultural frameworks and go: “In this case, we’ll apply this. This makes more sense here, and this makes more sense here.” So they have more choices, more tools, more ways, more options to do things differently, and they’re therefore more adaptable to a world that’s ever-changing.

That’s beautiful. It’s inspiring to feel motivated to do the work, regardless of whatever situation or circumstance that a couple is negotiating, just to be able to have that flexibility. That openness to look at the possibilities and choose; we have so much more expansion and so much more diversity and richness in our experience. 

Yes, but you have to be ready for that. Something that I will often tell my couples is, you have to be ready for what this relationship is asking of you. If you are not ready, again, rely on the love. But it is going to ask for you to really challenge your thinking process and your heart as well. Like, you have to be able to step out of those norms, and that’s what loving this individual is going to require. It’s not just the fuzzy, fun stuff. It’s in the moments that this person feels like they’re challenging your very basic understanding of the world. In in that moment, acting from a loving place, genuinely loving your partner, is asking the questions of: how come, and where did you learn this, and why is this your way of seeing the world? Those are the key moments where that’s when love is practiced. It’s not in the, let me go out and we do fun stuff. Like, that’s easy to be loving to someone in those moments. But in this kind of a relationship, you’re going to be challenged and you have to be willing to engage in that process. If you aren’t, you might not be ready for this type of relationship.

Well-said. How does one know if they’re ready?

I think if you are looking at this relationship, and you’re going: “Look at all these lovely feelings that I have for this person, I just love them so much,” and that’s what you’re relying on, you’re like no, but love will get us through, I’d say really reconsider your readiness. If you’re looking at this person and going: “Oh my Goodness, there are a lot of conversations that need to be had here. There’s going to be a lot of awkward, uncomfortable dialogues that we’re going to have to have. I have to adjust quite a bit, but my partner also has to be willing to hear it out.” That’s where you’re ready, when you’re ready to do the work. It’s no different than if you are going to get hired in a position where it’s like, it’s the dream job, but it comes with this role and you have to do all these things, and you’re like, I don’t know if I’m ready. This is a perfect job, it’s in the perfect location, it has amazing pay and all this stuff. But do I have the capacity to want to step up and take accountability for what I’m being asked to do here? If I am, then awesome, go for it! But if you’re not, if you’re like: “Oh boy, this is asking too much of me, I thought love was just about being happy,” then reconsider your readiness for that level of relationship. Because it will be asking a lot of you.

Yes. I’m even thinking too, in alignment with what you’re saying about readiness and capacity, is also the desire to prioritize. When we think about a job and the dream job, that’s going to be priority in that learning curve.

Absolutely, exactly. That’s exactly part of it. It’s like, okay, I’m going to have to sacrifice a few things in a couple of years, where I develop the skill set to be able to handle this job. I can’t go out as much anymore, I can’t do this and I can’t do that. So that’s what I mean, you have to step out of the comfort zone. You’re not going to get the perfect position, and then be able to continue living your life as is. So what I mean is like, it will push you to expand, it’s going to push you to have to give up things so you can become more. You’re going to have to give those things up in the short-term for the vision of what you can be in the future with the hard work.

That’s so beautiful, I love that! I hope we can quote that. Because it is in the interest of growth, and it’s not like we’re just sacrificing to be martyrs. We’re in the interest of expansion and who we want to become.

Yes, that’s a key point. If you feel like your relationship, the sacrifices it’s asking you make of yourself, you’re fundamentally caving into yourself, you’re becoming a smaller individual and cutting off parts of yourself, that’s not the kind of sacrifice you should be making. The kind of sacrifice is that it’s asking you to grow, it’s kind of challenging your ego. It’s like, I’ve done it this way, but I want it this way. You know in that moment, you have to be more compassionate, you have to be more patient, you have to be more understanding, and you can feel that that’s what that is asking of you. You have to challenge yourself to let go of those egoic parts of you to be more expansive. 

But the kinds of challenges that are toxic and unhealthy, it’s asking you to be less of yourself, to silence yourself in ways where it feels like you’re betraying yourself. You’re having to become less and less, and be less seen and be less heard, in a way that doesn’t just serve in the moment. Where it’s like, maybe I should just keep quiet in the moment because I don’t want to cause a bigger problem. But as in like, that’s a permanent state that’s being asked of you, just be smaller and smaller. That’s the wrong kind of sacrifice, and you should get out immediately. That’s depleting you, that is diminishing you as a human being, and that is not what a relationship is about. 

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“Relationships will for sure ask you to negotiate, to sacrifice, to give up things. But the ultimate goal is to become more. If you’re not becoming more, no, that’s not the position you want to be in.”

Such an important distinction. Thank you for making that so, so clear. Well, Kathrine, how would you like to invite people to get in touch with you, or what you would like to offer, or how to learn more about what you’re teaching?

Get in touch with me if the topic appeals to you, or if you’re in a relationship, or as an individual. I work with a lot of individuals that want to prepare themselves to have healthy relationships. Because the relationship really starts with you; whatever unresolved issues you have going on, you will bring into the relationship. So I have a lot of individuals now that really get that and come to work on themselves, to be ready for healthy relationships. So if you’re an individual, if you’re a couple, you are focused on self-development, you’re focused on constructing a healthy relationship with another individual, and you need support with that, please get in touch. I am coming up with a course at the moment that’s being put together that will speak on a lot of these topics. So if you contact me or go on my website, you can get that material. Just email me if you’re interested in any of this stuff, and we can take it from there. 

Wonderful! What’s your website?

Oh, it is just my name, KathrineBejanyan.com.

Okay, and is your contact email on your contact page?

Yeah, it’s Kathrine@KathrineBejanyan. I will say, Kathrine, there’s no E in the middle, so watch that. It’s K-A-T-H-R-I-N-E.

Perfect. Wonderful, I’ll make sure to have these links on today’s show notes. Thank you so much for joining us today. 

Absolutely, it was a pleasure. 

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching