You & Your Family

Growing love that transcends countries and cultures

Growing love that transcends countries and cultures

One statistic that recently caught my eye is the number of transnational marriages registered in Singapore in 2022. Such marriages, between a citizen and someone hailing from another country, account for about one out of every three unions. This means that of the nearly 30,000 marriages last year, 10,000 were transnational.

Why this fact should have surprised me, I do not know. A quick glance within my own family would remind me that my parents’ marriage was a transnational one (albeit a Singapore-Sarawak combination) while one paternal uncle married a Shanghainese and another a Japanese.

At a broader level, seeing that Singapore is a young nation which has grown rapidly with migrants coming from far and wide, transnational marriages may be expected to be the norm rather than the exception.

This topic holds more professional than personal interest for me. As a family and marital therapist, I see a high number of marriages in distress where the spouses are from different nationalities or ethnicities. Coming together in marriage requires a fair bit of adjustment. What more for those from different countries and cultures? As the extended family or even the community, what can we do to help them build a love relationship that lasts?

Firstly, if, as the saying goes that opposites attract, should not the likelihood that the partners have many differences bode well for them? The important question, though, is not whether differences or similarities abound but how they are perceived. Differences (e.g. in patterns of behaviour, customs or values) seen as being complementary, interesting, or even quaint can be sources of delightful conversation. But if the differences are seen to be at odds or in conflict, or if one’s background is felt to be “superior” to the other’s, then conversations can lead to clashes.

Hence, the first rule-of-thumb is to try not to place a negative value with respect to any differences. Differences should be treated as distinctives to be acknowledged and perhaps understood as being appropriate to the country or culture from which they arose.

Secondly, the couple would do well to try to draw from both their cultures, be it in the preparation of meals or family practices. Collaborating and synergising to draw the best from each other requires the couple to communicate, communicate and communicate.

Thirdly, what oftentimes drives the need to cooperate is the realisation that establishing a relationship, building a home and raising a family are all tasks that no one partner can excel in, much less do on their own. The sooner they view the relationship as a partnership, the sooner are they likely to arrive at a workable arrangement.

Fourthly, it would help for the spouse who is part of the host (and therefore dominant) country and culture to make special effort to know and appreciate their spouse’s national identity and culture. Getting to know your in-laws is a powerful way of showing your spouse that his/her culture is welcomed and respected.

Fifthly and finally, know that moving to a foreign land may be not only a step out of one’s comfort zone but also a loss at many levels. Notwithstanding that the choice to live in Singapore may be driven by good and practical reasons, such as for work and educational opportunities, the foreign spouse would miss their family and native land. The sense of loss and emptiness may be experienced as deep profound sadness.

Those around transnational couples, whether family or friends, can also help them establish their relationship. This is especially more so for the foreigner spouses who are usually away from their family, friends and all that is familiar. Knowing that they are accepted in their new social environment can be very reassuring.

Letting the couple know that there is a listening ear and supportive shoulder to lean on can help them tide over stormy periods. Offering to help in practical ways, such as looking after the kids for an evening, can give valuable respite and time for the couple to catch up on their love needs.

With the community’s support and acceptance, together with the couple’s striving for mutual accommodation in their relationship, transnational marriages can perhaps be more firmly rooted.

Benny Bong has over 40 years of experience as a therapist, counsellor and trainer. He also conducts regular talks and webinars. Benny has helmed the You & Your Family column for more than 16 years and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.