Culture Clash

9 September 2014 –


Cultural influences

What exactly is culture? While there’s no standard definition, the University of Manitoba anthropology website gives a concise starting point: “Culture is the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning.”

Because every person comes from a family with a unique background, shared beliefs, values and customs, you could say that every marriage is “cross-cultural”. But in a marriage where each spouse comes from different ethnic backgrounds, not only is there the bridging of two unique individuals, there is also a bridging of two different cultures. 


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Take Western and Asian cultural values, for example: Whereas Western culture typically values individualism, rights and privilege, equality and self-assertion, Asian culture values collectivism, duty and obligation, hierarchy and self-effacement. No wonder culture clashes happen! 


Finding a common dictionary
So just what is your spouse thinking? Whether or not you and your spouse share the same first language, you’ll likely have different cultural dictionaries for defining and interpreting certain values, customs and behaviours. Here are some ways to help decipher cultural influences on common marriage conflicts: 


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Conflict and communication style: Does your spouse come from a culture that values hierarchy and submission to authority, or one that values assertive self-expression? Your spouse’s cultural background may help you understand why they avoid conflict, dive right into it, or find expressing their feelings so difficult.


Finances: Money is a common area of conflict for all types of marriages, but it’s worthwhile to explore how your cultural background affects the way you approach finances.


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What kinds of feelings, values and beliefs do you and your spouse hold about money? What were you taught as children, and what did your parents model for you? How different are your beliefs about who should make the money, who should spend it, and under what circumstances?


Love Languages: Ask each other, How do you give and receive love, and how did your cultural upbringing influence this? Where some cultures show love by performing tasks for another, others express love physically and with words (hugs, kisses, encouraging touch, words of affirmation). Find out how your spouse shows they care.


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Expectations of marriage: Do you and your spouse agree on what it means to form a new family? Often, conflict happens when spouses have different expectations and boundaries concerning their ties to their parents. For a spouse whose culture values collectivism, their ties to their family of origin can be much stronger than for a spouse whose culture values individualism. Making sure you are both on the same page on extended family boundaries can relieve tension in your marriage: You can still maintain good family ties and preserve ample space for your own family to grow.


This article was published with permission from Focus on the Family Malaysia. For more information, please visit or contact us.


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