Women is...: Learning to Compromise

Learning to Compromise

Melissa Mertz, a family therapist in private practice in New York, sees this cultural "tug-of-war" often. "For some couples, the issue of cultural survival is very tricky. But couples have to learn to compromise. The issue of cultural differences is an easy one for people to use in order to stay disconnected from each other. "

Mertz counsels couples to grow together. "People need to understand that if they're still holding on to the traditions of their family of origin to the extent that it's hurting their relationship with their spouse, they need to divorce their family of origin so that they can really be married to each other."

Mertz herself is a Catholic married to a Jewish man. At one time, she reports, their religious differences caused considerable stress.

"We used to fight about the Christmas tree because I saw it as a ritual and he saw it as a religious symbol," she recalls. "Rich and I even went to classes to help us deal with this issue. He began to accept it as a ritual that was important to me, and I was able to communicate to him that my need for it had to do with the fact that it was the only connection I had with my family."

This acceptance works to affirm, rather than divide, a family's closeness. Jenny and Sanjit, who have been married for 10 years and have seven-year-old twins, say that cultural differences have added richness to their family life. Jenny, who is half-Chinese and half-white, introduced Sanjit, who is Catholic and Indian and observes all the traditional Western Christian holidays, to the celebration of the Chinese New Year.

Linda and Alan ultimately settled on the name Jamal�similar enough to James to satisfy Alan but with an African-American flavor, which pleased Linda. "We each learned how to compromise," says Linda, "we're too important to each other not to." Like Susan, Alan and Linda learned that cultural identity needn't be a threat to the relationship. A mixed marriage may not be without its problems, but it adds enormous richness to family life, as well as insight into other communities. "Deciding between my traditions and hers was never an issue," agrees Sanjit. "We just celebrate everything. The twins, of course, think they're the luckiest kids in the world!"