Coming to Terms with Faith and Values
Many intercultural couples assume that as long as both partners are Christians, they’ll share the same spiritual values and beliefs. This isn’t necessarily true, however. Intercultural couples often grapple with differences in their core values and beliefs regarding the following issues:
• contraception, pregnancy, infertility treatment, and deciding how many children to have
• alcohol and drug use
• cutting hair, wearing makeup, wearing jewelry, and style of dress
• death (including cremation and burial rites) and related issues, including euthanasia
• health care
• heaven and hell
• illness and its treatment
• justice and law enforcement
• tithing/financial giving
The longer a couple is married, the more differences they will identify in their values and beliefs in the areas listed above, as well as many more. Value differences cause some of the most frustrating conflicts in intercultural marriage. This is because our parents and our culture begin to ingrain those values in us from the moment we are born. Unlike personal preferences, we hold values at a much deeper and more fundamental level. If asked to define our values, most of us would not be able to define them very well because they are so deeply held, so sacred, and so foundational to our being that we rarely examine or question them unless a value conflict forces us to.
I’ve created a list of questions that will help you determine your values and discover how you and your loved one approach life. According to my research and personal experience, the answers to these questions will help determine your compatibility and the level of conflict you will face more than anything else. … First, ask yourself these questions and write down your answers. Then ask your significant other the same questions. Discuss them together at your earliest opportunity. Every difference has the potential for causing conflict in your marriage.
• Do you consider yourself an optimist, a pessimist, a realist, or something else? Why? If your friends, family members and co-workers had to place you into one of these categories, what would they say? (Go ahead and ask them – you might be surprised!)
• If you had to develop a life motto, what would it be?
• If you could offer a motto or proverb representing the overall worldview of your culture, what would it be?
• Do others consider you friendly and outgoing (extroverted) or reserved and introverted?
• Where do you attend church? Do you attend every week? Do you attend Sunday School classes, Bible studies, and other events, or only the church service? Do you enjoy being involved with other church-related or missions projects?
• Do you enjoy exercising? How often do you exercise or play sports? Do you plan to continue doing these activities after you get married?
• Do you want to have children? If so, how many? Do you believe in using birth control or not?
• What kinds of activities and entertainment do you like to engage in during the week? On weekends? How long do you typically work per day? How much TV do you usually watch per day?
• How many “date nights” per week or per month should we have? What types of activities would you plan for date nights?
• What are your most important dreams and goals for your life? Where do you see yourself in the next 5, 10, 15, and 20 years?
• What do you feel God has called you to do for your life’s work?
• In what country do you see yourself living in the future? Do you like to move often, or do you plan to stay in one place for a while?
• How do you foresee your family situation after you get married? Are you planning to ask your parents, siblings, or other family members to live with you or to stay with you for extended periods of time? In your culture, do people sometimes do this without asking permission? What are your boundaries?
• Are you planning to attend school or complete another type of training before you begin working? How stable is your current job? Are you planning to change jobs soon?
Answering these questions and using them as icebreakers will help you to identify essential value differences. We all know the saying “Opposites attract,” and it’s true, to some extent. We are attracted to those who seem exotic and different from us in certain fundamental ways, yet it’s our commonalities that forge a true bond between us and keep us attracted to each other and connected as marriage partners over the years. Our faith in God and our commonalities, if we focus on them and develop them properly, are what will keep us together over the long term.
I believe God places us together with a person who has pronounced differences from us as well as strong commonalities. We gain awareness, wisdom, maturity and faith as we encounter value differences and have to struggle to work out those differences. At first, the rubbing together of two people with different values may seem like two pieces of rough sandpaper grating against each other, but as we continue to spend time talking about value differences and working through conflicts, we wear down the rough sand and become more “smooth” and accommodating of each other. We are stretched mentally and spiritually as we are forced to come to terms with our own cultural stereotypes, values, and beliefs and try to reconcile them with the contrasting values of our spouse. And we learn forgiveness, as well.
From Your Intercultural Marriage: A Guide to a Healthy, Happy Relationship by Marla Alupoaicei, ThM, (Moody Publishers, 2009).