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Me and my wife come from different countries with very different social norms and expectations (Russia and Spain). We live in Germany and handle the differences between us rather successfully as we try to adhere to the norms of our new home. We also speak German at home (obviously both non-native speakers).

Where it definitely does not work is the relationship with my parents. For me they are part of the family, for her - respectful relatives keep distance. According to her, they visit too often, stay too long, give unasked advice (which is all ok from my point of view). I've tried to adapt to the needs of my partner and made them come not so often, tried to explain that speaking their mind in some situations is not acceptable and "respect because of age" doesn't count.

Whatever I do, my partner seems not to notice. It's either too little, or too late, or something that doesn't need explanation anyway. I didn't react right at the moment, didn't protect her and sided with my parents, and stuff like this. She thinks they intentionally ignore her opinion and do as they please. However if I often don't recognize some situations as bad for my partner, how can they? I can change, but it's unlikely they will. Not because they are bad, but because for them the definition of "respect" and "social norm" is different.

The situation is really bad if we see the opposite things as taboos. Example: at one point in time my parents had to stay in the hotel in the city where we live when we were not there. My expectation was to leave them the keys, for me it's a general taboo to send parents to hotel if our own apartment is available (when we came back, they moved to our place for the rest of their stay). My partner sees it as taboo if somebody visits when the hosts are not at home, so she refused to give the keys.

How can I handle the situation if in conflict cases I agree with my parents? I kind of understand I should side with my partner, but if I do so, it's kind of hypocrisy and I get an inner conflict with myself. I feel ashamed of my actions. I tried to communicate this to my partner, how important it is to me, but got a no, because it's unacceptable and disrespectful to us, and people don't do it this way, and it was bad of my parents to event ask, and why aren't I thinking about our family and not making the interests of our family higher than that of my parents.

It's just one example, there are plenty.

How can I communicate to my partner that she doesn't have the monopoly on truth, and that "respect" can be seen differently in different cultures? How can I explain that she cannot expect that my/our relations with my parents cannot be modeled only on her expectations of what is good and what is bad?

  • Do you have kids yourselves? And is the norm on dealing with parents in Germany more on your or your partner’s side? – AsheraH Mar 2 at 18:19
  • No, we don't yet. It's more on the partner's side, although I have a feeling it depends largely on the family background. – ptah Mar 3 at 16:02
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You've identified the problem: cultural differences. So this isn't an issue of who's right and who's wrong, who's be reasonable and who's being unreasonable. Both of you are right and being reasonable according to the culture you were brought up in. So the two of you will need to negotiate a compromise; an arrangement you both can live with, even if neither of you is completely satisfied with the outcome.

So I suggest you start the discussion by stressing that you know she is being completely reasonable according to her culture, and that you are not criticising her. Tell her you want to find a compromise, and that whatever the two of you decide on, you will enforce with your parents, and she will enforce with hers. This part is important; you need to promise that you will support her in this and carry through on it, even if it is difficult for you, because whatever compromise you come up with will be difficult for her as well.

Together, make a list of all the issues you disagree on, and try to find a compromise on each one. Once she is reassured that you are looking for a true compromise, not trying get her to agree with you, I suspect the two of you will be able to find a good compromise.

I can definitely understand her point of view. I would feel like my home was being "invaded" if relatives stay for too long, or come without an invitation, or stay in my home when I'm away. And in my culture, having parents stay in a hotel isn't rude, especially if you have a small home, or you have small children, or some other situation that makes having guests difficult. But I can also understand how you feel.

There may be additional reasons besides culture that having guests for long periods of time, etc., bother her. For example, she may be an introvert. Introverts need some time away from people (with the possible exceptions of one's partner or children) in order to recharge their batteries, so house guests are difficult to cope with. So in addition to talking about your cultural differences, you might ask her if there's any way to make it easier for her when guests come.

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    +1 "you need to promise that you will support her in this and carry through on it, even if it is difficult for you, because whatever compromise you come up with will be difficult for her as well" – JonTheMon Mar 4 at 16:55
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I had an ex which was very close to his parents and especially to his mother. He moved from them to go in with me and we were seeing them once every two weeks or so. I have myself a very distant, somewhat cold relationship with mine. I clearly never had nor want the relationship they had with my own family.

From the very first day we met, he and his mother often engaged in somewhat silly affect demonstration when I was there and were often checking that I wasn't making any jealousy comment. Since I wasn't and was letting them do as they please it became sort of a gimmick.

Where I think our experience differ is that they rarely or never came to visit and stay for night (although I would have agreed with that), and we had an overall good and peaceful relationship. It was a bit different when my parents met them, my mother made an awful comment about how incestuous was their relationship. So you can imagine we come from different background...

Despite a cultural gap it's clearly possible to reach mutual understanding inside the couple. I suspect that the problem is a bit more complex than that.

From what I can understand her need in this situation is spending time in intimacy within your own family. She feels that your parent visits is a threat to that. She also feels bad about some of the things they allow themselves to say.

In contrast your need is to spend time with your parents and make sure they are treated well.

These two needs can conflict sometimes but you can also negotiate acceptable compromises.

Maybe you could some of the time spend time with your parents alone rather than in couple and enjoy each separate activities. Maybe you could time frame their visits and schedule an acceptable frequency for them, together with your partner.

In all cases, like you did for the hotel, you can't expect your parents expectation will be met all the time, because your couple decisions involve two people one of which isn't part of the same family circle. When appropriate, explain the cultural gap to them also.

How can I handle the situation if in conflict cases I agree with my parents?

It can feel very bad to feel cornered alone against several people and being alone doesn't mean having it wrong. My prime concern here would be disarming the underlying reason for conflict, rather than trying to side anybody.

In the example for the hotel, you are in position to ask and she is in position to refuse. Because it's your parents and not theirs, treating them to your culture customs is better, you could argue. But since it's your house to both, if she has a personal reason to feel bad about that, you have little choice but respect her final decision.

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