In the spring of 2010, urban playwright Tyler Perry, released his new movie Why did I get married too, the sequel to his tremendously successful 2007 comedy-drama, Why did I get married?. Perry’s movie challenges me to ask myself not just why I got married but also why I stay married.
For some of us Why did I get married? brought comic relief to serious marital stressors that are often at the center of our marital conflict – helping us to laugh at ourselves.
But, for others the film is a darker reminder of betrayal, loneliness, and other abuses that have left marital scars – often beyond repair.
This movie caused many of us to think personally about our own marriage. Why did I get married?
Husbands and wives think that “understanding” is the key to success in marriage. Wives believe that if their beloved just understood how they feel about a situation that the tension and frustration that often exists would melt away. We husbands assume that if we could just get our wives to understand the details of the situation that they would inevitably see things our way. These beliefs lead spouses to undertake various measures to “market” their viewpoints to give the other understanding.
You might question my use of the word “market.” That sounds so manipulative doesn’t it? Marketing is what businesses do to sell a product, right? As I think back to my business school education, Marketing 101 instructed me about the marketing mix entailing product, price, and promotion. Selling a product depends on the elements of this mix.
Here’s what I’m wondering, how much of the tension in my cross-cultural marriage is about my approach to selling my point of view to Dalia? If I think about my perspective as the product in question, I am able to see all of the steps I go through to sell or “promote” it to Dalia. I can give her details of the situation in calculated details. I can explain the trade offs and the cost-benefits of seeing it my way. If all of these rational measures fail to make Dalia understand, I can insert or remove emotion as the situation dictates.
If and when I become desperate for the sell, I always know I can manipulate the stakes or the “price.” I might start off with a light reference to a past incident when I was right and she was wrong. If she still doesn’t get it, I can always rachet it up to a minor rebuke for being so irrational or so emotional that she can’t see the obvious. If I’m forced to raise the stakes even higher to get my point across, then I have to make it even more personal. And, I certainly know those hot buttons. After all, it is about selling understanding—at any cost. But it’s worth it if she gets it. She’ll see it my way. And, this will be better for our marriage, right?
I’m ashamed to admit that I have done all of these things. Don’t get me wrong. I never thought about it as selling my perspective at any cost. But, my actions prove otherwise. Here’s what I’ve learned. Marketing 101 is best left in the Business School rather than in my cross-cultural marriage. Marriage isn’t about making Dalia understand my perspective at any cost. Rather, it is about accepting that which I don’t understand.
Understanding between cross-cultural spouses can be difficult when each person has developed a perspective that comes from a very different set of assumptions. This is where grace enters the picture. Grace is learning to accept that which I may not understand. Why should I accept what doesn’t make sense to me?
The answer is profound yet simple. Integrating our viewpoints creates a co-constructed paradigm that is richer. Put simply, Dalia and I are better together than apart when we replace our natural push to sell with a sincere effort to accept that our differences have value.
What else can couples do to show grace in marriage?