By Susanne Hazen and Josianne Zwart (Hey Joos! Virtual assistant & projectmanager)
Photo: Maico Pereira, published on Unsplash
We are all programmed to do everything we can to belong to a group. Our existence depends on it: we have to be part of a group to survive. We come from our family of origin – the first and usually most important group to which we belong – with deep attachments. Family and cultural norms and values can be added on top of that. This can be tricky if you find a partner who, logically, brings his or her own family values. And how does that work in a cross-cultural or non-traditional relationship? That makes it even more complicated.
Loyalty to our family of origin
The family norms we have, are partially explicitly taught via our upbringing. However, they are taught implicitly for the biggest part. This starts with our existence in the womb, goes on through our childhood and goes even further. This is why everyone is loyal to his or her parents and that value system.
When two people come together and start being a couple, both of them will have that loyalty to their family of origin. Two different perspectives come together, that will want to move forward on a shared path. This is only possible when both partners are open to it and when they commit themselves to create that third path. Only then, they can move forward as a couple.
When these people come together as a couple, they both have to let go of a part of the conscience of the family group; they leave the codes of their family of origin behind. If they don’t do that, there will be fights: a power battle in which one of them wants to be right and the other one will be wrong. This battle is usually not solvable based on content, because the two people involved are unaware of the exact content. This means that every relationship or marriage is in a cross-cultural war. Even when both partners speak the same language, have the same skin colour and/or believe in the same religion. Each family has their own norms, values and loyalties, which we partially leave behind when starting a new relationship. Naturally, this brings along a feeling of guilt.
An actual cross-cultural relationship, which means a relationship in which the partners come from different countries, and have different religions or cultures, comes with extra challenges. I’ll explain why.
Where two cultures or religions sleep on one pillow, the devil sleeps between them.
The above title is an old Dutch saying, meaning that when people from two cultures or religions come together in a relationship, it almost never goes right.
Power usually plays a role in cross-cultural relationships. But there must be a balance between both partners to experience real intimacy. Think about money: one person has it, and the other doesn’t. Who has the power? Precisely, the person with the money. Because money equals power.
Another critical aspect in a cross-cultural relationship is language. How much balance is there if you have to speak in a different language than your own? What is it like to have a partner who speaks a different language? What is it like if you live in a foreign country, possibly far away from your family of origin and from everything you know?
It also happens that the family of one partner – or both families – disapprove of the relationship, for example when it comes to religion. A loyalty conflict arises.
Relationships with non-traditional couples
Relationships can be cross-cultural, but if you put that aside, there are basically three types of couples:
- Man/ woman;
- Man/ man;
- Woman/ woman;
More variations are possible, of course; think about trans man/ woman, etc.
We know the man/ woman couple well: this is the traditional type. This relationship can be quite complex, as we’ve read in this blog. The relationship between partners who are in a non-traditional relationship is even more complicated.
The orders of love, as Hellinger found, came from observations of heterosexual couples during constellations. But through ages and cultures, it turned out that relationships were much more diverse than this and that everything and everyone has to be included.
In the past and often in the present, non-traditional relationships have to stay hidden. This brings along a lot of collective trauma, coming from discrimination and persecution.
We still live in a world dominated by ‘being straight’. This is still the norm and seems superior. This means that people who are not straight, don’t really recognize themselves in the current society. Because of those current norms, people who are not straight have (almost) no examples of how to deal with relationships, separations, children, etc.
How to support those groups with Systemic work?
A lot of research still has to be done on how to support those groups. Connecting with ancestors from different times or cultures, or connecting them with ancestors who have walked the same path are good options.
If you find yourself struggling with this, because you’re in a cross-cultural or non-traditional relationship, we can support you with a Systemic Ritual.
During the online workshops, you can get to know Systemic Ritual at an entry-level. I’ll tell you more about systemic constellations and rituals, but we will mainly do some constellations or practices so you can experience how it works and what it can do for you. Do you want more and live? Click here for the workshop series ‘Hidden Dynamics’.