See here for Part 1.

5. Never Manipulate – EVER

Manipulation often depends on deliberately causing the other person to become disoriented. Since cross-cultural relationships are inherently disorienting, the last thing you need in the relationship is more disorientation.

As a Hitchcock fan, I’ve been familiar with an obscure word since seeing the film Gaslight back in the 90s. The political climate of the last 5 years has caused the term to go mainstream. The Guardian had a lengthy article titled, “How to survive gaslighting: when manipulation erases your reality.

I was especially intrigued by the comments at the end of this article, as it was clear that some commenters were battling over the line between culture shock and gaslighting. Example: When does “chronic tardiness” become a moral failing? How a person answers could be a form of manipulation, or it could simply be frustration from a cultural difference.

One way to help avoid the manipulation/gaslighting trap is:

4. Don’t Be Shocked

Each society has its own set of proprieties to guard against danger – whether real or perceived. When people act outside of these rules, it tends to shock us.

Personally, I’m appalled when I see someone lick their fingers. GERMS! Finger-licking is an immoral endangerment of public health. But cultures that don’t see germs as a primary cause of illness may not be so disgusted.

Unless you are extremely familiar with your spouse’s culture, you will no doubt, for many years to come, be occasionally aghast at things he/she does. This becomes especially apparent when you are trying to figure out what your spouse does – and does not – permit your kids to do.

The way to work through these differences is through slow and calm communication. Ask honest questions. Listen with quiet sincerity. Make any response or request with careful, humble tact.

The way to wreck the communication is through shock and disgust. When these kinds of attitudes get communicated, transparency withers. Your spouse will feel rejected for reasons that may be a complete mystery. Confused—and often silent—self-protection sets in.

Be prepared ahead of time to be shocked, so that when you’re shocked, your spouse won’t know it.

3. Get Used to Being an Idiot

I’ve got some good news: You’re right. You married an idiot. The stuff he/she does is just weird and incompetent. Here’s the bad news: Your spouse married an idiot, too. You’re bizarre beyond words.

So who’s the bigger idiot? That question is actually quite easy to answer: Whoever is more preoccupied with who is the bigger idiot deserves “The Biggest Idiot” award. So just quit already.

Also be aware that as you accommodate your spouse’s ways, you may look like an idiot to people from your home culture. The more observant among your old friends will see—and even admire—the sacrifices you’re making for the relationship.

However, the more clueless among them will have no idea where your IQ went. You will be able to explain it to some of them, but there is some cluelessness that will forever be clueless. Don’t lose sleep over it.

2. Never Assume Understanding

Even in a mono-cultural environment, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” (George Bernard Shaw; or someone). Don’t assume you’re on the same page until all the evidence is in.

For a long read on how cultural background affects understanding, don’t miss “Shakespeare in the Bush,” a hysterical account of an anthropologist trying to tell the story of Hamlet to a tribe in Africa. She assumed that, even though details may be misunderstood, the overall meaning is universal. It wasn’t until she got into actually telling and discussing the story that the comically disturbing truth came to light.

1. Think Like a Farmer, Not a Mechanic

Guys seem especially prone to thinking of themselves as relational mechanics, able to fix any problem at a moment’s notice—and then congratulate himself on a job well done. Anyone who has been married for a while can tell you that relationships just don’t work like that, as the famous “It’s Not About The Nail” video illustrates.

In cross-cultural relationships, this is much more the case. Perceptions change slowly, and you need to be prepared to face problems by planting seeds that will grow over the course of weeks, months, or years. Honestly, there’s actually no guarantee that you’ll ever accomplish what you’re aiming for.

After all, your spouse is likely trying to “fix” you, too. If you don’t want it done to you, then carefully consider what you may be doing to your spouse.

Just enjoy slowly growing together. It’s the relationship, not the accomplishment, that matters.

Photo by 韩爱 in Changchun, China, 2010