A Couples Counsellor Reveals Multicultural Counselling Tips
Multicultural Counselling Tips
Walk around any major North American city and you will see couples made up of different racial backgrounds, happily dating each other. No problem here. Multiculturalism is obviously alive and well.
Not so, according to the clients who come to me for help. As a couples counsellor and clinical sexologist in private practice since 1997, I have seen many individuals suffering from what I call ‘romantic culture clash,’ whereby Western individualistic (Caucasian) and Eastern collectivistic (ethnic) romantic values collide. This clash causes numerous relationship problems, frustration, misunderstanding and defeat—all of which are regularly expressed by my multicultural clients:
“My Black boyfriend criticizes everything about my race. What’s that about?” (Caucasian female)
“I’ve got a thing for oriental women. My friends think I’m weird. Is it okay to be attracted to a specific race?” (Caucasian male)
“Though my Persian boyfriend says he loves me, he refuses to introduce me to his family. He is not gay, and he assures me that he is not married. I don’t understand what the problem is.” (Caucasian female)
“My girlfriend’s parents didn’t understand that, in Canadian culture, having sex with a woman didn’t mean that you had to marry her.” (Canadian male dating a Japanese female)
“In my culture, even dating is frowned upon, but I’ve met an amazing Caucasian man I want to go out with. I need support if I’m going to do this.” (Pakistani female)
Such concerns are common on the international dating scene, where inter-racial dating thrives. If you’re in a cross-cultural relationship, or if you’re considering one, the five multicultural counselling tips below will help you understand the challenges involved and what to look out for:
- Is this love that I’m feeling? Due to cultural taboos, those raised in ethnic cultures are unlikely to have received physical affection from their parents. Later in life, when these individuals meet Caucasians (who come from a more ‘touchy-feely’ culture that places more value on the physical expression of love), they are overwhelmed. Jin*, a Korean client, was all too aware of this dynamic in himself: “I didn’t get any physical affection from my mom and dad so I resorted to finding a white girlfriend. I guess, in one way, my girlfriend replaced my parents.” So, when people in this kind of situation say that they love their Caucasian partner, is it really the love that we in the West are familiar with, or is it an attempt to fill an unmet need or resolve issues with their parents?
- Family fears: The parents and grandparents of those in cross-cultural relationships fear that they are losing their child to someone from a culture they don’t understand. They fear losing their family heritage, their culture, their religion. Soon-ye, an Asian client, shared her fears:“My parents are afraid that they will not be able to communicate with my white husband. They won’t know who he is or who my children will be. My mother doesn’t speak English, so if I marry outside of my race, chances are that my children will not know Mandarin.”
- Patriarchy/gender bias: In ethnic cultures, men are seen as the dominant figure in relationships. It is the men who ‘call the shots.’ The women in these cultures are expected to be passive and obedient. They are also considered to be responsible for their partner’s honor. A woman who violates this honor is denigrated. Carla, a Caucasian client dating a Middle-Eastern man, was confused by her partner’s seemingly inconsistent values: “When we were just friends, he found my bikinis ‘hot,’ but after we began dating, he chastised me and objected to me wearing such “indecent” clothing. When I refused to be controlled, he dumped me.”
- Sex-posed!In most ethnic communities, premarital sex is forbidden. Middle-Eastern women are ostracized by their family and cultural group if they are found to even be dating. Riko, a young Japanese woman studying overseas, remembers the advice of her parents:“My parents said I should just study and work―no dating white men. They think if you have sex before marriage you are worth nothing; you are garbage.”Men in this culture also fear being found out by others in their community and accused of being promiscuous, as Raza, a Pakistani man, soon realized:”The families in my community would not want their daughters marrying a man who has been with many women. They believe that a men cannot change. These families are scared that such a man would cheat on their daughters, even after marriage.” So, to get easier sex and not get caught by their cultural peers, ethnic men date Caucasian women who are more in touch with their sexuality, and for whom sexual activity is an essential aspect of their romantic relationship.In the Caucasian culture, sexual activity between partners leads to an increase in mutual respect for one another, which serves as a catalyst to long-term commitment, maybe even marriage. However, if you ‘put out’ for an ethnic man (something he may be very keen for you to do), he will soon lose respect for you; he now considers you dishonorable, not the marrying type. Sounds like a Catch 22, doesn’t it?
- Racism: Some parents refuse to accept into the family someone who is not from the same racial makeup as they are. Caucasian fathers would like their daughters to marry a man who is as genetically close to them as possible. In this way, the father, through the younger man, is vicariously still the most important male figure in his daughter’s life. But the father would ‘lose’ his daughter forever if she married a man with whom the father could not identify.Healing the rifts caused by racism is why some people seek out partners from specific races. James, an African-American man, only dated Caucasian women. In therapy, he revealed that, throughout his childhood, he was victimized by his racist white classmates. Now, as an adult, he realizes that he is unconsciously trying to get revenge against his attackers—and to assert his equal rights—by dating white women.
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* No real names have been used in this article.
Faizal Sahukhan, Ph.D. is a Registered Counsellor and Clinical Sexologist who specializes in offering therapy to individuals and couples in cross-cultural relationships.
For a complementary phone assessment of your needs, please call Dr. Faizal at either 604.639.4443 or his private email: email@example.com.