A Cultural Compromise

Amy and her husband are from different cultural backgrounds. His family calls asking for money to help family members. Amy isn't sure how much they could give and still be comfortable with it.

QUESTION: Amy in Grand Rapids and her husband are from different cultural backgrounds. His family has a lower income with financial hardships, and they often call asking for money to help with different family members. Amy isn’t sure how much they could give and still be comfortable with it. Dave agrees that it’s a cultural difference and offers some thoughts on handling it.

ANSWER: It is a cultural difference. I think that’s the big thing you’ve got to look at here. It is much more normal in the culture he came from to automatically assume that what’s mine is yours than it is in our culture. In our culture, we have clear breaks between grown children and parents. You’re on your own, and if you come to ask for something, it’s an unusual thing. It’s not just like breathing. For them, it’s just like breathing. When you say anything about not doing that, they look at you like you’re from another planet. That’s what you’re running into.

From a marital standpoint, I think you guys have to come to some kind of a guideline that reflects both of your concerns. His that he wants to be there for his family and all of his relational DNA, everything about how he was raised, everything about who he is as a person—tells him he’s supposed to give money to his family anytime they ask for it. No boundaries. That’s normal there. There are some exceptions to that, but it’s not necessarily to do with their income level. It’s just culture. The extended family is considered the family, and you just do whatever. With you, you’re exactly the opposite. I think he’s got to completely understand where you’re coming from, you’ve got to completely understand where he’s coming from, and then we’ve got to find some kind of common ground here by which his parents may not understand, but at least you and he are on the same page.

As long as your husband’s really on board with adding an amount into your budget for his family and grasps the idea that it stops there, that’s okay. My concern for you is there’s no end to this crap. My concern for him is that he grasps that he married someone from a different culture and that you’re not going to go along with this, and you shouldn’t have to. On the other hand, you married someone from a different culture, so you’ve got to go along with it to a degree. I think the $500 or whatever the number is that you come up with that you’re going to allocate to this is okay. That keeps him from feeling like he’s got to come in asking his wife permission for everything and all that kind of stuff. I think that’s very healthy as long as he really gets that that’s it, and he’s willing to draw that boundary with his family because you can’t be the one drawing the boundary with that family. You will be ostracized for the rest of your life. You cannot talk about this. He has to man up and stand between his family and this issue. If he one time says, “Amy said,” you’re going to be fried. You’ll be burned at the stake because you are a heretic. I’m exaggerating, but not much.

Your part of this is to say, “I married someone with this cultural situation, and I’m going to give some money to this because that’s part of the deal. I get that.” His part of that is, “I married somebody from a different culture, and we’re going to limit this, and I’m going to stand between my family and this issue.” If you get that, you’ve got a real healthy relational thing going on then. He married an American. You married a Cambodian. That’s what you get. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s one of the unique things you guys are dealing with. You guys have to call that out because it’s going to do one of two things. Either you’re going to become the wicked witch of the West and they’re going to get no money, or they’re going to completely break your family because you don’t have what we call healthy boundaries. We’ve got to give it a guideline. I think that whoever suggested an amount, that’s fine. I think you revisit that amount periodically, depending on what’s happening with your particular family. You’ve got to be willing to adjust the amount to fit your family situation as well.

It’s an interesting discussion, but it’s something you really have to put out there on the table. You’ve really got to play all your cards in such a way that you guys get a solid agreement between the two of you. Then, you can feel generous toward his family—not taken advantage of—and he can feel protective of his wife and his marriage, which he should.