Making it (mostly) work… sometimes.


This post started very differently to how it ended. It was supposed to be a post on how to make a cross cultural relationship work. Then we had a bad few weeks. Where I realised (again) I have no damn idea how to make one work and that we, as I’m sure many other couples out there, are just figuring it out… day by day… trying to translate and reform and reiterate and regroup… the very best that we can. Trying desperately to have our sense of humour intact at the end of the day.

There are days in any relationship where you have to work at it. My relationship is no different. Ni and I are two very different people. We come from completely different backgrounds and are at times worlds apart, even when we are in the same room. Ever since we met we’ve been finding common ground. We are still both learning. Learning how to be parents. Learning how to be lovers. Learning how to be a good partner. Life is a journey and each stage has a lot of lessons to teach us. We are learning how to straddle two worlds and come together as one. Sometimes, some days, this seems very possible. Other times it seems like the hardest task in the world.

Cross cultural relationships are hard at a whole different level. but they are also wonderful like any other relationship, when they are working. I arrived in this little village on Ni’s birthday, three years ago. He still tells the story of my bright orange pants getting out of the car when I arrived on the main street. He was there, watching. Within days we had already started spending little bits of time together. Within weeks we were fast friends and within months we both knew that this, whatever “this” was, was something special. We danced around each other for about six months, I was at the end of a relationship and was in no hurry to dive right in, he was persistent and I tested his patience. But when things really started moving, they did so quickly. We moved in together a few months after we started really seeing each other, we fell pregnant about ten months later, with our little bump in the road. We had just started planning our wedding.

At twelve weeks pregnant, we got married, about nine months earlier than we had planned.

Our “shot gun” marriage was hard for me. I had to convert to Islam. I got married in a small village marriage office, in a foreign language, alone. It was the start of what was going to be a very lonely pregnancy. I was lucky to stumble across an online mothers group, one of those Australian birth club groups, where 100 women were all expecting babies around the same time as Bo was due. They saved me. They are to this day some of my closest friends. They still have a habit of saving me on a day to day basis. These women (most of whom I have never met in “real” life) are as diverse as they are united, they are as generous as they are kind hearted and they know me more intimately than most people in my life. This isn’t about them though. I have written about them before, and I’m sure I will again. They feature prominently in my life every day.

I spent most of the year here in the village. Dealing with challenging cultural differences during my pregnancy. Cultural differences that dictated what I ate, where I went, what I wore and how I behaved. I was lonely. My husband and I were on rocky ground more than once. We fought. We argued. We tried to find peace with a relationship that had just shifted 180 degrees. Neither of us knew where we stood. It happened too fast. We knew each other, but we didn’t really KNOW each other. We battled with language barriers (both his and mine) as we tried desperately to find a common ground from which we could communicate openly about the enormous decisions that lay ahead of us. We faltered and we fell. And we got back up again. We still falter.

Cross language, cross culture, cross religion… is hard. There is no doubt about it. Though, it’s not like anyone ever told me it would be easy. I knew it would be challenging. But young and in love and headstrong, I was determined. I still am determined. To make it work. Some days I have no idea if we are going to make it. Some days I think we are moments from falling apart. But from what I gather, this is not only a symptom of cross cultural relationships, but more so a reality of how hard making a relationship truly work, is. We could go on, living parallel lives, making the relationship work on a very surface level. But if we really want (and we do, we both desperately do), at the heart of it all, to be connected… to live and love in a partnership that is fruitful and successful and united, it takes work. And time. And good translation dictionaries. And love. And empathy. And joy. And patience. And tears, sometimes from laughter and sometimes from pain.

We have had some real cultural learning curves. Perhaps the biggest and yet also in ways the simplest has been eye contact. In Indonesia (and in Africa according to a close friend of mine) when you respect someone and are having a serious conversation it is culturally appropriate to revert eye contact. Whereas where I come from looking someone in the face when you talk to them is respectful, anything else is not OK. We haven’t quite found a good common ground on that one. But I have learned to not take offense when Ni won’t look me in the eye when we are having a serious conversation.

There have been funny (more so in hindsight) moments along the way too. Like when I was pregnant and went for a quick medical trip to Australia. I asked Ni to please fix the sink before I returned home as it was leaking and I was worried I would slip and fall. That was it. Fix the sink. Oh, and remove the rats. I was gone for two weeks. I asked him repeatedly if he had fixed it. He replied, no, no but I’ll do it soon. I got increasingly frustrated. I mean honestly, how hard is it to fix a damn sink? Just go and get a washer from the hardware store. So I asked again, and the response was the same. The day before I returned I was in hair-pulling frustration with this man of mine. I yelled at him over Skype… can’t you just fix the damn sink… come on man! And he replied (with seemingly equal frustration)… Fine, I’ll do it, but first you have to tell me… WHAT IS A SINK?

My marriage has taught me patience beyond anything I had before. It has taught me that sometimes being emotionally volatile (my go to place when I’m angry/upset/tired) is not helpful and it is never easier to understand than simply stating matter of fact how I feel and why. It has taught me to breathe, deeply. It has taught me that sometimes you have to make decisions wholly for someone else and leave your own wants/needs at the door. And it has taught me that sometimes, you don’t.

There are no easy answers. Nor are there any quick fixes for the difficulties and challenges we face on a day to day level. And I am forever stumped by the line between being respectful for ones cultural background and where ones cultural background becomes nothing more than an excuse for not just getting on with something. If any of you have the answer to this… I’d LOVE to know.

We are at a cross roads of sorts. We have been at this place for a while and we have been stumped as to how to handle the situation. But handle it we must. So it has been decided. Bo and I are going to return to Australia. For us right now this is the best decision. Not the easiest by any means, or the most ideal, but the best.

After spending most of Bo’s short life here in the village, we are now, a month earlier than previously planned, going home. There have been some decisions made in the past that have done damage to our relationship, that have put undue stress on the love we hold for each other and that have made an already challenging situation at times seem unbearable. This must change. That being said, this is not by any means the end of our relationship – but more like a survival stage. Where we do what we need to do to survive.

The decision for Bo and I to leave the village at short notice and ahead of schedule was not one that was made lightly or without much emotion from both sides. But it is the necessary decision to protect what we have and to give it a chance at flourishing once more in the future. Ni will join us when he is ready, with the excitement and enthusiasm necessary to truly grow a new and beautiful life for the three of us. Until then Bo and I will return to the safety of my family, to the comfort of my home and to the protection of a culture where we are both accepted and celebrated. Yes, it means that for a while we will all live feeling like we have had an important limb amputated. As our family is not united. We will both suffer on a very personal level from that. But Bo, luckily, will be little the wiser and will be better off in the long run, as this decision is made primarily with her extended happiness and well being in mind.

Eight weeks (or less, I hope) apart will be difficult for both Ni and I on different levels. But if this is what we need to be stronger, if this is what we need so that we can live a long and happy life together as a family, then this is but a mere blip on the radar of the rest of our lives. Eight weeks in the grand scheme of things is nothing, even if right now it feels like everything.

Relationships are hard. They take hard work to make them work. I’ve never been scared of hard work. So work we will. And one day soon we will be together again with love and joy and happiness.


 We are currently en-route to Australia and will arrive very early on Friday morning.

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  • October 4, 2012 - 8:53 am

    Ru - I love you so much. Very well said indeed. Relationships are definitely up there with parenting as one of the hardest yet most rewarding things there are xxx Cant wait to see you and Bo!ReplyCancel

  • October 4, 2012 - 9:28 am

    Meegs - Sending you so much love from across the ocean. Relationships can be so hard. Period. But yours definitely has very different trials then most people face. I hope it gets better soon. That you can all be together, and whole, in the right place.ReplyCancel

  • October 4, 2012 - 1:57 pm

    Missbean - GOOD LUCK. It’s never easy, even being the same culture, even being a little bit different.ReplyCancel

  • October 4, 2012 - 3:28 pm

    Cassie Nguyen - Thank you for sharing such honest and personal thoughts and experiences Sash. So much of what you’ve said is true for any relationship, but I can only imagine *with the tiniest bit of personal insight* how language and cultural barriers have influenced the ebb and flow of your both partnership and your family life so far. Safe travels my friend. And power to you both for making such a hard call now with the honesty and foresight to know that a life lived really together will be worth it. xoReplyCancel

  • October 5, 2012 - 4:29 am

    Jelli - What a hard post to read. Praying safe travels for you and Bo and lots of wisdom for the entire family during these next few weeks. One of the best cross-cultural relationship books I’d recommend to you is Foreign to Familiar. Believe me, you’re not the only one in a day-to-day learning process with the hubs. We’re a jolly mix of cultures here in our home too.
    Book link:

  • October 5, 2012 - 5:27 pm

    Sofia - I have been reading your blog for a while now but never commented until now. You really hit the nail on the head. I understand wholly your situation and relate. I’m American, he’s from northern Europe, our son was born (and we reside) in Spain. I felt it with marriage, pregnancy, childrearing, its as though every culture has a set of norms. When you confront any given situation you each say, “well naturally we should respond in this way _____” and what may seem so clear and simple to both you, as it turns out, is not so simple and clear. We contradict eachother, the culture we live in also contradicts each of us! And also when you throw in non native speaking, its much more complicated. Actually I find my english deteriorating, I now call my bedroom “the sleeping room”.
    It’s enriching, and you grow tons, and naturally I wouldn’t have it any other way or choose anyone else. but its not easy.Especially once you have a little one. I am constantly asking myself, do I want him to grow up like this/thinking like this/expecting this life to be his “normal”
    Great post!

    • October 9, 2012 - 2:24 pm

      Sash - Thank you so much Sofia. I’m so glad you commented. My english is deteriorating too… my grammar is TERRIBLE these days. Not enough practice I suppose. It is enriching, you are right… and like they say any thing worth having is worth working for… right?ReplyCancel

  • October 7, 2012 - 8:16 pm

    MonicaBradnan - I hope those 8 weeks go by fast for you & your beautiful family and that you are together again sharing the love you capture in your photographs & words.

    I’m in a cross-cultural relationship (I’m Puertorican & he’s American) and I consider myself extremely Americanized but we still have losses in understanding the reasons we do the things we do. The constant explaining can be draining at times. The love we share and participation in our partnership is what keeps us all fulfilled.ReplyCancel

    • October 9, 2012 - 2:23 pm

      Sash - Thanks so much Monica! The constant explaining some days is certainly the most challenging part…ReplyCancel

  • October 21, 2012 - 12:20 pm

    » For the love of Yoghurt… Inked in Colour - […] Since Bo and I got back from Indo we have been living in haze of uncertainty. I’ve been a bit of an emotional whirlwind and Bo has been getting over a repeat of that awful flu she had just before we left the village. We’ve had more than a bit of time on our hands, and I haven’t really known what to do.. […]ReplyCancel

  • November 23, 2012 - 9:23 pm

    JJ - You hit my nail on the head my friend with post. I’m just like you here in a cross-faith, cross-culture marriage and a child. Except, am not like you because I had to run, run far away for my life, my family disowned me, my friends are million miles away and I had to start from the scratch. We have good times mostly, bad times always but we/I try hard to manage. To push life forward, not for me since I have no family to go back to, to hold my back and to support me, but because of my son, my love to my husband. This love that got me into all this in the first place!
    Cross-culture is hard, but cross-religion is harder, we try to find a middle ground, comprimise and meet in the middle but trust me its not easy. I had to let go of so many things to make this relationship work. I admit am at loss on how to raise my son, now that he is growing up but I’ll manage, we’ll manage despite all the obstacles. I admit we take it day by day, I admit at some nights I dont know if next year we’ll be together or apart. I admit, on occasions I was that close to leave it all. But No! I’ll hold it together and I’ll make it work between my and my love and my little love. Between the three of us, we’ll grow together and stay together. Who needs family? Who needs friends? These thing can be found/made easily ( not really!) Luckily we live in a western country, a nuteral and modernize culture where everyone, every ethnicity, religion and culture can blend in. So I figured I’ll make use of this and find happiness.

    With Love,


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