Understanding Culture Shock: Challenges with Your Spouse

Attention all married students and students who intend to be married– this post is for you! 🫵

You might have gotten married before ever thinking about coming to the United States, or maybe you got married with the intention of coming to the States with that special person of yours. 😍

The fact is that you brought “half of your orange” or “the lid to your pot” (as we say in 🇧🇷), and now the two of you are tackling cultural challenges together.

You may be wondering– why is she even writing this post? 🤔

My answer? Because culture shock can affect your marriage!

I know because I’m both a student and spouse and have experienced culture shock stronger than my husband.

In general, I believe spouses experience this shock more intensely. While the student is focused on learning to deal with academic life, the spouse usually stays home alone looking for a job. They deal with the challenges of securing a job, learning or adapting to a new language, engaging in friendships, etc. On top of that, there may be more difficulties due to visa limitations or because they spend most of their time alone.

Some thoughts may arise during this journey, such as being stagnant in life, playing the comparison game with your spouse, and feeling left out, all of which affect the couple’s relationship.

I experienced those first two thoughts.

I struggled to find a job in my first year. I was very frustrated because I expected to get a job in my area of study; this caused envy towards my husband, who thrived in his studies. It ended up creating a battlefield in our house! I didn’t experience the third thought because my husband gave me a lot of attention, but there are cases where academics get in the way of having time with your spouse, which can lead to conflict between couples.   

Based on the struggles I mentioned earlier, I come bearing some tips for spouses on how to overcome culture shock together.

If you are a student in a relationship, stay tuned because we have tips for you, too! 😉

I believe the saying “happy wife, happy life” is true (and that applies to husbands, as well!). If your marriage is good, it’ll show in other areas of your life.

Let’s do this! 👇

Tip #1: Be aware of the changes in your life 🔀

Moving to another country is a radical change.

We left Brazil and pretty much everything; we came with just a few bags and ourselves, happy and with hearts full of dreams! But the change was more complex than we imagined. The doctor of sciences, Rosana Alves, says that significant changes involve mourning, as the process of leaving almost everything behind is, in a way, a significant loss. We step out of our comfort zone directly into an adaptation process.

A very common area of grief is in the professional field. Many spouses leave their professions to support their loved ones in their academic careers.

Do you ever think about spouses whose visas don’t allow them to work?

Going from feeling useful in their jobs to one without work is a significant change. Even for those spouses who can work, getting a job in their area of expertise and settling in is a painful process; they have to learn how things are done in the new culture, as well as prove they’re capable in the profession.

Moving countries is hard and deeply impactful, hence why I’m sharing this tip. Everyone goes through this process, each one differently.

So spouses: have empathy for yourselves! 🙏 You’re going through a very big change. 

And students: understand the struggle your spouses are going through, showing patience and love. ❤️

In my case, I was unaware of the impact moving to the U.S. would have on my life. If I’d known before, I think I’d have a lot more compassion for myself in the storm of my emotions. And what made a world of difference was having the support of my husband, who despite not understanding what I was going through, was patient and loving.

Tip #2: Know the purposes & roles 🎯

Please answer the following questions:

Why did you get married?

And why did you come to the United States?

I ask because these are the questions that’ll remind you of your purpose amidst the difficulties in the adaptation process. 

In my experience with culture shock, frustration made me look for reasons to fight with my husband. It got to the point where I really wanted to go back to Brazil.

That’s where these questions helped me.

We got married to live together for life, to be a team. His victory is my victory and vice-versa. There will be times of sacrifice in order to live our purpose. We don’t have a Plan D (divorce). We came to America to thrive together! 🤝

Now for another question for both of you:

How can you help your husband/wife at this stage?

At the time I experienced culture shock, I realized my momentary role was to help my husband achieve our dream of him finishing his studies and providing a better life for us. I helped as I could through cooking, taking care of the house, washing clothes, helping with his research, etc. Our marriage improved a lot when I started serving my husband. He felt loved and wanted to reciprocate by meeting my needs. After all, kindness generates kindness! 🥰

Tip #3: Communicate 🗣️

Communication is key for good connection between couples.

Take at least 30 minutes a day to have an eye-to-eye conversation. Share your thoughts and feelings with each other. Learn to listen and be kind when speaking. Words of affirmation are also welcome, such as telling them what you admire and what you’re grateful for. Not only is it a time to know what’s going on in each other’s lives, but also a time to demonstrate your love for one another.

I emphasize the importance of communication because it would’ve made a huge difference at the start of my culture shock journey. I got angry and argued with my husband without telling him what I felt. The poor guy didn’t understand what was going on! I recognize how lucky of a woman I am because God gave me a meek husband– shoutout to both of them! 🙌

Tip #4: Be proactive 💪

This tip really helped me get over culture shock. Let me give you some context so you can understand what it means to be proactive.

I started doing ISEED training at IFI in the middle of my adaptation process. We read a book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. The author said people can either adopt a victim or proactive position. The victim blames things, people, etc., and doesn’t assume life responsibilities; on the other hand, the proactive one assumes their responsibilities and does what must be done. Although simple information, it deeply resonated with me. 

Turns out I had adopted a victim position. 😥

I used my professional situation as an excuse not to do my best and to be complacent. I wasn’t taking care of my health (food and exercise), my mind, or my home. I struggled in my marriage and did the bare minimum in the ISEED training. As we discussed the book, I finally realized my role as a follower of Jesus, of putting my trust in Him and His plans for me, of His control over everything, and of doing the best with what I have. In other words, taking ownership of my life instead of staying in the pit I dug for myself.

There are two attitudes we can take: accept our reality or deny it.

Being proactive means accepting our reality, embracing it, and doing the best we can with the resources we have. Reflect on the different areas of your life. Think about how you want each area to look. If there are changes to be made, make them. And don’t be intimidated by fear; everything that makes us step out of our comfort zone creates fear– this part was also in the book! 😌

Final Thoughts 💭

Cultural adaptation has its struggles, whether it be learning or improving a new language, getting a job, interacting with a new culture, making new friends, etc.

I’m not going to promise these tips will miraculously solve your problems; life is a journey of ups and downs, and adapting isn’t linear. Even though I’ve been here for more than two years, I still experience culture shock.

Nonetheless, I now have the awareness and tools to help me stick to my original purpose, roles, and position of proactivity!

I hope this post helped you in some way. If you’re going through or know of any struggles couples face while adapting, let us know in the comments below!

We’ll see you next time! 🤗🧡

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