Cultural Fatigue in a Multi-ethnic Marriage

My relationship with a Filipina has taught me that there exists a kind of fatigue that is heavier than physical and mental fatigue put together. It is actually a kind of fatigue that drains your physical, your mental and your emotional energy.

I am talking about “cultural fatigue”, the kind of fatigue experienced by someone who is in a long-term relationship with a person (or a group of people) who belongs to another culture.

I think the expression cultural fatigue is more appropriate than culture shock as, the word shock kind of conveys the idea of a jolt, like and electric shock, something that lasts for a few seconds and then you get over it (if you survive it).

The word fatigue kind of conveys the idea of a prolonged strain and that is precisely what keeping score day in and day between two entirely different models of the world is: a prolonged strain, a very heavy fatigue that lasts for a very long time and it drains all of your energy.

I like how the “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces describes this fatigue on pages 4 and 5: “cultural fatigue is the physical and emotional exhaustion (so there are two components to it: physical and, most importantly, emotional, and the book, instead of using the term tiredness uses the really fitting term “exhaustion”) required for long-term survival (the expression “long-term survival” means that you don’t just experience an initial shock or jolt) in an alien culture. Living and working overseas (or being married to a Filipina, even in your own country) generally requires that one must suspend his automatic evaluations (for example we in the Western world automatically assume that once you get married you leave your parents for good and form your own family unit, we also assume that you first pay the rent and the bills and if you have money left then you buy a car not viceversa, and the list of “automatic evaluations” that a Westerner must suspend could go on forever)…and he must supply new interpretations to seemingly familiar behaviour (like getting married and forming a family of your own which the Westerners interpret it in a way and Filipinos in a radically different way) and that he must demand of himself constant alterations in the style and content of his activity (notice the expression constant alterations: this is an ongoing and a very prolonged effort, not just a “jolt”)”. The book goes on to say that “this process consumes an enormous amount of energy”.

I like the expression that a Westerner must suspend his automatic evaluations or, in other words, in order to thrive in this kind of relationship and to be able to withstand a very prolonged fatigue, a Westerner cannot be stuck in his automatic perceptions that are the result of his upbringing and exposure to the Western culture.

An interesting point that the “Culture Shock Philippines book” makes on page 7 is that the solution of the cultural conflict lies, in fact, in the arena of “perception” rather than in a locked battle between irreconcilable values. What this means, as the book says on page 6, is that Filipinos value pretty much the same things as Westerners (family, honesty, sincerity and so on), it is not as if Westerners have a certain set of values while Filipinos have totally different values.

The values are the same, it is just that such values as family, sincerity etc are viewed and perceived from different viewpoints and this, of course, calls for an outstanding ability to suspend, as the book says, one’s automatic evaluations and be ready to experience constant alterations in the style and content of one’s activity.

My grandpa was a farmer and in his life he experienced a great deal of physical fatigue but very little mental fatigue, I studied hard my whole life and experienced a lot of intellectual fatigue and (at least when a was a teenager) very little physical fatigue. Since I married a Filipina I’ve been experiencing cultural fatigue, a combination of both physical and intellectual (and, most of all, emotional) fatigue, something a lot heavier and trickier than any other form of fatigue, this is, in fact, the ultimate fatigue.

10 thoughts on “Cultural Fatigue in a Multi-ethnic Marriage

  1. I hear what you are saying. I am New Zealand born. From 2003 – 2008 I was married to a man from Ireland. I experienced and suffered with all you have mentioned. It was so bad that I ended up in the cardiac ward many times with angina caused by stress. I finally left him when he was found to be cheating with many women, he thought he was God’s gift to all woman. He is now married again for a third time, this time to a young Filipina woman who is a third of his age.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many Western old men marry young Filipinas. Those relationships hardly work.
      I didn’t know that even among English speaking people who come from different countries there can be massive culture fatigue. This is interesting to know.
      I am sorry that you had to endure that much stress and that your relationship didn’t work out.
      Mine has been a struggle too and it still is under many aspects.
      This is the payoff of marrying someone from another country, there are many blessings but there is a high cost to pay in terms of cultural fatigue


      1. Both singleness and marriage have their advantages and their downsides.
        I have come to the conclusion that happiness has very little to do with being in a relationship.
        Happiness is the result of being able to manage our mindset and this is something no one can do for us.
        I wish you the best whatever life has in store for you


  2. This feels familiar…! (Though mine comes from living in a certain place, instead of marriage) Tricky to navigate indeed and requires “spaces in your togetherness”, as Gibran said 😊 Food for thought as always, thanks Ed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “spaces in your togetherness”: I like that sentence.
      Indeed “it is the space between the notes that makes the music” and “it is the space between the bars that holds the tiger”.
      I carve out time for myself to do a big deal of reading and reflecting and this helpes me navigate the hurdles in my relationship.

      Liked by 1 person

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