Speaking Up When a Tradition Doesn’t Work For You
By Alexandra Madhavan
When you get married, you set out to make a life with someone – which means merging their life with yours, and their traditions with yours. This is something we ALL face, no matter if you are in an intercultural relationship or same-culture relationship. Compromise in a marriage is a big thing…but what happens when a tradition pops up that you’re not okay with? What happens if a tradition doesn’t fit into the tapestry of your life? How do you say “no” to something that is important to your spouse – or worse, his family? Many in-laws don’t even understand the meaning of “no” and may continually push you…
Cultural traditions are deeply ingrained in us from the environment we grew up in – at times; they may feel like a second skin. Sometimes we take part in a tradition subconsciously – we do it automatically without even thinking about it. Many times, our cultural expectations are familial – they are based on what our parents did with us when we were growing up. And seeing how every family is different and unique, it can directly oppose with your spouse’s traditions and what they would like for your family and life together. It almost always pops up at big moments when you’re planning your life together – getting married, having a baby, and family involvement, for example.
Women are raised to please, to adapt, and to adjust. Every new bride deals with the pressure to prove oneself. You may be eager to please, and do everything possible to impress your husband’s family and make a good impression. But sometimes, it comes as a price.
Without thinking it through, you may end up saying, “yes” to things that you might later realize that you don’t enjoy or don’t want to do. You may grow tired, overwhelmed, resentful, and feel like you’re losing your identity. Worse, people will expect you to always say, “yes” to everything – and that’s where the boundary needs to be drawn. Boundaries help preserve your sanity, down the road.
When being introduced to a new tradition, you should question it. What is the purpose of this tradition? Do you enjoy doing it? Do you want to make an effort/space for it in your life? How important is it to your spouse? Or is it only important to your in-laws? Does it compromise the health/safety of your children?
When you enter a relationship, you can’t predict what speed bumps come up over the years. Speaking from personal experience, my husband’s family traditions that I said “no” to were: religious fasting, head-shaving, log kya kahenge mentality, and heavy superstitions, to name a few.
There were also a lot of traditions that I said, “yes” to: hand-feeding children, most festival traditions, embracing Hinduism, and living in a joint family (go figure!). Things that we had to compromise and negotiate on were: our weddings (we had three!); cooking rice everyday, and general random parenting clashes (bedtime, meals). And of course, I’ll never forget that Aunty who told me that I need to do a puja in a nine yard sari every morning at 5 A.M., to which I replied a flat-out “no“! For that one, I did not feel guilty whatsoever!
How exactly do you say “No”?
When you’re confident in your decision that a tradition doesn’t work in your life, and you’ve weighed all the options, just be honest about it. Briefly explain that you understand that it may be important to your spouse/in-laws, but that you’re just not comfortable/okay with it and you don’t want to do it. If pressed, negotiate with your spouse, redirect and provide an alternative of something that you are willing to do.
This will gently remind them that you’re not opposed to everything on the table. Be empathetic, but firm in your decision. Stand your ground – the other person will respect you more and it will lead to fewer fights down the road – a mutual understanding.
Also, timing is everything. Don’t bring it up in high pressure situations like when your kids are screaming in the back seat, before a big event, or when your spouse is noticeably tired (i.e. Just got in the door/off an airplane/about to go to bed). Bring it up when your spouse is relaxed and rational, to avoid it from getting into an unnecessarily heated conversation.
Sometimes you do have to compromise. Marriage is all about give and take. If it is extremely important to your spouse, you might want to consider agreeing to it. You have to pick your battles and find a middle ground. If the tradition is very out-dated, does not work with your life, or goes against your core values, it’s okay to say no. Better to hurt someone’s sentiments than to live with resentment boiling up like a volcano until you explode. And sometimes, when you just can’t agree to something, you have to agree to disagree.
Respect that your spouse is a unique individual and has a different way of doing things. You do it your way, he does it his way – and if it keeps the peace in your home, it’s worth it. You don’t have to do everything the same.
The best thing that can come out of two individuals building a life together is when you make your own unique family culture, derived from each of your backgrounds. It will be different than the environment you grew up in and perhaps, better. It’s okay to question something or say “no” to something that you don’t feel comfortable with, and most people would respect you more for setting those boundaries – even when it is within a marriage, or within a family.
Follow Alexandra’s Journey at @madh_mama
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