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We are just not compatible!

Intercultural relationships the view



From the famous Filipino soap opera quoted above to real-life situations; from my family, my friends, mutual acquaintances and even strangers this time not “Maria” from a soap opera. The subject I seek to delve into is one of the great crisis, intercultural relationships, the conflicts within and how to manage them.

Martin and Nakayama(1997) explain how conflict within intercultural relationships is bound to ensue. They explain how some cultures are more prone to conflict whilst others tend to avoid it. With married people coming from different cultures the incompatibilities may be more evident than ever before. There is a need therefore to manage this inescapable crisis. Life is not a movie, hence there is no easy way to elude the vows made to one’s other half due to conflict caused by these incompatibilities.

Tom and Mary

Let’s use an example of Tom and Mary. Tom and Mary are happily married and right after their honeymoon, they both go back to work. Tom luckily works a 9 to 5 while Mary, on the other hand, is not very lucky. She has to stay behind when everyone leaves to lock up, take inventory and set up the alarm; she is the assistant manager after all. On day one after work Mary gets home at 9 pm to find Tom watching a football match and having a soda. Tom is excited to see her and instantly starts dishing out requests. He wants hot water for his bath, he claims he cannot find his clothes as they had not unpacked after the honeymoon and he is very hungry. Mary is amazed at his lazy attitude but she figures that since it’s day one of ‘back to work’ he might be tired. She tends to his needs as an “ideal wife” would.

This behaviour persists and she realizes that he, Tom, is just flat out lazy. She lashes out after a week of this persistent behaviour, “I’m not working two jobs a 9 to 7 and a night shift at the beck and call of your every request like your personal assistant would!” Tom is shocked, he does not understand. Didn’t his mother do the same for his father when he was young? He could swear that she never complained. He did not understand Mary's point of view, how she was brought up in a family where both mother and father would help out in housework as both of them had full-time jobs. This was her version of an ideal marriage. This is an intercultural conflict within a marriage context with a perfect example of two people from different cultures.

How do we solve intercultural relationship conflicts?

Martin and Nakayama(1997) propose a couple of ways to solve the said conflict. Firstly, Tom could choose to compromise and this would mean both Tom and Mary would help out in house chores. Secondly, Mary could oblige Tom's wishes and serve him without complaining; she may get used to it eventually. Lastly, they could both choose to avoid this conflict altogether. The downside of this avoidance technique would be that in this case, it is not a long term solution and the conflict might spur up again. There may be the need for a long term solution for the marriage to work.

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Different situations, different methods

In summary, the thing about intercultural marriages is that in a way they resemble intercultural relationships. In my field of work, there is a high probability that I will encounter people from different cultural backgrounds, so will you. And just like Mary and Tom, I will need to choose a suitable and long term technique to engage with potential colleagues, partners and clients. Different situations call for different methods to resolve disagreements. If a policy or decision for instance may compromise my work ethic I will use the last technique, avoidance. I will avoid any situation or person that may cause this to occur. In this case, it would be alright to say, “Thanks for swinging by, but we are just not compatible.”


  1. Martin, J. and Nakayama, T. 1997. Intercultural Communication In Contexts. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Thanks for swinging by, but...we are just not compatible.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Bernice Maina

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