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Intercultural Relationships: When They Don’t Work Out

Intercultural Relationships: When They Don’t Work Out

You fell madly in love with an Italian man, someone who wasn’t like anyone else you had ever met. You quickly realized you could see yourself with this person in a permanent way. You decided you were willing – happy – to leave your own life behind and move across the world to be with him and start an amazing new life in Italy. Or maybe you were already living in your adopted country, and now you decided that you were willing to make it a permanent relocation.

So, you began your new life, full of hope and expectation. You threw yourself into learning the language, maneuvering the bureaucracy, and you tried to remember how you used to do every single thing for yourself as a strong, independent woman, since you now needed help to do, well, just about everything.  Between not knowing the language and realizing that a trip to the Comune was likely to end in tears and would require two more return visits, you leaned on your Italian partner to help you find your way.  This was a new and at times unsettling imbalance that you hadn’t experienced before in your previous relationships.  The feeling that you were far less powerful, autonomous and independent than you used to be – than you had always been – was something you hadn’t fully prepared for.

You began to learn the language and you figured out how to do many of the things you always did.  Grocery shopping, buying Ibuprofen (What? They don’t sell it at the grocery store?  I have to ask the pharmacist for it?  All this for just 10 pills?) and generally handling day-to-day life were now under your control.  You may have gotten married and started a family, since the whirlwind nature of intercultural romance, especially when begun at a distance, tends to lead to big changes happening quickly.  Meeting, moving in, marriage and baby often happen within the span of just a few years, and that’s an awful lot of change for any two people to adjust to and fully absorb.

And sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.  Of course we all know the statistics on marriage, dismal as they are, and those in intercultural marriages are no more immune.  However, they are in fact very different, for many reasons.  When your intercultural marriage ends, whether or not it’s by your own choosing, you find yourself facing a host of issues and concerns that you would not, were you still in your home country.   You are no longer on your home turf, and you very likely have little or no knowledge about the Italian legal system as it pertains to family law, if and how you and your children will be protected in case of divorce, and what your options – and rights – are.

You realize that the very reason you left a whole life behind is now gone.  You now need to consider what life can look like in the absence of the person you came here for.  You are struggling to come to terms with the enormity of how dramatically your life changed when you arrived, and how it’s now changing again in a whole new direction that you never wanted or expected.  This was not the dream.  But, it’s the way things have turned out, and life can be good again.  By taking a deep breath and remembering that you are still the strong, autonomous, independent person you were before, you begin to take steps in a new direction for you, for your children and for the exciting next chapter that you’re going to create.

Practical Tips:

  • Consult an Italian, English-speaking family lawyer to begin understanding the separation and divorce process. Even if your Italian is very good, it can not only be reassuring, but important in clarifying facts, to be able to express yourself and have complicated terms explained to you in your native language.
  • Reach out to ex-pat friends and acquaintances who are divorced or separated. They understand how hard a time this is for you and will be more than happy to help in any way they can, with practical tips, referrals and general support.
  • Separation and divorce are always difficult, but they don’t have to be traumatic, for you or your children. By working now to maintain a positive relationship with your soon-to-be ex, you will be laying the foundation for many years to come.
  • Take the time to get the practical and emotional support you need. Close relationships with friends and family, and working with a trained counselor can all be valuable sources of support.

Article by Karen Rigatti
Certified Professional CounselorTel. 335.818.0277

See other articles on cultural adjustment and expat life by Karen Rigatti.

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