Dear Dr. Faizal,
My wife and I don’t come from the same background. She’s Iranian; I’m Caucasian. She’s outspoken, extroverted, loud-spoken and likes to pick fights. I am quieter, passive, and don’t like it when she quarrels. She says it’s not quarrelling but I feel it is because I’m used to a much quieter tone. What can I do to make peace in my home?
– Missus Needs to Calm Down
Dear Missus Needs to Calm Down,
Marrying someone from a different culture has benefits and limitations. Communication and the style of communication is a concern you need to address.
I wonder if your wife has always been “loud-spoken and [wanting] to pick fights” or if her communication style has changed recently, where she has become more combative. If she has recently become louder with you, while she is more demure with others, my guess is that there are some unresolved issues in your marriage. Approach your wife and encourage her to share with you any dissatisfaction she may be feeling. Don’t try to fix the situation; listen and try to empathize with her perspective. Should you notice that there are issues present but your wife is resisting sharing them with you, I’d suggest seeking the help of a good couples’ counsellor who understands and works with clients of Eastern and Western cultures.
My observations are that in many Middle Eastern societies, people naturally speak in a loud voice. They are not necessarily angry but become very passionate about expressing their opinion. When I first began my practice, I specifically remember a Persian female who came for her first session and was screaming out her responses to my intake questions. I thought that perhaps my line of questioning, especially the part about her sexual history, was offensive to her. As she was leaving, after the session, she yelled out, “I never thought counselling could be so nurturing! See you next time!” Time has taught me much.
However, it is true that irrespective of culture, we sometimes raise our voices when we feel unheard. Could it be that perhaps your wife believes you do not hear her? If this is the case, I recommend you reflect (in your own words) what you heard your wife say to you, followed by, “Is this correct?” or “Did I hear you correctly?” This way, your partner will appreciate that you are trying to listen to her and that she does not have to raise her voice to get your attention.
On the other hand, perhaps at times, you may have ignored your wife because of her loud expressions, which may have led to her speaking even louder. This behaviour could lead to an endless cycle, in which your wife loses her voice or attracts the attention of your neighbours.
I would read my thoughts with your wife and, if any of my insights resonate with her, you could have a meaningful discussion on how you both could overcome this challenge. If my suggestions don’t work for your marriage, you will have to accept and respect your wife for being a “loud-spoken” person, the same way she appreciates you for being a quieter and more passive husband.