The topic of today’s article is quite unusual. I invited a leading psychologist from the United States. His name is Jeffrey Pak.
Together with Jeffrey we decided to highlight the theme of international marriages, which
worries many of you.
Also Jeffrey agreed to share some information from his personal experience about couples who
have found each other through marriage agencies.
I hope that these tips will be very helpful for you as Jeffrey Pak has a successful practice and
helped many couples and families to understand their relationship.
Name: Jeffrey Pak, LCSW
Education: University of Washington, MSW
Experience: Jeffrey has worked in private practice serving individuals, couples and families for
-Kate: Jeffrey, what are the most common problems that couples face? How do you help resolve
them? What advices do you usually give?
– Jeffrey: In general, the stereotypical “big three” issues for couples are sex, kids and money. Each of these are incredibly complex topics but many couples struggle with, for example, a difference in intimacy frequency or attitudes towards finances. The broad term of “communication” is what every couple in couples counseling deals with and along with that you have critical issues like infidelity. Though this often paints a grim picture for couples, many do come in even when things aren’t at a crisis stage. I always advise couples considering marriage to do pre-marital counseling to make sure everyone is on the same page before making such an important commitment.
My job as a therapist is to help bring clarity to the situation and to teach couples effective communication skills. I think it’s a misconception that therapists are there to fix the marriage. I’m there to help people discuss difficult issues in healthier ways. We want them to “fight clean” without cruelty. I think in general I always advise couples to see this all as practice. Every moment in their relationship is an opportunity to practice being a loving partner. We aren’t always successful but the important thing is to recognize when we’ve been hurt or when we hurt others and then how to appropriately move forward. Couples that give themselves the chance to engage with their partner through little moments where they build intimacy generally do better.
-Kate: What can you say about the international marriages? Do you have such cases in your
practice? What are the most common problems for international marriages?
–Jeffrey: International marriages are almost always intercultural and sometimes interracial. In America we certainly see a lot of both with couples. Our outgoing president ( Barak Obama) is the child of an interracial and international relationship. So these couples are quite common. I think international couples face many of the same issues that “regular” couples face but they are also dealing with two potentially very different cultural backgrounds. The big mistake couples make is to discount just how much this can have a role in how people communicate. I ask men and women, ‘In your culture, how do you express anger? How do fights resolve themselves?’ Culture can play such a huge role in how people see gender roles, communication, religion, etc. At the same time, not everyone from this or that culture is going to be uniformly the same. So it’s up to the couple to have these honest conversations that have the goal of wanting to learn and share. No culture is ‘wrong’ necessarily. They’re just different.
-Kate: Why, in your opinion, so many Americans are looking for a wife in Slavic countries?
-Jeffrey: I think this is a bit complicated. The reality is that this is biased towards gender in that American, British, and Australian men are usually the ones going to certain lengths to find someone from Ukraine, Russia or even Thailand or Columbia. I think this depends on the man in particular but I think in general there are a few groups. I think there’s a group of men that have a certain perhaps stereotypical notion of what a woman from a Slavic country is like. I hear often the disdain some American men have for American women and when I hear that I always wonder if they are giving both American women and Ukrainian women a fair assessment. Usually this is more rooted in stereotypes and notions that men convince themselves of. Then I think for other men they like a certain level of ‘exoticism’ that women from Ukraine, Russia or the Philippines represent. It’s arguable how healthy such a belief is but I have yet to meet a woman that likes to hear that someone was interested in them because they were ‘exotic.’ And then I think there are men who look at this purely as a numbers game. They hear just how many available women there are in countries like the Ukraine and that is enough to motivate them to try. If you haven’t had luck in your hometown, it might be slightly unconventional to try to find someone across the globe but it does make sense in some ways.
-Kate: How do you think, what is the percent of happy international marriages? How often such
marriages break up and what is the main reason?
-Jeffrey: I’ve seen international marriages that are absolute disasters and others that are incredibly successful. I couldn’t give specific statistics but I think it probably follows the national average of divorce and separation. There are a lot of completely legitimate reasons an international marriage could end that have nothing to do with the relationship being international (sex, money, kids, etc). But there are certainly issues that come up that are more evident in these types of relationships. The biggest thing I see is misrepresentation. I think so many men feel that they have to sell themselves that they do not necessarily give the most accurate depiction of who they are or what their life is like. They get out of ‘sweep her off of her feet’ mode and go straight into autopilot and I think that is usually a bad sign for a relationship. If you built the relationship on spontaneity, understanding and respect, you can’t suddenly suspend those things and expect the same results. The idea is this: don’t be charming and sympathetic on your date if that isn’t your personality or belief system. If your idea of a good wife is someone who stays home, minds the house and takes care of the kids, don’t sell yourself on how much you support your partner’s interest in going back to school or starting her own business. It won’t work out for anyone in those situations. Men certainly wouldn’t want the women to misrepresent themselves so it goes both ways.
-Kate: How are international marriages perceived by the public? Is it easy for Ukrainian girl to get accustomed in America?
-Jeffrey: In general, international or interracial relationships are viewed more positively than they were 20, 30 years ago. I think there still exists the stereotype about “mail order brides” for many Americans so it will take some time for people to understand that many of these relationships are similar to American sites like Tinder or Match.com. The difference is that some people are willing to extend the range of how far they are willing to travel. There are always going to be skeptics and naysayers who look down on international marriages so I think it’s important for the couple to know that these opinions don’t matter. I think people get too caught up on how a couple met as opposed to how they are doing. Each couple knows what their relationship is about and whether it’s real or not. In terms of acculturation, it depends on two things: where they move in America and what kind of support their partner provides. In general, going to larger and more diverse cities I think will be easier because there are a greater number of other ethnic and cultural groups there. The chances of finding a Ukrainian community is New York or California is going to be better than finding one in the suburbs of North Dakota. Also, to most Americans most Ukrainians “look White” so there is an ability to pass without anyone knowing that this person is an immigrant. I think this makes it easier, fair or not, to blend in. Then we have the issue of the partner. I think it is so important for American and foreign men to be sympathetic to what their wives are going through because moving to a new country (if that is what the couple chooses to do) can be incredibly difficulty. They need to be sensitive but also promote their wives’ independence. She can’t just rely on you for friendship. She needs to have her own interest and develop her own friendships with people in the community.
-Kate: What advice can you give to men looking for a woman in Ukraine?
-Jeffrey: A few things I would like to emphasize:
First is that it’s important for men to rid themselves of this attitude that they are owed anything by women or society. Some people call it the “fake nice guy syndrome” which is this incredible sense of entitlement—‘women should want to marry me, how come women aren’t interested in me, what else is she going to get?’ Nobody owes you anything in your romantic life. Even if you are paying for an agency to help you, the only thing you are entitled to is opportunity. A good, legitimate agency’s job is to provide you with opportunities to find someone. Whether you find someone that is a good fit or not is determined by so many things. Secondly, men need to do the self-work of not pushing on rigid ideas of gender roles to Ukrainian women. You’re going to meet some women that want to stay at home and raise kids. Others will want to pursue their career. It’s your job to clearly articulate what you want for your future, what kind of partner you see yourself with and to not try to manipulate or change someone into being something they are not. Thirdly, and this is probably the biggest things here, is that men shouldn’t go into this thinking that a woman is going to make them happy. You need to be happy by yourself. Why would any reasonable woman want to be with a man who was desperately unhappy by himself? And to add to that, men need to take an honest look at themselves and consider this: ‘If I was a woman, would I want to date someone like me?’ Again this goes back to the sense of entitlement. You aren’t owed anything by American women or Ukrainian women. Are you an interesting person? Do you have hobbies and life passions? Are you caring and considerate? Are you responsible and organized? Reasonable women want to date someone that has their life together—someone that keeps a tidy home, has a good job, pays his bills on time, has a social life, and takes care of themselves and others.
-Kate: What do you think are the most common mistakes committed by men in the process of building of relationships? What men should avoid and should include in their behavior to attract a girl?
-Jeffrey: First, men need to take the urgency out of the situation. I realize that many men are so badly wanting to find the right person to marry and take the next step in their lives with but I think when you have a sense of urgency you miss the opportunity to build a strong foundation. And you do that by learning about each other, spending quality time, getting into arguments and figuring out how to repair when you or your partner gets hurt. The latter is probably the biggest thing that people don’t realize is so significant. All couples fight. But my worry with couples is how they fight. Are they being cruel towards one another? Are they ignoring or trying to blame their partner? These are the dirty and unhealthy ways of fighting. There are going to be situations in your relationship where there are misunderstanding or when you hurt someone unintentionally. What fixes that isn’t to immediately tell them your intention. The first step is always to be sympathetic and to recognize the pain. In my experience men always want to fix the situation but they usually skip the part where they are emotionally there for their partner.
The old saying of “be yourself” is popular and it has its place but I would add to that that men need to continually be doing the work to grow as people and as husbands. If you want to be an attractive partner, the physical side of things is to exercise, be well-groomed and to dress well. The emotional side of that is to be someone that your partner would actually want to talk to. If they don’t feel comfortable sharing or being vulnerable in front of you, that is something to consider and to ask why. I think women (and men) are attracted to people who are good listeners, demonstrate patience and a desire to understand others. If men tell me that they just aren’t good listeners, don’t like to talk or that they are impatient, I tell them: start working on it. Work on your personal growth as a friend and partner. You are investing in yourself and the relationship. It goes back to the point of “if you were a woman would you want to date someone like you?”
-Kate: Jeffrey, thank you very much for your time and for the interview for my blog. I wish you success in your work and prosperity in your career.
-Jeffrey: Thank you. I wish you all the best with your work in helping men to find their soul mates.
Gentleman! If someone wants to consult Jeffrey please write him directly to : firstname.lastname@example.org
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