I Blame Cultural Differences for My Ex-Boyfriend’s Abuse Toward Me, Now Current Boyfriend Interested in the Same

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Reader’s Question

My boyfriend and I have been together for a year, and we are generally a very happy and affectionate couple. He is a great guy and I am crazy about him. I really see future potential in this relationship and am hoping it will last. However, I am at a loss as to what to do regarding a decision of his that I cannot accept.

Before I met my boyfriend, I was involved in a serious relationship with another man who hurt me both emotionally and physically. Most of our differences stemmed from cultural differences that we could not reconcile. As a result, after leaving that relationship, I developed sensitivities toward everything having to do with his culture. When I hear his language spoken on the subway, for example, I feel such disgust that I get off the train just to get away from it.

My current boyfriend is interested in learning that language, immersing himself in that culture, and learning more about it. I feel his actions are insensitive to my feelings, and I am repulsed every time I think about him speaking in that language. I have tried talking to him about it, but he insists my past hurts have nothing to do with him, and I am being controlling. I don’t understand why he stubbornly insists on doing things that he knows will make me unhappy. I love him, but am not sure whether I can live with his decision.

Please help!

Psychologist’s Reply

You were once in a relationship in which you were harmed emotionally and physically. You attribute much of the harm to “cultural differences” between you and your one-time boyfriend. Your new boyfriend is very attracted to aspects of that same culture.

What you might want to consider is that your ex-boyfriend’s hurtful behavior may have stemmed not so much from attitudes, values, and practices deeply rooted in his culture but rather from values, attitudes and behavioral patterns unique to him. He might have attributed those attitudes to his culture, but he also might have been hiding behind purported cultural norms to justify his behavior.

All that said, you have every right to be leery of just what aspects of the culture you speak of your present boyfriend finds attractive. If, for example, he is particularly attracted to attitudes toward women that are deeply embedded in the culture but are aversive to you, then by all means keep your reservations about further involvement with him. In the end, it’s not language, customs, or interests that predict a person’s behavior but rather the values they hold, the core beliefs to which they subscribe, and the patterns of behavior with which they are comfortable that will determine how they will conduct themselves in a relationship. You must seriously explore these things, not only having an open and honest discussion about the issues but also keeping a keen eye on the interpersonal behaviors that are a more reliable predictor of your boyfriend’s attitudes and beliefs.

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