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How to Talk to Indian Parents about Marrying Someone From a Different Culture

by Vishnu

(If you’re looking for my book on How to Get Indian Parents to Accept Your Marriage Proposal, get it here.)

Talking to Indian parents about love and marriage is different than it is in other cultures.

You don’t simply approach your parents and tell them you’ve fallen for the love of your life and the love of your life is…white or Asian or Latino.

The way to put your life in further jeopardy is to claim your undying love for your long-term American beau, insist you’ve made up your mind and boldly proclaim that you will marry only this man of your dreams!

If you’ve fallen in love with someone from a culture outside of your Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or South Asian family, your relatives will quickly respond.

This response will likely range from complete silence to utter anger and disgust.

Many Indian parents will be in complete shock about your decision and your declaration of love.

Indian people do not believe in marrying for love. Also, they do not believe in marrying non-Indian people.

So, if you’re Indian and you must break the news to your non-Indian parents that you’re marrying an American or westerner, fasten your seat belt and prepare for the passive-aggressive journey you’re about to begin. Get ready for the emotional and psychological battles that are about to ensue.

If you have fallen for an American guy or girl, here is what you must know about how to break the news to your parents.

Getting your parents’ approval will be an uphill battle. Here is what you should keep in mind when preparing for the lengthy battle ahead.

Despite the odds, stay optimistic and follow this strategy to get your Indian parents to accept your boyfriend of girlfriend from a different culture.

A 16-point plan to talk to your parents and get them to accept your non-Indian boyfriend of girlfriend follows.

1. Break the news slowly and over several conversations to help your parents deal with it. This might be the most devastating news they hear in their lives, so understand that they need some time to process it. Give them a few details at a time; limit your revelations when you first break the news to them.

2. Prime them for the conversation. Slowly introduce the topic of your getting serious with someone else or marrying someone who is non-Indian. Do not speak assertively or with certainty. Bring it up as a concept first; introduce the idea as if you are contemplating it with them. See how much they push back each time. If the situation quickly gets hot and intense, change topics and bring it up another day.

3. Do not react as emotionally as your parents do. These initial conversations will likely be intense and hard for your parents, and they will likely say hurtful things. Be aware of what’s coming up. Do not use this time to fight back with the same negativity or insults.

4. In the first conversation, do not die for love. This means do not say this relationship is “do or die.” Do not say you’re going to die for love: “It’s this man or woman or no one else.” Do not make bold and outlandish statements about your love for this person. Do not come across as a lovesick puppy or withering Romeo who will put his life on the line for this non-Indian woman. Tone down your declarations of love and keep things fluid. Take the attitude that anything can happen in life. This marriage may or may not be in your future. Give your parents some time to take it all in and cope.

5. Listen intently to what your parents say. Without a doubt, your parents will have much to say. Instead of coming up with defenses against each response they make, hear them out. Spend more time listening instead of convincing. By speaking, your parents are processing. By listening, you are gathering information.

6. Use every argument as a means of collecting strategic information. Take notes if you must. One day, you can use everything your parents say. They may sound angry and disappointed but they are essentially scared, so use the first few conversations to fully understand where they are coming from and what their fears are. Gather strategic information so you can formulate a plan of attack with your partner!

7. Be on a fact-finding mission to discover what each of your parents is worried about. Each parent will speak a different language and use different words to tell you what lies behind his or her fears. Like a reporter, collect as much information as you can. Then spend the next few months formulating a strategy for convincing them. Reporters don’t yell back or challenge their subjects. They give their interview subjects plenty of time to relax and vent their true feelings and fears.

8. Treat each parent as an individual. Speak to each parent separately. Each will have his or her own quirks, opinions and fears. The more you can divide them and have separate conversations with them, the better your chance of understanding what each one fears.

9. Make strides to address each of their concerns. Over the coming weeks and months, you will know what to focus on. If they are afraid of religious or food incompatibility, make the case to them. If they are afraid of what other people will think, let them know about people who approve of your relationship. Discover their concerns so you can address them.

10. Look for allies within the family and community. Your parents may want to keep the news within your immediate family because of their shame and embarrassment; however, you will benefit by sharing your relationship with people outside your immediate family. You will help the extended family cope and possibly find supporters outside of your parents. You may also find other people in the community whose children married non-Indian people. Definitely bring them into the picture and get them involved. Your parents win in silence and secrecy. The more people who know, the more you’re helping break the taboo and discomfort over sharing this news with others.

11. Help your non-Indian partner educate himself or herself about Indian culture. The more your partner molds himself or herself to the culture, including learning your scriptures and language, the better. What does your family value and prioritize in the Indian culture? Food? Religion? Parenting? Language? Education? Whatever it is, get your partner up to speed. This will help alleviate your parents’ fears. Your parents want to feel as comfortable as possible with your partner because they believe they might be living with you in their older age, and they don’t want to live with a foreigner who doesn’t understand them.

12. Be prepared for psychological and emotional warfare. If you’re expecting it, your parents’ reaction won’t traumatize or shock you. Your parents will try every conceivable method to scare you, hurt you and blackmail you into submission. They will feign health issues, threaten you, disown you, never speak to you again. If you realize they are using these tactics out of fear, you can better cope with the emotional warfare.

13. Use time to your advantage. The more time you have and the longer you drag this out, the better. Your parents will need time to process the news. You are changing generations of a thought process they have believed their entire lives. This is all they know. Give them time to process and to learn about other people and families that have gone through the same thing. They may be going through a grieving process, so expect them to experience all the steps of grief before they arrive in a rational place to accept your decision.

14. Highlight the practical advantages of this particular partner. Indian parents care about respect of their family, religion and culture, as well as about financial stability. You know this, so your task over the next few months is to provide rational reasons why this relationship makes sense. Try to show how Indian-like – or “Indian-lite” – your partner is, even if your partner is not Indian. If your partner is well-educated and has educational or career plans, highlight that fact. If he or she come from a traditional culture or a stable family background (i.e., parents who are still married), highlight that fact. If your partner’s parents are wealthy and have family property, definitely highlight that fact! If your partner has attended church his or her whole life and comes from a religious family, highlight that fact as long as your partner is open to participating in your religious traditions, too.

15. Use compassion and kindness to alleviate your parents’ fears. Your parents will act irrationally out of anger and fear. Responding to them the same way will not help. You must speak with kindness and listen with compassion despite their every tantrum, hurtful statement and blackmail attempt. If you want to make this work, you must find that inner strength to be rational, kind and reasonable. Essentially, you must be the opposite of your parents; you must show them that you have thought this through and that you are not being irrational or disrespectful. This is a case in which kindness and understanding (of what they are experiencing) can help you all get to marital bliss – ok, at least acceptance.

16. Clearly state your intentions and desires. After some time has passed, you can let your parents know that you are serious about this relationship. Now that they have had time to digest and process the news, you can state unequivocally that you are interested in this person as your life partner – and not only are you interested in this person, you’re going to marry him or her. Say this calmly, with certainty and confidence. You stand on the strength of your relationship and the confidence of your partner. More than that, you stand in your own power of knowing what you want and what’s right for you.

If you have more questions about this topic, pick up my book, How to Get Indian Parents to Accept Your Marriage Proposal, here.

The book is a guide to help your non-Indian boyfriend or girlfriend understand Indian culture, outsmart your Indian parents and marry you.