How Couples Therapy Challenged The White Supremacy in Our Marriage
“Are you sure he’s the one?” my dad asks me. “He doesn’t know anything about our culture.”
At the time, he was referring to my boyfriend (who is now my husband). I met William at a happy hour in grad school in 2017, a year after I immigrated to the U.S. from India. While I am a South Indian woman, my husband's ancestry is from somewhere in England. Our families couldn’t be more different.
So the answer to my dad’s question was complicated. I knew William was “the one,” but I genuinely wasn’t sure how we were going to make things work culturally, especially around issues of money, sexuality, and how to run a household. And during our first year of marriage, this proved to be exceptionally hard.
Of course, we fought about what most couples fight about—the odd tiff here and there. We would have arguments about how to stack the dishwasher, how to clean the shower and how often the closet needs to be cleaned out. But there was something bigger looming over us. Disagreements that started off small had bigger underlying issues to them. It was something we weren’t willing to talk about.
Soon, it became clear that our different backgrounds meant that we were not experiencing life in the same way. And as an interracial couple trying to make a marriage work, this took a toll on us. The power differential between us compounded—he is a cisgender, heteronormative white man and I’m a bisexual woman of color. Every time we had an argument, I couldn’t help but think about the societal power struggles at play in our own relationship.
Soon, that was all I could think about and I started feeling concerned about our future. We live in a society that perpetuates white supremacy. My ancestors were colonized and his ancestors were colonizers. How could we possibly raise a child? And if we did, how do we create parenting structures that have decolonization at its core? For what it’s worth, we were both heavily invested in working to bring down supremacist structures in our professional environments, but we weren’t doing it in our marriage. We loved each other, of course, but our cultural and racial differences needed to be acknowledged. Beyond that, we also needed to find a middle ground.
We decided to go to couple’s therapy. This was not an easy decision, as the stigma associated with going to therapy as a newlywed couple was staggering. Eventually, we found someone trained in the Gottman method, an approach to couples therapy that includes a thorough assessment of the couple's relationship and integrates research-based interventions. Our therapist was a first-generation immigrant from Russia with a thick accent and seemed confident in helping us find a solution in just a couple of sessions (that was good news as our insurance only covered 12 sessions). The pressure was definitely on.
In the first few weeks of therapy, William and I learned about each other’s upbringing on a much deeper level. William and I had spoken at length about our respective lives in the past, but learning about the struggles he faced growing up was newly insightful. Similarly, I was able to share how being Brown had significantly impacted the way I view the world and the way the world views me, which extended to microaggressions I experienced with his family.
I wasn’t looking for William to fix societal inequities, but only to think about every interaction we have in a nuanced way. Through therapy, we were able to clearly see the big differences in our cultures, including expectations about relationships. He learned how to stand up for me when members of his family would talk to me with microaggressions and I learned to be patient with him when he didn’t immediately understand my perspective. We are still working on understanding how we might raise a biracial child, but it’s assuring to us to know that no matter what, we can always go back to therapy.