Who has the power?
Dear Ate Anna
I am hearing more and more about marriage problems in our community. It seems to me that Canadian law gives too much power to women. In the Philippines this is not such a big issue, but in Canada women talk about their rights. I think this is the cause of all the marriage problems – a man has no power to control his marriage. Ate Anna, what do you think about this epidemic of marriage break-ups?
You are asking about a very complicated situation. Ate Anna has heard about couples in many newcomer communities who have marriage difficulties that cannot be resolved. This is unfortunate.
Every culture has its own view of marriage and how it works. Many people feel that the roles of husband and wife are clearer in their home country. Often people don’t realize that the roles of married couples in Canadian culture looked much the same 50 or 60 years ago. But things have changed and they are changing in many other countries, as well.
Canadian laws about divorce, domestic violence and marriage, including common-law relationships, have changed in recent years. These laws are not based on one religious or cultural view, as they are in some countries. Instead, Canadian law is based on democratic values that include equality and respect for cultural differences, law and order, freedom and peace.
Ate Anna has also heard the comment that, in Canada, women have all the power and men have none. Some men believe they have no rights. They are used to being the decision-makers and problem-solvers in the family. So it feels like a loss of power when their wives want to have a voice in the decisions. We have to remember that each person is unique, so we cannot say that all men think this way. Some men are more accepting of learning about this new way of sharing power in their marriage. (In fact, this is also true for mainstream Canadian men.)
Some women are glad that Canada gives them rights they may not have had in their home country. If a woman is in an abusive relationship she may be relieved to know that Canadian law protects her and her children. She may have been completely dependent on her husband in her home country and not able to leave a bad situation. The husband will likely see this as a loss of control and power. It is important to clarify that, in Canada, if a woman behaves abusively toward her husband he also has the same rights to receive protection from the law.
The changes that go with adapting to a new culture can cause a lot of stress in a marriage.
This stress can end up causing conflict. Sometimes men feel that they have to solve all the problems in the marriage because they are used to being in charge and knowing how to deal with things. But the couple is now living in Canada and sometimes women have their own ideas of how to deal with a new situation.
If a couple can share the decision-making power in their relationship, they have more choices for solving problems. Ate Anna knows of a saying – “Two heads are better than one.” This means that there is a benefit to working together as a couple. When husband and wife can share the load of adaptation stress, the burden is not all on one person. If men are able to change their thinking about being “the boss”, they can see this as a benefit.
It is important for wives to remember that this change in the balance of power may be difficult for their husbands. Most men were happy with the relationship as it was in the home country, so it is difficult to welcome change they don’t want. While the women see it as a benefit, the men see it as a loss. Women also need to have realistic expectations about the changes their husbands can make and how quickly that change will happen.
Both husband and wife must be sensitive to each other’s feelings. They must be willing to adapt to the changes that are necessary to keep their relationship strong. Ate Anna believes that when the husband/wife relationship is strong, the whole family benefits.
Ricardo, you have raised an important issue. Look for more information on couples working together to resolve conflict in the next column.
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