Cultural disorientation can inflict strain on personal relationships, says Pooja Tuli, a certified intercultural competence facilitator and a mental health first-aider.
“Couples often see that they are slowly moving away from their traditional cultural roles and adapting to the Canadian lifestyle,” says Tuli, who also has an academic background including psychology and sociology.
She is currently running MOSAIC’s Enhancing Healthy Relationships Project (EHRP) for immigrant, refugee and visible minority couples facing new stresses in a new country.
Shared stresses of newcomers
Since 1976, MOSAIC has provided settlement and employment services for newcomers in Canada. EHRP is one the latest programs offered by MOSAIC to make it easier for disadvantaged persons to adapt and settle down. Conducted virtually over seven sessions, the EHRP provides skills and strategies for couples to reduce stresses that can lead to domestic violence.
“The program was designed and created in the hopes of assisting immigrant couples who may be facing relationship stressors,” says Tuli. “We also hope that participating in this program will significantly lower the chances of potential domestic violence incidents.”
Newcomers in Canada face many challenges including at-risk finances and lowering or loss of professional and social status. Often their academic degrees or work experience are negated upon arrival, adding to stresses and anxieties. These hardships are only part of what MOSAIC seeks to address with the EHRP.
“Most of our clients might have had Bachelors or Masters degrees or were certified professionals, doctors or engineers,” says Tuli. “Getting credentials and degrees recognized in Canada for immigrants is often very expensive and long.”
Changing power dynamics and new couples
One of the most prominent stresses faced by newcomers is adapting to the cultural and social environment of Canada, she says.
According to Tuli, this is especially true for immigrant women in Canada who are thrust into a new society.
“The woman is now either expected or wishes to be independent and work,” she says.
The couples fear they are losing their culture, and one of the side effects is increased issues within their relationships. Tuli has learned from MOSAIC’s clients that couples do not always see adaptation to Canadian societal norms as a positive.
“In some circumstances, the woman may have a chance to be financially independent, however the home chores would still be her burden as it is part of her role from the cultural perspective,” says Tuli.
Another situation mentioned by Tuli is one where the woman is working and expected to be financially independent to support her family. However, the husband sometimes remains the one within the couple making financial decisions for the family. The status of the wife breaking away from her role as homemaker to become the breadwinner is often a jarring change for the husband.
“It has often been observed that the other partner may find this change a bit hard to adapt to, where they may be moving away from their traditional roles,” says Tuli.
Tuli explains that tight finances often leave immigrant couples with no choice but to both enter the workforce despite the shock of changing power dynamics.
Safety and belonging
“We hope to help the couples enhance their relationship by learning constructive ways to deal with conflict, improve communication…and strategies to further help them decrease the chances of future incidents,” says Tuli.
Canada is often ranked as the one of the world’s top destinations of immigrants. According to Statistics Canada, as of 2016, over 20 percent of the country’s population were immigrants. Tuli and MOSAIC hope EHRP will help ease the stresses faced by this huge part of Canada’s population. Another goal of Tuli and MOSAIC is simply to help these new couples feel less alone on their path of migration to a new country and support their sense of belonging in Canada.
For more information, please visit: www.mosaicbc.org