DR. SHAIFALI SANDHYA

405 N. Wabash

Chicago, IL 60611

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Call: 773-800-0170​

Video Credit: Chuck Flores Photography

Biracial/ Bicultural Individuals and Minority Couples

Bicultural Couples and Relationships

 There is great beauty in interracial and intercultural relationships - the chance to learn and grow from someone who might come from a different background and a different perspective for you; at the same time, intercultural couples may face a greater share of challenges that can create dissonance and disagreement.

 

At CARE Family Consultation, we believe strong relationships are not chanced upon but are actively created with collaboration. We assist partners from diverse cultural backgrounds with needs for both short-term and/or  long-term strategies and goals ranging from:

  • Creating meaning through articulating values

  • Overcoming obstacles related to family factors

  • De-escalating conflict and destructive cycles

  • Building positive and reaffirming communication

  • Reducing reactive responses and enhancing compassion

  • Providing actionable collaboration and ongoing support 

  • Creating a shared compass for moving forward

 

As a partner in an intercultural relationship you probably face unique issues resulting in differences in perspectives; they can range from greater emphasis, involvement and interaction of extended family members in your relationship; varied cultures of both families; preferences around the display of affection in their intimate relationship; preferences on whether to prioritize the "couple" over one's parents and siblings; how to manage family opposition to your relationship; how to gain acceptance from your partner's family members and/or how to prevent family disapproval from eroding your own relationship, and others. Even basic issues can become larger than life when you're with someone who has grown up in a culture different from yours with different values and outlook.

Like yourself, many interracial couples can share similar professional and socioeconomic backgrounds and growing up with different cultural values can expose them to unfamiliar attitudes, behaviors, or prejudices in each other or in their family members. Cultural differences may span values and philosophies around money, need for independence versus interdependence, sharing home chores, children's discipline, gender roles, frequency of sex and spirituality that may be affect how you communicate with each other, levels of trust and confiding, intimacy, happiness, and the satisfaction levels in your relationship. What complicates things for intercultural couples is the absence of mentors, resources and networks that they can call upon for support during challenging times. For, sometimes the ways they interact respective family/ social network might be affecting the rifts between them.

Change is an inevitable part of life, however, and sometimes differences can occur when you might find your relationship in transitions such as -- relocation; long-distance commuting; unemployment; being in a rut; pregnancy; wedding; breakup; illness or death of loved family member or friend, and so forth - transitions can bring about a changed environment or meaning and purpose. They may also redefine the anchors of what one thought one's life or relationship was all about.

Transitions can further, challenge the relationship for bicultural couples where individuals are employing coping mechanisms with cultural and familial meaning, alienating their partners even more. For you may learn that your partner has a different way of tackling issues and understanding issues. These periods may seem frustrating and anxiety-evoking but also have the potential for much personal growth, enrichment, broadening horizons and vibrancy. It is important to address these issues as when disagreements that are neglected and ignored can negatively affect the vitality of relationships. 

 

We all get mad at our loved ones - however, when anger is protracted or passive, important issues are neglected and a downward spiral can begin in relationships creating a relationship rife with defensiveness, blame, stonewalling, criticism where important issues are repressed. When important needs underlying differences are not validated, appreciated or respected they can start to erode the vitality of relationships.

Couples seek psychotherapy for a variety of concerns:

  • Creating an intimate and honest communication

  • Building a partnership around common values

  • Dealing with parents and parents-in-law

  • Breaking cycles of miscommunication and arguments

  • Recovering from infidelity and rebuilding trust

  • Enhancing sexual connection and communication around needs

  • Navigating difficult phases (illness, fertility issues, and postpartum depression) with compassion

  • Resolving body image concerns 

  • Blending families as a step-parent or divorced parent

  • Collaborating on parenting to provide positive discipline for children

  • Navigating cultural differences around topics such as money, family, and parenting​

We also provide psychotherapy for other couples and individuals facing challenges as a result of their changed circumstances; expatriate couples and families, "third culture kids," and individuals trying to make sense and fit in with another culture. 

VIGNETTES FROM INTERCULTURAL COUPLES

 

CASE 1: "Is it Culture or Ellen's Personality?" asks Hari

Ellen, Caucasian, 32 years old, VP of Sales and Hari, Indian-American, 32 years old, Cardiologist have been dating for three years and find themselves stuck. "Mostly it is me feeling stuck with his family," shares Ellen. Although family issues have been ever-present in their relationship, as their relationship started to get more serious, family involvement also became highly charged. Hari is the eldest born son in his family, belongs to the Brahmin caste and grew up in Michigan. Hari's parents always expected that he would marry an Indian woman.  "I was pretty familiar with the Indian culture as I had done volunteering in India," says Ellen, but nothing prepared her for Hari's family. "His family is posing a lot more difficulties than I could ever imagine." After every trip to Hari's family, "I found myself in tears" shared Ellen. They grappled with significant and strenuous objection from his family as they attempted to create their own relationship. Their challenges ranged from: whether or not Ellen ought to learn the Indian language; should Hari be expressing his affections to Ellen in front of his conservative parents; whether Hari's parents would ever give approval and hence, legitimacy to their relationship, and so forth. Such family and cultural issues started to invade their intimate space and the couple became more enmeshed in defending or attacking family members than enjoying each other's company. Cultural issues - like, Hari being the oldest son and his family's caste also played in their relational dynamics.

 

Ellen and Hari were serious about their commitment but they found themselves stuck. Couples counseling assisted Hari in figuring out "Is it Ellen's personality that his mother refers as 'intolerable' or is it culture that is posing as a challenge for us?"; helped Ellen could manage the authoritarian behaviors of Hari's family members in a culturally sensitive manner; and enabled Hari and Ellen to collaborate with each other to create a vibrant and empathic partnership along with strong family support for their wedding and ultimately, marriage. 

Case 2: "Can we learn to communicate authentically without tearing into each other?"

Miriam, 29-years old, African-American is married to Ethan, 30 years, from Ghana. They met in high school and have been married for 5-years. For the last couple of years their relationship has been going through a "rough patch" where little issues become big. Right from the time Miriam moved into Ethan's home, they cannot stop fighting on everything - from which spoon to use, which and whose dishes to keep versus donate, how to use the soap dispenser, and whether or not to use social media when they are having family dinners. In therapy, the couple acknowledge the disparate ways they have learnt emotional expressional and how it affects their exchanges. Miriam tells Ethan, "I keep communicating to you in different ways. It feels like either you are not listening or you are not understanding." Ethan grew up in Belgium when his mother sent him to live with his grandmother when he was only one year old. At some level, he is aware that he has "deep issues as a result of being unwanted orphan that affect his inability to express emotions, but I don't know what to do." With a growing awareness of how suppressed emotions might be a playing a role in their conflicts, Miriam and Ethan learn to be emotionally present, and develop their nonverbal sensitivity to each other for greater insight, support, and transformation. With this, they supported each other in building an environment of nonjudgment and unconditional positive regard. 

Case 3: "We are planning our wedding but will we be able to trust each other?"

Arya, 27-years old, Indian-American and Patrick, 30 years, Caucasian, have been dating for the last year. They met each other on the dating app, Bumble, and shortly after started dating. As they spent more time together, they discovered they aligned on family values, shared an unspoken understanding on what was most important in life, had similar abilities on articulating things well, enjoyed having sex with each other, and realized they "just absolutely adored each other." Arya came from a traditional Indian family with many constraints on her freedom when she was growing up. In order to survive the controlling and strict family environment, Arya found herself lying or "manipulating the truth." When Patrick was very young, his father in pursuit of an affair, deserted their family. Following the divorce, Patrick's mother raised him and his siblings with the support of her extended family. Recently,  jealousy and trust issues seemed to have been sparked between Arya and Patrick over "flirtatious messages," Arya perceives that Patrick exchanged with an ex on Instagram, Facebook, and Facebook Messenger. Patrick is similarly concerned whether Arya "embellishes the truth" or even whether there are "lies of omission" or he wonders, "if she's manipulating with others, she's going to manipulate me." "We are bringing out the worst in each other," Arya shares, and both Arya and Michael "want a reset button in their relationship where they can grow their relationship and themselves in positive ways." Among other goals, therapy focuses on establishing expectation and healthy boundaries of communication on social media. 

Case 4: "Can we repair our marriage after an affair?"

 

Scott, 40-years old, Caucasian and Brenda, 39-years old, Asian-American, have been married for 3 years. They are both surgeons and met each other when they were on a fellowship. In the past three years, they have changed home, cities, and jobs three times. Shortly after their first child was born, Scott started an affair that Brenda discovered. The affair is over and after a series of talks, they want to figure out how to heal their hurt, initiate a new way forward, and repair their relationship. 

Multicultural Therapy for Minority and Diverse Clients

Psychotherapy for Minority Clients Navigating Race, Faith and Ethnicity

Dr. Sandhya provides interfaith and intercultural therapy to clients who come from different cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds such as African-American, Italian, German, Palestinian, Chinese, Saudi, Iranian, Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Palestinian, Jamaican, Moroccan, Iraqi, Cameroon, Uganda, Egyptian, Korean, Syrian, Sudanese, Nigerian, and African-American, and across religious backgrounds such as Hindu, Muslim, Confucian, Jewish, and Catholic. Dr. Sandhya's multicultural orientation and sensitivity is informed by her academic writings on the global family as well as her interviews of families in many countries around the world. 

VIGNETTES

Benjamin: "I have not seen successful relationships. How can I be less guarded with the woman I want to marry? How can I understand the unsaid at work?" 

What Benjamin, 38-years old, African-American, investment banker, an Ivy League graduate wants more than anything is to live a life of abandon yet spirituality, to take leaps of faith in love and be able to express himself without inner censor or fears in his professional and personal life.  Benjamin grew up in a rough inner-city neighborhood of Detroit where families never felt safe to send their children to school and where most were caught up in drugs, gangs, and poverty; his parents too, battled their own addictions. Benjamin was the only one in his county and across all generations of his family to graduate from college. Despite being talented, ambitious and successful, Benjamin struggles with articulating his thoughts to others for fear of dismissal or disparagement; taking leadership in managing communication at professional meetings; and developing a better social IQ to pick up up the subtext in a politically charged work environment. In therapy, he develops action items to to empower his public speaking abilities and nonverbal body language;  learns how invisible and insidious effects of race can affect the communication of even successful Black men like himself; how to proactively build supportive and mentoring relationships; and, how to invite, encourage, and sustain open-hearted conversations with his girlfriend. 

Anthony: Achieving Success While Negotiating Identity and Race In Corporate Finance

 

Anthony, a Stanford educated MBA, African-American, works in a high-stress and cut-throat financial environment where smooth interpersonal dynamics are key factors in driving success and determining promotions. Anthony is ambitious, trustworthy, with high social IQ, and hardworking but struggles with confidence, self-esteem and projecting leadership attributes, stumbling blocks in moving up the corporate ladder. Most specifically, "I am fine in small groups, but in large groups, my heart starts racing and I feel my nervousness overpower my expressions." 

Anthony grew up impoverished in a crime-ridden inner city neighborhood of Chicago where crack cocaine, alcohol, and violence were a norm of life. "There were lots of disappointments in my childhood. I saw my friends, family and neighbors did not attend school, but instead they battled addictions" he shares.

 

Unspoken and unique cultural challenges of race may affect even successful African-American men and women in our society today; these need to be expressed, validated and integrated for their overall well-being. Sheer grit, perseverance and hard work have brought Anthony material successes - in therapy Anthony's goals are to embark on authentic conversations with himself; to express himself to others without fear of repercussions; to learn the invisible impact his family, race, and cultural legacy have on his present-day behaviors, nonverbal expression, identity, and belongingness; and to create rewarding mentorships for interpersonal and professional successes. 

Multicultural Therapy for Arabic-Speaking Clients

Psychotherapy for Arabic-Speaking Clients

Our Arabic speaking clients appreciate our culturally-sensitive approach that rests on knowledge of historical scholarship of Islam, and conflicts of understanding within it. For those seeking a therapist familiar with the Islamic religion, we provide counseling for:

  • Second-generation Muslim young adults exploring self-identity while balancing ideas of religion and their traditional families​​

  • First generation Muslim female physicians negotiating their professional identity and personal aspirations 

  • Muslim parents seeking greater support for their children struggling with identity and mental health

  • Muslim husbands and wives seeking greater alignment of their intimacy and values 

 

VIGNETTE

"I just want to be a normal college kid but then my eyes happened...."

When Adib, 20-years old was in his first semester at college, he realized he "had trouble listening" "would overthink" and experienced "social anxiety where I would have trouble talking to girls." His parents are first-generation immigrants from Pakistan who worked hard to open many grocery stores around the country; his father who had battled with depression too, told Adib, "You just need a positive mindset," or "you need to wake up at 6 am everyday, and then you watch, things will get better" or "I am tired everyday too, you just have to pick yourself up and keep moving." When home-grown remedies did not work and after much valuable time was lost, Adib's parents took him to a psychiatrist who prescribed him Effexor, a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) commonly prescribed for depression. Although his mood improved but his energy level continued to sag. "Mentally and physically I was always exhausted," says Adib. "I would try going to the gym to workout to improve my self-esteem, but that left me more tired." In the meantime, Adib's situation was deteriorating. Now, his eyes were drying up, he wasn't producing "any tears" and Adib was unable to get out of bed. Suspecting something else was going on, his third semester at college, he sought out a specialist who diagnosed him with Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks parts of your own body by mistake. In Sjogren's syndrome, it attacks the glands that make tears and saliva. Feeling overwhelmed with overdiagnoses and specialist, Adib is seeking therapy to figure out healthy tools to manage the growing stress in his life. 

RESOURCES FOR BIRACIAL AND BICULTURAL COUPLES

Nearly 1 in 5 Newlyweds In Chicago Area Are In Interracial Marriage: Some 19 percent of marriages over a recent five-year period in the Chicago area were between people of different races or ethnicities. 

Recent trends in intercultural and biracial relationships: In today’s globalized world, mixed or inter-cultural relationships are on the rise as it becomes increasingly simple to meet and date people from other cultures and racial backgrounds. Intermarriage across the U.S. by metro area has been increasing, and the share of newlyweds married to someone of a different race or ethnicity has been steadily climbing in the United States.In 1967, 3% of newlyweds were intermarried, and by 2015, that share had risen to 17%. Across metropolitan areas, intermarriage rates vary dramatically. We have come a long way from Loving v. Virginia (1967), the civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court, which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Highlights a recent Pew Report from May 2017 highlights the increasing trends of intermarriage across many cities across the United States:

"Honolulu has the highest rate of intermarriage – 42% of newlyweds have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. On the other hand, in Jackson, Mississippi, and Asheville, North Carolina, just 3% of the recently wed are intermarried. As is the case nationally, within metro areas, intermarriage rates differ across races. For instance, among newlyweds in Chicago, 35% of Asians are married to someone of a different race or ethnicity, compared with 24% of Hispanics, 14% of whites and 13% of blacks." 

"The most dramatic increases in intermarriage have occurred among black newlyweds. Since 1980, the share who married someone of a different race or ethnicity has more than tripled from 5% to 18%. White newlyweds, too, have experienced a rapid increase in intermarriage, with rates rising from 4% to 11%. However, despite this increase, they remain the least likely of all major racial or ethnic groups to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity."

Public views on Intermarriage; http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/05/18/2-public-views-on-intermarriage/

Census shows big jump in interracial couples (USA Today)

Interracial marriages and unmarried interracial couples have been rising over the past decade. Among opposite-sex married couples, one in 10 (5.4 million couples) are interracial, a 28% jump since 2000. In 2010, 18% of heterosexual unmarried couples were of different races (1.2 million couples) and 21% of same-sex couples (133,477 couples) were mixed according to USA Today.  Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution suggests that the data show "we're becoming much more of an integrated, multiracial society." 

Several other household trends have been observed from 2000 to 2010.  For example, Non-family households rose 16% (34 million to 39 million).  In addition, Households with just one person increased from 25.8% to 26.7%; among cities with 100,000 or more people, Atlanta and Washington had the highest percentage of one-person households, both 44%.  Finally, unmarried-partner households increased from 5.5 million to 7.7 million and households with three or more generations rose from 3.9 million to 5.1 million.

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-04-24/census-interracial-couples/54531706/1

Interracial Marriage In The U.S. Climbs To New High, Study Finds (Huffington Post)

Interracial marriages in the U.S. have climbed to 4.8 million – a record 1 in 12 – as a steady flow of new Asian and Hispanic immigrants expands the pool of prospective spouses. Blacks are now substantially more likely than before to marry whites.  A Pew Research Center study details a diversifying America where interracial unions and the mixed-race children they produce are challenging typical notions of race.   Nevertheless, about 83 percent of Americans say it is "all right for blacks and whites to date each other," up from 48 percent in 1987.  As a whole, about 63 percent of those surveyed say it "would be fine" if a family member were to marry outside their own race.  In all, more than 15 percent of new marriages in 2010 were interracial. 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/16/interracial-marriage-in-us_n_1281229.html

Changes in Family Structure (PEW)

The Pew Research Center conducted of responses to a survey in which a nationally representative sample of 2,691 adults were asked whether they considered the following seven trends to be good, bad or of no consequence to society: more unmarried couples raising children; more gay and lesbian couples raising children; more single women having children without a male partner to help raise them; more people living together without getting married; more mothers of young children working outside the home; more people of different races marrying each other; and more women not ever having children.  Responders can be roughly divided into accepters (31%), rejecters (32%), and skeptics (37%).  Overall, research has found a widely shared verdict: Three-quarters or more of each group say the increase in interracial marriage has done no harm to society or is a positive development. Still, about a quarter (24%) of Rejecters say this trend is bad for society, while only 11% of Skeptics and 6% of Accepters agree. 

 

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/02/16/the-public-renders-a-split-verdict-on-changes-in-family-structure/

The Decline of Marriage  And  Rise of New Families (PEW)

A new “marriage gap” in the United States is increasingly aligned with a growing income gap. Marriage, while declining among all groups, remains the norm for adults with a college education and good income but is now markedly less prevalent among those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.  The transformative trends of the past 50 years that have led to a sharp decline in marriage and a rise of new family forms have been shaped by attitudes and behaviors that differ by class, age and race, according to a new Pew Research Center nationwide survey, done in association with Time, complemented by an analysis of demographic and economic data from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

A summary of the results attempts to answer the following questions: Is there class-based decline in marriage?, Is marriage becoming obsolete?, Is the public ambivalent to the changes?, How people view group differences?, How has this impacted the resilience of families?, Is marriage the only path to family formation?  What is the role of relatives in fractures marriages?  What are the changes in spousal roles?  How has cohabitation changed?, what is the impact on children?  What are the views on love and money in regards to lifelong commitment?

 

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/11/18/the-decline-of-marriage-and-rise-of-new-families/

 

The Changing American Family (PEW)

Decades of demographic, economic and social change have transformed the structure and composition of the American family.  Interactive charts show trends related to marriage, children and household composition.  Interracial marriage has been on the rise.  Between 1960 and 2008, new marriages between people of different races and ethnicities have risen from 2% to 15%.   

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/11/18/five-decades-of-marriage-trends/

A Survey of LGBT Americans (PEW)

A recent nationally representative survey of 1,197 LGBT adults offers testimony to the many ways they feel they have been stigmatized by society. About four-in-ten (39%) say that at some point in their lives they were rejected by a family member or close friend because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; 30% say they have been physically attacked or threatened; 29% say they have been made to feel unwelcome in a place of worship; and 21% say they have been treated unfairly by an employer. About six-in-ten (58%) say they’ve been the target of slurs or jokes.  The survey finds that the LGBT population is distinctive in many ways beyond sexual orientation. Compared with the general public, Pew Research LGBT survey respondents are more liberal, more Democratic, less religious, less happy with their lives, and more satisfied with the general direction of the country. 

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a-survey-of-lgbt-americans/

Mixed Marriages And A Referral for South Asian Marriages

In Open magazine, journalist David Lepeska describes how people of Indian origin appear readier than ever to join America’s great melting pot—marrying people of other ethnicities in growing numbers, and the challenges they will confront: "What’s more, among South Asians, inter-ethnic unions often fare better than intra-ethnic. “Desi-desi marriages are more fragile than desi-White marriages in the US,” says Shaifali Sandhya, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist and the author of Love Will Follow: Why the Indian Marriage Is Burning. She cites an excess of parental involvement and the couple’s resulting inability to find privacy as possible explanations."

Quick Glance at Interracial Marriage Facts

  • In the United States, the percentage of new marriage between people of different races and ethnicities has risen from 2% in 1960 to 15% in 2008

  • Overall, Hispanics have the highest intermarriage rates, with one-in-four (26%) of new Hispanic marriages in 2010 interracial or interethnic

  • Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9% of whites, 17% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 28% of Asians married outside of their racial or ethnic group

  • About 24% of all black male newlyweds in 2010 married outside of their race, compared to just 9% of black female newlyweds.

  • About 36% of Asian female newlyweds married outside of their race in 2010, compared to just 17% percent of Asian male newlyweds.

  • In 2008-2010, the median combined income for interracial married couples was $56,711

  • White and Asian couples have significantly higher median combined earnings of $70,952

  • About one-in-five or 22% of all newlyweds in the Western states married someone of a different race or ethnicity, compared to 14% in the South, 13% in the Northeast and 11% in the Midwest

  • 43% of Americans say that marriage between people of different races has been a change for the better, while 28% of people say that marriage between different races was not acceptable

  • About 35% of American report that a member of their immediate family or close relative is currently married to someone of a different race