Marriage with a Foreigner – Russian Women’s Point of View

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Despite the fact that there are a high number of marriages between Russians and foreigners, the subject has not been written about exhaustively. Two very successful, attractive and open-minded Russian ladies, who are both married to expatriates, helped Moscow expat Life to understand a bit of what really stands behind a mixed marriage.

Anastasia Repko met her American husband Daniel over ten years ago at an evening school where he taught English. She was one of his students. They liked each other from the first sight but started dating only when she was no longer his student. A year later they peacefully broke up as Anastasia was too young to get married and have kids and Daniel was ten years older than her. They stayed friends but nothing indicated they would get together again. Daniel married another Russian girl. Anastasia married a Russian man. Ten years later both Anastasia and Daniel got divorced. Daniel started courting Anastasia again. This time he gave her the time she needed but asked her to think about whether she would in fact marry him or not. They discussed every aspect of married life. Anastasia felt that she loved him. They moved in together and got married.

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The saying ‘third time lucky’ fits Olga Gottchalk’s story exactly. “My first husband was from Russia. After a short time together we split up and I moved to America and met my second spouse, marriage to whom was a disaster. I left him and seriously considered being on my own for the rest of life. At that time I was struggling to be able to get permission for my daughter to live with me after divorce. Bob appeared when I was least expecting the appearance of somebody new. I met him when I started a new job. I was surprised that it is possible to meet somebody who you are so very similar to. Since I was a little girl I felt that somebody is waiting for me far away.”

In any serious relationship with expatriates there is always a point of how western the man actually is, and how prepared the women is to accept her husband’s culture. Anastasia and Olga were all exposed to western culture before they met their future husbands. Anastasia Repko parents’ house was always full of her father’s foreign colleagues. She started studying English at the age of three and progressed on from there. Anastasia graduated from the English faculty of the Plekhanov Academy, and worked for a string of western companies. Olga Gottchalk went to a special English school and started learning English early. She was always interested in foreign countries. Working for international companies helped to form her pro-western mentality.

There are however, huge cultural differences which come to light when two people marry. One thing that differs clearly between different countries is the marriage age. In Russia the majority of women still feel the need to get married and give birth before the age of 30. The raising of children, sharing domestic responsibilities and the way the man treats his lady remain the most vivid differences between foreigners and Russians, as pointed out by Olga and Anastasia.

The fact that the husband may have additional baggage is not necessarily a problem. Anastasia Repko’s husband has two kids from his first marriage. In her own words: “He fully participates in their life and supports his children financially. They come to us every other weekend, and on some holidays, they also join us on vocations.” Olga Gottchalk mentioned that in America if a couple breaks up, parents try to stay together when it comes to raising children. They can even live next to each other. One day kids are with their mum, the next day with their father. If Russians divorce, in most cases the children stay with the mother. “I have a daughter from my previous American marriage. I had this mentality that she should be with me. We were fighting for a long time. He tried to do all kinds of nasty things. He lied to the authorities. It was one allegation after another. I stopped it…”

Selection_320Another major difference is the fact that Russians are prepared to support their children into adulthood, whereas in the west, particularly in America, parents don’t do this. 

Who makes the money, and who does the dishes are also big cultural stumbling block. Anastasia Repko mentioned: “My husband came here at the age of 23, a very simple guy making very small money sometimes. He found his way in a foreign country and became successful. Most expatriates who come to Russia have very strong characters.” Anastasia continued: “What is great about a union with a foreigner is that they never divide men’s and women’s responsibility. They don’t mind babysitting. They are fine with cooking and helping at home.”

Olga Gottchalk says: “Russian men are more traditional. They expect women to do certain things. In America you can be whatever you want. In most cases in Russia men should earn money and women should raise kids. That makes them both unhappy. If a wife is better at making money and a husband is better in cooking why shouldn’t they do what they are best at?”

Money is a tricky issue, as in West European society men and women are not only treated more equally, but both parties are expected to contribute financially to the family budget, and this is very different from the traditional Russian way. In Russia the man is expected to earn more than his wife, and consequently spend more. This is why foreign men can appear to be scrooges, simply because they are not used to splashing out as much as their Russian counterparts.

Olga Gottchalk says: “In America you are not treated as female. Average Americans don’t do things like opening doors for you. In general American life teaches women to save money. Men see you as a partner who is supposed to contribute. They do it together.”

Anastasia Repko says: “I have never seen a foreigner who is a scrooge about money but I heard that such men exist. Dan is very generous. Even if he has a lunch with a different lady he in many cases pays for her.”

The problems involved with marriages between Russian women and foreign men are easy to underestimate, and not all marriages by any means survive. The stories of Olga and Anastasia are the best proof that a successful union is based on common and nationality-independent values. They also demonstrate that at least one of the partners is prepared to make major sacrifices in his or her normal cultural programming.