Early in their marriage, Reenee Singh and Stephen Fitzpatrick hit a difficult time and went for counselling. “The fact that we were an interracial couple – I am Indian, Stephen white British – wasn’t seen as particularly significant. Yet we realised in time how key cultural problems were to the breakdown in our communication,” she says.
“The therapy was helpful in other ways, but I was seen as oversensitive when I minded, for instance, being seen as the nanny with our baby because he was pale-skinned and fair-haired. Or I found it upsetting that Stephen thought I was trying to crowd out the intimacy in our relationship by filling the house with friends and family – the thing Indian families do. I began to feel isolated from the life I wanted to lead. We withdrew emotionally from each other.”
Singh, a family systemic psychotherapist and editor of the Journal of FamilyTherapy, had “a kind of epiphany”. She says: “I was seeing a great many intercultural couples in my practice, yet I knew most family therapy on offer does not take into account the intercultural aspect of relationships, even when people from sometimes startlingly different cultures are at loggerheads because of misunderstandings over their beliefs, rituals, expectations, parenting approaches, ways of communicating, and racism within the extended family.”
On Monday Singh launches the Intercultural Couples Centre, based at the Child and Family Practice in London, to offer constructive help with cultural diversity. It is predicted that, by 2030, 50% of people in London will have been born overseas, while the number of people in England and Wales living with, or married to, someone from another cultural group is now one in 10. Meanwhile, the number of people described on census forms as “mixed” or “multiple” ethnicity almost doubled from 660,000 in 2001 to 1.2 million in 2011, making it by far the fastest-growing category, according to analysis from the Office for National Statistics.