2006.11.17: November 17, 2006: Headlines: COS - Honduras: Marraige: Psychology: Love: Psychology Today: Nontraditional Couples: Stephanie, a young Chinese-American from California, who planned a career in medicine, met Juan, a poor construction worker, in a little town in Honduras when she was serving as a Peace Corps health worker

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Honduras: Peace Corps Honduras: The Peace Corps in Honduras: 2006.11.17: November 17, 2006: Headlines: COS - Honduras: Marraige: Psychology: Love: Psychology Today: Nontraditional Couples: Stephanie, a young Chinese-American from California, who planned a career in medicine, met Juan, a poor construction worker, in a little town in Honduras when she was serving as a Peace Corps health worker

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Nontraditional Couples: Stephanie, a young Chinese-American from California, who planned a career in medicine, met Juan, a poor construction worker, in a little town in Honduras when she was serving as a Peace Corps health worker

Nontraditional Couples: Stephanie, a young Chinese-American from California, who planned a career in medicine, met Juan, a poor construction worker, in a little town in Honduras when she was serving as a Peace Corps health worker

Nontraditional couples may be seen as weird, discomfiting or even sinful by others, but if they survive the crucible of social censure and self-doubt they can forge powerful bonds—and teach others about enduring love.

Nontraditional Couples: Stephanie, a young Chinese-American from California, who planned a career in medicine, met Juan, a poor construction worker, in a little town in Honduras when she was serving as a Peace Corps health worker

Love at the Margins

By Mark Teich


While relatives usually react badly at first to these unions, in some cases family acceptance launches the relationship.

Stephanie, a young Chinese-American from California, who planned a career in medicine, met Juan, a poor construction worker, in a little town in Honduras when she was serving as a Peace Corps health worker. His family was the initial glue; Stephanie actually met them first, when Juan was working out of town. His mother, a coworker, kept inviting her home. "He has a big family, with 10 brothers and sisters, and lots of cousins, and they interact every day. They were all so nice, and kind of adopted me."

By the time Juan arrived on the scene, she was already a fixture. "We never really dated, we just spent a lot of time together," she recalls.

Family Feuds

Often it takes every bit of that commitment for these couples to survive the extreme pressures their families impose on them; no other stressor is typically as great.

Like Steven and Joyce, Stephanie and Juan came to a crossroads relatively early in their relationship, in their case because of issues with both families. It started when Stephanie's Peace Corps stint was ending. She had to return home, and though she and Juan had been together a year and a half, he wasn't ready to go with her.

"Stephanie meant a lot to me, but I didn't want to leave my family," he says. They weren't dying to lose him either, even though they loved Stephanie. His parents were divorced. As the oldest brother, Juan was seen as "Papi" at home. So Stephanie headed back to the States thinking the relationship was over.

They kept communicating, though, and soon realized they missed each other too badly to stay apart. Juan applied for a fiance visa, and that's when the trouble with Stephanie's father began.

When he learned she was planning to marry Juan, he felt disrespected. He pointed to all the egregious differences between her and Juan: She was Chinese-American, he was Hispanic; she had been raised Buddhist, he was Catholic; she was a well-off medical school candidate, and he hadn't completed high school. What's more, Juan didn't speak English. "He's just using you to get a green card," her father said. When Stephanie married Juan and moved with him to the Bronx, New York, her father didn't talk to her for years.

Stephanie lived with a pang in her heart for her lost family. "I was with Juan for three and a half years before my family met him, and I'd never spoken to my father in all that time. I've always been close to my family, so it was awful," she says. "Juan is such a good, honest man, such a gentle soul, that I knew they would love him if they ever met him."

Finally, the couple was invited home one Christmas, and the response to Juan was everything Stephanie had hoped for: Her father was nice to him from the moment he met him. And after five years of marriage, Juan, now preparing to become an environmental engineer, has shown that he deserved the trust Stephanie always placed in him.

Advice for the Rest of Us

Nontraditional couples who make it have a lot to teach us. Here's what we can learn from their success.

* The more you trust your gut instinct and the more comfortable you feel in your own skin, the less outsiders will be able to interfere.

* When partners bring different skills to a relationship, they enhance each other's positions in the world.

* You may be attracted to your opposite, but if you want the relationship to last, you need lots in common as well.
* Don't let outside disapproval of your partner determine the way you feel about him or her.

* Extended family or a close circle of friends can nurture your relationship.

* Friends and family who initially disapprove may change their minds as your relationship stands the test of time. But accept the possibility that they may not. Be prepared to reduce contact and forge new ties with others.

* If in-laws interfere in your relationship or take a strong stance on how you must raise your children, it may be time to limit their role.

* If you can deal with it together as a team, adversity will strengthen the relationship.

* Traditional couples can enhance their bonds by introducing exciting challenges. Climbing a mountain or building a company together can spice up the love.

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Headlines: November, 2006; Peace Corps Honduras; Directory of Honduras RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Honduras RPCVs; Psychology; Love

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