Being in an Intercultural Relationship

To me being in an intercultural relationship is like being in any other kind of relationship. They all take work. You’ll always have disagreements, misunderstanding and miss-communication. It’s simply a fact of life. While others may notice the difference between our races all we see is someone who we get to spend rest of our lives with.

Even though intercultural relationships are like other relationship I do think there are additional guidelines you must meet in order to help the relationship succeed. These guidelines may correlate to any relationship but ring especially true when your partner is from another culture.

Be Patient. Patience is SO important. As individuals we all have something that we do out of habit and little things that annoy us. Because of various upbringings, different beliefs different languages and different manners, we might find ourselves getting annoyed with our partners. I’ll be honest with you. I often find myself asking for patience, sometimes even over the little things. For example, English is Abhi’s second language. Needless to say his English is more formal than the colloquial way of speaking and of course improving with time. Often times, especially early on in our relationship, Abhi would say things that seemed rude or awkward to me, but it was simply his way of talking- whether it was overly formal or something he heard in a movie. Things like this still happen but not nearly as often as they used to. I’ve been with him long enough to know his way of speaking now, but every once in a while something will catch me off guard. Dealing with little things like this can sometimes be exhausting and overwhelming. Patience is the only thing that will get you through.

Hone Your Listening Skills. In any relationship listening is important. They are especially important in intercultural relationships. Often times there are accents to overcome in addition to the language barrier. It is important to listen to your partner not only so you can know what they are saying but to also be attentive to your partner. We have found listening skills to be a crucial part of our relationship. Because English is Abhi’s second language he has a tendency to pronounce words differently than they should actually be pronounced. I only know what he’s talking about because I was listening to what he was saying. We’ve also made it a point that if he says something differently I tell him the correct way to say it so his English becomes more colloquial. It’s a win-win for us. It makes Abhi’s English better and makes our conversations flow better.

Be Open Minded. Yes. Yes. Yes! I cannot stress how important this is when dating or marrying someone from another culture. You must be open minded in order for the relationship to work. There is going to be a difference in the way you look at things, whether it’s social issues, political issues or even religious issues. It is important for each partner to be able to express their beliefs and views and to treat their partner’s opinions and beliefs with respect. Heck, this should be done for every relationship, friendship, acquaintance and random person on the street. It’s okay if there’s a difference in opinion. It’s okay if there is a difference in religion. There are relationships out there that are healthy and strong with partners who have different opinions and beliefs.

Be Adventurous. Being in an intercultural relationship can open lots of doors and opportunities you may have thought were never possible. Meeting Abhi opened so many opportunities for me. It made me get my first passport, I took my first trip outside of the US, I visited India for the first time, I’ve explored Hinduism for the first time in my life. I’ve gotten to participate in Indian festivals such as Diwali and Raksha Bandhan (which I’ve never even heard of before!). I got to have my wedding in the warm, sticky spring heat of India at a gorgeous venue. I’ve eaten Indian food- daal, sambar, idli, dosa, samosas (I could go on and on) and even learned to cook Indian food. I’ve turned from a red meat eater to almost vegetarian. Be adventurous and take advantage of everyone that’s offered to you!

Be Honest and Communicate. As with any relationship it’s important to communicate, and to communicate honestly. However, I have found that with intercultural relationships this especially important. Before meeting Abhi I always had the impression that after a couple of weeks it was too early to start talking about the future. That might still be true but I really think it’s something crucial that should be done in the early stages of an intercultural relationship. When you have a relationship where two cultures mix there is going to be different expectations in regards to marriage, children, in-laws, etc. Discussing these issues early in the relationship allows you to know what your partner expects in regards to such issues. If your partner is from another country they may be expecting their future spouse to accompany them back to their homeland. Or depending upon the way your partner was raised, perhaps they expect to have their parents move in with you once you’re married. These expectations could differ greatly from your own. Discussing them early allows you to know what your partner expects and allows you the opportunity to evaluate your relationship. If you feel uncomfortable with an expectation of you from your partner talk to them. They won’t know how you are feeling if you don’t communicate it with them.

These are just a few key things that make an intercultural relationship, or any relationship, work. I’d love to hear your tips for making relationships work!


4 Comments on “Being in an Intercultural Relationship”

  1. This is a subject I’ve LONGED to write about. Being a child of multiracial, multicultural parents, myself married to another product of a multicultural marriage, I feel I have a few things to say on the topic! Not just for the relationship within the marriage, but for the relationship with children too. But I never write on it because all the aforementioned people read my blog and I don’t want them to get offended when I mention the pitfalls to avoid… 🙂

    All you say above is true…so I would like to just mention what problems can occur if your worthy advice is not heeded.

    First, I would say: Make an effort to learn your partner’s language if you don’t share the same native language. At the very least, you’re taking advantage of a fabulous opportunity to become multilingual. But more importantly, this gives you a chance to become even closer to your spouse’s family so you don’t feel excluded when they speak their native language around you. And you don’t become a burden to them, having to have things translated to you all the time. If you close your ears to their language, you close your ears to a lot of who they are…and risk cultivating a habit of closing your ears and mind – a habit that can become very difficult to change later.

    Second, if you have children, make an effort to teach them both partners’ native language and also explain to them that learning English as a second language (for example) leads to more formal ways of speaking. It’s important to help kids understand what you mean to say, so there are fewer misunderstandings. It’s important to remain aware of the ways your cultures are the same and the ways in which they differ, to help your children understand how to reconcile the differences.

    And finally, when patience runs thin, when you do have arguments, be very careful to maintain cultural respect or it will fuel the actual disagreements. Nobody ever expects that you can act in ways that are culturally insensitive (or even racist) towards the one you love, but it can happen. All marriages hit rough spots. Cultural differences can exacerbate them because what you attack first is difference. What you retreat to first when you are scared or angry is what you know without thinking: your culture. It can be okay, healthy, even to laugh together about the differences between cultures – to take joy in what makes humans so fascinating and inscrutable sometimes. But always maintain respect.

    Sorry for the long comment! As you can probably see, this is a topic that hits close to home for me!

    1. Jade I don’t mind the long comment at all! I definitely agree with all of the points you made. When I was living in India, attempting to learn Hindi (it’s still a work in progress) definitely made the relationship between my mother-in-law and I closer.

      Also your point of maintaining cultural respect is very important. I agree that all marriages go through rough patches. In any argument it can be easy to pick something you don’t understand and insult it. But when being in an intercultural relationship I think it’s very important to watch that this doesn’t happen. It will only make things worse. Sure we don’t mean to but the fact of the matter is it does happen. And if it does I think it’s crucial to discuss it after the argument is over. Hopefully the relationship will grow from it and you’ll be more aware and sensitive to it in the future.

  2. This is very helpful. But I do have some questions too. I have been in a multicultural relationship for close to 7 years. I am Australian and my beautiful woman is from Malaysia. The two if us usually don’t struggle with the differences because we are open minded but I struggle with my relationship with her parents. I want to connect well with them but often feel like I’m part of a reluctant business deal rather than a family. I know this isn’t their intention and my lady will probably give me her two cents worth if she reads this (and she is welcome too). We don’t have any language or religious barriers but I didn’t start well cos I was a little immature to begin with. First impressions and all. Do you have any ideas how I can better relate to them?

    1. @Trying Hard- I’m sorry it has taken me this long to respond to you. I think it’s normal for every couple to want to have good relationships with their in-laws. While this can be challenging enough in its own right, once you add in cultural differences and differences in opionion between generations it can be come even more difficult. However, I don’t think that you should let the idea that they are your in-laws get the better of you. In fact you may find it helpful to think of them as neighbors or someone you want to be friends with. Thinking about the relationship from a different angle may help you relieve some of the pressure that can come with trying to having a good relationship with in-laws. Another suggestion would be to make an effort to try and connect with them in way way that they are comfortable with. Does your FIL have any hobbies that he could teach you? Could you have your MIL teach you how to cook your wife’s favorite Malaysian dish? I have found that having my in-laws teach me something has helped improve my relationship with them. For instance, I have grown much closer with my MIL by having her teach me Hindi while I help her with her English. It can be difficult to overcome first impressions, but I believe that if they see that you are sincere at building a relationship with them and that you are willing to learn more about their family and their culture, they may just come around. Best of luck! I’d love to hear of any updates on efforts that are working if you have any 🙂

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