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!