The Effects of Cross-Cultural Marriages on Children and the Family

Are you presently involved in a cross-cultural relationship? Do you want to tie the knot with your beloved and raise a family of your own? Congratulations, for having the courage to embark on this challenging and noble journey. But before you do that, you have to learn the effects and problems that you could encounter in these types of relationships.

Studies revealed that cross-cultural relationships entail a myriad of problems that include social, physical and relationship issues. These can cause considerable stress on the couples and families of people in this type of relationship. However, take heart; these problems have solutions that you can effectively implement.

Cross-Cultural Relationship Problems in Marriages

Asia has one of the rapidly growing numbers of interracial marriages around the globe. This can be attributed to the fact that the Internet has paved the way for easy communication and interaction between different countries. Communication is no longer a problem because of online translators.

Indeed, cross cultural relationships have become easier, with a number of relationships that ending in marriage. Nonetheless, after marriage, problems that sometimes aren’t recognized previously would then slowly appear in the equation and become magnified after the honeymoon period is over. According to the U.S. Bureau of Census the percentage of Asian American interracial marriages will rise to 11% of the U.S. population in 2050. There’s also a dramatic increase each year of Black and White intermarriages as reported by PEW.

Thus, mixed marriages and the resulting problems are one of the growing concerns of society. Intercultural marriages have existed for decades now and continue to rise in numbers; likewise, with Europeans and other races.

Here are some of these problems and the recommended solutions.

Identity crises

The problem of identity often occurs in children and couples of cross-cultural marriages. Often, the children are left in a quandary as to what country they belong to. There are reported cases of Asian-American kids being uncomfortable and being discriminated in school because of their mixed cultural background. Understandably, even their physical appearance would look unique.

Not many kids are aware that they should be proud of their ethnicity. They go through life feeling miserable and left out, simply, because their skin and hair are colored differently.

During these crucial times, the guidance of parents and family are of utmost importance. Depending on the parent’s outlook in life, the child could become a proud or miserable individual.

Not only do the children have identity crisis, a significant number of couples have their own identity problems too. The question between couples is whether to surrender their national identity or not; and which culture should be observed at home. These will always lurk in the background. What cultural practices should be imposed in the household? Will each of the couple be willing to be tolerant of each other’s national identity and fundamental differences to reach a compromise? How can this problem be solved?

 Professor Kim Halford and his team of researchers from the University of Queensland had come to the conclusion that many culturally diverse couples can have “satisfying relationships”. The couples in their study have learned how to perceive things using their partner’s perspectives. The research project, called “Loving Diversity” is presently ongoing.

In this program, couples coming from diverse backgrounds are invited to join. If they pass the screening phase, they will become active participants. They would then provide some answers to questions about interracial marriages, such as how the couples communicate and accommodate each other. Majority of the participants of the program are Chinese Western couples.

According to Professor Halford, couples from diverse cultures must be willing to:

Talk about their problems

Dialogue is important in any relationship, more so, with married couples coming from different cultures. Western men are more open and would call a spade, a spade; however, Asian women are sometimes unable to speak candidly. A typical example is when making love; Western men are usually expressive of what they want, but it takes coaxing for Asian women to come outright with what pleases them.

Couples are advised to talk honestly about the important aspects of their marriage, and come to terms with what is acceptable behavior to both. According to Halford, avoidance of a heart-to-heart talk would eventually erode the relationship.

Hence, if you’re in this type of relationship, take time to sit down and talk to your partner about how to raise your kids, what and how to eat, rules on cleanliness, and guidelines in disciplining your kids. There should be a clear-cut, unified goal for both of you.

Know each other’s cultures

In connection with talking about the vital things as a married couple, they should also strive to learn about each other’s cultures. Not just a shallow understanding of the other’s practices, but a deeper exploration of why these practices are done, and what these mean to each of the couples. The activity must be perceived as a knowledge acquisition to understand each other more.

We can outline a suggested scenario for couples based on Halford’s suggestions with the following steps:

  • Get to know each other’s cultures even before the marriage
  • Learn what’s taboo for your partner and adjust accordingly
  • Compromise in situations where you can

Miscommunication due to culture and language barrier

Because of cultural differences, misunderstandings often occur between spouses, between children and parents, or between the cross-cultural family and other people. Often, culture shock happens and before you know it, the communication gap has lengthened and you can no longer resolve the issue. This can result to divorce.

Based on a study on communication on intercultural marriages conducted by Tiffany G. Renalds, a Masteral student of the Liberty University, couples who truly loved each other experienced “marital satisfaction” in the face of their cultural diversity and communication styles.

Renalds further discovered the following facts about intercultural marriages:

Openness in communication is necessary

Couples should listen to each other’s viewpoint without being hateful and demeaning. In cases when the conflict is too much to handle and emotions are unrestrained, they should walk away momentarily. Spouses could either agree to change his/her beliefs, or accept the other’s views.

There must be a willingness to fulfill the other spouses’ needs before his/her own

In most of the couples in the study, it was evident that the spouses must have the willingness to prioritize the needs of his/her partner. This was possible when the foundation of the couples’ marriages was love.

Respect for each other is essential

The successful couples showed respect for one another by saving face for their spouses. They have disagreed in private and talked about their opinions in the confines of their rooms.

Couples must accept their differences

The researchers found out that there must be acceptance of the differences by letting go of their own biases and expectations.

In this context, we can conclude that expectations play a crucial role in the success of any relationship, be it intercultural or not. When you expect less from your spouse, you won’t get disappointed often; thus, you could live together more happily with fewer conflicts.

Couples must show kindness and understanding

In the study, destructive conflict, such as lack of kindness and understanding had made couples aggravate their ‘fights’. Each had an opinion of his/her own and didn’t want to give in.

This scenario indicates that couples must understand and be kind to one another. Empathizing and putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes can help a lot in understanding him/her.

In another study on Clinical Issues of Interracial Couples, conducted by Volker Tomas and team, language barrier and communication issues was one of the major problems encountered by mixed marriages. The recommended solution was that couples and their families must work together to strengthen communication. The researcher recommended therapeutic interventions to deal with issues for interracial couples. This involves the therapist and the couple. Couples resolve the issues by the expert guidance of a licensed therapist.

A study done by Tiffany R. Tili et al on Managing Cultural Differences and Conflicts also recommended ‘open mindedness’ and ‘changing one’s perspective’ as solutions to communication problems. In addition, the traits of self-awareness, mindfulness, respect, and being able to disclose one’s self must be developed in couples.

Religious Beliefs

When they get married, numerous couples have different religions. This can contribute to the couples’ problems later on. Their religious beliefs clash with one another and conflicts arise when no one wants to give in. When the couples agree to disagree, the tensions subside.

You should be ready for these problems if you plan to get into a mixed marriage. One of you would be expected to convert to a new religion. There are a number of adventurous couples, who simply follow what’s the most appropriate protocol in a particular place and time. An example is when they agree to attend a wedding of a close friend who has a different religion.

To solve this problem Stephanie Toelle, Program Coordinator of Family and Well Being extension, University of Florida, recommended the following strategies:

  • Couples must respect each other and be tolerant for the other’s beliefs. This entails the reconstruction of each of the couples traditions, beliefs and rituals, so that they can come up with a blended faith that would be appropriate for their religious needs.

  • Couples must learn how to communicate effectively because it’s essential in bridging the gap between two religions. The couples must establish an open communication, where they are allowed to express their beliefs. They must also support each other’s faith.

  • Couples must be flexible by understanding the deeper meaning of the religious rituals and practices. When they understand the significance of the rites, they would be able to accept and adopt them as their own. This will lead to a more harmonious relationship.

Child Rearing

Several child rearing issues occur in interracial marriages. This could undermine the couple’s relationship when they remain unresolved. Some of them are:

Parenting styles

Each culture brings in different parenting style from parents of intercultural marriages. The couples would, most probably, follow the parenting style that they have experienced from their parents.

Dariusz P. Skowronski et al conducted a research in Singapore about factors affecting intercultural couples, and found out that Asian women punish their children more than Western men. This was observed in cases of Filipino and Korean women. In addition, Malaysian women are more authoritarian than their Western spouses. Conflicts occur because of this variation in disciplining their children.

This leads to the consensus of most researchers that:

  • Couples should talk intensively about how to discipline their child before they should raise a family. Should they spare the rod? What cases can be negotiated and what are those that are either black or white? An example is when a child is caught lying, what would be the sanction? There should be specific and detailed rules and punishment for each misdemeanor. As usual, openness in communicating plays a crucial role in disciplining the child. This way, the child won’t get confused.

  • Psychologist Laura Marshak; however, has a diverse perspective, she says that children can benefit from the parents’ differing approaches because they will use the skill when dealing with the inconsistency of the outside environment. Inconsistency of the occurrences in the outside word is a constant. So, when the children have a previous exposure to similar situations, they would cope successfully with the outside world.

Educating the child

When the child goes to school, he may encounter racial discrimination depending on the community where he lives in. According to a thesis on mixed families in Australia conducted by Maki Meyer of The University of Southern Australia, “Children are the active agents of cultural transmission.”

Australia has a broader acceptance of mixed families, and thus, children are less ostracized in school for their ‘foreign’ behavior. The child’s education doesn’t only involve acculturation of the new culture but also infusion of the child’s culture into his surrounding community.

Meyer gave an example of this through the exchange of Japanese and German foods during lunch breaks. Most of the time, the ‘exotic’ food was appreciated by the peers, but there were rare instances in which the child felt discriminated because of the content of his lunch box.

Based on Meyer’s research, we can conclude that parents of mixed marriages should send their children to schools that are more open to multicultural exchanges. This will decrease discrimination and academic problems that the child may encounter. Also, this will make the migrant family a part of the fabric of its new society.

In instances when this is not possible, counseling was suggested. The counselor must be familiar with the problems confronting the children of mixed marriages. The therapist must assume an active role in the child’s adjustment to his school settings, and the sessions must continue until the child blends in with his classmates.

Well-being of the child

A study done by Jennifer Pearce-Morris et al established that there’s limited evidence that the health of children living with their interethnic parents is lower.

However, it’s commonly assumed that children from interracial marriages are more susceptible to diseases than children coming from monocultural marriages. This could stem from the fact that the child may be subjected to stressors because he appears to be ‘different’ from his/her peers. Hence, his immunity is compromised allowing him to be easily susceptible to invading disease vectors or agents.

In another research on mixed-race adolescents, they found out that mixed-race adolescents have higher behavior and health risks than single-race adolescents. This may stem from the increased stressors for the mixed-race adolescents than the one race.

The solution to this problem is clear, and that is to eliminate the stressors that these kids encounter. How? You can refer to each of the solutions provided in this post.

Enforcing discipline

Although, ‘how to enforce discipline’ was not extensively discussed in several intercultural studies, it’s safe to assume that enforcing discipline, whether in intercultural and monocultural marriages is the same.

These are the disciplinary measures that have been documented:

  • Physical pain
    these are used by some cultures to control or teach good behavior. This is mostly applied by some Asian countries. Most probably, this is where the adage: “Spare the rod and spoil the child” comes from. Nevertheless, this is slowly being shunned today as Western culture has slowly penetrated the Asian practices through intercultural marriages.

  • Time outs
    This is one alternative method that Western families have adopted to enforce disciple and “desired behavior”. Reportedly, in 2009, Europe (except France and the United Kingdom) has completely banned corporal punishment everywhere, in homes, schools, and other major establishments. In 2010, it became a criminal offense to discipline children using corporal punishment. Hence, parents of families in these areas can get into trouble with the law by using this method. Couples should strike a balance and compromise when disciplining their child to prevent sending mixed signals to the child. Both parents must agree to compromise and not insist on adopting his/her disciplinary strategies.

  • Loss of privileges
    The child can lose certain privileges when he commits a misdemeanor. Examples of these are: use of his cell phone is restricted for 3 days or a week, based on the severity of the offense; going out is not permitted until parents give permission; no TV during weekends; and other individual privileges. In the United States, disciplining the child using corporal punishment is dependent on the laws of each particular state, while in some portions of Africa, physical force is approved; nevertheless, the country is slowly adapting the non-corporal punishment, utilizing more the method of allowing the child to exercise his freedom of speech.

  • Positive reinforcement
    is recommended by the Hope Foundation in disciplining a child. Reinforcing his positive qualities and strengths is prioritized in disciplining children. In this regard, you can assume that corporal punishment is discouraged and not used in disciplining children. It’s now viewed by majority of countries in the world as unacceptable.

Language Barrier

When people speak diverse dialects, it’s inevitable that they would have a tough time understanding each other; more so with couples who are married. Their children are included in the mix. So, what could you do to solve the problem? If you’re in a mixed marriage, here are ways you can solve the problem.

Recommended solutions to the language barrier problems (whether it’s in a marital set-up or not):

Each couple must be willing to learn his/her partner’s language

This involves patience and diligence. The language can be learned through the span of years that they stay together, but it would be best to learn the language early on to facilitate communication.

Avoid speaking in idioms

Kate Berardo, an expert in cross-cultural awareness, stated that you should avoid idioms because they can be culture specific. She said this in context of business settings; nevertheless, it’s also applicable in language barriers involving intercultural relationships and marriages. Instead, speak in a simple language that your spouse can easily understand.

Speak slowly and clearly

In any new language, speaking slowly and clearly is essential for better understanding. You must be considerate of your spouse, who is still struggling to learn your language. Enunciate each word and ascertain that he/she understood first before proceeding.

For children in school

  • A research done on overcoming language barriers recommended that the child’s first language must be strengthened first. This way, learning a second language would be easy. Thus, we can draw a conclusion that you, as parents, must decide what would be the primary language of your children and then provide opportunities for the child to master this chosen language. Unluckily, this practice is not observed by many mixed marriages; therefore, the child is left confused about which language to prioritize and use.

  • The teacher plays a crucial role in assisting the student to communicate effectively. In the study of Hispanic students, collaboration or group work was a method that increased the understanding of the language.

  • Parents must also be supportive of their child’s efforts in learning a second language by actively participating in their child’s homework assignments and special functions in class.

  • School administrators must devise a curriculum that’s responsive to children coming from intercultural marriages. This curriculum should encompass the teachers’ and the parents’ active participation in the children’s school events.

Racial discrimination and social intolerance

Biracial couples and their children are sometimes discriminated in the community where they live and at school, church, or place of work. Racial discrimination can result to social intolerance.

Social intolerance refers to society’s tolerance or intolerance of interracial marriages. During the 1960s, mixed marriages were completely ostracized in majority of States in America. But, nowadays, there’s a growing acceptance of intercultural marriages.

The Pew Research Center has documented the fact that interracial marriages are on the rise, with 43% of Americans concurring that interracial marriages have instituted changes for the better. This denotes that there’s now a wider acceptance or tolerance of mixed marriages than 30 years ago. In 2015, there’s a 10% increase in interracial marriages. Nowadays, aside from the U.S., there are also countries, such as Australia that encourages interracial marriages.

Presently, the problem of social intolerance is significantly reduced because of this development. To ascertain that you don’t waste your time and energy thinking whether the society that you live in accepts your relationship or not, you may want to choose a state or country that supports interracial marriages.

Recommended solutions to the problem of social intolerance

Live in a place that widely accepts mixed marriages

To help you decide where to live, here are the 4 areas in America that have the highest percentage of interracial marriages. This is based on a recent Pew’s report.

  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada
  • Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, California
  • Fayetteville, North Carolina

In interracial marriages, Asians come first, followed by Hispanics, then the Blacks, and then the Whites.

Mingle and interact with the community

As a couple trying to earn the respect and acceptance of people, it’s imperative that you find time to mingle and interact with the community in which you have decided to live in. You may be an indifferent person, who wouldn’t care less about the thoughts of other people, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to earn the respect of the community because of your sincere concern?

Learn about the host State’s or country’s culture

To be able to interact properly, you have to learn about the State’s or country’s culture. If you want to be accepted into the folds on that particular society, it’s your social responsibility to learn about their culture. Learning the culture means integrating it into your system, celebrating with them on significant occasions and practicing their traditions.

Of course, you may not be able to perform all these cultural practices, but at least, you should participate in the important events, such as celebration of the Chinese New Year, Ramadan, Christmas, Lenten Week, and similar events.

Contribute to the good of the community

You may also want to do something beneficial for the community. Examples are donating to charitable institutions within the area; joining volunteer work; and campaigning for a good cause. The other methods are:

  • Participating in fund drives
  • Being a judge in a community event
  • Volunteering as a resource speaker on a topic of your expertise
  • Organizing a family program where you can foster camaraderie
  • Conducting free training in your field of expertise

Lend a helping hand

You can also lend a helping hand when you can, Examples are:

  • During emergency cases, you can provide whatever help you can, such as: first aid procedures during emergencies (if you belong to the medical field), and similar situations.

Be sincere and honest in dealing with other people

When dealing with people in the community, be sincere and honest. Don’t think about what’s in it for you, but treat them well and expect nothing in return. When they come to learn about this, they would accord you the respect and friendship you deserve.

Financial issues

With regards to finances, most often, there’s a clash between who would be responsible in managing the expenses or the savings account. In most Asian countries, the wife has this responsibility, while the men provide for the family. In Western and European culture, there’s more equality with regards to money matters. This difference can be a source of financial issues. Dozens of couples may not have problems with how they manage their finances, but based on a study by Dew et al, financial issues is one of the strongest predictor of divorce among couples.

These are the recommended solutions to financial disagreements

The role of each couple should be clearly specified

Before marriage, couples should discuss who would be responsible in keeping the purse. The role of each couple must be clearly delineated to prevent misunderstandings.

Would there be only one person responsible in managing the finances? Or would each couple be assigned certain utility payments? Would the husband pay for the rent, and the wife, for the electric bill? What about the education of the children? Who would be tasked to pay for it? All of these must be specified.

There should be a record of the receivables and expenditures

You have to learn how to balance your finances. Yes, you may not be an accounting graduate, but it’s a skill you must learn to prevent financial issues. Most Asian wives should learn know how to document their expenses from the husband’s monthly income.

Each couple must fulfill his/her financial obligations

Each couple must fulfill whatever financial obligations are assigned to him/her. When couples do so, this denotes respect for each other. Respecting the other person’s financial needs promotes understanding and harmony.

Don’t spend more than you can afford

Spending extravagantly more than you can afford will court disaster and financial crisis. Learn how to tighten your belt when the need arises. Many couples have separated because of financial issues. Don’t be one of them.

Couples must learn how to accept the solution presented by their spouses

Based on the related literature researched by Drew et al, couples who learn how to accept the solution presented by his spouse are most likely to trust each other and foster their interdependence.

Use positive gestures and words when discussing financial issues

Negative actions and behaviors tend to lead to marital conflict that may worsen to divorce issues. Also, these are harmful and could lead to marital distress. Thus, use positive gestures, such as touching, smiling, discussing calmly, and similar actions when discussing about money. Avoid verbal aggression because this can aggravate to physical aggression.

Housework disagreements

According to this research, housework disagreements are a genuine issue in interracial marriages. It’s almost at par with financial disagreements in terms of marital conflicts. Gender issues come in when assigning housework. Asian women are more submissive in their primary role on housework, but majority of Western women believe in the equality of both spouses when doing housework.

You can resolve housework disagreements through the following:

Each spouse is given an appropriate task

You and your partner must talk calmly about who is responsible for certain tasks. Gender issues typically come in so, the wife, handles majority of the household chores in Asian/Black Women-Western men marriages. Naturally, this is expected in marriages where the men are the breadwinners of the family.

The assigned tasks must be enforced, unless inevitable circumstances occur

Each spouse has to perform his/her assigned tasks dutifully – without fail. When one spouse doesn’t stick to the agreement, a new round of conflicts may re-occur anew. To keep the peace at home, these responsibilities should be enforced strictly.

Spouses must be supportive of each other

There’s nothing better than a word of encouragement and praise for a task well done. If you’re in a mixed marriage, make sure you utter praises more than criticisms. This is also a way to build a stronger and healthier relationship with your partner. Sharing chores is a good way of nurturing your marriage.

Pointers in Coping with Problems Caused by Cross-cultural Marriages

To help you more in resolving problems caused by cross-cultural marriages, here are some valuable pointers that you could make use of.

  1. Never say “never”.
    To borrow a title of a song, “Never say ‘never’.” If you married your interracial partner because of love, then this should be your slogan. Never end your relationship without trying your best to resolve the issue.

  2. Consult a therapist whenever necessary.
    In a review of studies, some researchers stated the need for a therapist to establish the intercultural basis of each couple to promote understanding. The therapist will guide the couple towards acceptance of the culture of the spouse, and guide them in coping with marital conflicts.

  3. Interracial marriages do have benefits.
    Seemingly, majority of the studies and related literature deals only with the problems facing these types of marriages. However, there are benefits that were discovered in these studies as well:
    1. Interracial Marriages More Pros than Cons
    2. Stress and Coping Techniques in Successful Intercultural Marriages

  4. Find the positives in your cross-cultural marriage.
    There are advantages coming from your mixed marriage, if you think positively. Optimism can go a long way. It can attract positive energy to increase your chances of success.

  5. Love is the answer.
    This old adage is certainly true. When things seem to go wrong, focus on your love for each other. A genuine love will help you weather all the ‘storms’ together. After all, love conquers every challenge.

  6. Learn to compromise.
    Compromise is the practical solution to every marital conflict. You must keep in mind that you’re no longer alone in making decisions; thus, you should consider the suggestions of your partner too. When you compromise, it’s a win-win situation for both of you.

  7. You and your children are blessed.
    Yes, you and your children are, so take pride in this fact. Your kids have two cultures, two languages and two loving, biracial parents who have become one because of love. Other children have only one.

  8. For every problem, there’s always a solution.
    Don’t stress yourself for the problems that your intercultural marriage creates. There’s always a solution for them. Enjoy finding the correct solution with your partner.

  9. Perceive the problems of your interracial marriage as challenges.
    It’s your positive perspective that counts. When your frame of mind is positive, there’s nothing you and your partner can’t handle. Remember that there’s always something positive in any given situation.

  10. Skin color should not be an issue.
    Numerous studies are conducted to find out why people of different races marry, and researchers found out that the most common denominator is love. Many studies show that intercultural marriages happen because of racial differences, and not in spite of them.

  11. Communication is the key.
    In all of the conflicts of interracial marriages, communication has always played a major role in resolving them. Therefore, you should learn how to communicate effectively with your partner. Afterwards, learn how to accept his/her beliefs and practices. When you’re able to do this. You can be rest assured that half of your problems are gone. If you stand together against all the conflicts that you encounter, your marriage stands on a firm ground and would most likely survive.

  12. What goes around comes around.
    This cliché is true – no matter how you avoid it – because it’s the Law of Nature, and nature extracts its own revenge. Be kind and generous to your partner and to other people and these good deeds will all come back to you a hundredfold.

You could follow these pointers to nurture your relationship as a married couple, and as a family. Together with your children, you can embark on a wonderful journey of re-discovery and happiness.

Being in an intercultural marriage is a positive fact that you should looked forward to. This is because it’s a unique bond that has interconnected you with a new and exciting world that you can learn from – for a lifetime.

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