We are lucky to have been born in this age. This is the age of cultural globalization. The world is witnessing changes that blur the cultural and social divide that separates us. We live in an age when the world has literally become a global village and we are able to mingle, fall in love and get into relationships with people of different cultures and races so easily.
Today more and more young couples are opting to form a union with someone from a completely different culture or race making interracial marriages more commonplace by the day.
But, what is it really like to be married to or be in a relationship with someone from another culture? Can a marriage work where two people hail from two different cultures? Is love strong enough to overcome all the obstacles the cultural differences throw up? In this article, we try to answer some these question and share some handy tips to help you overcome some of the common problem couples in an interracial marriage or relationship are likely to encounter.
For the purpose of this article, we refer the term “interracial marriage” in a broader sense where the couple not only differ in their physical traits but also where the two parties have fundamentally different cultural, social or ethnic background and in many cases, the couple may also have been brought up in different countries altogether.
Interracial marriages – segregating the truth from the fantasy
Divorce rates are increasing at an alarming rate all over the world. Marriages are as is hard to survive given the changing lifestyles and rising intolerance among couples and when you add language differences in cultural the minefields, things are going to explode. We’ll be honest. Couples in an interracial marriage are likely to encounter lot more challenges than couples who share a similar cultural or racial background.
Whether it’s the loss of ones identity, differences in fundamental beliefs, unsupportive families, differences in lifestyle, or even different interpretations of an event, couples in an interracial marriage have it much harder. Things get even more complicated when the couples hail from completely different countries and/or are also in a long distance relationship.
Common reasons for conflict in interracial marriages
The overwhelming loyalty one feels towards his or her own race or culture, sometimes makes it difficult for us to understand another’s. Compounded with situations where the couple have differing beliefs, even minor misunderstandings between the couple have the potential to blow out of proportions.
It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.
Couples are known to fight over silly stuff when married. The things could range from leaving wet towels on the floor to snoring at night. It could be taking too much time to get ready to not listening to the partner attentively. However, in cross-border marriages, the things can get hilarious. She speaks English and he understands it only in pieces, she prefers to nod her head in disagreement while he wants a full-fledged argument, he wants a romantic liaison while she is for dedicated homemaking. The list can go on and on.
With interfering parents, differences in religious beliefs, the disparity in lifestyle and belief systems, things can get nasty unless taken care of at an early stage. What couples need to do before getting into such relationships is a reality check.
We consider reality to be absolute and static. However, this idea is flawed. We build our own realities according to our perception. Thus two people coming from two different cultures would have a different way of interpreting the world around them and develop realities of their own. These realities may be totally different, partially similar or mostly same depending on the upbringing, education, and past experience of the people concerned.
Moreover, we not only stick to the reality we create through our perceptions, we also look for confirmation of stereotypes in other people. We tend to ignore the exceptions and find solace in the stereotypes we create about people. Thus French men are considered romantic while Thai girls are taken to be submissive.
To make an interracial marriage work, you need to let go of these stereotypes and appreciate the fact that your partner is an individual with his or her own taste, belief system and weirdness. You also have to open up your mind to new ideas, beliefs, and lifestyle. Unless you can expand your mind and change your perception of the world around you, you cannot be happy in an intercultural relationship. Having said this, what are the challenges you can expect in your relationship with a foreigner?
Language divide – the greatest difference that you have to surmount
Languages vary across the globe and chances are high that you and your partner do not speak the same language. The language divide becomes more pronounced when Americans or Europeans date Asians. Not sharing the first language spells trouble for a relationship as communication between two people is mostly verbal.
What are the problems that may arise out of the language gap? Humor would lose the edge when its nuances are not understood by a person due to the language barrier, giving simple instructions becomes difficult and meeting other family members and getting close to them would often lead to frustrations as you do not speak the same language.
Even some couples complain that getting romantic becomes a problem with language playing a spoilsport. Misunderstandings are created when people cannot articulate their feelings properly. Coupled with cultural differences, language gap may play havoc on a relationship.
How to handle the language barrier? Thankfully, communication is not all verbal. A lot of non-verbal communication like body language is involved in actual communication that you have to bank upon. And as they say, love doesn’t need any language to express itself, there is still hope for you love birds.
Learn each other’s language
When you date someone from a different culture, there are a whole lot of things to learn and language is one of them. Learning each other’s language has several benefits. Through language, you can come closer and understand each other better. You get to know a lot about your partner’s culture which helps in strengthening the bond.
The relationship becomes more interesting and challenging. Moreover, you can prove to your love how serious you are about the relationship by taking the trouble to learn his or her language.
Seriously, that’s the first thing you should do. Just do yourself a favor and learn the language your spouse is most comfortable with. There are many free websites and apps available to learn almost any language! Here’s are crash course in Thai if you’re dating a Thai!
Make use non-verbal techniques
Learning a new language takes time. In the mean time, use more of non-verbal communication when you are with your partner. The right use of nonverbal communication factors – facial expressions, gestures, posture, eye contact, the tone of your voice and the overall body language would help you to put your message across. When talking, your nonverbal signals match up with the words you’re saying, they increase trust, clarity, and rapport.
Non-verbal communication are not just meant when talking – the way you listen, look, move, and react tells your partner whether or not you care if you’re being truthful, and how well you’re listening.
Take cues from your partner’s facial expressions to understand their state of mind. The human face is able to express various emotions effectively without ever saying a word. And the best part is, facial expressions are universal – the facial expressions for happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust are pretty much the same across cultures.
In the early period, when both of you are trying to know each other and language doesn’t help in the process, communication would take longer than usual. Do not lose heart, just be patient. There would be misunderstandings, you may not be able to fully express yourself but be patient and try to understand each other. And take things with a pinch of salt. Laugh off the silly mistakes and you would find the relationship getting more interesting.
Speak slowly and clearly
Today English is the most common language across the globe and most people can speak it but you need to remember that if it is not the first language of your partner, there would be problems in interpreting what you say. So, speak slowly, clearly and ask direct questions. Stay away from negative questions as they make communication more complicated.
Carry a dictionary…
… or an app. It is always better to check the meaning of a word you are hearing for the first time than guessing it and misunderstanding someone. With smartphones, you can check the meaning of new words quite easily and learn the language quickly. This would also make the conversation more interesting. Take of online translation tools to understand what your partner is trying to say.
No offense please
Cultures vary. What is acceptable in one culture may be considered taboo in another. Certain terms or jokes that you consider humorous may hurt your partner. So, take no offense when you do not like something that your partner says. It may have been said without intending to hurt you. Always ask before getting upset.
Don’t remain quiet, clear your doubts
This brings us to our next suggestion. If you are not sure of something, please ask. It is better to ask and know the meaning than assuming and misunderstanding someone. Converse consciously- don’t just talk, but listen too. Listen with full attention so that you get the right meaning of whatever your partner is saying. Take turns to speak so that both of you can get a chance to pour out your heart. Use simple words and ask one question at a time.
Make some rules like not using slangs, staying away from making negative comments about culture and traditions and watching the words you choose. Always check meanings before saying anything to avoid confusion.
If you follow these rules of communication, you would face fewer problems in your interracial marriage.
Religious differences – the biggest challenge to a interracial marriage
Of all the differences you would face in an interracial relationship, this one would be the most challenging. Since religion shapes our mind, opinion and thought process, the discrepancies in religious beliefs can have fatal effects on the relationship unless you know how to tackle them.
The first thing I would like to tell you is that take your religious differences as a positive influence. That would help you to look at them from a different perspective and make you more sensitive towards each others’ beliefs. Having diverse views on religion can be healthy for the relationship. You can consider it as an enlightening experience to know each other’s views and beliefs and inculcate them in your own belief system.
Get knowledgeable about your partner’s religion. Educate yourself so that both of you can enjoy conversations on religion and make it a part of your life. You can talk about the role religion plays in your relationship and the areas it affects. Does it impact your conversations or how you see each other?
In most cases, the religious differences can be worked upon by talking and being patient towards each other. You can compromise on the time your partner spends in performing the daily rituals or visiting shrines. You can set your daily routine to incorporate the rituals and yet spend quality time with each other.
If you find that the differences are taking a toll on the relationship, seek help. A marriage counselor is a right person to help you to appreciate the discrepancies you have and how they are negatively affecting the union. He would help you to reclaim the initial feelings that brought you together by separating your personal entity from the religious one. In fact, you need to believe that it is possible to be yourself without religion smothering your personality.
You can and should embrace your partner’s beliefs without sacrificing your own. It takes patience and maturity to do this but once you can achieve this your relationship would reach a new level.
If the families are dogmatic, the problem may intensify. Raising children would become a bone of contention as both parties would like them to follow their respective religion. In such cases, it would be wise to talk to your partner and decide on a middle path.
You may choose to keep your parents out of the scenario and raise the children with an open mind and allow them to choose their own religion. In fact, today, when religious fanatics are trying to wedge a war, we need to be more patient, open minded about religion and become true global citizens of this world.
Lifestyle differences – this is actually what makes the relationship interesting
This is a broad category and a lot of issues come under it. From food habits to fashion, from entertainment to hygiene, a gamut of issues falls under this category. How do you tackle these disparities? What do you do when small differences start eating into your happiness?
Understand each other’s culture
That’s the basic thing you need to do consciously. Understand the culture of your partner, explore it and find out the things that make it so beautiful. An obvious advantage of interracial marriage is the variety it brings to life. Be it food or traveling, festivals, and celebrations, you can enjoy both the world if you are ready to embrace them. So, start learning and educating yourself.
Accept and respect the differences
You cannot deny that differences that exist between you and partner. While you want steak for breakfast, she loves beans. You may detest your parents interfering in your life but she always seeks their opinion. In these differences lies the recipe for happiness, my friend. Yes, enjoy the variety life offers you. Try something from your partner’s cuisine when you feel bored. Go to places your spouse loves to visit to get a different feel of life.
Don’t fret over the differences; rather make them a part of your life. Remember that these are the things that got you attracted towards your partner. So rejoice that you have someone in your life who is so distinctive that you can spend an entire life exploring without getting bored.
Remember what makes a man interesting to a woman? “We were very different, and we disagreed about a lot of things, but he was always so interesting, you know?”
Find commonalities amidst diversity
You may find this contradictory to the above point but in reality it is not. Most relationship experts are of the opinion that relationships, where there is enough common ground to share and plenty of differences to disagree are the ones that survive. So find the common ground and sow the seeds of love, happiness, and joy in it.
There would be interests, values, and preferences that are common between you. If you share values like honesty, charity, integrity, and belief in hard work, you would find that it gets easier to tide over the disparities.
Set your priorities right
When you settle with someone from another culture, you may have to make certain compromises. You may not be able to maintain your cultural identity and may have to trade off some for the sake of your relationship. You lose some to gain some. However, the question is what you would omit? What are the things you must hold on?
There are certain parts of your culture that you have always cherished. It could be festivals, food or family traditions. Don’t discard them. They are an integral part of your personality. You must celebrate them and make them a part of your daily life.
The same holds for your partner too. You can sit together and decide on the things you would share from your respective cultures. This would help your kids to create their own identity also.
Parenting style – take it easy
Different cultures prefer different parenting styles. Western culture is more prone to adopt friendly and supportive parenting styles while the oriental culture is attached more to authoritarian style. If you and your partner believe in diverse parenting styles, raising the kids would become challenging. There would be conflicts which would harm the relationship as well as the kids.
To resolve the conflicts, you must appreciate the fact that both of you want the best for your children. Give them the best of both the worlds and yet teach them to be open to new ideas. Do not impose anything without discussing it with your partner. Create a set of rules to abide by making parenting a shared responsibility.
Couples in interracial marriages need to be flexible. They must maintain transparency in the relationship and be ready to handle the challenges the moment they arise. Above all, make sure you make allowances to almost everything your do and allow extra room for the margin of error. Remember, “Differences were meant by God not to divide but to enrich.” And so embrace them and create a life full of love, hope, surprises, and excitement.