Intercultural Marriages: How To Make It Work

Marriages between partners of a different cultural background are happening more and more often. The rate of interracial marriages increased by 28 percent in the last decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While all marriages have their challenges, being raised with different cultural backgrounds can require extra attention and most times, delicacy, with how you meet each challenge.

Like every marriage, the thing that binds you together and helps you bridge the gaps is having the same core values and vision for life. When you align your priorities, which is something you have to do more than once as you grow together, you bring balance to your marriage. Having the same big picture helps you both know and trust that you are both working towards the same goals, and helps you work through any cultural differences you may encounter.

The key to a successful intercultural marriage is understanding, acceptance, and compromise. You each will have been raised with different customs and traditions, and it is important to communicate and come to an agreement on how you will blend your cultures throughout your marriage and future family. You both will have to accept (and even work to create) new traditions, and sometimes have to forego some of your own.

One obvious challenge when entering an intercultural relationship is learning how to navigate one another’s culture inside and outside of the house. This includes the following: different languages spoken at home with parents and extended family, dress worn during formal occasions (weddings, holidays, etc), different expectations about child-rearing, and division of labor at home.

Different languages being spoken is a particularly tough challenge, because it can affect how you interact with your significant others family, and impede the rate at which you get to know them. I know this from experience, as the predominant language spoken at the home of my husband is German. Something that has helped me is to try and listen, even though I may not fully understand. Your automatic reaction may be to zone out, but being present  helps you with picking up context of conversations, and noticing body language so you can gauge the emotions being expressed through each discussion. It’s important to feel comfortable asking questions, so you don’t feel too removed. Every once in a while, ask your spouse to translate or reiterate the conversation for you, and if you have some input, have your spouse help you articulate your thoughts. It’s very crucial to rely on one another in these situations.

Spending more time with each others families helps prepare you for challenges that may come. It gives you more insight into how your spouse grew up, things they struggled with as a kid, and the family dynamics they are accustomed to. It's important not to observe with a “judgmental” eye, and be present to learn, understand, and accept how they were raised.

One beautiful outcome of being in a multicultural relationship is that it pushes you to be more open-minded and challenges the way you’ve always been accustomed to living. You have to put your thoughts and assumptions on the back burner, and learn to be more patient. Learning and living with a partner from a different culture is a beautiful thing. Being able to share your experiences with a loved one is the ultimate bonding experience, and can help you feel connected in ways you can’t have with someone of the same culture.

Having the same fundamental values and goals in life with your potential spouse will help you transcend any difficulties you may face and can serve as a blueprint for guidance when the going gets tough. View your intercultural relationship as an opportunity to learn about a new culture, and embrace new traditions. Over time, you will forge your own fuse of cultures and come out on the other side with a special blend relationship made up of your acceptance, understanding, and compromise.

Hoda Abrahim