Making my intercultural relationship work

Published 2020-07-20 14:11

Long before Nia Vardalos starred as a girl who created a stir within her traditional Greek family, in the 2002 hit comedy, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, romances have blossomed across international borders. Intercultural relationships can be enchanting as two people, brought up in a different set of cultural beliefs, learn to navigate the romantic minefield… Often, though, people assume everything will be great — just as long as two people are happy together. The truth can be different.

Even with the Internet, the world is still a mixing bowl and culture shock and cultural clashes still happen. It’s more than just language barriers, ideology, and social norms which cause challenges. Even with all of that in the mix, it’s still possible to make it work.

Can intercultural relationships work?

Despite language barriers, communication can be troublesome if both people have different thoughts. Even if both speak different languages, it is possible for an intercultural relationship to work. You may be an English-speaking person dating a non-native English speaker. Don’t always expect your partner to understand. Be patient and respectful of their learning curve and with time and guidance, your partner will understand you better. And remember, they have the same challenges if you don’t speak their language.

What does it mean to be intercultural?

In·ter·cul·tur·al — something which takes place between people of diverse cultures such as diverse religious groups or people of dissimilar national roots.

How do you deal with cultural differences in a relationship?

A friend in America asked Alejandra, my wife, how we managed to have relatively few cultural clashes. She gave the best answer when she said we are both learners of cultures. By wanting to know more about each other’s culture, we have learned to understand why we can or cannot behave in certain ways and say certain things. We have grown more patient with each other.

We have also developed our own broken English, or Spanglish, with each other. It is often hilarious when others look at us confused, but having our own language that only we both understand is important when it comes to keeping the fun going.

Even when we have small arguments, one of us always ends up laughing as we deal with the difference in opinion with an open heart.

Here are some pointers to avoid trouble in cross-cultural relationships:

  • Insight, admiration, and understanding. Don't expect your partner to settle seamlessly into your way of life

  • Get first-hand experience of each other's cultures

  • Pass on both cultures to your children

  • Think positively about your differences

What makes intercultural marriages work?

Compromise: Once each person learns about the other, the next step is to learn how to understand and tolerate the other. 

Even in ‘normal’ relationships, couples have to work at learning how to compromise to make the relationship work. It’s important to remember the point isn’t to compromise all your principles just to make your partner happy.

Instead of thinking all or nothing, think about ways to reach a middle ground. Compromising does not mean just one person compromises. It means both persons need to be willing to compromise for the other and the sake of both being happy.

What else does it take to make intercultural relationships work? Besides compromise, it can take a lot. Here are a few tips to help ease the often bumpy transition. 

  • Embrace the differences. ...

  • Paying equal attention to both the cultures. ...

  • Have patience. ...

  • Discuss how to make it work. ...

  • Learn to be tolerant.

The Takeaway

It is not our differences which divide. It is our incompetence in acknowledging, embracing and celebrating the differences.