I’ve been getting a lot of hits about intercultural marriage lately.
What is it that you want to know? It’s hard to do. I’ll tell you that much.
Sometimes a person doesn’t even know they’re getting into an intercultural marriage, since both might be the same race, income, and education level. But families can be very different.
But if you know you’re going to be married to someone not of your culture, there are a few things to think about. First of all, don’t do it just because it seems like it would be cool. It looks cool from the outside, but that wow factor quickly gets old. I don’t hear my husband’s accent anymore, therefore it is no longer exotic to me. But the differences are still something we stumble upon. And they can be harder to overcome than the typical marriage.
A successful intercultural marriage IS cool, but not because of what it looks like from the outside. It’s because of how much work it took to overcome the obstacles to communicate and understand each other well.
The experience of the marriage will probably be different for both. One spouse will live in the country of origin and the other will be a stranger in a strange land. It’s important for the spouse who is at home in the land to support the out of place spouse. Don’t make fun of or put down any lack of understanding about the culture. Try to learn some or all of your spouse’s native language. Bring the positive parts of the culture into your home if possible.
Food: In general, in any kind of family life, sharing a meal is an important bonding time. There are going to be dishes your spouse loves that you hate. It is important to try to establish your palate for things your spouse likes. You won’t be able to do this for everything, but when you can’t it doesn’t mean their food is bad. Don’t put down their food or them because they like it. It may be one of the few things of their culture that they can experience in the new land. Find dishes that are good for everyone to eat at the table, and then situations where both can have the food you like which the spouse hates. A good way to do this is to go to restaurants occasionally, or eat the meal you want at a mealtime where you aren’t sitting down together such as lunch.
Language: Support for the non-native language spouse will vary depending on how fluent they are in the new language. Sometimes they’ll never become fluent enough to get certain things done like important paperwork such as taxes, insurance, etc. (Of course, that can be hard for the native speaker!) Getting married to an immigrant probably means you’ll have to take on those kinds of tasks. But it is very important that your spouse becomes fluent enough in the new language to feel comfortable and make friends outside of your home. Help them come into social and safe situations where they can only communicate using the language of the new land. I’ve found this is especially troublesome for the stay at home mother who is in a new country. I’ve seen old women who’ve lived for decades who never learned the language. They are confined to a very limited social circle, though often these women are also married to men of their culture. But if you’re fluent in your spouse’s native language and they work at home, then it is very important you help them get out and have opportunities where they’re required to speak the new language.
But it is also important to establish a circle of friends who are native the country of your spouse’s origin. Depression is common among immigrants, especially in their first few years, and is a stage of culture shock. Finding as much social support as possible is very good, since these friends have all been there and done that. Very often among this group there will be other intercultural marriages, and friends like that can be good for both of you since they’re familiar with the particular differences you have to work with.
Story: Try to read literature and/or watch TV and movies from their land. Not only will it expand your horizons and help you understand their culture, but it will expand the cultural experience that you both share. I must admit, though, I couldn’t watch my husband’s favorite TV serial from Russia about the Russian mob. But that wasn’t because it was Russian, it was because I don’t like crime gang shows or action movies much. That’s going to happen, but again it isn’t because their stuff is bad.
The most important thing is to follow that golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Try to put yourself in the place of your spouse and then act towards them the way you would want someone to help you.