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Intercultural marriage

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.

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10 comments

  1. Ami, thanks for writing this — very helpful and thoughtfully written.

  2. Hi – I just found your blog searching (*grin*) “intercultural marriage.” This is a really great post – I particularly like how you point out how the non-native partner will need develop a social support system in the new country.

    (I’ve linked to this on my blog – hope you don’t mind!)

  3. Hey Gori Girl,

    Glad it could be of some help. I’ve been in an intercultural relationship for 17 years now, so I hope that some of my experience can help others just starting down the road.

  4. Hi Ami,

    Glad to have found your blog and this post in particular! Like Gori Girl, I also appreciated the part about developing a social support system for the non-native spouse. My husband (East Indian) had a fairly good Desi community back in Southern California, where we lived, but since we’ve moved to Atlanta, he’s had a difficult time establishing connections with other Indians here. It’s easy for me to forget the importance of this because he’s got such great social skills, better than mine even in my own culture! We’ve had a lot of conflict about this recently because he feels I haven’t supported him in his efforts to establish friendships with other Indians. Reading this post just now has made me realize how important it is that I be more supportive of his need for other Indians in his life. Thank you! I’ve just started a blog about my intercultural relationship. I hope you don’t mind if I reference your post and link back to it!

  5. Hi! Thank’s so much for writing about intercultural relationships. I appreciate that you also emphasized that intercultural relationships should not be done merely for the reasons of appearing “cool” or diverse. It is a very hard relationship to be in and relationships in general are hard. What more one where the couple are each from a completely different background. The fact that you mention even the small details from food to movies helps comprehend why there would be bigger issues that such things that could shake an intercultural marriage. If you cannot acknowlege aspects about a person’s daily life, how are you going to deal with issues like association with your partner/spouse/siginficant other’s family, their friends, their religious and financial expectations? What I have learnt which is also important to remember to do, is to remember that this is not only hard for you but chances are its equally hard for your siginficant other. At the same time, what should keep you strong is the despite all the mishaps and miscommunication and differences; that the love you have for each other, although may be a problem for you and some people; it is so strong that it still cannot be broke no matter what worlds each of you may come from 🙂

  6. Hello Ami,

    I too just came across your blog searching for something real special to me. I have been looking for a good Russian wife so I thought I would throw this out there. I can give you all my particulars if you are interested. Been alone now for over 6 years and don’t like it and for 2 years I have been sending this out all over the worls, thanks to the Internet:

    Seeking Brown Eyed Butterfly

    If you have dark brown eyes that are gentle and full of love. If when you walk into a room, everyone looks at you because of your beauty. If when you softly speak, everyone is quiet to hear what you have to say. If your hair is full and flowing, dark and mysterious. If you are soft and shapely and your breast are full and sweet. if you are stunning and your sent can fill a room. If you like harmony and loyalty and are true. If you love children and can teach them to love as you. If you like language that is clean and pure. If you like to be loved and not abused. If you like Yanni and Celtic love songs and candle light, then I have news. If you want someone that believes like you, then listen to the magic that comes to you. In a sunset so rich and rare, a summers rain that all can share, the warm breeze in the summers nights air, I am listening and could be there.

    If you know of one like the above and could share her with someone who is not abusive, I would be forever in your debt.

    tundrabear

  7. thanks, ami. so sweet to find your blog. i just want to know something special and worthy to do some research, and i find it now. you know this phonomenon is becoming normal and normal, but little attention is paid on this. thanks !!!

  8. I just found this site, thank you for posting this. I am in intercultural marriage but I blieve my difficulties are not only with my husband but with my in-laws. I am hispanic and my husnad and his family are caucasians, I guess they not only dislike me but they ignore me and sometimes they are rude to me. I love my husband a lot and I do my best to be successful here in the US, I got a degree and a good job, I support him as much as I can but the situation with my in-laws and so constantly annoying and the passive attitude of my husband made me wish to run away of my marriage.

  9. These are great thoughts indeed. I often write about the things women should think about before getting into a mixed culture relationship. It can be a beautiful experience but can also be very difficult.

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