How to Navigate Cultural Differences in Your Marriage

How to Navigate Cultural Differences in Your Marriage

How to Navigate Cultural Differences in Your Marriage

Mixed marriages cultural differences – different is good, until it’s not.  I work with several couples all over the world that have decided to marry outside their culture, faith, or race.  And they are wonderfully strong people – but they share many common difficulties.

Intermarriages are not as rosy as they were portrayed in Roman Holiday, where sheltered and bored English Princess Ann escapes her guardians and falls in love with an American reporter in Rome. Larsson once wrote that intermarriage is probably the most provocative word in English language.

Provocative, because of the strong reaction (both positive and negative) it receives when mentioned.In today’s globalized world; intermarriages are not something unexpected as it has become increasingly simple to interact with people from different cultural and racial backgrounds. According to Pew Forum on Religion and Public life, more than 37% of Americans are married to someone from different a faith or culture than their own.

Marrying someone from a different culture has its own set of challenging variables, but it provides enriching opportunities of personal growth as well. All married couples make adjustments and compromises in order to facilitate each other, but when these adjustments feature negotiating religion or culture, it adds another layer to the process of understanding and developing the relationship.

About everything in life is patterned in accordance with culture; let it be parenthood, meals, or even the basic notions of self-expression. What may begin as a fascinating difference may transform itself into a stubborn barrier when a relationship goes under pressure. Below is the list that was developed after close observation of behaviors exhibited by intermarriage couples who chose to seek counseling. You may find some useful pointers that may help you put your marriage back on track.

Understanding a whole new culture

If you are marrying someone from a starkly different culture than yours, prepare yourself for the unexpected. You may think you have done your research, but there are still going to be things that you don’t understand. Don’t get flustered or frustrated when such situations arise, but learn to navigate between cultures and recognize the fact that there will always be things that will be beyond your comprehension. Like, why does your Indian wife place so much importance on a tight knit family or why your French husband thinks you need to wear makeup even when you go out to pick up newspaper.


Overcoming the Language barrier

You might have thought that having common secondary language will save you both from misunderstandings, but this belief gets strongly challenged when you visit parents or other relatives. The silver lining is your kids will be bi-lingual, and if you try, you can learn a new language too! This will not only help you understand your spouse better, but you will be able to enjoy family gatherings. It is true that a lot of things get lost in translation, literally, so start by learning to say small phrases and then graduate to complex sentences. You don’t need elaborate language classes for that, your spouse will be more than happy to be the teacher!

Religion Matters

Religion is a sensitive aspect to any culture. This aspect doesn’t pose any direct reason for disruption until a couple decides to have children. Your Muslim wife may want your child to be named after a spiritual leader, or your Christian husband may want to take the kids to mass every Sunday, and this makes you highly uncomfortable regarding what your children will grow up to be. Remember that you married your spouse after fully knowing their religious orientation. Make your children understand the significance of their situation, and have a detailed discussion on what your children shall follow.

Parenthood Blues

Parenthood itself is a challenging task, and you have an added dimension of multi-cultural aspect to handle. One positive facet of raising children in a culturally diverse household is the fact that they grow up to be tolerant and patient towards ethnicities and religions. Don’t demean your spouse’s culture in front of your kids, and try to find unifying aspects, like the spirit of celebrating festivals. Being exposed to different cultures is one of the best things your children will experience if you make it fun and easy.

Legality and staying in one country


Make sure that you and your spouse have your passport/visa validated. Many a time situation arises when a spouse is denied further extension in visa and in this can be a very exasperating situation. Most countries offer complementary citizenship to the spouse of their citizen, but if your country doesn’t, make sure that all the documents are in place. Go through the legal procedures thoroughly so that you both don’t have to face any frustrating situation in the future.

Make your foreign spouse feel at home

Your spouse made a huge sacrifice by leaving their own country and coming to settle in yours for your marriage. They might be overwhelmed by your close knit family and over bearing relatives, or lack thereof. Don’t expect them to assimilate in your culture overnight, and listen to their apprehensions with an open mind. Explain your customs and traditions in easy ways and don’t ask them to forget their own roots. Moreover, alienating your spouse from happenings just because they don’t belong is an unwise move. Include them, and celebrate your culture and your marriage.

Maintain contact with family

Your family might not have taken the news of you marrying someone from a different culture or religion with an open mind. This doesn’t mean it’s time to cut them off completely. Maintain a steady contact with your family, even if they resist at first. Most families come to terms with everything with the passage of time. What you need to do is have a level headed discussion with them ,and not rushing them into accepting your marriage. Give anything time, and that thing comes along. Patience is the key here.

You will, naturally, not receive an Oscar for your effort, like Audrey Hepburn did in Roman Holiday. But there are numerous defining moments in cross cultural marriages that will allow you both to celebrate each other’s differences. Seek counseling, and discuss your questions at length with your spouse. Intermarriage relationships bring the chance of being in love and learning something new every day, so don’t let this chance pass you by.

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