A good marriage is like a casserole, only those responsible for it really know what goes in it. -anonymous
I had just finished my college education in California, where I met my husband Brian. We had been engaged for about a year and a half, when we faced what could have ended the relationship before the marriage even began. I never feared my soon to be husband’s reaction to many of my cultural biases, or customs, however, I was convinced what I was about to share with him could potentially destroy any dreams of making it to the altar. So, I gathered up my courage, and said it; “hum, I-I n-need to go…home, you know, to Puerto Rico.” I stuttered. “Oh, is your family ok?” He replied. “No…I have to, um, live with my parents, u-un-until the wedding day.” I sort of blurred it out. “What the, what?!?!” He responded in shock. I’ll spare you the details of our hour-long argument about cultural differences, but needless to say, that was just the start of a long line of embarrassing, troublesome, and infuriating moments in our cross-cultural marriage.
I thought EVERYONE knew that a bride only leaves her parent’s home when they go off to college or on their wedding day (at least, that’s the way it was when I was growing up in Puerto Rico). But to my fiancée this was ridiculous and unheard off, especially when we were about three months away from our wedding. He was not happy about it, but in the end, gave in. It wasn’t until much later into our marriage, that it finally made sense to him. See, it was never about me, or about us, but it was about honoring my culture.
I have many friends from all over the world. Partly because of my many missions’ trips overseas, but also, friends from college, work, church, etc. As much as I love my friends, I am convinced that when I spend time with them, is much like walking through a mine-field, where at any moment, I may say or do the wrong thing. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any understanding, patience and compassion between us, is simply that there is always this unspoken-invisible caution sign that is very present in every interaction we have. I find that even after twenty-five years of marriage, Brian and I still see that sign in several of our regular interactions, however, we have learned to exercise coping mechanisms, as well as sensitivity when needed. I want to share with you what has helped us navigate this very treacherous mine-field that is marriage between people from different cultures.
- Do not just tolerate-engage each other-Seek to understand your differences.
- Do your research before marriage, and even while in it, seek to educate yourself about your loved one’s culture.
- Do not assume anything-Just because we do things a certain way, does not mean the way they do it is wrong. Repeat after me, “Is not wrong, is just different.”
- Communication is key.-Talk about everything, even the cultural things you find bothersome, but do it with love and compassion.
- Learn the “unspoken” in a conversation-Remember that each of you is an expert about your own culture, and so, when exchanging information, do it with respect and kindness, rather than mocking or demeaning each other’s cultures.
There are so many more tips I can offer, but for the sake of not having a three page blog post, I have asked two of my international friends, who have married someone for another culture to offer their best advice about cross-culural marriage.
“Caleb and I have only been married for 6 years, but it seems that we often find ourselves stuck on the same issue: COMMUNICATION! When I get “passionate” about something I tend to be loud and direct, it’s like I need to get my point across and make it clear. Caleb on the other hand is a very calm person, he is very cautious of my feelings and would rather preserve our relationship over being right. Over the course of our marriage we have learned how to communicate with each other and when to communicate it. We’ve learned that you can be saying the right things but the wrong way and at the wrong time.”
“The greatest lesson I’ve learned from our relationship is to never place unrealistic expectations on each other. So many times we want to guess what each other is thinking, or assume what the other should or shouldn’t do, and end up being upset without even knowing why! Be quick to forgive! One of the greatest advice I got from my mentor. Cross cultural relationships means that a lot of times when you fight no one is right, culture is.”-Nubya Massey is from Brazil and her husband is from The United States.
“The greatest cultural challenge I faced occurred before I got married. My mother-in-law was very much against her son marrying someone outside of their own culture and race. She had not yet met me but had already formed a very negative opinion and was very upset. Her opposition caused me great grief but through prayer and support of the godly people in my life, I was advised that things would change when she met me. Many times, people’s preconceived ideas, their “prejudices” come from their real life experiences that helped formed them and they may have legitimate reasons for forming their opinions. We must show compassion and understanding. So, I told my dear future mother-in-law at our first meeting that many people in her generation struggle with interracial relationships and I understood her feelings on that. I let her know that it has become more accepted by many of this generation but I knew it was still challenging for hers, and I understood why she felt the way she did. I didn’t fight for the right to be in a relationship with her son, I didn’t argue the point, I didn’t tell her she was wrong and we didn’t care about how she felt. Her pain was real. Not only was she dealing with the anguish of losing her son-a struggle that most mothers face-she was dealing with the fear of the unknown. The fear of bringing another unfamiliar culture into her own while still trying to adapt to the foreign culture of her current home in the US. By the time our meeting ended, my mother-in-law hugged me and told me she was sorry. Even though I am sure it took some time for her to be fully comfortable and accepting of me, from the time of that first meeting till now she showed me nothing but love and kindness and showered us with generosity. Love still conquers all.”
“One of the greatest lessons to be learned from a cross cultural relationship is that everyone is the same at the level of our hearts. No matter the differences in food, language, race etc, we are all very, very much the same – we are going through the human experience. Our emotions don’t differ at all, we feel the same things. So treating each other kindly, showing compassion, respect appreciation and love is a language that bridges every gap and crosses every boundary. The language of love is universal! Love languages such as touch and giving of gifts and quality time are universal languages. Joy, sorrow, laughter and pain are felt by everyone. We are the same at the level of our hearts and the only thing that can divide us is our heart.” – Deborah Peak-Catrina is from Trinidad and her husband is from Romania.
Here are some great links on the subject: