Marriage can be difficult at the best of times. Signing up for a life-long commitment with another person is hard work and requires effort and attention. It can also be one of the richest and most rewarding experiences. So, relationships in general mean that two people from two different backgrounds get together and then try to unify their different experiences into a set of expectations for the future.
I take my background and my beliefs and mould them into my expectations of my partner and our future together. He does the same using his past experiences and family background. When the two of you are from the same culture you will have similar ideas, but there will still be a great many differences. When you come from two different cultures as well, then the differences can be vast.
This is not to say that cross-cultural marriages can’t work – they certainly can, but it is important that both partners are at least aware of the potential difficulties they face. Not only do you now bring different family backgrounds and experiences into the mix, but you also bring different cultural attitudes and beliefs. Essentially you will notice that think differently about the world and the issues in it.
Common differences exist in topics relating to politics, gender roles and religion to name a few and you may notice that your partner holds vastly different views about these. Ensuring that you are both able to present your views and be respected, despite the differences in them will go a long way in ensuring that your relationship stays on track despite being from different cultures. In fact, in many ways, learning to accept and respect the differences between you can create a unique opportunity for personal growth and learning within the relationship.
You can learn to listen more, empathise more and generally understand more. On the other hand, differences in world views and opinions can also leave one, or both of you, feeling isolated, misunderstood and alone. This is something to be aware of. Depending on where you reside, it is possible that one of you will be “out of their depth”, in other words living in a country that is not their own and feeling like a foreigner. This feeling of isolation deepens when this is the case and it will benefit you both to acknowledge this difficulty.
Spending time with family is important and, as such, it is important that you make time to see both families and celebrate holidays with both families. Cross cultural marriages can be difficult in this sense, especially when they include differences in holidays, spiritual or religious practices. It is essential to embrace both your beliefs and practices and respect both point of views.
The most difficult thing that a cross cultural marriage may face is lack of support from family or friends. In many cases, family may not approve of the cultural integration and this may leave the couple disengaged from family and support. While it is a difficult road, cross cultural marriages can work when attention is paid to the potential difficulties.
Lisa Kunde has ten years experience working as a psychologist with adults in both private and public hospital settings (oncology, palliative care, chronic pain, cardio-pulmonary, psychiatric and alcohol and other drugs units).