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Understanding Cross Cultural Relationships

Australia is one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world, with people from over 200 countries calling it home, and sharing their language and cultural practices with indigenous Australians, and the descendants of the first settlers from the British Isles and later Europe. It is therefore inevitable, given the extraordinary diversity of this cultural mix that romantic relationships will form across cultures, many of which end in marriage. With understanding and tolerance on both sides, there is no reason why these cross cultural relationships cannot be happy and long-lasting. However it always helps to have extra information to stop any difficulties before they start.

One of the things that couples in cross cultural relationships must be prepared for are differences, and while initially this seems blindingly obvious, in the day to day interactions that are the foundations of any relationship, this might entail something for which they were unprepared. If unresolved differences threaten the relationship, counselling can be effective in bringing deep issues to the surface.

Differences can be anything from food choices, methods of food storage and preparation, perceptions about clothing and modesty, religious worship and rituals, family celebrations, career choices, in fact most areas of modern life. Often they are not identified until one member of the partnership takes an action that is at odds with the cultural background of the other. If the issue can be discussed and resolved the couple can move forward with confidence, but if not, serious questions must be asked about the ability of the relationship to withstand these differences.

The key element in all of this is the ability of both members of the relationship to engage with each other in open and honest communication. This may include significant members of the extended families involved, who may otherwise not acknowledge the relationship. Honest communication fosters an environment where boundaries can be set amicably and with understanding, and differences that will not change can be accepted and incorporated into the relationships.

This may involve compromise, as a way of life cannot be forced on a person who is not willing to accept it. If compromise in the most important areas can be reached, then effort must be made to accommodate the other, smaller differences that really are of no consequence in the bigger picture. If the partners encounter difficulty and want the relationship to continue, some counselling sessions may help them work through underlying issues they might not otherwise identify.

Cross cultural relationships can be difficult, but there is no better opportunity for people to become immersed in another culture. If they use this as an opportunity to understand the broad tapestry that is the human race, they will be personally enriched as a result. If the situation is left undealt with it can result in further anxiety, stress and depression.

Dr Sam Wee Hong Tan | CFHP
Sam Tan

Sam is a Clinical Psychologist with a down-to-earth nature who has a very open and warm approach. Sam works collaboratively with his clients to raise awareness of patterns within themselves and patterns of relating with others.

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