Q&A: Intercultural Marriages

Any advice for intercultural marriages?

My fiance and I grew up in different countries or cultures.

Someone emailed in this question and I wanted to take the time to respond to it. I would really appreciate ladies who have first hand experience offering their perspective in the comment section. I do not personally relate to this question, but having said that I have still learned a few things that I would offer as a jumping off point for this discussion.

Of my friends who are in intercultural marriages, from what I observe in their relationships, they do not have a whole lot more struggle than any of the rest of us. The need for effective communication is incredibly important no matter what a couple’s backgrounds are. In addition to that, success in marriage requires respect and maturity, and that applies whether or not a couple has been raised in the same culture.

Having said that, if a couple’s backgrounds are highly diverse, the adjustment towards intimacy may be a little more complicated. What is primarily important is that there is unity on important life issues such as faith and child rearing. If the couple is mutually committed to a healthy marriage, they can work through whatever differences they have. I don’t believe that cultural differences are any more insurmountable than other things. My husband was raised in a very different family than I was and we have had to learn to communicate well with each other, but my friend who married a man from Kenya man has had to learn the same thing. It’s not impossible when the couple is mature and approaches the relationship with a high commitment to loving each other well.

So basically I believe that if you are marrying a man who shares your faith and you approach your marriage focused on respecting each other and employ good communication skills, you are going to have a very successful marriage.

10 Comments

  1. my husband and i are from the same culture, but we did live as missionaries in another country with a completely different culture than ours for 5 years. the advice i would give is to study, study, study! learn everything you can about the other culture, not just the things they do, but why they do them. my husband and i grew up in a very fast paced society and the village we moved to was very laid back. it took us a while to realize that we were offending people by trying to make them like us, instead of slowing ourselves down and doing things at their pace. being on time was important to us, but in our new culture no one was ever on time – things just started when they started. stay very humble, realize that you will make mistakes sometimes, and use your differences as a chance to grow. be willing to learn from each other and try to step back and keep your eyes on what is really important and what isn’t.

  2. my husband and I have been participating in a communication class with the other couples in our small group at church – one of the things that was suggested by the instructor was that all marriages are to some degree intercultural marriages…..

    for myself – he and i grew up in VERY different families with different lifestyles, expectations and values. we’re both “wasp”s but we definitely deal with issues stemming from cultural differences. I’d second the whole communication thing 🙂

  3. My husband and I are from different countries. We don’t have any language issues (yay!) and we were both brought up in Christian homes, although VERY different. The first thing we realised is that one of us won’t be at ‘home’: which one of us it is may change during the marriage, but it will always be one of us. That causes its own pressures in terms of homesickness and cultural differences and child rearing (when we get to that stage). We are still in the first year and I am the one ‘not at home’. My emotions of homesickness and also the feeling of cultural misunderstanding day to day (not from my husband) have made this year’s adjustments much harder. All that said, leaving my neat, independent life behind to get married has ensured that I have leaned on both my husband and the Lord more than I would have had I stayed. So for that I can only be thankful. It has made us work harder at communication which, as has been said above, really is the key. We’re still so early on though, so I’m not aware of all the ramifications yet!

  4. I am also a newlywed in a cross-cultural/intercultural marriage. We’ve been married for two years now. Language is an issue for us . . . but we both speak the other’s language and we communicate bilingually. It can sometimes be frustrating–especially when communication is so important.

    I second everything you said in your answer . . . all marriages have challenges. Communication and respect are key in all marriages. Flexibility is also key. It is imperative that both of us be willing to compromise.

    And, I also agree that having a common faith overcomes the challenges faced by upbringings and cultures. This is because faith is what all our values and priorities are based on. Christ overcomes cultural differences.

    I also STRONGLY second hisbabe’s comment. WHY . . . WHY . . . WHY . . . The way we look at the world has been taught and caught from the environment we were raised in. I look at X and see rudeness, but maybe my husband looks at X and sees strength due to humility. If I react based on my own assumptions, I might be hurting my husband and making light of his sacrifice and humility. So, it is imperative to learn patience. . . . and to slow down before reacting to what you see. Once you are cooled down, discuss the hidden implications by discussing the why.

    All that and just enjoy each other . . . put your spouse first–if both of you are putting the other one first, things will be great.

  5. I think in our marriage the most difficult cultural difference has been the fact that our families do things soooo differetly. -For a small, very simple example, my family’s culture is one of greeting one another with very physical affection, (hugs kisses on cheeks, etc) Their idea of showing love and concern for someone is to ask all kinds of questions about whats going on in your life, etc.
    My husbands backround and family is the absolute and complete opposite. So it was QUITE a shock when he was introduced to my extended family. Their “normal” diplays of familial affection made him feel cornered and uncomfortable. On the other hand, I felt very ignored and un-important to his family because of their “normal” behavior. This caused quite a few arguments in the beggining of our marriage. We finally had to come to a place (with more than just these small examples) where we grew to respect and be willing to learn and understand each other’s backrounds. I’ve truly grown to appreciate these unique things about my DH’s culture, and he has found that he enjoys the differences in mine.
    It’s interesting, because as much as it was a source of contetion in the beginning, it has really become such a wonderful part of our marriage. It’s something that we cherish about each other, and of course we are still learning!

  6. Thank you for your response erin4him. You have helped me with something. My first conversation with my husband’s mother (we have yet to meet) was almost like a job interview. I felt floored. Maybe my husbands mother is using her way of letting me know that she is interested in who I am? Maybe that’s just ‘her way’ and she doesn’t mean anything by it. Thank you for giving me another way of looking at it.

  7. I have been married for 31 years. I was born and raised here in the U.S., my husband is from the Philippines. The issues we face are no different than if we grew up in the same place. I think it is having a shared faith that makes the difference in any marriage.

  8. I’m so glad to have helped! Yes, my entire family’s approach to getting to know someone better, or even just having a good time is asking 10 million questions. I actually had a lot to learn about toning down my normal “interested questions” in my marriage. My DH and I have found a really great communication balance now. You’re right, your MIL may just truly be interested in you and in her way is showing her love and concern.
    I’ll pray for your relationship that you also will be able to become comfortable with each other’s family differences and truly learn to love the uniqueness as I have!

  9. My husband and I grew up in two very different cultures. I grew up in the jungle in Brazil and he grew up in Parisian suburbs. We spent our first year married in the United States, where I had previously spent 4 years and he had spent 3, in other words, a neutral environment, a place where neither of us were completely comfortable nor completely uncomfortable. Its also where we chose to have our wedding ceremony. We’ve learned that we have to be much more giving and encouraging and kind to the other person if we are in our primary culture and they are not. We love the fact that we are both flexible and adaptable.My main difficulty is learning to adapt to his family while they often only speak to me in French, assuming I understand them. 😦
    Its really hard when you first move to a culture you aren’t familiar with. You miss your family. I often have to put myself in my husbands shoes and communicate with him about what I am feeling. I often want/desire to have an increased friendship and intimacy with him. Its easy to feel like he doesn’t care, but you have to remind yourself that he does care! Also, just be flexible. He loves you very much and show as much respect to him as you can muster every moment. Build him up in front of any new friends you might meet of his. Don’t side-step your relationship when learning a new culture. Embrace him and everything that comes with him. Realize that things are different for him as well since he got married, he might be struggling just like you are.
    Treat his family with love and respect and he will greatly appreciate it! Don’t try to change him, change yourself (to God’s glory)! Depend on God to supply your needs (physical, emotional and spiritual) and communicate them out loud in prayer with your husband.

  10. Dear friend,

    I was so encouraged to read your comment because I & my husband are both from different countries, yet both Christians, & his mom/dad are both non-believers. I just like you live in his country not my own, & daily I struggle with cultural misunderstandings just like you do. So I understand your situation completely. I’d like to talk to you further. I’ll sign up & add you as a friend, if I can. God bless you!


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