Marrying someone from a different culture is one of the bravest things you can do in a relationship. It is truly an act of faith in your love as the obstacles any couple faces in a marriage are often multiplied in a multicultural marriage. If you are indeed able to face them together, you will be rewarded with a marriage which you know will withstand the test of time and a spouse who is willing to support and understand you through thick and thin. 

Challenges in a Multicultural Marriage

There are usually many areas of compromise when 2 independent people of the same culture, and who speak the same language decide to get married. Multicultural marriages face a few more on top of these. Learning to recognise these potential challenges early will help you to address them together and work towards a solution either before, or in the early years of your marriage.

Language Barriers

Coming from a different culture may mean that you don’t speak the same language or speak a common language proficiently. When this happens, despite the chemistry which can carry you through the early stages of your relationship, you will have difficulty expressing your deeper needs and communicating effectively. Not being able to express yourselves well to each other will make misunderstandings and conflicts harder to resolve. 

Children, Religion and Values

This triumvirate is at the core of our identity as individuals. The norms which we desire in these 3 areas are hard to change, and when a change is forced, result in long term resentment and a sense of individual loss. 

You need to come to decisions around key questions such as how your children will be brought up, what religion you as a family will follow, where you will live in the long term, what sort of school systems and expectations you have of your children and many more issues. Coming from a different culture almost guarantees that you will enter the marriage with different expectations. A successful marriage means that you need to discuss these and come to an agreement that you can both be happy with.

Financial Attitudes and Expectations

Money is the biggest source of conflict in most marriages. In a multicultural marriage you may have different views on how you expect your family’s finances to be managed. Some cultures expect the husband to be the sole breadwinner and in these situations, husbands may feel that they are expected to put up with an unexciting, unfulfilling job because it is “stable”; conversely, wives in this situation might feel that they need to “give up” their careers in order to meet the expectations their husbands’ cultures might have for a stay-at-home mother. 

The Role of the Extended Family 

Some cultures view the family as a nuclear entity – father, mother and children. Some cultures view the family as an extended group – parents, grandparents, children, in-laws, aunts and uncles are all a part of the relationship too. When 2 people marry but have a different understanding of what the family unit means, conflicts will arise over the role of extended family members in the marriage. 

The Impact of Culture Shock

Sometimes, being in a foreign country and not being able to speak the language well, or having difficulty relating to the social and cultural norms you see around you may result in you making choices which you wouldn’t have made at home. You might find someone who is able to understand and communicate with you and who is willing to help you to navigate your way in a new environment much more attractive than you might have otherwise. But you need to realise that you might be attracted to this person as a friend and teacher and not really as a future spouse before you make any final decisions about settling down and getting married.

Home Ground Advantages

There are certain “home ground advantages” which the spouse who stays within their own culture enjoys. For example, if you settle down in your spouse’s home country or culture, you will naturally defer to your spouse’s norms more readily. Family roles, expectations and gender models will tend to follow the resident culture’s norms. This is often not an issue until you decide to relocate to your home country or culture. Suddenly, you and your spouse will find that what was the “norm” previously, will be challenged by the new “norms” of your new home. You might change back to the expectations of your home cultures, your spouse might have difficulty accepting or adapting to these new norms, this can become a potential source of conflict for your marriage. 

6 Secrets to Making Your Marriage Work

Understanding the potential challenges which a multicultural marriage can face is the first step to finding a solution to making your marriage work. Here are a few steps which you can take to build a strong and happy marriage together. 

1. Attend a Marriage Preparation Course

This is practically a must for any couple planning to get married. Attending a marriage preparation course is a guided journey and discussion through all the most important decisions you will have to face together in your married life. Decisions around the roles of your families in your marriage, your hopes and expectations for your children, your roles within the marriage and your financial commitments and aspirations should be discussed. 

Give your local marriage preparation course organisers a call. Explain your situation and see if they can match you up with guidance counsellors who are from multicultural marriages themselves. This will allow you a chance to hear from couples who have successfully met the challenges of being married into different cultures. 

Even if you missed out on attending a marriage preparation course, you can still attend a marriage renewal course which most counselors recommend after 5 or 10 years of marriage or when there has been a significant life change for either of you. 

2. Learn about Each Other’s Cultures

Take the time to understand the symbolism and significance of each other’s traditions. Knowing more about these traditions will help us to identify with them and will allow us to participate together in explaining and passing on these traditions to our children.

3. Learn a Mutual Language

If you don’t speak a mutual language well, make the effort to learn one. Ideally, learn to communicate well with each other before you get married. If you cannot communicate your deepest feelings, values and expectations with each other, you will find it hard to know how to make your spouse happy. If possible, take things slow and wait until both of you can communicate completely with each other before taking your relationship further. 

4. Teach Your Children to be Bilingual

Make the effort to teach your children both your languages. This allows them to communicate not only with both of you, but also with your extended families on both sides. It also helps your children to embrace and accept the dual nature of their cultural heritage. 

5. Help Your Spouse Adjust

If you live in a culture which is foreign to your spouse, bring them to places which they feel at home. Visit supermarkets and restaurants which serve food they might miss or enjoy. Attend language classes together, help your spouse develop friendships with people from their home country and people from your own country. Be there to listen and cheer them on in their efforts to become a part of your life and culture. Find a way to include your spouse’s culture in your everyday lives together.

6. Keep in Touch with Family

Encourage your spouse to stay in touch with family. Use the internet, telephone, letters and visits when possible. Stay in touch with your own family too. Knowing that you haven’t “lost” your families because of your decision to marry each other is an important source of comfort and support for your marriage too.