When Prince Harry announced his decision to marry Meghan Markle, her mixed-race heritage drew criticisms and racist attacks, making him issue a public statement.

Movies have also been made on the real life adversity of Prince Sertse Khama, an African prince, and his white English wife, Ruth Williams, when they fell in love and chose to marry each other in the late 1940s. The couple’s journey to marriage was not easy and their union was frowned upon by many but they eventually overcame the obstacles and remained happily married with 4 kids.

Despite greater acceptance of intercultural marriages in society today, such couples continue to meet people, including family members and close friends, who disapprove of their choice of partner.

Does race pose a big hurdle in a marriage? Or can it help bond a couple? We ask some intercultural couples here on their experiences…
Mr Vijay, an Indian who married a Caucasian American in 2016 said, “Since my wife spent her teens growing up here, racial differences haven't really affected us. There is no culture shock since she's familiar with and used to the cultural norms. We're both pretty liberal in our ways, so it worked out pretty well.”

Ms Ho, a Filipino who married a Chinese Singaporean in 1991, was fortunate too because “race didn't affect my marriage at all. My in-laws accepted me for who I am.”

The tough part?

However, intercultural marriages comes with its challenges too.

Both Mdm Eli, a local Muslim who married a Chinese Muslim in 2016, and Mrs Rossini, a local Indian who married an Italian, concurred that language was the key hurdle in their marriages.

“But, if you really try hard enough, it is not an issue,” said Mdm Eli whose in-laws could only speak Hakka and gets along with a splattering of everyday terms and signing.

“We did not have a common language and my husband had to improve his English,” shared Mrs Rossini. “There are interesting ways to overcome the language barrier, for example, using translator apps.”

For Ms Ho, learning how to cook Chinese food for her family was the most challenging experience for her.

Mr Vijay added that interactions with other family members could be less smooth for intercultural couples. “In terms of interactions, my family isn't used to someone being so blunt and honest about their feelings. Because of their strict Asian conservatism, they could be offended by my wife’s manner of speaking.”

However, he shared that this difference in culture was also a memorable point in their marriage, as some of his wife’s remarks could in turn be amusing to his family at other times.

The bonus about choosing to marry their spouses…

Apart from their love for each other, these couples are clearly enjoying married life. We ask how their choices to marry outside of their race have made their marriage especially memorable.

“My husband is Italian and his family LOVED getting to be a part of anything Indian during our wedding,” said Mrs Rossini. They shared with each other their cultures with food being a key focus. “Getting to know each other's food and learning to appreciate it the same way was a wonderful experience. I like pasta so much more now! And my husband loves spicy food!”

“Our wedding become the most memorable experience for us when we married in Italy,” shared Ms Carlton, a Malaysian who married her Italian husband in 2003. “It was a mixture of two cultures and nationalities coming together.”

“Introducing my husband to our Hari Raya celebrations and bringing him around to the many, many, many relatives during the visiting was most fun for me,” Mdm Eli quipped.

Singaporean Indian Mrs Bartlett, who married a British in 1974, enthused, “Some brits are rigid in what they eat, but Pete (her husband) is happy to try all types of cooking! My children became open to all kinds of cooking and they all love to cook!”

The couples we spoke with, unsurprisingly bond easily over food. Mrs Rossini felt that learning to cook at least one dish well in her spouse’s cuisine was a way of expressing her love.

Having similar interests and pastimes also allow the couples to strengthen their bonds.

Tips for other intercultural couples?

On sharing tips for other intercultural couples, the couples we spoke to agreed on 2 key tips:

•  Being understanding and learn more about each other.
Mdm Eli said, “Talk it out if you feel a need to clarify your doubts about certain customs. On the other hand, when your partner asks you about certain traditions, it reinforces your own knowledge about your own race and traditions.”

Mrs Rossini added, “Really immerse yourself in each other's culture; never say no to new experiences.”

•  Respect each other and never criticise each other’s customs/traditions.
Ms Carlton advised that respect and understanding the character of your spouse and his/her family members will go a long way towards having a peaceful marriage.

Mrs Rossini piped, “Always remember that different cultures come with different perspectives so sometimes it helps to show a little patience and understanding.”

Mdm Eli said, “There are certain things that are frowned upon in a Malay-Muslim household but is okay in a Chinese home, like slurping soup from a bowl!”

Mr Vijay summed it up, “Racial differences is something to embrace, rather than be afraid of. As long as you both find common ground, those (racial) differences you have can actually help strengthen your relationship.”