Any relationship takes work, but when you are merging two cultures, navigating new customs and norms, all while trying to stay connected and in love with your partner, the stress can be daunting. But the trick here is to pinpoint and remember just exactly what each of you need and want from one another. In an intercultural relationship, you are bound to meet a few of these challenges, but if you keep your head up and face them as a couple, you can avoid creating a barrier between you and your love.
1. Norms – Remember that dating and relationship norms differ
Different cultures can mean completely different dating and relationship habits. This can range from casual dating and multiple sex-partners, to chaperoned dates and arranged marriages. And of course, these habits are bound to clash when you have an intercultural relationship. While one partner could be used to dating a different person each month, the other partner could have never experienced a relationship more serious than a middle school romance, and could quite possibly still be a virgin. These differing habits can lead to pressure very early in the relationship. To avoid a lot of stress early on, be honest with each other. As a couple, you need to carve out what works for both of you, and what doesn’t. The sooner you tackle the basic dating and relationship sphere that you will be working within, the better!
2. Family and friends – Doubts and expectations
The doubts and expectations of your partner’s family and friends, as well as your own, can weigh heavily on your relationship. Outside influence impacts all relationships, but it can be particularly overwhelming when you’re trying to merge two cultures. The diversity of values, priorities and attitudes can cause additional stress as you try to maneuver around doubts and expectations. The doubts can start flooding in very early in a relationship when your family and friends reveal their first impressions. They may announce the eminent failure of your love, or rave about how cute your mixed babies will be.
They may even drop suggestions such as, “As long as you are happy”, and then further down the road, “Are you sure this is what you want?” And all this may lead to an information overload that will end with you questioning different parts of your own relationship.
To make it harder, there are also family expectations, such as whether both of you plan to get married or not, and if so, in which country? How many children will you have? Will you live abroad? What side of the family will you live closest to?
In order to steer clear of any major disagreements with your partner’s family and friends, and with your own, learn to communicate quickly. Of course, if you’re truly happy, and if your family and friends are genuinely supportive, they will recognize that you are just fine with your mix of cultures, and should let you go on your way.
3. Balance – Perfecting the balance of each other’s food and traditions
This seems like a superficial stress but you will encounter completely different traditions, especially when it comes to food. Food fuels us, and each culture has perfected their own balance of flavors, aromas and textures. You might be faced with particularly potent dishes, or extremely spicy sauces. But whatever your preference, and level of adventurism, you need to connect with your partner (and their family) over food. You try theirs, and they try yours.
While you’re trying a few new dishes, why not check out the arts scene, listen to a new artist, and try to learn a traditional dance? Not only does it show interest and commitment, you also get to learn some neat and unique stuff, and make your partner feel special for being the one to show you!
4. The future – planning for the years ahead
What comes next? Most couples fear this question but as an intercultural couple, you have a few additional things to think about. The cultural expectations and doubts of family and friends, who hold varying opinions of your love, could impact the discussions and decisions about your future. You will have to face particularly difficult choices such as where to live, how to communicate all of your goals and dreams to each other and your families, and how to plan basic necessities such as careers and money. Money is approached in different ways in many cultural circumstances. As for careers in different cultures, there are a variety of expectations for each partner. This can easily place pressure on your relationship and your future together if you’re not working as a team. You should prioritize your goals and dreams as individuals, and as a couple, and strive to meet them together.
The most important piece of advice for intercultural relationships
The bottom line in any relationship is that you will face obstacles, whether from external or personal pressures. Yet, when you are navigating through two completely different cultures, the challenges can often be harder to understand, and seem near impossible to overcome.
But, before you become overwhelmed by it all, be truly honest about what each person needs and wants from the beginning. If you can, you will be able to build a relationship that is especially your own, each need and want determined by your partnership, regardless of any additional pressures. You can stumble through the cultural differences together, and strengthen your relationship along the way!