I’ve been in an inter-cultural marriage for about 10 years Alhamdulillah.
When I first got married and after the honeymoon phase had worn off, the cultural shock was really difficult to bear. It is hard enough when two people from the same culture get married because they still have to adapt to each other and learn the little things that make the other person tick as well as what makes them happy and motivated.
However, when you throw different cultures into the mix and a new convert to Islam it can get a bit overwhelming to say the least.
Our first two years of marriage were very difficult because we used to argue a lot. I felt isolated, lonely and away from my family and friends. He felt frustrated, unappreciated and helpless at what he could do to make the situation better.
After the 2nd year it seemed to get a bit easier because we started to work at it as a married couple and not two separate people from two different parts of the world just winging it.
Here are my top tips on how to make an inter-cultural marriage work:
1- Communication is key, as it is in all marriages
The point is, we only met each other 3 times before we married and in between those times, we were in two different countries, so we had in our heads an idealistic, romanticized approach to this fairy tale wedding and life.
We didn’t communicate our needs beforehand and we definitely didn’t during those first two years. So it is important to set down what you both expect before and during the marriage and this is ongoing. It should never stop.
2- Get to know the family
It may not be possible before marriage, especially if the couple live in separate countries beforehand. However, once you are married, this has to be a key point.
Family is very important in Islam. It is not just a cultural aspect, it is an Islamic one and so both spouses have to get to know both families.
My husband came to my family before marriage and since then he has come to my family once a year throughout the 10 years we have been married.
One key thing my husband did for me, was take me to his family a lot from day one. I did not like it at first, not because I didn’t like his family, I did. But I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t know the language and I am not a fan of social gatherings in any aspect unless it is with my family and close friends.
What he did was the best thing for me though. It meant building up a strong rapport and relationship with them from day one and the same with him and my family. I am happy to say, I adore his family and we get along very well. Alhamdulillah.
3-Don’t be standoffish when being around his family
No matter what is going on between you and your spouse, it is not their fault. You have to be polite, friendly and helpful. It is not fair for you to take your marital problems out on them. They will also start to dislike you and this will make your life very difficult.
If they have made mistakes to you, then you have to learn to forgive and forget. If you wish to continue with your marriage then they will be in your life for a long time and there is no point in holding a grudge or animosity against them from the beginning. Plus when you need them, if you are nice to them, they are going to be there for you.
4- Always seek peace when it comes to in-laws
If one of his family members are causing an issue for you then don’t discuss it with them or start a fight with them outright. Take it to your husband and discuss with him. Let him take control and let him deal with it. He does not want to play piggy in the middle where he has to go between you and the family member. He, like you, wants a peaceful family life.
5- Never force your husband to take sides
This will not work. Do not say it is them or me! Problems have to be solved properly. If you have a problem, then you have to sit down with him and talk about it and you have to find a solution together. Even if the other party is at fault, you have to try and overcome it and sometimes be the bigger and better person. Asking him to choose is simply not feasible.
6- It’s good to help his family
If your husband spends a lot of time helping out his family, it can be hard and difficult, especially as you are alone without people you know. However, bear in mind, if he is doing this for them, he is going to be there for you when you need him.
Of course, if this is getting to the point where he is neglecting you entirely, you have to talk to him and you both have to compromise. He needs to spend time with you as much as he does helping his family. A compromise is that if it is a task where you can go along, you go along and then you are spending time with him and you are helping them out as well.
7-Personal space is important
If your husband spends a lot of time with his friends and goes out late and you hardly get any of his time, then you need to speak to him about it. However, you should not stop him entirely from seeing his friends and enjoying a personal space. This applies to you as well.. You both have rights to see your friends and socialize.
It is healthy to be away from each other a few hours a day.. If you are alone in a foreign country, then your husband should try and find you some good friends to spend time with.
8- Don’t expect it to be easy
When entering a new culture as well as a new religion it can be extremely difficult to understand everything. It requires great patience from the husband and it requires effort from the wife. I remember arguments over appropriate clothing in the beginning. It used to make me so angry but my husband was patient and it was a step-by-step approach and we finally got there.
9- Date nights
You do not need to spend lots of money but you need to spend time and effort. We used to go for drives to the top of a hill and sit there and just talk and drink juice and eat snacks.
It was simple, it was always late at night but it was just the two of us. It is how we got to know each other. It is how we started to understand how the other one thought. It is how we ironed out the differences without even knowing we were doing it because it was our time to just be us together.
You don’t need to spend a lot. You can just have a simple walk but it means just you and him and that is all. If you invest that time and effort to get to know each other properly, it is worth the while.
10-You’ll never stop arguing
Even after years of marriage you will fight. It is normal. It is not about winners or losers. It is about dealing with them in a correct way. You will need a bit of time to calm down, but then afterwards, to stop the anger, you can make a joke to try and make him laugh, do an act of kindness like buy him his favorite chocolate bar or make his favorite dinner.
Even if he is in the wrong, these little things will break the ice and the next time it can push him to be the one to come to you.
These tips are not just for wives to take heed of; they apply to the husband as well but since I am a wife, it is written from a woman’s perspective. These tips can make life easier and it doesn’t mean they will solve every issue. However, they are lessons I have learned over the last ten years and I am still learning. You never stop learning. They will make a good foundation for a long and successful marriage Insha’Allah.
First published: February 2017