If children are born into a marriage, it can highlight many of the differences that you were originally able to overlook as a couple.
Some cultural differences, like food preferences and language difficulties, may be overcome in the first years of marriage.
However, other challenges, like how to rear children, can stretch on for the whole of a couple’s parenting years. When it comes to raising our kids, we may not be able to be as forgiving and understanding about cultural practices we don’t agree with.
One English sister married to a Nigerian brother explains that early on one of the more difficult challenges was learning how to show respect to elders in a culturally appropriate way.
However, now she notes that the issues and challenges in her marriage, “relate more to how we raise our children. His own culture takes a more strict approach whereas mine has a far softer approach.”
Where we may be able to forgive a partner and overlook their faults in the beginning years of marriage, it can be more difficult to stand back and watch that partner pass on those same habits and cultural biases to the next generation of little people.
Understanding extended family
Parenting in intercultural marriages may also mean extra advice and interference from extended family as well.
Some cultures value small right family units, whereas others appreciate loose extended family affiliations and input from distant relatives on family decisions.
One Swiss/Algerian sister explains, “For me, family is a nice-to-have sort of support network, where we occasionally help each other out and have dinner at each other’s house every few days. To my [Egyptian] in-laws however it was a whole different thing. My mother-in-law wanted us to live with her at first, and we now live in the same building and they are constantly coming over unannounced.”
She adds that she finds it difficult to navigate this difference of cultures.
She explains, “If this was my [Swiss] mother we would be able to tell her she should call before coming, but culture prevents us from doing so with my mother-in-law because it would be interpreted as rude. In Egyptian culture, and perhaps more specifically in my husband’s family culture, family members are to spend hours together every day and live with very little distance between one another.”
As part of an intercultural marriage you’ll need to learn how to navigate these differences and take all extended family opinions and advice with a grain of salt.
Your partner’s personality
Culture can have a big impact on your partner’s personality and habits.
Growing up, the environment and lifestyle they experienced had a major impact on how they think and behave today.
Some of those experiences may be praiseworthy from an Islamic standpoint – like the inclination to look after elders, or care for the sick and poor. However, there may be other learned behaviors that you just don’t appreciate.
Some learned behaviors are not to be emulated nor are they praiseworthy. Practicing these harmful cultural norms can cause problems in a marriage – especially if they end up clashing with a spouse’s way of doing things.
Here are four additional tips for navigating each other’s personalities in an intercultural marriage:
When you assume things about your spouse, or a particular situation, those assumptions can end up making a mountain out of a molehill. Language barriers and wrong choice of words can also exacerbate certain situations, or cause massive confusions.
Always ask extra questions, clarify your thinking, and discuss as a couple to avoid miscommunications.
While you may not agree with everything, recognize that your spouse’s culture influenced many of the things that you do like about them. Your partner is a package deal and you have to take the good with the bad.
Work on respecting your spouse’s culture, traditions, family traditions, and values – even if some of them are very different from your own.
Understand you’re both “right.”
There are not necessarily “wrong” ways of doing things when it comes to many aspects of culture. There are often actually multiple “right” ways of doing things – from preparing food to rearing children.
You can nod to these differences but may need to also find a way to let go and move on.
You may not be able to avoid all tense situations and misunderstandings, but if you can realize that you’re both “right,” then you can let go of your need to control everything.
Humor in an intercultural marriage will help you defuse tense situations and connect as a couple. Inside jokes and words that no one else understands (like words in your spouse’s native language) are fun secrets that will help you as an intercultural couple.
To overcome cultural differences, it’s important to look at any disagreements through the lens of culture. This can help you understand the “big picture” of why and your spouse is behaving the way they are – and help them change their habits if need be.
Keeping an open mind, and coloring everything with some much needed humor, will make it easier to overcome challenges and appreciate the blessings throughout your intercultural marriage.
First published: October 2017