Today people Traveling and migrating around the globe is more commonplace and unprecedented than ever before. In the United States our population is becoming increasingly racially and culturally diverse. Telecommunications technology and the internet have made connecting with people far away much easier. Along with this increased interconnectivity and intermigration has come an increasing acceptance of other races, traditions and cultures, much more so then was the case a generation or two ago. All of this has led to an increase in intercultural relationships and makes it much more likely that you will date and fall in love with someone of a different ethnicity, from a different culture or geographical region or who speaks a different language.
When approached with consciousness and consideration, intercultural relationships can bring together the richness and strengths that each individual brings from their culture. They can use their cultural differences as opportunities to more closely examine their own assumptions and beliefs and employ greater critical thought in their decisions about what aspects of their culture serve them and what doesn’t. Ideally, couples enjoy the broadening of their world, they may adopt worldviews and values that are new and freeing for them, their horizons widen, their beliefs and attitudes can become more informed, less rigid and judgmental, and their relationship can be a path to a more flexible and considered life.
Though the excitement of a fresh and unique encounter with someone distinctively different from us can be stimulating, engaging and exciting, as time goes on, just like every long term relationship, differences between the partners begin to surface. Just as Intercultural relationships offer some additional opportunities for growth and development they also face additional challenges that arise from each partner’s viewing their world and the relationship through their unique cultural lens.
Concerns commonly faced by intercultural couples can be seen in many areas:
* values, beliefs, attitudes, traditions
* language or linguistic challenges
* gender roles
* finances or money management
* family, in-laws, friends, social network
* social class, racism, discrimination
* spirituality or religion
* parenting, child rearing practice differences
The list can go on based on each couple’s unique circumstances.
Becoming more aware of our own and our partner’s cultural values and heritage can help us understand our differences and begin to integrate our separate cultural identities into an identity as a bi-cultural couple or family. In my work as a therapist, I help my clients explore their values and beliefs, so that they are aware of how their feelings, thoughts and behaviors are affected by their cultural background. When couples acknowledge the cultural differences in their relationship, they are able to see their interactions in cross cultural context and find ways to navigate them. I also help clients learn to appreciate their differences, and find ways to honor each person’s cultural practices. Each partner may continue to carry on traditions that are important for him or her, or make adjustments when those values no longer fit their current life. Neither partner needs to give up who he or she is in order to be in the relationship, the couple can reach compromises or find balances even when they hold opposing or conflicting values.
Working with a therapist or counselor with some expertise in the area of intercultural relationships and openness to seeing the value of such relationships can help couples to navigate this process. Overall the additional challenges and opportunities that intercultural relationships bring with them require a great deal of consciousness, compassion, self reflection and openness to be managed effectively but these relationships can be tremendously rewarding when we are committed to our partner, our relationship and our own growth.
This article is co-authored by Hayden Dover, MFT and Joy Tsai Yuan Hung, MFT.