INTERCULTURAL MARRIAGES: Is My Way the Right Way?

Intercultural marriages Dollar PhotoIntercultural marriages add an extra set of dynamics to relationships. The desire to marry comes with a need to merge two cultures into one. As a result, many questions arise. Will our families understand? What about spousal roles? What differences will be encountered with food and meal preparation?

Recently we created a survey questionnaire about intercultural marriage. We asked couples to respond to some of the positives and negatives within an intercultural marriage. The answers were eye-opening and helpful.

Assumptions Within Intercultural Marriages

Probably one of the biggest assumptions made within marriage is that we do things the correct way. After all, “My family has always done it this way. And it works quite well.” This same assumption is found within intercultural marriages. But it’s magnified.

Assumptions about how we live come with each culture. All of our life experiences through family and cultural background teach us how to deal with life’s challenges. Within an intercultural marriage, many different assumptions will surface over time. We will formulate our opinions and make judgments based upon our world views. Initially, these judgments will be external or on the surface. In time, the internal areas will be exposed also. Often, this is how we begin to formulate our own prejudice against other cultures.

For example, there are banks in the United States. And there are banks in New Zealand. Both banks serve a similar function. But in New Zealand you do not sign your checks to be cashed. Deposit slips are completed very differently as well. In the United States, one banking company will not cash another’s check unless you have an account with them. In New Zealand, the banks work together. Neither banking system is wrong. However, to the spouse encountering a new and unfamiliar system, it may be a challenge. There’s a tendency to think, “The way we did it in my country was better.” This will emerge quickly and frequently. Will we recognize it or try to hide it? This is the critical issue.

Medical Differences

Another example of differences to think about is the medical arena. Medical services differ greatly from country to country. One country may have a national medicine provision. Other countries have very few doctors and distant or poor services. The United States has medical technology that many countries do not have. But it has a higher cost and a system that requires individuals to pay their own bills instead of the government. Will this present a problem for you? Consider the following important medical question. Where will your children be born? And why do you feel the way you do about this?

Other assumptions may be made in such areas as home decorating, and the way money is handled. Plus there are unfamiliar types of entertainment, and differing degrees of openness in personal sharing. There are different understandings of extended family relationships, and the celebration of holidays. Plus there are differing views of romanticism, the use of free time and vacations. Even the way children receive their educations are different. These areas are not meant to be all inclusive. But they give you an idea about the assumptions we have and would need to face in the event of an intercultural marriage.

Negatives Can Divide

Some of the negatives discovered by couples who are interculturally married can be varied. One wife confessed that her way of doing certain things drew a negative response from her spouse. For example, the way dishes are washed, the care of clothing or how the children are disciplined often varies from culture to culture. Marrying someone from an underdeveloped country and then bringing that person to the States may be shocking. The prosperity of North America can be incomprehensible. Likewise, the lack of what others may view as essentials can be equally shocking.

Feeling as though you are expected to be like the wives or husbands of the culture you married into can be a monumental hurdle to cross. Cultural and social norms may be so diametrically opposed to your country of origin. As a result you can become emotionally confused. And the inability to understand the perceived role is difficult. Plus, you may not agree with the traditions.

Caution 1: Know Each Other’s Culture!

With each of the couples we interviewed, several cautions kept emerging. One of the strongest was knowing each other’s culture. If at all possible, spend some time living in that culture before marriage. The minimum amount of time suggested was 2 or 3 months. While visiting your fiancé’s country of origin, try to live with a local family as well as your fiancé’s family. This would enable you to experience firsthand the relationship differences within the family.

Here’s a word of caution. Don’t think that all families of this culture operate this way. It would be like saying all North American families function in a similar way.

Caution 2: Be Accountable.

The second area of concern was being sure that you are called together. “There is a tendency not to listen to people and their concerns about your marrying someone of a different culture,” one spouse said. “It’s easy to begin thinking, ‘It’s us against them.’ So you close yourselves to some very valuable input, and hesitation provoked by these loved ones.”

In time, the goal can become a desire to beat the odds. You try to prove the hesitant ones wrong and press on ignorantly in order to make your point. Decide to be very accountable to your pastor, your parents and to those relationships you value. Listen to them. Do not shut them out and react by drawing closer to your fiancé. Weigh their concerns and think through their questions.

Caution 3: Know What Both Cultures Value.

In North American culture, there is a tendency to value things. In many other countries the tendency is to value extended family, the elderly, and hospitality. It’s a “what’s mine is yours” type of mentality. People become the primary concern. Consequently, what people think of you is important. One husband mentioned that his culture is more formal. And it’s conservative, especially in dress. “My wife,” he explained, “is much more casual. In my country I wear long-sleeved dress shirts. They must be clean and pressed. If not people will judge my spouse as a lazy wife.”

Caution 4: Identify Adaptation Versus Core Value Changes.

The final strong note of caution resulting from our survey concerned being aware of the difference between behavioral modification or adaptation and core value changes. It is possible, for example, for a Middle Eastern man to adapt behaviorally to U.S. culture and look like he is, indeed, fitting into it. His core values may not have changed. He is simply conforming on the outside to the expectations of others. Because there is no inward change, this same man in his country of origin would look like, sound like and think like a Middle Easterner.

Why? In his thinking he has not lied or deceived. He has just adapted. He can now be who he really is and perform according to what he has been taught by his family and culture. His unsuspecting wife finds herself living with a man whom she feels has made a radical about-face. She may feel trapped in a country and a culture with an unfamiliar person whom she thought she knew.

Accept and Appreciate Differences:

Finally, whether or not the values mentioned above are biblical is not the point. The point is that cultural differences exist, and you will be forced to face some of those mentioned and many that are not mentioned. If you choose to marry interculturally, you will need to learn to face cultural differences as a reality and not deny them.

Accepting and appreciating as many of the differences as you can will serve to enhance the marriage relationship. This experience is not to be viewed as all negative. The differences are something to embrace and value in one another. No two persons think alike or value the same things. Give one another the freedom to be who you are. Allow the Holy Spirit to mold the two cultures together. Rejoicing in the richness of your inheritances and learning from both can be a joyous experience.

This article can be found in the book, Called Together, written by Steve and Mary Prokopchak. It is published by Destiny Image Publications. Difficult questions are addressed that couples must answer before and after they say, “I do.” If you’re facing this situation we recommend purchasing this book. It supplies other down-to-earth advice and biblical wisdom. Plus there are post marital checkups on communication, emotional needs, budgeting, and more.

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14 responses to “INTERCULTURAL MARRIAGES: Is My Way the Right Way?

    1. (ISRAEL)  Intercultural marriage means being married to someone who is not from the same culture or religion or even country, lets say an African American man who is married to a Chinese girl or a Arab man who is married to an Italian girl … hope I helped … thx

  1. (PHILIPPINES)  The real purpose of intercultural marriages is to change the satanic lineage back to the God’s lineage… and it brings unity between 2 countries.

  2. (INDIA)  What is the page number in the book on which this article is located? It would be very helpful …Thank you.

  3. (MEXICO)  My husband is from Holland and I am from Mexico we are together for five years, and we have a daughter two years old, we live in Mexico. We are not just from different cultures, also from different social levels and is really not easy for me to change my life, but I hope we can do the best to continue…. many things to say, short time to do it.

  4. (USA)  I am engaged to a Nigerian man, who is everything I know a man should be. I am an African American woman. We are both in our early thirties and recently became engaged. He is Catholic in Africa, and I am non-denominational here in the USA. Is there anything in the book that could help us with our communication system, when it comes to understanding each other’s emotions?

    1. (USA) Hi Chayla, Yes, the book could help you with some important matters, but I’m not sure about your communication issues. That will probably need to be worked out in other ways.

      First off though, I need to ask you if you really know this man. Have you met and gotten to know each other in person, beyond the internet? If you haven’t, I encourage you to find a way to do so BEFORE you marry. You will find that you have a LOT of differences to work through that you may not know about without meeting, because our two cultures are so very different from each other and you will better see this upon being together. I advise you to proceed very, very slowly and very, very carefully. Love can look so romantic from afar, but when you are able to be together for a while, your love will have the opportunity to grow more realism.

      I encourage you to prayerfully and carefully read a few more articles on our web site, one of them being “The Better and Worse of Intercultural Marriage” (and each of the articles linked in this one) and “Thinking of Marrying Someone from Another Culture?”

      Also, you might want to Skype with each other (if you can’t be together) and work through the many articles and questions in the Topic section “Marriage Preparation Materials.” You need to make sure that you get to know what each of you believes on the very important issues you will encounter if you marry. Please, please don’t skip doing this. You will also need to work out religious matters as well. The Catholic faith and being from a non-denominational church are very, very different. Whose church will you attend? One or the other of you needs to move on this. And if you have children, what denominational doctrine will they be raised in? And what does this man’s family think of you? Realize that the Nigerian culture is very different from the American culture in how the family interacts with one another and the pressure they can bring to bear (good or damaging) on a marriage. It’s very different from the American culture. Please consider whether you can change your ways, for life on this.

      Love seems grand to someone you know through the internet, but when you find out how each of you approaches interpersonal matters and work to resolve conflict issues, it wouldn’t be a good thing to find out about this AFTER marriage. NOW is the time to do your due-diligence. Please go into marriage with both eyes open — not starry-eyed in THINKING you know each other. I don’t want to accuse you of something you might not be doing, I just want to caution you that it CAN happen in this circumstance.

      He may be a fine man, but whether he is fine to be married to you or not, I’m not sure. Please make sure that you do what you can to find that out BEFORE you would marry. I hope you will.

  5. (JORDAN)  I am an Arab from Jordan and my gf is Chinese, we’ve been together for 4 years now. It’s definitely challenging and difficult at times, but worth it. It’s so beautiful to be in inter-cultural relationship. I love everything about my girlfriend. She’s sweet, feminine and extremely caring. We’re getting married in a year or so.

    Pray for me people as I’m preparing on proposing soon. My family is against the idea and this is my struggle now. Mom thinks that I’m on the wrong track and Dad believes I am doing a lethal mistake. They don’t stop trying to talk me into ending the relationship. I understand their worries and I’m not mad at them as I do love them so.

    Her family was not happy with it at first but things got better and I go to their house often. Her mom is a lovely lady and a great cook too :P .. There’s is, however, many challenges like food for example, you know Halal food and stuff. I take Halal food myself, and she understands, her family does too. I don’t mind if she takes non-halal food.

    We come from two different religions as well, I’m a Muslim and she’s a Buddhist and this religious diversity is so beautiful, I found. I like that our house in the future will be a mixture of religions and cultures. We’re gonna make sure our kids are multi-cultural in features but most importantly, in mind and heart.

    1. (UK)  To Mise: So strange, you care about how much Halal your food is but not about the fact that Islam doesn’t allow pre-marital relationship and islamically your marriage will be invalid since muslim men are not allowed to marry pagans, including Buddhists.

  6. (CANADA) I think interracial and intercultural relationships and marriages have one very important feature: these are relationships in which differences and diversity across a range of human experiences are acknowledged by default; in contrast to other relationships where diversity and differences may not neccessarily be acknowledged as such. Acceptance of diversity and differences shapes expectations and behaviors across every aspect of our lives. The golden rule “Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you” is a powerful reference point to which difficulties with differences can be referenced for insight, balance and loving/thoughtful responses. Do you love thy neighbour as thyself?

    My second observation is that many individuals and counselors suggest spending time to “know your partner and their culture” as necessary for avoiding relationship pitfalls in the future. I think that this observation is silent on the fact that human beings evolve contantly in many ways and dimensions, leading to transformations in character, expectations and quality of relationships with one another. This means that “studying your friend or partner” may offer insights into past behaviours, some current behaviours, but not necessarily project future behaviours. To think that we can observe our partners and their cultures for a few months and years and be good to go into positive relationships, is to minimize the complexities of human beings and their existence. What is poignant is that, throughout these changes and shifts in human dispositions and dispensations, the essence of the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you” remains what is, has been, is and likely would be.

    I submit therefore, that cross cultural and/or interracial relationships can be a a journey of learning and enrichment if the individuals involved and their kin can love their neghbour as themselves; or do unto others as they wish others to do unto them. Living by this rule means we must deliberately focus on watering the flowers (positive, respectful, loving and caring… etc) in our relationship gardens, and spend less or no energy on the weeds (negativity in relationships).

  7. My name is Danika. I’m an African American woman and I am engaged with a man I love very much. He’s from Nigeria. I plan to go there in the summertime to get married, and we’ll both be able to come back to my home in the United states of America. How we get married and come back to the state and start a life together. I’m full American; he’s Nigerian.

  8. #4: Two words: “Betty Mahmoody”

    But I can also talk about myself. Born in Europe, raised in Africa, met my first love there. Then, we broke up and a couple of years later, I went back to Europe to study then work. 10 years later, I moved to North America. So far I’ve spent the 2/3 of my life out of Africa. My skin might be black, my childhood and teenage years might have been spent in Africa, but I’m also European and North-American in my way of seeing lots, lots, lots of things.

    I reconnected a few months ago with my first love. Born and raised in Africa, he left our home country for the first time, in his upper late 20s to go to some European country. Once there, he spent all of his time with people, not only from our same home country but also our very same neighborhood! He has been living for more than a decade in that same European country, never traveled outside of it, never really had friends who were not from our home country.

    What do you think happened when we decided to give it another go to our story? The first thing he told me and it wasn’t a compliment was: “I can see that you’re actually very much European (in your way of thinking).” Then, the more we were making plans about getting married, the more I could see a Betty Mahmoody scenario i.e. as long as we’d have been living out of Africa, he’d have agreed to do things and domestic chores “regular” African husbands refuse to do but the minute, we’d have set foot in Africa, he’d have reverted to his genuine self. In his own words: “As men, we had to come to Europe to learn that women should be treated well and fairly.”

    My point: we might have been from the very same country, have grown up together but we were different. While his core values remain the same, mine was so strongly enmeshed with my adaptation ones that I could barely make a distinction between the two sets.