Family & Relationships
Coping Strategies for Intercultural MarriageiStockphoto
Due to different cultural backgrounds and expectations, intercultural relationships need good communication.
While cultural issues may lead to arguments, conflicts and, in the worst case, a bitter divorce, an intercultural marriage also offers the potential for personal growth. Sofia (36) moved from Ljubljana to Edinburgh on a long-term expat assignment. Through her work for a big banking company, she met her husband and decided to stay in Scotland.
“It sounds corny, I know, but in those six years of intercultural marriage, I haven’t just learned a lot about my husband, but also about myself.” As she had to be considerate of her husband’s culture, Sofia gained more cross-cultural awareness and evolved as a person.
Making an intercultural marriage work takes a lot of dedication and strength. However, the core principles are not much different from those required for any other successful and happy marriage.
To make an intercultural marriage work, one has to explore the partner’s culture and values closely. “Getting to know one another is essential,” Sofia confirms. “For us, this knowledge was what gave us a lasting and, most importantly, loving relationship.”
According to Sofia, one should not hesitate to ask the hard questions. In your average marriage, these might concern prior relationships, childhood, and family history. People in an intercultural marriage have to add socio-cultural customs, beliefs, and key values to that pot.
“David, my husband, didn’t always like what he found out about my habits or views or fundamental attitudes. But it helped him understand where I was coming from and why I am who I am.”
For both partners in an intercultural marriage, it is essential to know, understand and embrace each other’s cultural roots. It’s easy to start by learning more about another culture’s rituals, such as holiday traditions, or institutions, like its political history.
“It sounds very academic,” Sofia explains, “but in the end, it was a business seminar on team leadership in multi-cultural environments that was a real eye-opener for us both. David finally understood what I mean when I complain, oh, that’s so British of you.”
Communication is an essential, albeit difficult, aspect of every relationship. In an intercultural marriage, challenges may double due to the fact that both partners are facing a language barrier.
“In the beginning, we struggled to communicate,” Sofia remembers. “He did not speak Slovenian, and my English wasn’t all that good. I’d mainly focused on studying business English, and it was sometimes hard to express what I thought or felt. I made a serious effort to improve my English, but it was really sweet of him to buy a Slovene textbook.”
“He even wrote me a love letter with the marriage proposal in Slovene. Okay, it was very bad Slovene,” she laughs, “but it’s the thought that counts! And he knew enough to understand that da means ‘yes’.”
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which language both partners agree on. As in every relationship, the basis of an intercultural marriage should be based on respect, openness, and sincerity.
Patience and Acceptance
Despite every effort on both sides, there are always situations in which cultural barriers cannot be overcome in an intercultural marriage. “Being with someone from a different cultural background is always a challenge,” David says. “Sometimes, it’s just not possible to find a compromise. In this case, it is important to accept that there are limits to one another’s adjustment abilities. Things are the way they are. Most disagreements aren’t deal-breakers.”