Moving abroad with your family?
Coping Strategies for Intercultural Marriage
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 financial consultant, she met her husband David (40) 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.” It took some time and patience, but after a while Sofia learned to be more aware and considerate of her husband’s culture.
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.
Knowledge and Education
To make your 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 turned our relationship into a lasting and, most importantly, loving one.”
In any marriage, you would enquire about your partner’s childhood, their family, and maybe even about prior relationships. People in an intercultural marriage have to add socio-cultural customs, beliefs, and key values to that pot. According to Sofia, these questions are the important ones.
“David 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 a successful marriage, it is essential to know, understand, and embrace each other’s cultural roots. It’s easy to start by learning more about holiday traditions and national cuisine. The political history also has a big effect on the values and attitudes of people with a certain cultural background.
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.”