If you are wondering if an intercultural relationship will work out or not, the answer is YES. However, they do require a little more work and effort from both parties to make the relationship work. Here are some tips to guide you through a successful intercultural relationship.
Intercultural relationships are magical as it brings two people who are brought up in an entirely different set of cultural belief and settings. Most people assume that all will be great as long as two people are happy together. The truth may hurt a little more than that.
The world is a mixing bowl. However, culture shock and cultural clashes still exist, especially when East meets West.
It’s not just the food that is different but it is the language barriers, ideology, social norms and upbringing that can cause more challenges. Even if both people speak English but have different thoughts or understanding on communication, there will still be trouble. So, imagine what happens when two who do not speak the same language.
Despite that, it is not impossible for an intercultural relationship to work out perfectly well. All it requires it’s a little more effort in making it work. The best thing about an intercultural relationship is how magical and amazing it is when it works out.
Seven Ways To Make An Intercultural Relationship Work Like Magic
#1 Be open minded and celebrate the differences
We are all different. No two people will ever be the same but as mentioned, intercultural couples face this issue even more than normal couples would. It is important to stay open-minded when you sense the differences between you and your partner.
Think about all the benefits you can get from an intercultural relationship. These benefits include enjoying different food, arts, history, language and extra festivities! More reasons to be merry! The more you are open to understanding and accepting the differences, the less cultural shock you will face.
- In Canada, supper can be used interchangeably with dinner. However, in Asia, it simply means the meal after dinner which is usually late at night. My Canadian friend was shocked when I said we shall have supper around midnight. She assumed that we will be skipping dinner and only eat at 12 am. We ended up laughing at the difference in meaning though we both speak English perfectly well. (Not a love relationship, but an international friendship that faces the same issue.)
- My partner was happy to know that I do not mind sharing my food with him. He explained that in his culture, it is not OK to share food even among couples. Needless to say, I was shocked— saliva exchange is cool when you kiss but it is not OK to share food. The reason is that saliva exchange through food sharing is considered disgusting — What in the world?
- You may be an English person dating a non-native English speaker. Do not expect your partner to always understand you if you are not able to understand them in their native language. Be patient and be understanding towards their learning curve in your native tongue and culture. With time and proper guidance, your partner will be able to understand you better. Better still, you can always attend a language course in their native tongue. It is actually a great thing to know a foreign language.
#2 Be interested and respect each other’s culture
Someone once asked how do my partner and I seem to have minimal cultural clashes. My partner gave the best answer by saying that we are both keen learners of cultures, which is absolutely true. By being interested to learn more about each other’s culture, we learned to understand why we act in certain ways or say certain things. We become more tolerant with one another.
If you are not a keen learner of other cultures, I assure you that this can be hard. You are bound to find things that are almost unacceptable in your culture or even unheard of. You and your partner both need to understand that there is no absolute right or wrong. These differences can simply be a clash of cultures.
In addition, lay down what you are comfortable and uncomfortable about each other’s beliefs. Listen and avoid doing or saying things that are disrespectful. For example, you may say nasty things to each other in an argument but know when to draw the line. Whatever you say, avoid bringing in your partner’s upbringing or culture. This simple method can help avoid unnecessary cultural clashes. (This is useful for any relationships!).
My partner and I had minor communication issues initially as he tends to speak to me in Kiwinglish (English with a New Zealand slang, which often mixes with the Maori language). On the other hand, English is my mother tongue yet, I speak more Manglish (Malaysian English) than English itself. That means my pronunciations may not always be on point. Additionally, at times I am unable to explain myself in pure English since I have seven other languages running through my head and my ‘England’ tends to go missing from time to time (only people who speak multiple languages will understand my plight).
I have no issues understanding Americans or English people as I am exposed to their culture and slangs but I was never exposed to Kiwinglish. So, I learned by reading an online Maori dictionary and did some research to understand what my partner was constantly speaking of. Nevertheless, he made the effort to simplify his language by removing his lingos. Our communication has improved so much thanks to these little efforts.
However, these days we simply speak pigeon English (broken English) with each other. It is fun especially when others look at us in confusion. Having our own language or sharing a mutual language that only we both understand is extremely important to maintain the fun side of things. Even small arguments sound better and cuter! Either one of us would always end up bursting into laughter and deal with the difference in opinion with an open heart.
I am a lucky person to meet my partner who loves culture as much as I do. In fact, I am a Malaysian Straits Chinese and my partner was in love with the Chinese culture even before meeting me. Thus, he has ample knowledge of the Chinese culture including understanding simple Mandarin. He has also put in more effort to study my culture and language.
Even when we argue, neither of us will speak about one another’s culture or upbringing. We make it a point to resolve issues by providing clear answers than to argue on the differences. Discussing and coming to a point of agreement as calm as possible is our main focus.
#3 Realize and share the similarities
More often than ever, you will come to a realization that all humans share similarities more than differences. Spend time speaking to each other and you will indefinitely find similarities that you both share. I am sure that is how you both got attracted to each other in the beginning.
These similarities can be sharing an interest in spicy food or desserts, massage, sports, and having the same taste in music or cinematography. Focus on your similarities and share what you love with each other — educate one another and have intellectual exchanges.
- I have been a martial artist for the last 20 years and my partner has always been interested in martial arts but never had the chance to train any. So, we attend Muay Thai and MMA fights together whenever we can. He showed more interest and expresses his intention to train. As a certified San Da coach, I was more than happy to coach him personally in kickboxing and Muay Thai. Since I trained Judo briefly, I taught him some basic moves too. We mess around with each other by fake sparring everywhere we go and that keeps us happy. We would also watch fights on YouTube together.
- I am a horrendous All Blacks fan because I mainly enjoy watching them do the haka dance but not truly understanding the rugby game. Thus, my partner explained to me about rugby and how it is played since he used to play rugby in school.
- My partner is knowledgeable in Western civilization and history. I love history but never learn much about Western history. He gives me insights on historical events that have happened in the Western world. In exchange, I give him insights on South East Asian and Chinese history. Together, we learn and become more knowledgeable about the world day by day.
#4 Compromise what you can and be grateful for each other
Once you learn about each other, you will have to learn how to understand, tolerate and compromise. You can argue that if your partner loves you, they will not make you compromise for them. In my humble opinion, I find that absolutely rubbish and selfish.
Even in normal relationships, you will have to learn how to compromise to make your relationship work. Of course, it is not to the point that you need to compromise all your principles just to make your partner happy. If that is what your partner is expecting from you, then your partner needs to be dumped. That is not what a good partner should expect from you — goodbye!
What I am referring to is to simply come to a middle point. Compromising does not equate to only one person making the compromise. It needs to be fair — that means both of you will need to compromise for one another. Understand what you are willing to compromise and still be happy.
Gratitude — one word that the human race should embrace more. If someone is willing to do anything for you, please always be grateful. Never ever take anything for granted. A simple thank you and a treat can make your partner feel appreciated. It is best for you to return the kindness so that your partner does not feel lopsided or unfair.
Six months ago, my partner invited me over to Thailand and I accepted the invitation. I quit my job that I actually enjoyed doing for the last four years (maybe not so much towards the end but you get my point, right?) to be with the man I love without any backup plans. In other words, from an independent and financially stable individual, I became a poor newbie freelance writer — which I dearly enjoy but do feel depressed with my current peanuts pay. I am also almost fully financially dependent on my partner till I can find a proper paying gig.
I compromised the career I have built while he compromises his pay. He is working extra hard for us to live a good life and continue travelling while I pursue my dream job of being a full-time writer. In return, I am forever grateful for his efforts and works towards achieving my goal as soon as possible.
#5 Avoid making assumptions
Remember when you are in an intercultural relationship, what your partner says may not be what you think it is. The reason is rather simple. In their culture, it can mean absolutely nothing but a joke while in yours it can be a great insult. Basically, both parties should leave some room for cultural faux pas.
If you ever do feel insulted while your partner is obviously smiling, do not get mad. Ask for clarifications and then explain that what they said was inappropriate. A partner who respects you would know how to apologize once you inform them of their inappropriateness.
My friends and I often joke about raping each other’s a*ses. We 100% understand that rape is not a joke but that is how we talk to each other, unfortunately. My partner was taken aback when one of my friends told him that he would a** rape him if he does not treat me well.
Even though my partner was slightly unhappy with what has been said to him since in his culture it is never OK to joke about rape, he played along. Later on, he expressed to me in private that he felt that the joke was rather inappropriate.
I explained to him that it was indeed inappropriate but that was an inside joke that that particular group of friends has. I apologized on my friend’s behalf and my partner accepted the apology. We moved on and now he has come to an acceptance that certain people just have a different kind of humour.
#6 Ignore third-party perceptions
It is funny but true that intercultural or inter-ethnicity couples still get funny looks or receive unrequired commentary.Third-parties may vary from strangers to friends and family. It is understandable that it can be hard to ignore but if you know that your relationship is for real, it is best for you to ignore what non-constructive criticizers have to say.
Another issue here is when your partner brings you home to meet their parents and family. You may not feel at ease the first time if your partner’s family is not open to your intercultural relationship. However, the best thing about meeting families is that there is always the next time. If things do not go well the first time, you can always try again.
- Your friends may warn you that the South East Asian lady you are dating is a gold digger because they have read news about Western men being used for money and as a way to get out of their poor home country — or, so they call this honey trap.
- You are a Christian and your partner is a Muslim. Some of your friends and family are Islamophobic. They claim that your partner is a terrorist because he is a Muslim from the Middle East. At the same time, they fear that they will lose you as a close one once you marry your partner as you will have to convert to Islam.
- I am a petite South East Asian lady (5 ft 1″) covered with visible tattoos yet still, manage to look like I am a 15 years old transgender thanks to my boy cut hairstyle. My partner is a serious-looking tall (6 ft 2″) Caucasian who I have shaved him bald (which made him look older). Our height (35cm difference), skin tone (dark/white), and size differences (giant/petite) are shocking for some people. We often attract weird gazes from strangers and senses the judgment going through their heads.
Such comments are not always unfounded but most can simply come from personal biases. Despite that, if you know your partner well enough, learn to ignore bias and judgmental comments. Trust your guts if they have always been proven right. It is also best to surround yourself with positive and supportive people.
Specifically, in my case, my partner and I do not feel annoyed with the strange stares we received. We understand that not everyone in this world is open-minded neither should we blame others for being ignorant. Sometimes we find such gazes to be amusing and take turns guessing what these strangers are thinking then laugh about it. People who know us have shown great support for our relationship and that is enough for us.
However, do not be blinded by love and think logically about everything. If such comments are from someone you trust and knows for a fact is not bias, you may want to give some extra thought to your relationship.
#7 Practice self-awareness and calmness
Regardless of where you are from, who you are and what you do, love your partner and treat them as equals. It is easy to feel superior to the other person sometimes that you may not even realize. No matter how socially conscious or politically correct you usually is, your views are tinted with a preconceived bias. Thus, being self-aware is super important.
You may be a caucasian dating an African-American lady. When in an argument, you may easily perceive that your partner is being aggressive even when she is not. This preconceived bias is due to what society has imparted to you. In return, you raise your voice and be aggressive towards her instead.
Remember that if it is not evidence based then it is your prejudice. By studying your prejudices, you can re-train your thought process and address them accordingly.
Stay calm and always try to resolve issues by talking like an adult instead of making poor decisions out of anger. If neither of you is able to stay calm, advise your partner that you would like to discuss the matter once you are both feeling better. Go for walk, watch a funny video or play some video games to simmer down. Next, start the conversation with an apology addressing your mistakes. Explain your thoughts in the most politically correct way (FYI, I am not the most politically correct person on earth but my partner has trained me to be better at it — there is still so much to learn).
Last but not least…
Love is love. Work things out if you are serious about each other by overcoming any tough issues together. Do not let your prejudices or ignorance hurt your happiness. Intercultural relationships are not straightforward but if things work out, it can be the most magical thing that has ever happened to you!