Don’t Let Cultural Differences Wreck Your Marriage

All marriages take work, but cross-cultural marriages take even more work because of so many variances in individual expectations, beliefs, behaviors, and values. If culture differences are not managed well, disappointment can arise pretty quickly over unmet expectations and general frustrations in day to day responsibilities. What makes it even more difficult is that the clashes you and your partner might experience will also involve your loved ones – your extended families. That’s where your culture developed, after all. Generally, the more different your individual cultures, the more disappointments you will have with one another.

Here are some of the most common cultural clashes you may already be experiencing…

Religion, Spirituality, and Celebrations – You may both be supportive of each other’s religious beliefs but still often run into unforeseen problems. You may have significant differences in the way you celebrate certain holidays. Dietary restrictions could be problematic and so can strong religious views.

Parenting – raising children already leads to conflict in a marriage but marriage really suffers when both parents don’t agree on how to raise their children. What do you teach them about spirituality/religion? How do you discipline? What values do you want to instill in your children? You can see how the list can grow and how these conflicts can substantially strain your marriage. Here’s more specific guidance on parenting and marriage.

Personality – just like in any marriage, both partners need to be respectful and open-minded when facing unexpected issues. However, if you are in a cross-cultural marriage, you may argue more because you simply have more cultural differences. Culture shapes personality and the more foreign the culture from your own, the more difficult it may be to adjust to your partner’s personality.

Values – differing values in a marriage can be horrifically difficult if you aren’t able to come to a compromise. If a husband thinks that a wife should be subservient and the wife disagrees, you have substantial problems. When children enter the picture, differing values are even more problematic.

So what do you do? You married your spouse, and you want to stay married. After all, you fell in love with your partner for a reason so it doesn’t make sense to split up if you can work it out. Don’t let the challenges I listed discourage you. Just because you have different challenges than other married couples doesn’t mean they can’t be solved. When you married your partner, you married your spouse’s culture as well. While this is a challenge, it is also an opportunity to grow together.

Getting through any adversity together brings a couple closer so here’s your opportunity to make your marriage stronger! You can turn your marital liabilities into assets by expanding your knowledge, turning your weaknesses into strengths, and learning (and modeling for your children) productive and healthy conflict resolutions.

Here’s how:

Embrace and Explore – you both have a unique opportunity to get an intimate appreciation of customs that are different from yours. Celebrate it! Spend time getting to know each other’s customs, festivities, foods, and cultural practices. You don’t have to adopt all of them into your family and marriage, but if you are both willing to explore and try to understand each other’s cultural backgrounds, you will begin to lay a foundation of mutual respect and love. You’ll need that to conquer your other challenges.

Respect Each Other’s Differences – don’t pretend that your cultural differences are no big deal, but don’t blow them out of proportion either. When a difference arises, approach it with respect rather than judgment. Ask why your partner might have a certain value and where that comes from. Try to understand your partner as you would a stranger. Once you have the whole picture, you have done two things: (1) you’ve laid a foundation of respect and love by hearing all of your partner’s perspective, and (2) you’ve gotten as much knowledge as you can about your partner’s perspective to work on alternate solutions that might work better for you both

Focus on What You Have in Common – no matter how different you both are, you will both have some kind of common ground. What similarities do you have in your values or interests? Do you both believe in hard work? Maybe you both agree that meditation should be a part of your practice. Possibly, you may both value honesty. Talk about your commonalities before any conflict-resolution session to reduce the tension. You both fell in love for a reason. Some of those reasons were because of values or interests you shared so don’t forget those.

Don’t Abandon What Matters to You – if you discard the things that are most important to you (whether that’s religious celebrations or values about child-rearing), you’ll just grow resentful with your partner, and your marriage will suffer further. After all, you can’t be expected to abandon the core parts of what makes up your identity. So stick to what you value, but be open-minded to compromise. Remember that your partner can’t abandon his or her identity either. Usually, there is a middle ground.

Never Assume – never assume that your partner knows what you want, what you mean, or what your problem is. That’s general marriage information that will take you miles towards a happy marriage. The cultural end of this advice is not to assume that your partner has certain cultural values or expectations without inquiring about them first. Never let stereotypes dictate your thoughts about your partner either. That might go without saying, but it’s easy to do. Talk about everything. This includes expectations about your marriage, your upbringing influences, views about gender roles, intimacy, finances, and children (to name a few). You might find out that some parts of your partner’s cultural background aren’t as important to him or her as you might have thought. That’s where the compromise becomes easier.

Be Realistic and Patient – while we are more and more accepting of different cultures in our western society, your spouse’s family (and your own) may not bend that easily. Some parents are pretty resistant to change, and it can become pretty toxic with in-laws. Be patient, and don’t push (when appropriate). Your families will most likely come around in time. What is most important is that you and your partner are on the same page and learn to navigate your differences and compromise. Your families should be secondary to your partnership. As for your children, good news. While being kids of cross-cultural parents can have certain challenges, children like yours are actually more open to embracing the cultural diverse and appreciate being brought up among various cultures (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry).

While your cultural differences can present many challenges, you both can become so much stronger for it if you tackle problems together. With proper guidance, respect, patience, and support, any problem can be tackled. Your marriage is no different.

If you need more specific guidance, you can work with me. I have helped numerous couples tackle challenging cultural issues in their marriages. I can help you too. For free marriage help, click here. It can get better!