More and more couples are meeting through overseas opportunities and connections and that includes many Christians. If you’re thinking of or are newly married here are some tips for making an intercultural marriage work.
I can speak with some insight on this as I’m in one of them!
About me; I’m a New Zealand born and raised naturalised British citizen married to a Brazilian. We’ve been married now for three years and we’ve learned (and are learning).
So here’s a list of what I consider the ten most important things to consider in committing to an intercultural relationship for Christians. Others of different faiths or none may well find this equally helpful.
But first a quick clarifier, intercultural marriage is different to interracial.
Interracial marriage is just as it says, a marriage of different racial groups who may well be born up and raised in the same culture and speak the same language.
Intercultural is a marriage between two different cultures where the couple’s mother tongue are different languages. Of course, some marriages can be both intercultural and racial.
Intercultural marriage tip 1: share the same faith.
Well this one is kind of obvious, right?
Intercultural marriages will raise different challenges to other marriages and require extra care, dedication and diligence. That’s why sharing a common faith should be what really holds the marriage together.
When God is put at the heart of the marriage, everything else falls into its proper perspective.
We’re told to build our lives on the solid rock of God’s word (Matthew 7:24). That is certainly no less true of marriage! When a couple is able to grow together in God’s love, then their love will be shaped and deepened by that love.
Intercultural marriage tip 2: learn each other’s language.
I believe this is non-negotiable. If English is not the mother-tongue of your spouse then you should learn their language. Why?
The answer is honour. If you honour your spouse, you honour their culture by understanding the language. The two are inextricably linked.
It’s also a sign of love that you are ‘making an effort’ to do something that is quite difficult.
It also allows your spouse to take a break from always speaking a foreign tongue too. And believe me, speaking a language not your own is tiring.
It doesn’t mean you have to be completely fluent, but conversational is a good start.
It also opens the door to your spouse’s friends and family, building friendship and trust.
Intercultural marriage tip 3: love your spouse’s family.
You don’t just marry an individual, you marry their family.
So do you feel comfortable around them?
You should do, even with cultural differences. I was made to feel so welcome with my spouse’s family and I felt I understood them as if they were my own.
I don’t know why I did, but they just seemed to click with me. Perhaps it was because they were similar to other members of my family.
Don’t underestimate how important this is because it will be your spouse’s family support that counts as much as your own.
Intercultural marriage tip 4: understand your communication styles.
Different cultures communicate differently.
Some cultures are reserved others more expressive, some are indirect in their communication and others can be very direct!
This was something of course I knew but hadn’t actually lived with. Knowing something and then living it are two very different things.
So in our marriage, we’ve had to understand how it is we like to speak to each other, especially when it comes to areas of potential conflict.
And that leads to another challenge, how you approach problems and resolve them.
That’s complicated enough in any regular marriage but when you throw in a cultural dimension it gets more tricky.
So be warned, work hard to getting the communication right. It pays to know when a cultural difference could be leading to unnecessary misunderstandings too.
Intercultural marriage tip 5: practice tolerance, every day.
This, of course, isn’t restricted to intercultural marriages but an extra dose of tolerance is going to be needed.
Let’s say your spouse is missing their favourite food and wants to eat the cuisine of their home country, while you prefer something more Western. In this kind of situation and many others like it, it’s way better to make some sacrifices. Especially if your spouse is the one living in the foreign culture.
Likewise, for TV or any other entertainment. You need to make space for the fact they may prefer to watch or listen to things from their culture.
This is understandable.
The marriage will be stronger if you allow both cultures to express themselves and ‘breath’.
Intercultural marriage tip 6: where do you decide to live?
This is a big conversation, so have it.
Work out under which circumstances, if any, you would be prepared to live in your spouse’s country.
I think for most people it’s better to be flexible and open to different possibilities. It’s never a good thing to close down options, especially around where to live.
Each person in the marriage also needs to work out where it is they feel most comfortable to be, given that life circumstances can change. Especially with children or the needs of their families.
Intercultural marriage tip 7: which culture for the kids?
Here’s another big consideration.
Are you prepared to raise your children in both cultures and languages?
We’ve decided yes, and for good reasons.
Given that the child is a blend of two cultures and heritages, it’s better that they understand and appreciate both.
In a globalised world, understanding both cultures is a definite advantage. As well as speaking two languages.
The question shouldn’t be why teach both languages, but instead, why deny your child access to both? Especially as there’s no obvious impediment for them.
Intercultural marriage tip 8: be prepared for the stresses of settling.
Things don’t work the same in other countries.
One of you will experience frustrations you never intended.
Just take the painful bureaucracy of visa applications (and the costs associated) or having overseas qualifications recognised.
These are the two most typical, but there will be others.
Locating to a different country will bring more than its fair share of stresses and surprises. Not least the occasional bout of homesickness.
Prepare for some tough moments.
Prayer and support for each other (and from others) really matters and builds that solid foundation as you readjust to a new life.
Intercultural marriage tip 9: enjoy the new horizons.
One of the amazing delights of an intercultural marriage is discovery.
New words, tastes, music and opportunities to learn more about another culture. And for you both to broaden your horizons in life.
If that isn’t instinctively you, then you should seriously reconsider if setting out on an intercultural marriage is the right thing.
But if all of this excites you then you’re well on the right track to make it a delightful success!
Intercultural marriage tip 10: keep growing, keep learning.
Marriage requires ongoing care and maintenance.
Remain conscious of how you’re managing the intercultural dimension within that.
You will need to keep working things out as you go about living your lives together.
Do make sure you’re both growing in your faith too and that you’re encouraging each other along the way.
I’d like to attribute this scripture originally written for the church but applied here for an intercultural marriage –
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” Ephesians 4:2.
God bless your love. Deus abençoe seu amor.
Jeremy – Not Only Sundays (About Us).
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