More and more couples are meeting through overseas opportunities and connections. We’re in a globalised world so that means more relationships are global too. Christians are also finding a closer faith connection to other believers from different countries and cultures but who share the same Christian values more than that of their home cultures. That means intercultural relationships are far more common.
I can speak with some expertise on this as I’m in one of them! I’m a New Zealand born and raised naturalised British citizen married to a Brazilian. We’ve been married now for almost three years and we’ve learned (and learning) some things on how we sustain a healthy happy relationship and intercultural marriage.
So here’s a list of what I consider the ten most important things to consider before 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.
Here are the ten things you should know and work through to make an intercultural marriage work.
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.
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 its language because the two are inextricably linked. It is also a sign of love that you are also ‘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. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be completely fluent, but conversational is a pretty good start. It also opens the door to your spouse’s friends and family, building friendship and trust.
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.
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. Which 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 can get more tricky. So be warned, work hard to getting the communication right and realise when a cultural difference could be leading to unnecessary misunderstandings.
5 Practice tolerance, every day.
This, of course, isn’t restricted to intercultural marriages but an extra dose of patience and 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’.
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 is never a good thing to close down options, especially around where to live. Each person in the marriage then 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.
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 of travel and trade (and international families) understanding both cultures will be an 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.
8 Be prepared for the stresses of settling
Things don’t work the same in other countries and it’s likely one in the couple will be faced with frustrations they never intended. A prime example of this could be 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. That’s why it’s important both should be prepared 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.
9 Enjoy the new horizons
One of the amazing delights of an intercultural marriage is discovery. New words, new tastes, new music, new opportunities to learn more and 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!
10 Keep growing, keep learning
Marriage requires ongoing care and maintenance. Remain conscious on 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.
Not Only Sundays – Bible Wisdom for Every day.
© Not Only Sundays, September 2017.
Scripture quoted from the NIV translation.
Images sourced on www.pixabay.com image under a creative commons licence CC.