17% of newlyweds were married to someone of a different race or ethnicity according to an analysis of 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data. This represents a more than fivefold increase from 3% in 1967 when the Supreme Court declared interracial marriages legal in Loving v. Virginia. –Pew Research Center
They say love knows no borders, but cultural differences can cause stress for couples and create a divide. From communication breakdowns to clashes in values, navigating cultural differences in relationships can be tricky and pose serious challenges in some relationships. Fortunately, it is still possible to build a robust and healthy relationship despite those differences/challenges. The key is to approach the situation with an open mind and a willingness to learn about and respect each other’s cultures.
Some of the challenges couples face
One of the unique challenges of navigating cultural differences in a relationship is communication. Different cultures have different communication styles, which can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. For example, in some cultures, it is considered rude to be direct and confrontational, while in others, directness is valued. This can lead to conflicts if one partner feels like they are being ignored or talked over, while the other feels like they are being attacked.
Of course, the language itself can also come with its own set of challenges when it comes to finding the right expressions to say what you really mean. Vermont native, Sarah Wells, gives us one such example she experienced with her husband who is from Southern China but fluent in English, Mandarin and Cantonese:
“While munching on a batch of shortbread cookies I had made, he told me how much he liked their ‘dusty’ texture. After my look of horror, we quickly discovered that he’d really meant to complement their ‘crumbly’ texture.”
Another challenge is differences in values and beliefs. Different cultures have different ideas about what is important in life, and these differences can create friction. For example, in some cultures, family is the most important thing, while in others, individual achievement is valued above all else. This can lead to conflicts over how to spend time and money, and what goals to prioritize.
5 across-the-board approaches to cultural issues
Despite the challenges, it is possible to build healthy relationships across cultural differences and here are some essential tips to help bridge the gap in your relationship to make it work:
1.It is essential to be open-minded in your approach to the relationship and have the willingness to learn about each other’s cultures. This means being curious, asking questions, and being open to new ideas. Researchers have found that a decent level of curiosity is very healthy in relationships.
“I am in a relationship with someone of a different culture. The way we handle our differences is that we are open and accepting of each other. You have to be open minded and be ready to learn about your differences and discover common grounds.” –Iris Escavez, Queens, Newyork
2.Communicating openly and honestly is key in any relationship, but it is especially important when navigating cultural differences. Be open and honest about your feelings, and make an effort to understand your partner’s perspective.
3.Finding common ground by looking for areas where your cultures overlap and using them as a starting point for building your relationship. For example, you might both love cooking or music or have similar religious beliefs. In addition to finding common ground, healthy compromises are also good for successful relationships because they signal partners value the relationship beyond themselves.
4.It’s important to respect each other’s cultural traditions and beliefs, even if you don’t agree with them. This can mean being open to celebrating each other’s holidays and traditions and avoiding criticism or judgment.
“Forgiveness, respect, and space. Anyone who marries a foreign person has to work to be in harmony with the other’s culture and should never try and impose their own on that person. To me, that is the key to a successful relationship of this kind.” –Abdel Kader & Natalie, married 2016.
5.Finally, patience, because building a healthy relationship takes time, and navigating cultural differences can be a slow process. If you are always too quick to “correct” your partner they can become frustrated and lose interest in making any adjustment. People tend to defend their culture by pure reflex because it is a part of who they are. So be patient with each other and recognize that it may take time to find a balance that works for both of you.
Ultimately, navigating cultural differences in a relationship is about building a strong foundation of mutual respect, communication, and understanding. By approaching the situation with an open mind and a willingness to learn, you can build a healthy relationship that is enriched by your cultural differences, rather than divided by them.
Cross-cultural relationships often involve much self-sacrifice and hard work from the onset to surmount external barriers. The result is often a much deeper commitment and enduring love among such couples. –MumsVillage Kenya
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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