“Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.” G. K. Chesterton
If you are in a duel, you need to know what weapons your opponent has in his arsenal. Marriage is tough enough between two people with similar backgrounds who grew up in the same hometown. A cross-cultural marriage can be even more challenging. My husband is from India and I’m an American (with European roots) and even though we’ve been married for almost 10 years, I can tell you that life with someone from another culture keeps me on my toes! There are so many subtle ways of communicating that are natural and normal within one culture that are very different in another.
In India, for example, staring directly and openly at another person on the street (for an extended period of time) is not considered rude. This was unnerving for me when I traveled there for the first time. When my husband and I were first married we had to navigate many situations where we innocently misunderstood each other. You can’t predict all of the problems that you will encounter, but here are some cross-cultural marriage tips on how we have survived so long and built up a successful, loving relationship.
Good communication skills are the key to all relationships; however, clear communication is especially vital in cross-cultural marriages. When you’re a child, it is so easy to think that everyone else lives the way you do. I know that I felt this way for a long time. I’ve found that the more I assume I know what my husband wants (or that he knows what I want or expect) the worse things are between us. When I make an effort to explain my culture and expectations, even if this feels silly or tedious to me, and listen to his views and experiences, this helps us avoid many misunderstandings and problems.
Learn about his or her culture
I like Bollywood movies. Before we had children (when we had more time), my husband and I would watch Bollywood movies together. Watching these movies helped me learn more about Indian culture, politics, and religion. My husband would explain the plot and subtle nuances and what they meant. We would talk about his culture and I would ask a lot of questions. I appreciated learning these details and it helped deepen my understanding of Indian culture.
I also have visited India several times – including seeing his hometown, his coconut tree farm, his extended family, and many of his favorite childhood places. Thankfully, I learned a great deal about him and his culture through these visits – (and also by asking him lots of questions). (I’m very curious by nature and tend to ask people lots of questions!)
Find something to appreciate
I honestly find some parts of Indian culture irritating at times (and I’m sure my husband feels the same way about American culture). If I dwell on them, I can easily let these small things drive me crazy. Or, I can try to focus on the good things that I appreciate about Indian culture. Personally, I love the Indian people’s sincere and generous hospitality, their natural approach to health and healing, and their amazing food.
Share a part of each culture with your children.
My husband loves telling stories of his childhood and experiences in India to our daughters (ages 3 and 1). He loves to make special Indian food for them and play some of his childhood games with them. I love reading my favorite childhood books to them and sharing many of my favorite foods and games. As they grow older, we’ll continue to share each of our cultures with them and make our own family culture and traditions as a blend of both.
If you don’t have children, you can still share a part of each culture with your extended family and friends. Invite family members over for a special night of amazing food from your spouse’s culture. Teach them a fun, ethnic game. Share different ways that he or she celebrated holidays growing up (for example, New Years celebrations, birthdays, native festivals, etc.).
Remember that you are in a duel and that you need to fight fair. Marriage is hard work, but also full of many blessings. Having an open mind, a willingness to learn and share, and developing strong communication skills will help you and your spouse enjoy a long, loving marriage. Share these cross-cultural marriage tips with someone you know. I would love to hear any tips that you have in the comments.
If your spouse has recently immigrated to the US, see my post on how to help someone adjust to a new culture.