Before embarking on a life journey with another person, you should talk about a lot of things (for example, where you will live, how to manage finances, how to raise your children). This is especially true when considering a marriage with someone from another culture. A multicultural marriage is challenging. In addition to the usual questions you should ask anyone before getting married (things like “You like watching superhero movies, right?”), there are some specific things you should definitely talk about with someone born and raised in another culture (particularly another country).
Family cultures, backgrounds, and expectations
We’re formed in our thoughts and ideas from a very young age. As children, so much of what we learn is through observation – even to the point of developing biases (see my post on racism and my children here). If your spouse-to-be grew up in a country different from yours he also would have grown up accepting those cultural norms as truth.
(For example, in India there is really no concept of day-care for children. If parents are working then a relative will take care of the children for no charge. In India, children are expected to take care of elderly parents. Until recently, there weren’t any nursing homes there.)
Things that seem natural and normal to you might be very foreign or awkward for your spouse. (Another example -We’re big huggers in my family – we hug pretty much all the time, even if we just saw one another yesterday. I noticed that my husband hardly ever hugged his family members, not his mom or dad or sisters, – except perhaps very small children.)
What are the expectations of women and men in his culture – in his family culture and in his country?
What languages do you speak? What languages will you speak at home? Does your spouse have an expectation for you to learn his language or vice versa? Which one(s) will you actively teach your children?
Meet the family
You should always meet family members prior to getting married. This helps you have a small understanding of what his childhood was like, as well as the dynamic between him and his family. If there is no way for you to travel to meet them, I strongly recommend video (Skype) calls to talk to them. Having a multicultural marriage means that you will gain new family members (in-laws) from another culture and it’s important to develop good relationships with them.
How will your children look, live, grow up as biracial children? (See my post here for more my thoughts on addressing racism with your children – especially if they are biracial. And my post here on how to raise multi-cultural children). What obstacles might they face as a result of being biracial? How will the area you live in effect this? How will you teach your children about each culture?
If your fiance is from another culture, chances are he might be from a completely different religious background. How will this factor into your life? What do you know about his religion (or he about yours)? Thankfully, my husband and I are both Catholic so we didn’t have this concern – although we definitely did discuss faith, morals, how we would raise our kids, where we would attend church (things which any couple should discuss anyway).
Let’s be honest. We live in a country (world) where racism exists. This is something important to keep in mind when considering a multicultural marriage. Where will you live? What is the mindset about people from another culture where you intend to live? Have you ever encountered racism (towards yourself or towards a person from the same culture as your fiance)? When I was still single, I was dating a (different) guy from another culture (and country) and he told me that he and his previous white girlfriend were harassed when walking downtown (in Pennsylvania I think). Racist remarks can and might happen to you and your husband. How will you handle them? What will you do?
You can’t change another person
You can’t change another person’s bias or tendency or beliefs – at least not easily and you shouldn’t count on it. (You should keep this in mind no matter who you marry!) If there is some deep-seated belief that runs in the other person’s culture (and you notice it in his family) then be aware that he might hold that belief too (even subconsciously) for his whole life. (If your fiance’s culture thinks cats are absolutely disgusting and your family can’t imagine life without Fluffy and Sweetie, then you need to be consciously aware of this. Small example, but imagine some big issue that you have strong disagreements about and you can see the potential difficulties!)
If you were there when I grilled my husband before marriage you probably would have laughed. I was thorough. I asked questions and re-asked and talked a lot! It was worse than an interview. Still, he married me anyway. And I could tell that in his heart he was a good person with the same life and family goals as me and the same principles and basic desires. Marriage is hard, having a multicultural marriage adds another dimension of difficulty.
One last thought. I highly recommend pre-marital counseling, not the 2-day workshop that churches might offer (although that can be helpful too), but serious counseling with a great therapist. This can truly help you start your marriage off on the right foot and help you uncover hidden expectations that might make things challenging at first.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips. What helped you make a decision to be a part of a multicultural marriage? What advice would you give?