There are many ups and downs a relationship can experience, but one where two cultures come together seem to have more unique challenges than most. Here are some of my experiences from my own inter-cultural marriage that have helped bring us closer.
If you marry someone from the same culture as yourself, there are several unique attributes each person brings to the marriage. Certain quirks, traditions and ways of doing things that come from how a person was raised. If you choose to marry someone who grew up in a different country, the differences are even greater. Your language, economic status, political system, holidays and even race could vary. This is the case with my husband and myself. He is Ecuadorian and grew up in Ecuador. I am American and grew up here in the United States. When we got married, we spent a lot of our time learning how to blend our two cultures together.
It was fairly easy to incorporate my husband's culture with mine on big things like holidays and celebrations. It just took some research, questioning and willingness on my part to vary from the way I was used to doing things. I held tight to some things and let other things go. We learned to compromise.
Besides the obvious differences, there are the subtle things that take some getting used to. Things like how big a meal we eat for breakfast. I was used to cereal, and he was used to a larger meal with things I would never consider eating in the morning. There was also differences in the television shows we watched. My husband did not like any of the shows I enjoyed because he was used to watching them in Spanish, and they just didn't translate quite right. His Spanish comedies were not translated at all, so I definitely had a hard time following what was going on. Working through these types of differences took a bit more time and patience.
As hard as we try to blend both our cultures in every aspect of our life, it is challenging because of where we live. Living in the United States, it is only natural that we do more American things than Ecuadorian. For example, here, a typical Friday night date would be dinner and a movie; for my husband it would be dinner and dancing. While there are clubs in the states, we mostly find young single people frequenting them, and we don't quite fit in there anymore. Where my husband is from, there are people of all ages dancing everywhere, not just at clubs. Here, a BBQ is hot dogs and hamburgers, for my husband it is steak and sausage. Unless we host the BBQ, there is not much I can do about what other people serve. These little differences add up, and I can't help but feel my husband has made more compromises than I.
With this in mind I have tried to be aware of changes he has made just to live here and be more understanding of the challenges he faces on a daily bases. Everything is different for him, right down to the jokes we tell. So when we are at home together it is his place to be himself. After several years of marriage, we have created a home where we both fill comfortable, but it did take some adjustment.
My first piece of advice to anyone in an intercultural marriage would be to have compassion for the other person. Try to understand what they are going through. It is hard to adjust to new ideas and understand cultural differences, but if we display compassion for the other and have an attitude that is willing to learn new ideas, rather than reject them, it makes conversations easier, kinder and less emotional.
Enjoy the present
Second, remember that you married this person because of who they are, not who you hoped they'd change into. It's their differences that made you notice them, both in appearance and personality. I will admit, at times; I have wished my husband could adapt just a bit more to my culture. But when I think about it, I know that would be a tragedy. I love the differences he brings into my life; they bring me out of my comfort zone and teach me about this beautiful world we live in. He reminds me we do not have to live in our own bubble, but rather we need to reach out to other people.
This brings me to my third point; be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Just because you are used to one way of doing something does not mean it is the only way to do it. Another person's way is not wrong, just different. Try to take the good from both cultures and blend them to make an even better unique culture that is your family. We do not limit this thought to the two cultures we are from, but we try as a family to go out with our children and experience cultures from all over the world. There is something we can learn from each one of them.
For me, living with someone from another culture is as normal as breathing. Unfortunately, there are still people who do not support interracial and intercultural marriages in the world. We have faced some discrimination as a couple and individually, but it has only made us stronger. We cry on each other's shoulder and vent about the backwardness of some people's ideas, but then we move on. I want my own children to be proud of both their ethnicities, not hide one in hopes of fitting in. I want them to be fluent in both English and Spanish, love to salsa dance and play Bach on the piano, eat spicy food and s'mores, and know they are lucky to have the heritage they have. I also want them to be strong if they face discrimination and know it is better to love than hate. Their biggest example is our relationship, it shows them that love is stronger than culture, race and discrimination.