Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Relationships: When Cultures Clash

Every person is a cultural being.  And therefore, we each bring our own story, family history, and cultural background into our relationships.  Unlike 20 or 30 years ago, in today's globalized world, we are more likely to interact, make friends, and fall in love with people from cultures other than our own.

Whereas intercultural romantic relationships, like any romantic relationship, are based on mutual love, respect, openness, and sincerity, they also present with unique challenges that may only become apparent after the initial honeymoon period has passed.   Common challenges faced by intercultural couples are differences in family culture and expectations, religious and political differences, language barriers, and decisions around cultural practices, such as how to celebrate holidays and eating habits.  Down the road, these challenges may also play a role when the question of how to raise children may arise.

Other unique challenges and decisions faced by intercultural couples are:
Response to stress & conflict
Response to illness
Sexual behavior
Place of residence
Friends and interpersonal relationships
Cultural and society’s acceptance of the relationship
Parental/family approval
Gender roles
Cohesiveness of family
Emotional expressiveness

Factors For Success
Facing all these challenges together as a couple takes much energy, patience, acceptance, and most importantly, the willingness to "go back to the drawing board" as often as necessary.  A first important step is to identify which cultural differences may cause stress and conflict in the relationship.  In this process, it's important not to make any assumptions about the other's standpoint.  Remember, differences are merely differences - they are neither good nor bad.  They are honest expressions of personal and cultural values.

As humans, we assume too quickly, and can accomplish much more if we are curious about each other.  Also, don't assume that understanding each other better necessarily means agreeing with each other.  Living with cultural differences takes constant work.

For additional relationship advice, see these blog entries:
Improving Relationships Through Vulnerability
Managing Expectations In Relationships
Are You In An Abusive Relationship?

I am a Houston psychologist who specializes in working with intercultural couples.  Please visit my webpage for more information.