Navigating Love Across Cultures: 6 Key Thoughts for Success

by | Feb 8, 2024

Mareike Matthies & Kim Serena are sisters, both in intercultural marriages and help intercultural couples and families meet the inside and outside challenges of life and love between cultures through courses, community, and counseling in their membership program “The Couple of Cultures Club”. Here, they share 6 keys to success for intercultural couples.

When you think of your friends or colleagues, I bet you can think of at least one couple where the partners have different cultural, national, racial, or religious backgrounds. Or maybe even you yourself are one of those couples?

In a way, every couple is intercultural.  You may come from different regions, towns, the countryside vs. the city, or the mountains vs. the sea.  However, ultimately, just the fact that we have grown up in different family cultures makes us intercultural.  Cultural differences are hard to ignore and can pose a challenge for couples in unforeseen ways.

In our work with intercultural couples (@acoupleofcultures on Instagram), we see certain patterns in those challenges. In this article, we’ll explore seven key thoughts that can help you strengthen your intercultural relationship.

  1. Remember, there is no right or wrong, there’s just different.

We humans are incredibly quick to judge a person or situation, and yes, that is for good reasons (protection, simplification of complex perceptions). However, it is also poison for your intercultural relationship. Adapting this little credo of “it’s just different” allows you and your partner to become more accepting. Instead of thinking either…or, you start thinking …and…. And instead of viewing your cultural differences as obstacles, you approach them as opportunities to understand each other better and celebrate the richness of your diverse backgrounds.2

2. Talk about everything!

Where monocultural couples should work on their communication skills, intercultural couples should do this tenfold. Misunderstandings will be part of your lives, but it is up to you to make sure they happen seldomly  and are resolved frequently. Often, conflicts arise from the smallest misunderstandings and can be prevented with a question, additional information, or simply assuming that your partner didn’t mean any harm.

3. Think ahead: what could be a great way to show support or love for your partner?

Especially if one of you is living outside of their home country or missing a certain aspect of their culture, showing love can be as simple as doing things “their way”. Whether that refers to their meal preferences, preference on punctuality, or social interactions. Don’t underestimate how relaxing it is to not be compromising for once–that’s something that intercultural couples have enough of.

4. Find interest in your partner’s culture. You might not agree with everything, but it’s a great way to challenge your own perspectives.

Even if you and your partner don’t feel very in touch with your cultural heritage, it’s worth having a deep conversation about where you stand. You never know when this might change. One critical milestone is, for example, having children together: Lots of parents find themselves suddenly reconnecting with their own culture and questioning certain aspects of their upbringing. And generally, it helps to not ignore your partner’s culture or hope that it will simply “go away”. It’s part of who they are. So, go and explore food, music, art, and traditions together, and thus foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for each other’s heritage

5. Set healthy boundaries as a couple. You two make the rules, despite what family, tradition, or culture dictate.

It can be incredibly difficult to manage your extended family’s expectations about the roles they play and the privileges they should enjoy, but in the end, you make the rules. Remember, you are a mix of both cultures, and therefore you have to create your unique identity. This means you might have to get comfortable with discomfort when communicating this to outsiders. It helps to remember that they are on their own journey of cultural awareness. They might not have the resources (yet) to deal with this situation, and you can only help them so much. But in the end, it’s their choice whether they prioritize you and your partner or what tradition, culture, and religion dictate.

6. Acknowledge the sacrifices, energy, and effort you both put into this relationship to make it work. Tell your partner.

Take a moment to express gratitude for the dedication and sacrifices you and your partner have made to nurture your relationship. Recognize the energy and effort invested in overcoming challenges and building a strong foundation of love and understanding. Here’s what we should try to tell our partners regularly: “I think we make a great team.” / “This is quite hard sometimes, isn’t it? But overall, I think we can be really proud of what we have achieved.” / “I appreciate it so much when you…” / “I admire you for dealing with…” / “We got this.” Pick one of these and tell it to your partner or make up your own. But don’t forget to do it.  Don’t take this incredible adventure that you are both on and the work it requires for it to run smoothly for granted.

 

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