Sobering Advice for anyone contemplating a cross-cultural marriage

This hard-won advice is intended only for those couples who are truly considering entering into a cross-cultural marital situation. Simply marrying someone whose ancestry is different from your own is not quite the same thing. Much of who we are and what we believe is the result of what we see around us as examples during our childhood. Someone born in Japan who is brought to the United States before school age and who has lived here ever since will not benefit so much from the advice I have to give here. I’m not saying there will not be obstacles to overcome in any case. Just that my particular experience is with someone who was raised all her life in a different culture from myself and it is to those in a similar situation that I address this discourse.

You may also find that this advice is strongly biased toward the male point of view. That should not be too surprising, since I have lived all my life as a male and I have little experience looking at the situation from the other side. If you have a beef with that, then either write an equivalent article from the female perspective (I would gladly host such a page) or just quietly put up with my rants. Also, realize that I have some personal steam to vent and this may at times color the presentation.

My personal experience centers around the relationship between a Japanese female and an American male, although I’d like to think that the basic ideas could be applied to any cross-cultural situation. I’d be happy to hear about the experiences of others in this regard. The only caveat is that if the advice does not apply to your situation, then just forget it. I don’t hope to change the world with a single essay. But if I can help one would-be husband (or wife) to avoid disaster before it strikes, then it was worth the time and the disk space.

You see, there is precious little in the way of practical material available in your local bookstore on the subject of relating to someone who was not raised with the same value system as yourself. And even less so when it comes to Japanese culture. So many of the books I read contained the most blatant misunderstandings about even the simplest elements of Japanese life. And you can’t expect your partner to help you out because he/she is just as confused as you are. Those, like myself, who are actually attracted to the other culture are the most at risk. This brings me to the first rule:

Rule #1: Don’t assume that your interest in your partner’s culture will last, or that it will somehow prevent conflicts from occuring.

Never underestimate the depth of the roots of your own upbringing. Sure, it’s possible to change (given enough time and enough effort). But no matter how deep you dig, you will always be you. Your beliefs, your emotions, your priorities, in short, your whole approach to life, are shaped by the culture in which you were brought up. This leads to the obvious:

Rule #2: Don’t assume that the other person will change significantly just because of the relationship or because of your charming influence.

Some degree of cross-pollenization is bound to occur between two people who share an intimate relationship but when you start to expect change, then you start to get into big trouble. The best thing you can do for each other is to acknowledge the fact that conflicts will occur and will often occur for the simplest and most unexpected reasons.

That said, it should be quite obvious that you will want to find out as much as you possibly can about your potential partner and his or her lifestyle. You would be surprised how much is taken for granted in typical marriages, even among partners of the same background. What priority does the extended family play in the couple’s life, how are family decisions made, how much free time (time apart from each other) is considered normal for the partners, etc.

Rule #3: Don’t assume anything. Make sure you discuss with your partner every aspect of your future life together.

Also, don’t assume that when your partner says something is unimportant that it does not have to be discussed. Those areas are often the most important things to discuss. The fact that something is ‘not important’ may be a signal that one or both of you are making an assumption about the way some aspect of life will turn out based on your own past experience. Well, you might as well toss that ‘past experience’ right out the window because your partner and you, by definition, do not share the same past or the same experience. And that brings me to the next rule:

Rule #4: If your partner refuses to discuss a subject openly, treat that as a big red flag and find out why.

The beliefs people hold most dear are the ones which they are least likely to want to discuss with someone else. Unless you’re prepared to cheerfully accept whatever ideas or beliefs your partner may consider most important, I’d suggest you at least find out what those beliefs are before jumping into a permanent relationship with that person.

And I’m not talking only about religious beliefs (which may be important in their own right) but also beliefs about how life should be lived. Those things which you or your partner might call ‘common sense’. Well, the term common sense covers a lot of ground and is often based on those underlying assumptions we have been trying so hard not to look at. The only things that are actually common are things like not standing in front of a speeding truck or not walking into an empty elevator shaft.

For example, if you are very involved in a group which supports a particular cause but your partner sees this as one of your ‘hobbies’ — and if he or she has been brought up to believe that when two people marry they will give up the ‘hobbies’ of their younger days. And if you wait until after you are married to find out that all this is only ‘common sense’ to her then you may well find yourself in a difficult situation real fast. Or if you find out that it is considered ‘common sense’ that you should give up your dream of starting that business and instead work as a corporate grunt in order to provide security for the family because that’s the way everyone else from your partner’s country behaves — my friend, you’ve found out way too late.

Rule #5: Make it a point to talk about some tough topics (like money, raising children, where to live, etc.) before making those wedding arrangements.

Look, the stuff is going to come up sooner or later. Start an argument or two. Find out what it’s like to fight by your partner’s rules. No amount of love or respect is going to keep your ship from hitting the icebergs of life. You might as well know whether you will be able to work together toward a solution when the inevitable crisis comes up.

Rule #6: Make sure that, between the two of you, there is at least one language in which you are both fluent.

This is very important. As a test, try taking some very subtle feeling or belief and explain it to your potential mate. Have him or her explain it back. If there is not a substantial understanding of what you explained, watch out. If either of you are unable to explain the subtle emotions that come up in a relationship without causing some misunderstanding, then you will be in for a very hard, if not impossible, road through life. Wait a while until one or the other of you is able to achieve a good degree of fluency in the others language.

After all, would you hook up permanently with someone whose face you had never seen? Not many of us would. Then how come we will so readily hook up with a partner whose soul we have never seen?

Rule #7: Examine your own motives.

Is this someone you would hook up with even if you were safe and happy in your own country? If you are the partner who is trying to live in another culture, remember this: Culture shock can do funny things to a normally rational mind. Sure you’re lonely, sure there are things about your surroundings that you just can’t seem to figure out, sure your partner makes everything seem safe by filling you in on the subtle nuances of his or her culture. That’s the formula for a perfect couple, right? Wrong. What you have is a parent or a teacher, not a lover. And it’s all too easy to overlook the previous seven rules when it seems so obvious that this is the ‘prefect’ person for you.

If you see this happening to you, stop. Postpone any commitment. Get yourself comfortable with your surroundings. Disarm the ‘convenience’ in the relationship and then see what you think. Learn more about the subtle parts of your partner’s culture and then decide if you can tolerate, work with, and actually love that person because they are different and not despite those differences.

Rule #8: Lay the family finances out on the table and plan out your budget for at least your first couple of years together.

Why? Even in single-culture marriages, money seems to be the biggest problem in making decisions together. In my experience, money is even more important in a Japanese family. There are enough differences in family finance between Western and Japanese cultures that you should really want to know how your betrothed thinks in terms of family finance. And why not get a head start on the inevitable. After all, it’s going to be both of you in this together so you might as well start now.

Of course, you can figure that if you make it past the first couple of years (the most intense part of the learning curve when it comes to finding out about all the differences in your ideas and background), you can pretty much go back to planning things by the seats of your respective pants.

Rule #9: Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping good relations with your partner’s parents.

This is expecially true if your partner is the one from Japan (or some other non-Western culture). It seems that we in the US (and I can hardly speak for any other Western cultures) have developed a great deal of independence from our families. We hardly notice, and sometimes don’t even care, what our parents think of our choice in partners. However, the same is not true in Japan. There is still a great deal of synergy between parent and offspring, even well after they have left the nest and formed families of their own.

I have personally seen a well-functioning extended family of a mixed Japanese/American couple. I must say, I was more than a little jealous of the warmth and support my friend’s parents showed toward her American husband and I began to appreciate how important family contact and support can be when one has already, by virtue of entering an inter-racial relationship, struck out against the tide of social mediocrity.

And the worst thing that can happen is to have your partner’s parents (or your own) constantly undermining the relationship, either consciously or not. If you can’t get their active support then at least settle for passive acceptance. Anything less should be a sign of trouble ahead.

Rule #10: Be ready to help your partner through the inevitable rough spots.

Well, okay, this is sound advice for any couple. But just remember that you both will be setting out on an adventure — a full-time first-hand learning experience in the other person’s cultural labyrinth. None of us, I am convinced, ever really appreciates how many things we learn about life when we are young and that we take for granted every day. We consider many of these things just plain ‘common sense’ but they’re only common if you and your partner have common backgrounds. Expect the unexpected. Then you won’t be disappointed.

Rule #11: Forget about any rules.

If you have come this far and still intend to undertake this major life project, then may your experience be one of constant joy and wonder. And if you happen to be one of those for whom an inter-racial marriage has turned out well, I would certainly love to hear from you. Learning up-close about another person can be simultaneously the greatest adventure of your life and the greatest challenge.

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49 Responses to Sobering Advice for anyone contemplating a cross-cultural marriage

  1. Pingback: Sobering Advice for anyone contemplating a cross-cultural marriage … | Love Advice

  2. Max says:

    Wish i had read this advice before marrying in korea. You have nailed many points about what i am ging through

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your advice on cross-cultural marriages. I am shocked that I am considering a cross-cultural marriage myself, despite saying I never would. I’m going to bookmark this. I have seen real disasters in this area, and swore I’d never do it. But love is strange.

  4. Julian says:

    My marriage to a Cambodian woman is a disaster. Our cultures are just too different. Her view on life are just so far away from mine. We agree on NOTHING. Really.

    My advice to any white male: no problem marrying a woman of a different race… as long as the culture is similar.

    When both cultures are very far from each other (ex: western culture and culture from a third world country)… run away. Just run away. Or she will make your life miserable.

    Seriously.

    • Peter says:

      Thank you for your words of wisdom, Joe.

      And Julian – please tell me more!

      Coincidentally I am attracted to a Cambodian woman right now. Currently, I’m doing a 3 month internship in Vietnam and she has been working for the same company for the past 5 months. I would like some more specifics on the points of difference between you and your wife. Obviously, no two woman, even within the same culture, is the same, but I think it would be helpful to hear your perspective before I consider pursuing her.

      A bit of my background: I was born in Korea, but lived in Thailand for 7 years ever since I was an infant. When I was 7, I spent two years in Korea, then moved to the US at age 9. I’ve lived in the US for over 13 years now, having gone to American public schools in New Jersey and I just graduated from a university in Indiana. I consider myself Korean-American, but I’m at a strange spot in which my values don’t fully coincide with neither my American nor Korean peers; it’s a mix, really. Furthermore, I’ve lived and traveled in Southeast Asia (including Cambodia; 3 times) more than the average American, but I wonder if that is enough to make things more harmonious with a Southeast Asian wife.

      Looking forward to your response, and best of wishes as you work things out with your partner!

      • The truth. says:

        Ha ha ha. This is a common situation today. I am in a similar situation. I have the foreign background but for the most part grew up in American. I met and married a beautiful woman from my home country but as time has gone on I have discovered that there are some serious differences and the funny thing is that you will see that you understand the home culture but she will never understand the American experience you have had. I might be late with this post but at the end of the day you need a person who is from your country or region but grew up in the USA. This is the painful truth.

    • Andy North says:

      I know yours is an old post but I cannot help reacting. No surprise your marriage is a disaster: the way you write suggests you are an ignorant racist. The root of your problems is that she is from a ‘third world country’, inferior by default. Beyond the fact that, historically, the term ‘third world country’ has become meaningless since at least the early 1990s, if you consider yourself and your culture superior by default, you will never be able to build a positive relationship with anybody, no matter where she is from!

    • Lisa Ghazouani says:

      I must respectfully disagree . I’m American, my husband is Tunisian. We truly couldn’t be more different . He has a huge family and they are all close, I just have my brother because all my other relatives can’t be bothered. My husband is Muslim and I’m an Atheist. I could go on and on. All marriages require work and effort but if it’s TRULY love , you both will find a way to make it work. Communication, compromise and common ground can keep the marriage healthy. No one said it’s easy . But something made your spouse appealing to you , focus on that and not the negative things.

      • Joe Larabell says:

        I’m glad to hear things are working out and I agree completely with your statement. My main points were: (a) it’s better to know where the rough spots are likely to occur beforehand rather than having them blind-side you after you’ve already tied the knot, and (b) what most people call “love” is really “lust” and it blinds you to the work one actually has in front of them with *any* relationship, even one where you’re both from the same culture. Thanks for writing and best of luck…

  5. Paul Ealing says:

    cross-pollination is the correct biological term in English. Pollinizeation seems to be Spanish. Thanks for you Blog

  6. No doubt this is a well researched essay that should be read and understood by anyone who wishes to enter into a cross cultural relationship.However,this may be true of the present day generations who are better educated and have access to much more information about different experiences.I have shared here a video clip of an interview I had with my son and his Irish wife which may be of interest to you.You may also visit my FB page under the name of Muzzafar Juma Khan,Author for more information about my father’s and my own experiences in this important matter of cross cultural.http://youtu.be/FoTOyPrJQ6A

  7. ahmed says:

    I am a Indian (from India not a native American indian) I was married to a Caribbean American lady once had two beautiful kids, well with her it was a disaster for me.
    I don’t know if it is the culture or her as a person. Though I believe the problems arose because I couldn’t adjust to her laid back life style to an extent.

  8. Cess says:

    First of all,I want to thank you for such a well written advice.
    I’m a Mexican American married to a Polish German women,we now live in Germany,have a 6 year old speaking three languages and you hit the head on the nail in many of your comments,but love is blind and my love for my wife and son pushes my soul to have patience and understanding in our relationship not to deny the fact that we have and had many many misunderstandings because of Cultural differences we have four cultures mixed here and its a roller coaster almost every day until I read this and helped me understand and brace our differences.

  9. Rachel Sou says:

    Thank for this essay- every person in a cross-cultural relationship needs to read this.

  10. Michell says:

    Well I have been married for 14 years I’m Mexican women who has lived in the USA since the age of 9. I married American man just average middle class family and I can relate to all of this things mentioned in the article. I would like to add how the other persons point of view to this type of marriage. I myself never thought I would have a problem with marring someone outside my culture however me and husband I feel have nothing in common a lot of times and feel I have given up a lot of things I love to do because of him. I don’t listen to Spanish music I don’t speak my native tongue to my kids because he doesn’t speak Spanish, gave up making food I really like. I can’t even go dancing because he doesn’t dance music I like or share Spanish lyric because he would not understand his extended family are very distant and we don’t do family gatherings very much. Well I can list a more but can’t think of them. However I think things could work but you must marry someone who likes your culture and be open have same likes although we both speak Spanish he never grew up around Hispanics. The problems have been many and I recent him and he recents me for not feeling close to each other. Personally I never would recommend this unions endless that person is really involved in the other culture somehow like had lived in that country or speaks the others language. I feel empty and full of regret for have done this to my self and my family. Since I feel I can’t share my whole self with this person who is my husband.

    • Joe Larabell says:

      Sorry to hear about your situation. I agree that it’s important to find someone who has at least some interest in your own culture. It’s not really fair to marry someone and then expect them to give up important parts of their own identity. Perhaps you can find a way to enjoy the things you like on your own even if your husband isn’t interested. I certainly wish you luck.

    • Katie Jane says:

      Michell, I’m really sorry about your situation, and I agree, the strife comes from one partner not making the effort to learn about, and enjoy, the other’s culture. True love is shown through openness and respect of where your partner comes from, and the things your partner loves, even if it takes the exploring partner out of their comfort zone. I actually have the exact opposite problem. I’m a white American woman, Kentucky raised and currently living in Florida, and I married a Mexican man who emigrated to the U.S. in his early twenties for College/University. His parents, mis suegros amados, have also emigrated here and are learning English, so I’ve learned Spanish enough to be conversational and get to know them. They are wonderful, lovely people. I feel very comfortable with my mother-in-law and have learned several Mexican dishes and customs that I know my husband loves. Whenever his friends or extended family visits us from Mexico, I make it a point to spend time with them and speak only Spanish, as much as I can. I also practice Spanish in my workplace to gain proficiency. I enjoy learning about his culture because I love him. However, he makes absolutely no effort to learn about American history, food, colloquialisms, etc. There have been times I’ve said a common American expression and he gets his feelings hurt because he takes it wrong, and he doesn’t believe me when I try to explain my intentions. He’ll say something absurd that he heard from an acquaintance or TV that he swears is an American custom, and I point blank tell him, “Uh… no, we don’t do that and I have no idea what you’re talking about,” but he doesn’t believe me (I think I would know more than him about my own country). I’m a huge history nerd and when I try to talk about American legends, history, important aspects of my country (honestly, OUR country), or whatever, he ignores it and says, “Well, I’m Mexican” in such a way that implies he doesn’t need to care. I get really offended and think, “Then why in the Lord God’s name did you CHOOSE to move here and marry me?!” Reading my own statements makes it sound like I’m a Green Card ticket, but we dated for years before marrying and he isn’t always an insensitive jerkface. But he lacks the ability to think outside of his own perspective, and I’m not exactly a shrinking wallflower, so it’s making things very difficult right now. All he has to do is take a humility pill, trust that I know what I’m talking about, and be willing to appreciate the country he picked. If he doesn’t get his crap together soon, I have no problem moving on.

      On a side note, after my experiences with him, I worry that a lot of the division and bitterness occurring between immigrant populations and generations-deep Americans has resulted from people who just don’t care to try to understand each other. I believe that Immigrants have the responsibility to learn everything they can about the country to choose to come to, because they are the ones intruding on a foreign culture. No one from the native culture owes them anything. However, the original inhabitants should also be more open to including immigrants and helping them acclimate with warmth and welcoming. We should realize that cultural differences will clash at times, and we both have to step out of our comfort zones if we want to make progress.

      Anyway, my novella aside, I wish you well and hope your husband can learn to appreciate your roots so there is more balance and mutual respect in your relationship. In reality, I think that’s all any of us are seeking.

      • Joe Larabell says:

        Thanks for your post. You make some compelling points. One more thing that might be worth considering is that sometimes relocating to a foreign country is more a move away from one’s native environment than a move toward some other, apparently preferable, environment. The real reasons may be economic, family-related, or sometimes even safety-related. I run into that a lot when meeting spouses of active military who were assigned a post in Japan. Often times, they didn’t relocate because they liked their host country better than their own but because they had no choice. That doesn’t mean they get a free pass when it comes to stepping out of their comfort zone and at least trying to fit in. But it does explain why there may be latent (even subconscious) animosity when they start to feel they’re expected to give up their heritage due to some combination of circumstances that may not be entirely their choosing.

        Obviously I don’t know your husband… I’m speaking in generalities here. But I can easily imagine why someone might want to emigrate from Mexico to the US for purely economic reasons or because their chosen career path precludes them remaining in their own country, even if that would be their first preference. Adapting under those circumstances may feel more threatening and may take some time. I suspect that’s especially true for a male from a culture where males are supposed to be the family patriarch. That may not seem rational, on the surface, but a lot of what we think and feel isn’t necessarily rational when viewed outside of out personal context.

        It sounds like you might have more going for you than against you and I hope you’re both able to find the patience to come to a more comfortable balance.

      • Anon says:

        *Sigh*

        I know all too well what you are talking about.

        Here’s my story:
        I’m a Liberian born, American raised woman and I married a Brazilian man 2 years ago. When we dated our relationship was perfect, and I had never met a more respectful man which is also why I said yes when he proposed. I somewhat like you have a huge interest in his culture. I had been travelling and had lived in Brazil well before we ever met and I was fluent in Portuguese by the time we did meet. I also have an insatiable appetite for Brazilian music, I’m a dancer so I love Brazilian dance styles, I also have an embarrassing love for their telenovelas, and love and can make many Brazilian dishes. Basically, I feel like he could not have asked for a more willing to understand his culture partner than me.

        Unfortunately ever since he immigrated it’s been nothing but hell and crisis after crisis. I never knew this but he suddenly decided he wanted to have this conservative married life wherein I, as a wife, did not go out with my friends because that isn’t what a wife does (smh), I don’t drink, I don’t travel without him, etc. Basically a laundry list of things that I no longer can do. Which is quite ironic seeing as the independent and free spirited woman was the one he fell in love with. I met him travelling alone in Brazil for goodness sake! The machismo that can be found in many cultures but for the purpose of my story-Latin American machismo is really hard ingrained into society. My husband said he was proud to have a wife that has a Masters degree though he does not, but once reality hit that I make more money than him it immediately began to influence the way he interacted with me. Wanting to take control over decisions he is unequipped to make because he does not quite understand how things work here in America (ie: filing our taxes), just to validate himself I suppose which causes us a world of problems. If we lived in Brazil I would follow his lead because it would be the wise thing to do. Listen to the person who understands and can navigate the country a little bit more.

        There are some other things about him that I won’t go into detail here but all I can say about cross-cultural marriage is that it is fucking hard, and you have to really inform yourself about what you may be getting yourself into. I have a friend who is a white American girl and for one reason or another is obsessed with the idea of marrying an East Indian man and I just know that such a relationship would destroy her because she doesn’t have half the knowledge I did entering my relationship nor the personal fortitude. Proceed with caution folks. I don’t know how much longer i’ll be able to handle my relationship, all that I know is that i’m extremely exhausted and I can’t keep waking up to a literal fight every other day.

        • Joe Larabell says:

          In reading this and many of the other comments on this post I realized that, in most cases, there’s probably a combination of cross-cultural misunderstanding and run-of-the-mill social ineptitude at fault. Falling in love with someone for who they are and then expecting a 180-degree change once you marry them would be considered bad form even for someone born and raised as your next-door neighbor. What makes it worse in a cross-cultural context is that it’s often difficult to recognize the traits of social ineptitude in someone who comes from a different culture. Things that might be flashing red flags in your own culture can more easily be waved off in the name of “cultural differences”. It’s important to solicit the opinion of someone you trust from the same culture as your betrothed just to double-check that you’re not missing something obvious simply because you aren’t familiar with what passes for emotional intelligence in the other culture.
          As for your friend… I agree that she should really be careful for a number of reasons. First, it’s not good to make life-long commitments from a position of obsession. That makes it all the harder to see situations clearly. Second, from what I’ve heard and experienced (and watch out for the unfortunate but relevant “sweeping generality” here), [East] Indian culture is rife with rules about how a family should be run and, because it’s not a culture whose members frequently cross-marry, many of those rules may be completely unknown to us Westerners. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… it’s just that the chances for missing something important while you’re getting to know someone is probably higher than with other Westernized cultures (like an American marrying a Brit, for example).
          Good luck with your relationship… I hope things eventually work out for you, whether that implies staying in the relationship or not.

  11. Ani says:

    Thank you very much for your article. I came across it while looking for a book, or an article, or something to help me through this difficult time of being married to a Karen man in Thailand. I am an American woman who moved here to the jungle four years ago to volunteer. I met the driver of the company I worked for, and fell head over heels, because, as you mentioned above: I was in culture shock and he was there to give me comfort and touch and all things needed as a human being. Then I got pregnant. I wanted a child more than anything, and figuring that I was 28, an RN, and ready to be a single parent, it was a solid choice to have this baby. Little did I know…. oh how little did I know how it would all unravel. My career ended abrubtly when I was fired for getting pregnant, I got kicked out of my house, and was still in a foreign land. Now here we are, years later. My son is two, and I am jobless, a stay at home wife and mom, nothing I ever wanted to be. I worked too hard to do dishes and wash clothes all day (no offense to stay at home parents out there! It’s just not my thing). My husband is not willing to move to a more modern town as he cannot leave his elderly father (family values, as you mentioned, are so much stronger in other parts of the world). While we both speak English, it is still very difficult to discuss the nuances in life and soul. Fundamentally, our lives are very different, which is something I used to get excited about. Now, it leaves me feeling hopeless.

    Anyhow, thank you for your writing. I hope it does help some other couples who are considering this very difficult undertaking.

    • Jill says:

      Hi Ani: I am an American and am fluent in the Karen Language. I have been corresponding with a Karen man for a year and a half. I have been to Myanmar twice. He is educated and speaks Karen, Burmese, some Thai and English well. I have been working with the Karen people in the USA for over 5 years and I know the culture well. I actually love the culture, the people and the language as well as the country, and I have been there during Monsoon! So, I am older than he is….I was married to an American who dies young of cancer……I am wondering if my situation might be a little better than others? I understand the extended family arrangement and that Karen people ‘live in the moment’…..this Karen man is a bit different than most, but he is still Karen! I wonder if it would work…..???? Thanks.

  12. Sunit says:

    I am a native Indian and planning to move to France for professional settlement. Could there be cultural problems if I plan to marry a French woman. Please guide.

  13. Stephen says:

    Based on all the posts I have read above, I believe I may be the odd one out. I have to say I think all the items the original author mentioned are spot-on and I couldn’t say it better.

    Here’s my experience. In the mid 80’s I was in the Navy and had recently took a posting in Puerto Rico. Interestingly, English was commonly understood, but Spanish was definitely the “flavor of the day.” Approximately eight months after my arrival, I met Cristina, a beautiful young woman from the Dominican Republic, who quickly became the love of my life. Although we eventually married, it was ill-fated, although I learned Spanish, because I failed at nearly every critical piece of advice mentioned above. It’s not just a matter of learning another culture (which is vital), but other nuances which were clearly stated above, such as learning the value of family members and their opinions in your loved one’s life. Unfortunately, my family was dysfunctional, so I assumed her family members didn’t meant that much to her. I desperately wanted to save her, in my selfish view, from the one’s that meant the most to her. (As they say, had I only known then what I know now.) The bottom line is that I never truly learned how to appreciate her and her gentle giving nature until it was much too late. It didn’t help that I took a transfer of duty to a ship, which was at sea a lot, in Japan shortly after we were married. Unwittingly, I had effectively abandoned her both physically and emotionally in a foreign country, so that I could fulfill my military obligations.

    To make a long story short, it has taken me nearly a quarter of a century to discover (I know a lot of people don’t put faith in the Myers-Briggs tests … but seriously consider it regardless of the woman or man you are contemplating being in a lifetime relationship with) that we were both ISFJs. A relationship made up of two ISFJs can be extremely difficult when both parties share a common culture, have similar upbringings, and speak a common language. However; without solid communication from the onset and maintaining it throughout in a common language, life can get out of control very quickly.

    Unfortunately for Cristina and I, as I mentioned, things didn’t work out, but over the years we have both found more suitable mates. In fact, I met my current wife during another overseas tour in Latin America. We live in the US, but Spanish is the “flavor of the day” at home and our daughter was brought up in a bilingual environment. I think because my current wife and I were both a bit older and have learned to iron out our differences, based on many lessons Cristina taught me, we have learned the value of agreeing to disagree on certain items, and have ultimately experienced a more better long-term relationship.

    Similar to the original author, I can’t offer anyone a “magic, cure-all” answer regarding creating a perfect relationship, but I could offer sage advice, based on my experiences.
    I wish everyone the best of luck, as the unfortunate truth is that love does not conquer all, but rather that love, coupled with respect and mutual understanding goes farther than anything else I can think of. Of course capitalizing on commonalities is key in any relationship.

  14. Tony says:

    This advice is so applicable even for people in the same broad culture but different subcultures. Thank you so much, this is well-written.

  15. Ping says:

    I wish I had had this discussion when I was much younger. My husband is from an Eastern culture and his family feel that I failed miserably as a daughter in law in addition to other things. I could not function in a set of rules which were not clear to me or I didn’t understand that there could be no discussion. Now I understand enough that I am being outcast and shamed and I am having a very hard time with it, particularly with his brother’s family.

  16. Joe Larabell says:

    Just thought I’d point out that JapanToday posted an article outlining seven things that a couple considering a cross-cultural marriage should consider. They bring up some issues that I hadn’t considered and their advice is not limited to Japan. Here’s the link:

    http://www.japantoday.com/category/lifestyle/view/7-things-japanese-people-in-intl-marriages-wish-theyd-known-before-tying-the-knot

  17. Jayeta says:

    I’m a white Kiwi married to a Samoan man. We have been together for twenty three years, have three children and are happy. But…..would I recommend cross cultural marriage ? Yes and no. Plenty of relationships go the distance, but many don’t. It’s not a cake walk…..There are plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings !!! You BOTH need to compromise. A lot. If you can’t BOTH do that before marriage….bail now ! NOW !!! It’s not up to just ONE partner to ‘bend’ , compromise , lose his or her identity etc. Don’t go down the ‘dominant ‘ path…..wanting to ‘win’. It won’t work. If you don’t like his / her family……that’s a RED FLAG. ….. and BAIL NOW . He / she needs to like your family too.. Essential. If you sense that your in laws dislike you. BAIL. Only marry if compromise and kindness are right at the core of your relationship …..and that you REALLY REALLY know that you will NOT be the only one doing the compromising !!! If the other partner shows early signs of cultural dominance, it’ll end in tears ….then an early divorce.

  18. Ashley says:

    Thankyou for taking the time to write your article! I am considering marrying an Indian man. I plan to learn Telegu. Even though I am an American woman, I am from a sub-culture that is actually very similar to Indian culture, the Mennonites. I am very comfortable with aspects of his culture that few mainstream American women would tollerate. For example, male domination. I have dated extensively ever since getting out of a bad marriage to another American, and am very disappointed with the value system of American men. I am looking to jump into a committed relationship quickly, and cannot stand the lack of commitment that I’ve encountered among other Americans. I, as a former Mennonite, find happiness and purpose in serving and honoring my man. I do not consider being a housewife to be a lesser position than having a career. I love having the protection and love of a man who considers it an honor to care for me! I know there will be hurdles ahead. I actually think there will be fewer hurdles with this relationship than if I had married another American. My Love gave me the highest compliment the other day when he told me that the reason he loves me is because I take care of him like his mom did! He loves his mom very much. He is a very intelligent and caring person. He values integrity and generosity in others. I am thankful for the kind Americans who have invested in his life since he arrived in the states. I am honored to be the one to show him around and introduce him to many ‘firsts’ for him! I am hoping and believing with all my heart that our relationship will last, and that God will carry us through the rough parts of the road that we have started on together!!

  19. Amanda says:

    I am a Canadian woman and my partner is an East Indian. We are three years into the relationship and have two children. His parents fully reject me and refuse to accept our children. Our youngest child is three months old now and my partner still won’t share the news of her birth on his Facebook, much less share her pictures or anything to do with her. His parents are still badgering him to leave us and marry another Indian. I find myself resenting him for this because, as per my culture, I can’t respect a full-grown man who lives under mommy’s skirt. I interpret his inability to defend me and establish clear boundaries with his parents as a form of disrespect for me – as much as I try to be understanding of his culture – and I am feeling entirely insecure in the relationship and even about myself as a White woman. It has reached a point where I am resentful of his culture and I can’t respect it at all. This is driving a wedge between us.
    I am also uncertain of the future and get nowhere when trying to discuss this with him. His parents expect that they will move in with him when they’re older (as per their culture) but they are also adamant about not moving in with me. He tends to be passive about this and want to dismiss it, but I don’t think he’s thinking things through. I don’t know how I’ll explain to my children when they’re older why their grandparents have a relationship with their father but won’t have anything to do with them. I find this behaviour on their part manipulative, coercive, and utterly selfish and childish. I can’t even try to forge some kind of relationship with them (which I would never succeed at anyway) because of my principles.

    I know it’s a disaster waiting to happen but I’ve already put myself in this position and don’t really see a way out of it at this point.

    • Joe Larabell says:

      I know what it’s like having a spouse whose parents are actively trying to cause your relationship to fail. In my not-so-impartial opinion, it’s both immature and unfair to marry someone of whom your parents don’t approve and then show more loyalty to your parents than to your chosen spouse. In my case, my would-be partner used me in part to lash out at her parents and I was too caught up in the thrill of the moment to notice before it was too late. I don’t know of any way you can fix the situation. If you threaten to leave, you may be forced to carry through on your threat since it doesn’t seem like either your husband or his parents would be sorry to see you go. But you may have to leave anyway in order to protect your children from the toxic dynamics — unless, of course, your husband’s parents won’t be around that much longer. I hope, for your sake, that you didn’t follow him to India. Being in a tough relationship is bad enough but the pain and the fear are compounded when you’re living in a foreign country, separated from your usual support network, and relying on the other partner for your immigrant status. I certainly wish you luck.

  20. Alan says:

    My parents always warned me about staying away from a cross-cultural relationship. But I did not listen. At least we are not married, so we can part ways if things get much worse.

    For the sake of brevity, here are my daily issues:
    1. Differences in likes and dislikes in food.
    2. Differences in values.
    3. Differences in behavioral standards and morays.
    4. Differences in standards of neatness and organization (this is probably not a cultural issue).
    5. Differences in common courtesies.

    In my case, these things are not earth-shattering, but a daily, constant, irritation.

  21. Swati Verraha says:

    Boy i can relate to at least a little of what everyone has noted here. Its nice to know that I am not alone. My heart goes out to all of you.
    I have been in a cross-cultural marriage for 13+ years and have known for at most of that time that i made a very wrong decision. I am of Indian heritage ( but raised mostly American) and married a Nigerian man who had spent most of his grown years outside his home country– England, America..) We dated for many years, and broke up several times, always about the threat of culture/family. Together we got along very well ( never fought) and we thought we truly loved each other. We are both professionals. I could never understand at the time how he could think that his family would be a problem for me..I had even met several of them and still did not understand what he thought would be a problem. . but he NEVER explained his intentions.
    Though i had moved on, he begged me to come back in an almost movie-like plea. Still no intentions stated.
    So I went through with it, despite warnings from friends, strangers and some but not many, surprisingly, relatives. I often wonder now, that if i had had the INTERNET like it is today, would i have been influenced by sites like this, that tell countless real stories? It is possible… even if nothing else, maybe i would have discussed some of these issues upfront. From day 1 it was a disaster, since he threw me under the bus countless times, always making decisions in his favor with respect to his family and ignoring my requests/suggestions/etc. The only warning i ever had was his existential angst about our future together, which was ALWAYS about his “family..” I wonder now, if he worried more about how he would reconcile their “awfulness ” and his duties to them and the nice girl that i WAS.. (which i am not anymore.) Anyway, long story, suffice it to say that 3 daughters later ( twins and a singleton over the span of 2 years) , i have been waiting for the right time to say, ENOUGH. His family has treated me horribly, and he has insisted that they live with us for most of our marriage, which has been monstrous for me, since he has never once supported or tried to understand me. If i wanted this type of life, i would have married within my own Indian culture. So, i now have things in motion to get ready to finally leave. Even my children, now pre-teens are supporting my leaving as they have seen how taxing this has been on all of us, and they dislike his mother as well. The man is a genius at getting the world to think he is a good and honorable man, but hiding beneath is a heartless person, whose own wife and daughters only know about. I wish every day of my life I had made a different decision back then.. i was tortured making that decision.. somehow i knew i loved him and would be willing to do “anything.” I know now to be careful when you say that. Love should not make you have to do and endure the things i have had to over all these years, and i know that now. Time to leave.
    Thanks for reading my woes and if you are someone still deciding on a cross culture relationship, make sure you iron out all intentions before you agree to ANYTHING. What i have learned most is that culture can be a deep brainwash that can supercede even rationale thought. You need to know how this person would see his/her optimal life and make sure you fit that mold.. or you will find yourself or him/her feeling unfufilled, giving up everything they feel makes them who they are. For those who have spent their formative years draped in “culture” find that wearing a smaller drape or no drape makes them feel very naked and alone, and they don’t know what to do with themselves or feel comfortable in compromise. This is really a recipe for disaster unless they are absolutely willing, able and excited to embrace compromise.

    • The truth. says:

      What I would say is that cross cultural “Third World” relationships are a challenge because the third parties never understand your relationship. The funny thing is that you both probably have plenty in common coming from the “British Colonial” family experience but parents do not see it that way and they are the ones who can ruin your marriage. The reality is that your children can be in a very powerful situation from a a cultural standpoint. They will no both cultures. Unfortunately, the parents and other third parties do not see the potential power.

  22. deborah says:

    i think the majority of these points are something you should question before marrying anyone. i am an australian married to a korean and living in korea and these are things i still would have considered if i had married an australian. for me there are no major cultural differences apart from language, what i find to be major are personality differences. people are the same everywhere, culture only really defines language and food and certain customs, but not your personality and who you truly are. i married my husband because we wanted the same things out of life and enjoy the same things, and there was an attraction to one another, and we both could communicate with one another, easily and freely.

    though i think with language it is important that you both be fluent in each other languages if there is a different language. i would never have married my husband if i could not speak to him in korean and he to me in english. i think one language is not enough to communicate with each other. and i am amazed at how many english speakers cannot and will not learn their spouses native language, even when living in their spouses country. it’s selfish, rude, arrogant, isolating and condescending.

    • Joe Larabell says:

      Yes… all these things are important, even if your relationship does not cross cultural boundaries. The point, I guess, is that some of these things are rooted in the culture in which we were raised and don’t usually become problems later. In many cases, we assume our partners were raised the same way we were and, in small communities, that’s probably a fairly safe bet. The differences between cultures, on the other hand, can take one by surprise. That’s why it’s especially important to examine one’s own assumptions to make sure you’re not overlooking a potential problem point simply because your point-of-view is “common sense”.

  23. Asian pinay says:

    Looking for something to read while crying because I can not take my life anymore being married to an America . I don’t know :( I am heartbroken. But we have 3 very young children and don’t want them to have no daddy :(( i don’t know.

  24. Shaka Zulu says:

    Hello All. I am in a rather unique situation ! I am in a relationship with an Indian woman and things are rapidly changing by the day. I am an American , recently naturalized but originally from Africa, a son of career Diplomats so embracing others cultures came second nature to me since I lived everywhere. I have been here for 15 yrs, college educated, former professional track athlete.
    My now girlfriend was born in London, parents made few stops before finally settling in N.C. where she finished high school, college and now doing well as a ophthalmologist. She is under a lot of pressure to get marry and we have spoken extensively about why her culture thinks it is the right thing to do. However, she is not about arrange marriage, nor is she attracted to Indian men period. She is very liberal and recently traveled to Africa before we met and absolutely loved it. I have given some thoughts and after reading every ones bad or negative response, I am still considering to pursue this fine woman. Because, I believe marriage is commitment, communication and carrying. Having said that, she warned me that I will judged by the Indian community but that does not bother me. In conclusion, looking at both sides as US citizen and foreigner, Africa, India, Asia have thousands years of culture and deeply rooted. America is a new , progressive and no offense but a young country.
    I believe diversity makes the world a greater place. Of course it is not going to be all rossy since she likes spice foods and our house smells like Chez Tandorri Dine In. I look past these insignificant obstacles and I focus on love. It will conquer all. Stay focus.

    • The truth. says:

      This is what I would say about this situation. If you two know of a community where there are other mixed couples then you will be okay. If not, you will have challenges with third parties who do not understand your relationship. If you are older, then you can work in spite of all the third parties. If you are younger, you have to make sure that both of you are able to stand up to the third party nonsense. I wish you the best of luck.

  25. Celeste says:

    I’m an Australian girl who has ended a relationship with an Indian man. Although he came here when he was 8 his culture is very ingrained. We hit it off from the get go, going out to bars, restaurants and travelled overseas a number of times. We were planning a wedding and after a year moved into together. That’s when things changed. He asked me to become Indian, which I stupidly and unknowingly agreed to. He started laying down many expectations. He told me that he would not be doing any housework and that that was a woman’s job (I had a full time job too), that I couldn’t drink alcohol as that was something that only men do, that I could no longer have any male friends, he would go through my phone, he would sit on the couch and say things like “get me water” which I found the demanding tone in which it was asked very inconsiderate and disrespectful. He told me that he would control all of the finances and make all financial decisions, he even wanted med me to transfer all of my assets and cash to him. Any time I pushed back or stood up for myself he used physical violence to overpower me. That was the last straw. I had to get out.
    Upon reflection the different cultures made it very difficult, we had so many expectations on how a relationship should work. In the end it couldn’t be sustained, we were going to kill each other as we ended up choosing our own culture. Love could not beat it.

    • Joe Larabell says:

      It sounds to me, though, like he wasn’t willing to try. Making a relationship work despite such vastly different cultural expectations is a lot of work and it doesn’t strike me as unusual that the amount of work isn’t obvious until after you start to merge your day-to-day lives (ie: move in together or get married). Until then, it’s all too easy to suppress our expectations in the excitement of the moment… especially when those moments eventually end and you can each retreat back to your own lives.
      It’s possible to overcome one’s own cultural programming but, like I say, that takes effort. The reward (ie: the other person’s love and companionship) must be greater than the effort it takes to recognize and overcome our own internal programming. But… and this is also critical… both people must be self-aware enough to recognize that much of what they expect out of a relationship stems from this internal programming and that most of that stems from our cultural upbringing. It’s quite possible he didn’t even realize that his expectations were anything out of the ordinary. So I wouldn’t go so far as to say his love for you was faulty — because love is only half of the equation. You also have to recognize your own expectations and be able to recognize to what extent they do or do not coincide with the other person’s expectations. And you have to be strong enough internally to make the effort to break free of those expectations. Love can certainly help… but all the love in the world won’t make any difference if either party doesn’t recognize that there’s something that needs fixing.
      Anyway… congratulations on recognizing the need to get out of an otherwise stifling situation and best of luck on integrating the experience and getting back into the game.

  26. Older, No Wiser says:

    Please consider this, as well:

    With someone from a different culture, they may not care about YOUR culture. Just dismissive. I made a huge mistake in marrying someone brought up in Mexico. He was very quick to think I was “the ugly American” because I loved the U.S. and my traditions.

    I tried to also appreciate HIS traditions from Mexico, but eventually, it was a case of NO ROOM in his life for anything that wasn’t somehow Mexican or had a Mexican link. Just everything had to be somehow connected to Mexico in order to be worthy or interesting (EVERYTHING). And then there was an edge of jealousy and dislike of America, and he didn’t even want me to call it America, saying that “you anglos” aren’t the only Americans, etc.

    I tried to learn Spanish, but he didn’t listen to anything I said. He was too busy correcting EVERY TINY PRONOUNCIATION flaw. But I never did that to him with English!

    After awhile, I started thinking, Why are you even HERE if EVERYTHING is so much nicer, better, smarter, cheaper, WONDERFUL in Mexico? WHY ARE YOU HERE???

    I’m still married in name, but miserable and don’t care anymore. So beware. There are many fish in the sea – FISH IN YOUR OWN WATERS for lasting happiness.

    • Dawna says:

      So sad he sounds mean spirited with deep rooted bitterness, I’m sorry you are dealing with such situations

  27. do. The truth is my husband is very patient with me and we work hard every day to be married. says:

    I have been reading many comments. I am an American white woman married to and Indian man. We have been together for 1 1/2 years and married 8 months. I love my husband dearly but I will say it takes alot of strength and patience to marry intercultural. I have had to learn a great deal and accept some things other women coulsbnot

  28. Mark says:

    Great article! When you make a life-time commitment to a person of another culture, you are also making a life-time commitment to growing your understanding of their culture. You cannot separate the person you love from their culture. Their culture is part of their very being. If you cannot accept and appreciate their culture, then you don’t truly love them.

  29. benthunglo says:

    It was very educative reading this article. I am a Naga Lady from Nagaland India in a relationship with an American Guy who is living in Thailand. The challenges I find between us is he seems to be more Asian and conservative and though I am an Asian I am more open minded. I have lived in Singapore for 7 years and dated other American and Eorupean guys. Whereas he has dated only Asian women. For me expressing feelings, addressing each other as babes, honey is a big deal and he doesn’t do any of that and when i talk to him about it he says I am pushing him. And while we whats app each other, he is on line from morning, afternoon, evening but never says hello to me only once. He only talks to me once a day which is in the few minutes at night before he retires to bed. He told me we are in a committed but casual relationship. when i try calling him in the morning or afternoon he dismisses my call. Once I noticed he was on whats app for an hour so when i called him through whats app he dismissed me saying he was on the phone. That has made me wonder and we did had an argument about that. He does tells me he can multitask but while talking to someone on whats app yet he says he can talk simultaneously with me.

    When i ask him why he doesn’t say he loves he says that it holds great meaning for him and that he can’t use that just like that. And my understanding of a relationship is that we are together because we love each other and not hate. So its kind of weird to me.

    He travels to see me but he does come to get stories relating to his work and I am his fixer who fixes all his travelling plans and connects him to people. We did talk that our end goal is marriage and we were planning for me to move to thailand to work. And we had another problem when out of the blue he told me he is thinking of moving to another place to study as one of his female friends has suggested a college for him. So I am like stuck in the middle of my planning to go to Thailand. And also he will only inform me when is about to board the plan that he is travelling and never tells me who he is going with and for how long unless i ask him. And I don’t like asking such questions as it sounds like I don’t trust him. One time he told me he was going to meet his uncle in Cambodia and i was like UNCLE? and he was huh? didn’t i tell you about it? We were both surprised.

    So yes I am in a dilemma I don’t know what I should do whether I should pursue this relationship. I had two marriage proposals and I gave up those because I was in a relationship with him. Plus I am a single mum so I require some kind of stability both emotionally and mentally.

    • Joe Larabell says:

      Committed but casual?… That’s a first for me. It doesn’t sound very committed. It sounds more like you’re convenient to have around as long as he’s free to pursue other interests. That’s not necessarily a cultural difference. That’s just someone who’s either clueless from an emotional point of view or who outright uses people to achieve his own ends. I’d be looking for better if I were you.

  30. Mohamed says:

    Unless exception (may you are the one) cross cultural marriage badly succeed. The main reason are well written above. So marry your own cultural person.

  31. Amie says:

    I am dating a Brazilian man. I am English, we both live and work in England, but I am struggling despartley with our relationship. Having been brought up completely diffently from one and other, I feel we have little common ground. I am interested in learning Portuguese but he won’t teach me, so I am trying to learn from an app, but his everyday life with his daughter is Portuguese speaking and I often feel isolated. We do not share the same humour, have issues with how the other dresses, our musical tastes are different (I adore music it is one of my main loves) and whilst I feel open to his, he is not so much to mine, unless it is one of a very few we both grew up knowing (I.e. Beatles ) He try’s for the sake of me, but he ends up looking miserable at gigs, clubs etc and I feel responsibility to take him away or go home early. I am open to trying new food, but he can’t pallet the grease of the British pub grub so It ends up as a put off. The Brazilians have lots of civilised dinner parties, which is all new to me, and a bit awkward because I am either putting everybody out because they have to speak English or I am being ignored and feeling like a spare part. Our list is endless. I try to go back to our first common ground literature, but we never speak of, or read it any more, because he loves fact and I love fiction, so even that is a struggle to discuss. He doesn’t like the silly American movie humour I was brought up on movie wise, and prefers arty Argentinian movies etc, so even trying to relax and watch a movie causes frustration. I really don’t know what to do. I thought I could work through this, but everything seems to irritate me now and it’s just getting harder, he seems oblivious – possibly because he has dated outside of his culture before… I don’t know, is it something you can get used to? I hope so, as there is much about him I adore, but I’m just not sure I can imagine us working through everything to get to the marrying stage, which is where I want to be one day

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