September 6, 2011

Marrying Cross-Culturally is MORE than a Cross-Cultural Experience

Meeting someone different is exciting, exotic even. At first we get caught up in the differences out of fascination. We want to learn more about the person. We are drawn in by their different or exotic looks, alluring accent, unique mannerisms, and different approaches to life. We may even like their ethnic food and entertainment. 

It’s easy to fall in love when looking outside the box. 


Be careful. Falling in love is easy. Staying in love while navigating culture shock and adjustment can be more challenging.

But, one argues, it’d be a great cross-cultural experience to marry outside my culture. And, we love each other. Doesn’t love conquer all?

Ideally, yes. Practically, maybe not.

Meeting a boy friend or girl friend a few times a week can be considered a cross-cultural experience. It is something taken out of your day to day life and unconscious behavior. But, a cross-cultural relationship is not one experience but a string of experiences. It becomes a lifestyle – a way of being. Two diverse lives and lifestyles must merge to form a new one- a new culture combining the ethnic, national and personal cultures of each of these people. Living day in and day out together as a married couple is the first challenge.

Depending on where you decide to live- in your culture, your partner’s culture or in an entirely new culture will also affect how you manage your relationship and adjust [or not] to each other.

And, the most challenging of all challenges is merging with diverse family members. No one lives in isolation. No matter how independent we think we are we will have to at some point or other manage short or long or extended stays with parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins or other extended family. How will we cope up in communicating (especially if the language is different), eating different food day in and out (and possibly not being able to taste the tastes we crave), and mannerisms? All these are taken for granted when we marry within our culture. Marrying within our culture is also not free of challenges, but marrying across cultures can bring other challenges and rewards not always obvious to those in same-culture relationships.

So, before deciding to marry your foreign boyfriend or your self-arranged marriage with your Facebook girlfriend (I know of a few cases!) have plenty of discussions of personal and family expectations and obligations. Understand the life cycle of someone from your to-be’s culture- birth, child raising, spiritual upbringing, educational and parenting approaches, among many other aspects of life that are taken for granted living in one’s own culture and marrying within it. Establish guidelines and ‘deal breakers’. Of course it’s impossible to navigate and negotiate each and everything- as some things will be learned or uncovered at moments they happen. As maintaining a relationship within the same culture, between cultures it will not be easy – especially if you are blinded by love. It’s better to be safe than sorry – especially when your life and others are at stake.



Photo credit: kacyphoto @flickr under creative common

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Jennifer Kumar is a Cross-Cultural Coach who can help you explore the diverse requirements of you and your to-be to figure out in which direction your cross-cultural relationship or marriage will take. See this page for more about coaching.

Thank you for reading.

Related Posts:

Problems with Americans Marrying Indians
5 Steps to Tackling Culture Shock
Helping Us With Our Cross-Cultural Relationship
Is Culture Shock Real?

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