When two people from different families come together they need to adjust to each other. When people from two different cultures become a couple they face difficulties typical for cross cultural relationships. For most couples overcoming cultural differences comes naturally, whereas for some couples overcoming and understanding cultural differences is difficult. In cross cultural relationships both partners have to give up some of their own culture and adjust to another culture’s beliefs, habits, parenting tactics, and they may even need to deal with the other’s (non-supportive) family.
Cross cultural relationships counseling can help couples become more open minded and accepting towards each other’s culture. By learning how to understand and listen to each other we learn to overcome cultural differences. This article is for those people with cross cultural relationships who are experiencing relationship difficulties. This article can be seen as an addition to Relationship problems.
Cross cultural relationships – How to deal with differences?
Do not make assumptions. In cross cultural relationships it’s common to defend your own culture and to make assumptions about your partner’s culture. People defend their own culture because it’s a part of themselves. Your partner’s culture is different from yours and that can be scary. But it’s these assumptions about your partner’s culture that makes your partner’s culture look more scary, silly, or even weird. Cultural stereotypes are a source of misunderstanding and often kill a discussion even before it even started. Instead, focus on your partner’s personality, beliefs, and opinions. And figure out which parts of your partner’s culture is important to your partner. Find out why your partner’s culture has certain habits, beliefs, and traditions before even comparing it to your own culture. And try to look at their way of living through their eyes.
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Respect differences. Living with differences is one thing, but respecting each other’s differences is something else. In some cross cultural relationships couples do live with each other but have some passive aggressive feelings towards their partner’s different lifestyle due to their culture. Your partner feels your passive aggressiveness and does not make the two of you grow closer as a couple. In stead of judging your partner’s different lifestyle, or beliefs, habits, and opinions, try to understand where they are coming from and respect that not everyone has the same opinion and lifestyle as you do. Sometimes reading into your partner’s culture and history make it easier for you to understand your partner. Sometimes it helps to visit your partner’s country or town.
Understand and explore. Your partner’s culture is a part of your partner. So if you want to get to know your partner you have to get to know your partner’s culture. A huge advantage of cross cultural relationships is that your partner is an expert on its own culture. Your partner can tell you about the delicious food and beautiful countryside. But also about the ways of celebrating national holidays, birthday parties, and much more. The more you get to know about your partner’s culture the easier it becomes to understand your partner. By showing your partner that you are curious, your partner will automatically also show more interest in your culture. And remember, you don’t have to like everything your partner’s culture has to offer.
Different cultures have different ways of communicating Each family has its own way of communicating. For instance, some families prefer to sugar-coat criticism, or don’t talk about negative things. Other families, however, like an honest and open approach. In cross cultural relationships this can be a big problem. This problem develops over time, usually after a few months. In stead of picking fights about these cultural differences, try to talk about these difference. Try to find out which communication style your partner prefers and see if you can come to an agreement together. During fights or arguments it can be difficult to remember which style your partner prefers. Therefore, it’s important that you can tell each other when you feel offended or not taken seriously.
Don’t be offended by criticism. In relationships, especially cross cultural relationships, it’s normal to criticize one another from time to time. It may get very personal if your partner criticizes your culture, or the way you’ve been raised. In cross cultural relationships criticism on the partner’s culture is often an attempt to defend and protect their own culture. By responding angrily your partner will probably become more defensive, and the discussion will lead nowhere. In stead of being offended and angry, try to laugh about your partner’s criticism. It’s probably a way to defend its own culture. By asking why your partner thinks the way he does you create an opening to talk about differences in opinion. This way you get to know each other better.
Keep what matters most to you. Living with your partner doesn’t mean you have to adopt every single habit, belief, or ritual. Often, in cross cultural relationships habits, rituals, and beliefs are so diverse that it’s impossible for you or your partner to adopt every single one of them. Especially, when it means that you have to give up some of your own. By trying to adopt your partner’s culture completely you will walk on egg shells soon because you may not agree with every single thing. And when you walk on egg shells you are not completely yourself. Sooner or later you will return to your own cultural habits. The best thing to do is to pick those rituals, habits, and beliefs that make you happy and respect the ones you do not like so much.
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Be patient. Every person has it’s own rhythm in a relationship. For some people it is easier to adjust to changes and new cultural elements in a relationship, whereas for other this may take a little longer. Be patient with your partner. Give your partner time and opportunity to adjust to changes. And accept it if your partner can’t get used to certain habits. Don’t try to rush things because that causes your partner to feel pressurized. It may cause your partner to walk on egg shells and that’s not what you want. If you think your partner is worth it, then patience should not be a problem at all.
Plan for the future. Making plans for the future can be tricky. For some people it’s normal to talk about children after one month, whereas for others it’s never a good time. Some people want to live in their native country, whereas others want the life of an expat. In some cultures it’s normal to take care of the parents once they are old, whereas in other cultures this is uncommon. Culture can affect future plans a lot. In cross cultural relationships it’s important to talk about your plans for the future so you won’t be surprised in the end. Talk about the way your partner wants to marry, and how many children your partner wants. Talk about where your partner wants to live and so on. It might not seem important in the beginning, but after a while it may be these differences in opinion that can drive the two of you apart.
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