Dating someone from a different culture can be a bit challenging. From clashing beliefs, to different traditions, these little things can accumulate and explode if the right precautions are not taken. One of the strongest tools you need to date interculturally is a willingness to learn, as well as empathy to navigate through cultural differences. In this article, we will be featuring some stories from real couples facing different struggles (and ways to cope with them) when a couple is from two very different cultures.
Having patience with one another is important for navigating different beliefs on topics. While you may be tempted to speak through your discomfort with the other, or why you may disagree with their opinions on things. We recommend listening first and then asking questions to gain insight into why your partner has different opinions on topics than you do.
One of the best things you can do to better understand your partner and grow closer together is to have a regular date night. Even if it’s just 15 minutes once a week, having that consistent time to learn and explore each other helps you understand each other’s viewpoint. If you struggle to make the time or plan a recurring date night, consider trying a date night box to help discover the answers to some of those more intimate questions and to gain a better understanding on how different your partner’s beliefs are. This will help you gain perspective, as well as to spark fun conversation into some topics you may have not thought to ask the other yet!
Tip from Taylor, 24:
“I am in the process of marrying my best friend. He comes from a large Mexi-Rican family and I am white with a very small family. In our dating relationship, I have seen how much my fiance cherishes his family, and I am so blessed to be able to enter into our marriage knowing that I am acquiring a whole other family. They love one other so much, and they are only ever a phone call away. Like, they would drop anything to help you move or to help you change a flat tire and I love that. I have found that family comes first for my man. This is not specifically something that I was familiar with from within my own family dynamic. At times I was caught off guard by how they loved each other so wholeheartedly.
I will be honest, it was frustrating at times when I would want to spend time with him, but he wanted to spend time with his parents. I spent a lot of evenings sitting on his parents’ couch watching TV with them because I wanted to spend time with him, but he also wanted to spend time with them. I learned very quickly that it takes a lot of patience to be in a committed relationship with someone who has different family values than you. It took time, a healthy line of communication, and a few arguments to understand each other’s point of view fully.
It was during those times that I learned how much his family meant to him, and how much they would be involved in our day-to-day lives. These discussions helped us to honor one another with the things we needed to feel supported in the relationship, and it ultimately brought us closer together as he saw his love for his family equally turn into my love for his family. We are all so close now that I feel like a daughter to his parents and a sister to his siblings.
I recommend if you are dating someone with different family values than you, make sure that those values do not ultimately hurt your own relationship. You need to have boundaries and remain honest. I do not recommend going to family for advice in your relationship as it can seriously destroy rapport between family and your partner, or if the family takes sides.
But just know – if your partner insists on taking a phone call from their sister while you are both having an important conversation, it may be frustrating to navigate that scenario at the moment. But those important boundaries that you draw near the beginning of your relationship, while they may feel over the top or silly to your partner at the time, may help keep your relationship between the two of you, and not between you both and the whole family.”
While every relationship is going to require support and mutual understanding. It is important to note that all relationships are different, and may take varying levels of growth and understanding. By showing up every day to encourage your partner, and going above and beyond to learn how to best support them, you are doing the strength of your relationship a favor!
Tip from Vince, 33
“I come from a mixed-race Hispanic background, and my girlfriend is caucasian. I feel like the biggest difference between her and me is that she doesn’t fully understand the regular stereotyping that I face due to my skin color. While it isn’t every day, there is the occasional comment here or there that truly impacts me.
An example of this is when we were out in public recently and I was having a friendly conversation with a woman at a restaurant that was sitting near us. After some time, her partner asked me what I did for work. This woman interjected before I had a chance to answer and told him, and loudly at that, that I was a strawberry picker. She did not say this out of a place of malice, it was just a very poorly made comment from a place of true ignorance.
We were so caught off guard, I couldn’t even respond. This was the first time my girlfriend had been around when someone said something like that to me. While we were able to laugh about it afterward, because I honestly don’t feel it’s worth my time or energy meditating on moments like that, and letting it soak up my positive energy or ruin my day, it still sucks to know that I have a very successful career yet some people will never see me as successful due to the color of my skin.
My girl is my biggest supporter, and now that she has had a taste of what some people think about me (but don’t always say), she is that much more equipped to advocate for me. I think it is important to find a teammate in your partner. She is always telling me how proud I make her, and how excited she is to see where our relationship takes us. She is honestly my biggest cheerleader. Sometimes, I will need her to sit with me when things are hard, but I also need her to celebrate and defend my wins.
What makes us such a strong couple is that we support each other no matter what, and I think that is what makes our relationship work so well.”
While not everyone may be as excited as you are about your new relationship, this is no cause for concern. Going into a new relationship can oftentimes be a bit intimidating, but when you are both committed to each other, opinions seem to matter that much less. Talk with your partner about your fears over topics such as stereotyping or conflict. Make sure that you both communicate through any incidents that may occur with family or friends. Voice any hurts and be sure to stay honest with your partner if something makes you uncomfortable.
At the end of the day, this relationship is between the two of you, and it is your sole responsibility to maintain those healthy boundaries with family and friends to protect yourselves and your relationship from negative outside influences and opinions.
Tip from Jake, 25
“Everyone in your family will come in with different expectations once you announce you are seeing someone of a different culture. Be prepared for any conflict that may arise once your family learns of these differences, or if they speak out of turn.
My family is Mexican, and my parents always latch onto the worst stereotypes from different cultures. Like – what they don’t understand, they group into an entire category. To them, there is no Southeast Asian, Northeast Asian, Western Asian, it is only Asian. The girl I am seeing is Hmong and to them, it is all the same. The hurtful stereotypes that are associated with that are obviously unacceptable, but her family has those same types of stereotypes towards me.
Something that I was fully expecting, but still took me by surprise, was the number of negative stereotypes coming in from both sides. My parents immediately started asking me questions about “Asian people” rather than her as a person. Her parents also immediately expressed concern about my race, going as far as referring to me as “her Mexican boyfriend” instead of my name. In short: Be prepared for the worst.”
When getting to know a person, there is always a certain level of honesty and openness that takes place. This is especially important in intercultural relationships. Make sure to take the appropriate time to invest in getting to know how your partner exists outside of their family. Their family history and background will help you learn a lot about them, as well as how to support them individually.
Tip from Gianna, 29
“My husband comes from a very large Costa Rican family, and I come from a small half black, half caucasian family. While it was hard in different ways for both of us to learn how to navigate our early relationship, we found a lot of growth from within each other’s family dynamics. His parents were married, my parents were not. My parents split a month into dating, and with that, we found that asking questions, and learning how the other placed value on their families, especially with traditions and dividing time, was huge.
We had to be open about who our families were. For example, since his family is very close and it is a large family, and with my family being so small, it was weird to him that I very rarely see my dad or his side of the family or that I don’t connect with them often.
This took being open and understanding where we each stand within our family, and what traditions from our families we wanted to keep applying to our little family and what things we wanted to make traditions for our own family.
It was through these conversations that I learned he wanted to build his own traditions separate from his family, and that surprised me because I would always infer that he wanted to go do this or that with his family for holidays or birthdays. He instead wanted to pave his own way.
I recommend to always stay open to learning. If you do that, you can never go wrong. He had to do the same for me, learning about my family history. Just roll with the punches, and don’t let anything get to you. Family will always have unwarranted opinions (that they will gladly share), and it is a balance of being open and staying true to yourself and your relationship.“
Every couple is going to face new and different challenges and circumstances that will either grow them closer together, or drive them apart. With intercultural relationships, it is key to always maintain patience, openness, honesty, and support. While there are many other things we could add, we encourage you to speak directly with your partner about the things your relationship may face, and how to tackle them head-on.