Keys to Being in an Intercultural Relationship

From communication, to boundary setting, to embracing each other's differences, read some of my tips for being in an intercultural relationship.

Keys to Being in an Intercultural Relationship

1. Establish your values and habits early
  • It is crucial to be clear about what your habits are, what you like dislike, what you are comfortable with. This is critical in any relationship, but the necessity is intensified when it is a mixed relationship because what is normal and acceptable for one person may not be for the other.
2. Don’t be overly accommodating
  • A common issue that often arises is that in the beginning, one or both people in the relationship will be overly accommodating. This means that they will say yes to whatever the other person is asking, maybe because they don’t want to offend the other or they don’t want to make the other feel they are pressing their own culture on them. And before you know it months have gone by and you haven’t said anything to them about your usual habits.
  • Several things can happen in the relationship when you repress your true desires. you end up feeling like you are always doing what the other person wants, you feel like they don’t appreciate the fact that you are making these sacrifices for them or you finally tell them what you do like and then they feel like you have changed suddenly.
  • What I have found to be the most useful is to be honest upfront. If they ask you to do something it’s okay to say yes, but it is also okay to let them know that this is not your usual habit and share what your preferences are. This way, from the start they understand what you normally do and they also see that you are making a small sacrifice for them.
3. Don’t look at either culture as right or wrong, simply different
  • When you’ve been raised to do something certain way, we often times don’t even know why we do it, we just know that’s how things are done. From how you wash the dishes to how you cook your food to how you converse with your parents. We can’t look at one way as “wrong” simply because its not your way.
Keys to Being in an Intercultural Relationship
4. Ask yourself why you do things?
  • In conjunction with number 2, one of the biggest things in helping you understand each other is learning to understand yourself and your culture. Maybe you always eat a meal at a certain time, but do you understand why you do it? If it’s just the way you were raised then ask yourself, “What advantages does my method propose? What cons are related to it?” One of the most frustrating things is when you ask your partner, “Why do you do XYZ thing this way?” And they respond with, “I don’t know that’s just how I was raised to do it.”
  • When you can come to them and explain the useful pr positive reasons for doing something your way then they can begin to logically understand the reasons behind your actions. And then they too can explain the advantages of doing the same thing there way and the best result is when you blend your two methods together to make a new hybrid way that incorporates the best parts of each method.
5. Learn the language, or at least the key aspects of it
  • This is an excellent way of demonstrating to your partner that you value their language. It can be such a special thing when you’re at a family gathering and can address family and friends with a few words in their native language. Along with this, a huge part of understanding a person’s culture is understanding their language. The words used and the manner is which they speak to one another can help you understand the values and expectations of a culture.
6. Don’t assume that what they said is what they actually meant
  • When your native language is not the same as your partner and they are trying to speak to you in yours there can be many errors in their speech. For example, my native language is English and his is Farsi, but we speak in English most of the time. One of the things I have noticed causing the most problems is that he will say one thing and I will be like, “how can you say that right now??”
  • But once we dissect the discussion more and I try to understand exactly what it was he was trying to say, we usually discover that he had simply used the wrong word, which completely changed the meaning of what he was saying. So before getting upset over something they said, ask them to say it in different words and describe their intentions better because they may not have a good understanding of the words they are using or what they right word may be.
Keys to Being in an Intercultural Relationship
7. Don’t be afraid of change
  • In an intercultural relationship that lasts for a long period of time, both of you will indefinitely pick up little habit changes from being with that person (this happens even when you are with someone from the same culture, but for some reason people react more strongly to change when its an intercultural relationship).
  • I think many of us fear changing out habits or become worried that we may lose the things that once defined us. Change can be so good when it causes you to become a better more well-rounded person. Embrace discovering new ways of doing things, new recipes, new social norms and then pick and choose the aspects from both your culture and your partner’s culture that you like best.
8. SHARE your culture, don’t force it on your partner
  • It can be easy to overwhelm your partner with your culture if you aren’t careful about giving them their space. This especially happens when one of you is a foreigner living in the country of the other person. For me, I moved in with my fiancé in a different city from all of my friends and family so the majority of the time we are with his Persian friends and family.
  • As a very social culture, there’s a Persian gathering at a restaurant or home over half the nights of the week. This can be overwhelming for me and Omid is always so good about letting me choose if I want to go to any of these gatherings. Often times I do, but there is never any pressure to do any of the things we are invited to.
9. As much as you can, try everything!
  • Did you know Persians eat cow tongue and sheep’s heart? Yeah me neither…..and despite my initial repulsion I toughened up and have tried every new food that has ever been presented to me. Sometimes I don’t always like it (sheep’s heart definitely a no-go for me) and sometimes I discover one of the most amazing dishes of food I have ever eaten. Whether it’s food or travel or habits, be open to trying as much as possible because you never know what amazing things could be awaiting you.
Keys to Being in an Intercultural Relationship

Navigating the unfamiliar waters of an intercultural relationship can often seem as foreign as living on another planet. I know it can be intimidating and at times even make you consider if the struggles are even worth it. Being aware of these potential issues can play a huge role in addressing how you will handle them before they turn into something to big and overwhelming to solve. I hope this article has helped you in some way and if so please share with others whom you think may need some encouragement in their intercultural relationship!

I’d love to hear from any of you who are currently or have in the past been with someone from a different culture! What struggles did you encounter and how did you overcome them? What difficulties are you currently facing and have you made any steps to address them? I love hearing from you guys so please comment below!

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Comments (2)

I know you are referring mostly to close relationships, but this advice is good even for casual acquaintances.

Any time two people from different cultures come together, whether friends or romantic relationships, these tips can be so useful in understanding one another better.

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