7  aspects of an intercultural relationship  – how does it work?

Intercultural relationships can happen for many different reasons. If you decide to do some work, travel, or an exchange year, you might have the attitude of not wanting to start a serious relationship abroad because you know that you will leave again. But falling in love with someone isn’t something that you can plan.

Mixed culture relationships are more common than ever. A look around shows you people from different countries being together. Many people may ask, “what is the success rate for a mixed culture relationship?”  

I have been talking to several people in multicultural relationships, asking how they are experiencing it and if it’s worth it. After an extensive look, there were 7 things that people come across when being in an intercultural relationship.

1.      Moving because of your intercultural relationship

This was certainly my first thought when I realised how serious my relationship became. At that time, I still considered my family home in Switzerland my home just as much as my place in Ireland. Being in a relationship with someone from a different country means that someone will have to move to continue the relationship.

What can help in that case is to communicate with your partner. Tell them that you have thought about your relationship’s future and aren’t fully sure about what to do. Communication is the key. Also, don’t worry. Trust the future to work out for the best.

2.      Trust issues in long distance relationships

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Before someone decides to move to their partner, the couple might be in a long-distance relationship. This brings the issue of not seeing the other person as much. It might be more difficult for the couple to trust each other completely from the start.

Again, telling your partner how you feel is the way to overcome this. Moving will eventually eliminate the problem of not knowing where your partner is and help you trust them.

3.      Prejudices about multicultural relationships

Every culture has prejudices. Sometimes these can be positive, though most people concentrate on the negative ones. Negative prejudices from family and friends, as well as raised eyebrows when being out in public, can make the relationship difficult at the start.

What I’ve learned is that there are two types of people in life. The ones who mind their own business and others who like to judge. People who judge your relationship with someone from a different culture would find something else to judge if you were with someone from the same country.

The most important thing is to stand behind your partner and back them up. You don’t judge them and love them for who they are.

4.      Language barrier in an intercultural relationship

Language barrier in an intercultural relationship

You likely have two different first languages. The fact that you are in a relationship means you understood each other enough to fall in love, but having deeper conversations might be difficult. At least one of you will have to learn the other’s language.

Not being able to speak the same language on the same level is not all bad. You will invent your own language with expressions only the two of you will understand. One of the women I was in contact with about her relationship said, “it is surprising how good it works if you understand each other with your heart”. This shows that language is not going to be an issue.

5.      Extended family difficulties within mixed relationships

You might not speak your partner’s language, which can also be an obstacle for your family. The communication between your family and your partner, and the other way around, can be difficult at the start.

Especially when you’re young your parents probably want to get to know your partner better and ensure that they are nice to you.

When you’re on phone calls with your family, let your partner be part of it as much as they can. If that means that you need to translate, then do it. Your family liking your partner and being happy for you won’t necessarily make your relationship better, but it will prevent problems between your family and your partner.

6.      The second dimension of a relationship

Getting to know your partner is something different when they are from a different culture. Besides only getting to know them, you also get to know why they are the way they are. You learn more about their cultural background and upbringing.

I see it as something very intimate and personal. It gets more interesting and in-depth faster than it would when you are with someone from the same culture.

Someone described that as “adding a new dimension to your relationship”.

7.      Cultural differences in a relationship

Cultural differences in a relationship

There are certainly cultural and traditional differences when you are in a relationship with someone from a different culture. It can be small things like different holidays or bigger ones.

I, for example, always celebrate Christmas twice with my boyfriend. Once the way I was doing it in Germany and then, a day later, following the Irish tradition.

There are bigger differences, too. For example, in the US boys get circumcised after birth, whereas that doesn’t happen that often in Europe.

These cultural and traditional differences will keep coming up and you constantly learn more. Having an open mind and being able to change your way of looking at things to some degree is necessary for a mixed relationship.

 

All these things depend on who you are with. Different cultures bring different discussions. Being with someone who is from the same continent is less of an adjustment than being with someone from Asia or Africa.

However, none of the points mentioned are serious issues that cannot be resolved. That’s also what almost everyone I talked to said. The little differences that occur make it interesting and exciting.

Like in any relationship, communication, respect, and trust are the basis for it to work. Having an open mind and being happy to keep learning from your partner make a mixed relationship fun and let you extend your horizon.

And now to get back to the question from the start: What is the success rate for a mixed culture relationship? It was nice to hear that most people have been in a relationship with their partner for many years. Some people have been together for 15, 24, and even 37 years. 

People who weren’t in a relationship said that they were interested in being in one with a person from a different culture. This shows that it is something people see as positive and something they want.

In the end, being in a multicultural relationship is something beautiful. Two people share everything with each other, including their cultural background. It creates something new that wasn’t there before. 

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About the author

Christine Brungard

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