Cross-Cultural Couples

Photo by Jenna Jacobs on Unsplash

By Barbara Jandu
September 25, 2020

When two people meet and marry, they must navigate differences in communication patterns, family-of-origin dynamics, and gender roles. Partners may also come from different socioeconomic backgrounds or religions. So, in many ways, all marriages may be considered intercultural.

By the year 2010, 2.4 million marriages in the US were interracial. But until fairly recently, interracial marriage was still banned in 16 of the 50 United States. Many of these couples face challenges that revolve around negative societal and familial reactions and stereotypes. Because multiple-heritage couples diverge from societal norms, they often face apprehension, curiosity, disapproval, and sometimes hostility. Even their reasons for choosing to be together are often met with skepticism that monoracial couples rarely face. For example, sometimes those who express outward approval of mixed marriages may only do so until it affects them personally.

One prevalent myth surrounding cross-cultural couples is that the problems they face are exclusively due to their cultural differences. When faced with discrimination, some couples may choose intentional isolation, which may inadvertently also include separation from supportive figures. So, it’s not surprising that major risk factors for divorce among interracial couples include social isolation, stigma, and marginalization.

Among couples who appear externally similar, differences are more nuanced. For example, while Puerto Rican and Mexican individuals are both considered Latino, or Japanese and Korean individuals are both labeled as Asian, there are differences in cultures-of-origin. Like monocultural couples, intercultural couples also deal with issues related to division of labor, decision-making, family illnesses, how to celebrate holidays, and other issues common to monocultural couples.

What may surprise some people is that researchers have found no significant differences between interracial and same-race couples in terms of relationship quality, conflict patterns, coping style, and attachment. In fact, many interracial couples report feeling blessed and thankful for the enriching opportunity to participate in bridging cultures and for their strong sense of unity in the face of opposition.

Culture, racial background, and oppression neither define partners in a couple, nor are they entirely irrelevant to their experience. These relationships are as dynamic and complex as other marriages. Cross-cultural couples enter therapy for reasons similar to homogenous couples. A culturally competent therapist can act as a liaison between partners by reframing misinterpreted behaviors, promoting curiosity, and inviting couples to develop a shared identity that transcends cultural differences.

By leading couples in conversations that externalize their problems, therapists can help partners to reduce blame, understand external influences, gain insights about each other, and unite in a healthy way. By creating a sense of “we” that focuses on friendship, integration, and inclusion, couples can rewrite their story in such a way that focuses on shared values, obstacles they’ve overcome, and relational strengths. Every couple has much in common with other couples and yet is also like no other couple in the world. By recognizing and valuing this, we create a richer world for all couples.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'”Revelation 7:9-10

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