How to Navigate Through Mixed or Cross-Cultural Relationships

Relationship Challenges

Building solid relationships and maintaining healthy marriages can sometimes be a challenging process, even when the couple comes from similar economic, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. Now imagine the couple does not share a common cultural experience. This added layer of complexity can sometimes lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and, in some cases, a breakdown in the relationship or divorce.

Learning how to address these differences in a positive and nurturing way can be the key to a successful long-term relationship. There are quite a few tough issues to examine that must be dealt with upfront and honestly.

Building a Cross-Cultural Relationship

Learn the Language.

If your partner’s native language is not the same as yours, learn his or her language. Practice as often as you can and do not fear making mistakes. Ask a lot of questions to show your willingness to understand and encourage your partner in his or her practice of your language. Learn the non-verbal cues of your partner. A lot of cultural norms can be understood and communicated through body language, gestures, and the tone of someone’s voice.

Be patient. It may take awhile to become fluent in your partner’s language and to pick up on cultural cues. In the beginning, expect there to be some misunderstandings and try to avoid getting frustrated when you do not understand each other.

Do not assume that cultural curiosity will last or prevent future conflict.

Never underestimate you and your partner’s deep cultural roots. It is possible to change our viewpoints and adapt to new lifestyles, but we are all raised with deeply ingrained belief systems. Our entire outlook on the world is shaped by the culture in which we were raised, so an admiration alone for another culture is not enough to sustain a relationship with someone with a different heritage. It takes flexibility, patience, and compromise by both parties to blend together cultures into one where both partners thrive.

Do not assume your partner will fully embrace your culture.

Do not expect your partner to dramatically change who they are to adapt to your culture. On the same token, do not dramatically change who you are to make the relationship work. Any time one partner completely loses his or her identity to try and make a relationship work, the relationship then becomes unbalanced and unhealthy.

Both partners need to keep an open mind about culturally sensitive issues. Often, some of our prejudices and deeply-held social beliefs do not show themselves until conflict arises.

Talk about tough topics up front.

Do not make any assumptions about the importance and value your partner places on different issues like parenting, religion, and finances. Find out as much as you possibly can about your potential partner and his or her lifestyle, values, beliefs, and goals.

Cross-cultural marriages may encounter challenges in the field of parenting. Though it may be a bit awkward, having a discussion about how you will raise your children needs to be done early on in the relationship. Know what values and norms your partner will not sacrifice when it comes to raising children.

Partners in mixed marriages must also be supportive of each other’s religious beliefs and learn how to raise their children in a way that honors the tenets of the religions of both parents. Decide right away how the family will celebrate certain holidays or what dietary or other restrictions the children will follow. Remember to always keep the best interests of the children in mind.

Money can be an issue in any marriage. Make sure to you know about all of the family finances, including assets and liability, at the beginning and create a structured budget that will get you through at least the first five years of marriage.


If you have any family law questions, do not hesitate to contact an experienced Wheaton family law attorney at Sullivan Taylor, Gumina & Palmer, P.C.