The Challenges of Multicultural Marriages

The differences and potential conflicts in a multicultural relationship begin well before you get to the altar, and can remain present throughout your marriage. Perhaps one of you grew up with dinner conversations that were habitually loud and argumentative, while your partner was raised in an atmosphere where dinners were silent, reserved affairs.

Perhaps his parents consider it appropriate to have a say in the most intimate decisions the two of you make — when and how many children to have, where you'll live, how you'll spend your weekends and holidays — an expectation that horrifies you as the more independent-thinking spouse. In a multicultural marriage, you are not just uniting two individuals; you're bringing together two different worldviews.

As a result, these marriages often require more care and communication compared to marriages where two people come from a similar background. The problems in multicultural marriages often concern these areas:

  • The amount of contact you'll have with in-laws

  • Sex role differences as related to work outside the home, housework, parenting, and socializing

  • How far recent immigrants will assimilate into American culture, or retain ancestral cultural traditions

  • The issue of racism or (the lack of) an awareness of bigotry shown by others in or outside the family

  • Cultural expressions, including emotional displays, languages spoken, and relationships to elders or ancestors

Each of these topics can be loaded with tensions, so decisions about them require high levels of creativity and compromise between you and your partner.

In his book Mixed Matches, psychologist Joel Crohn describes three different approaches couples take when sorting out these choices:

  1. One partner converts to the other's religion or cultural tradition

  2. Both partners transcend their respective cultures or faiths and choose a new religion or choose a nonreligious secular or assimilated cultural path

  3. The two partners create a balance of two cultural traditions, drawing on aspects of both

Each of these approaches might work better in your marriage. One note of caution Crohn offers: Some couples find that if they replace an active religious or ethnic lifestyle with a wholly secular way of life, they risk a loss of meaning or community. The importance of tradition, family rituals, and spiritual life should not be underestimated for you and any children you may have now or in the future.

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