A bicultural marriage typically involves partners of different races, ethnicities, faiths, and even places of origin. Yes, geography can shape culture in a major way. If you reflexively associate the term “bicultural marriage” with race and ethnicity, it makes sense. In 1967, only 3 percent of American adults were married to a partner of a different ethnicity or race. By 2015, that number reached 17 percent. A shift is happening.
Cross-cultural marriages are more common but… they still are loaded with challenges. Let’s explore some of these challenges and, of course, different ways to face them.
1. Racism and Stereotyping
There’s no reason to sugarcoat this. Overt or covert, discrimination is a constant concern—from bullying to pop culture to subtle exclusion to downright hostility. It can drive a wedge between bicultural partners.
2. Feeling Alone
You and your spouse may be resilient and committed, but what about the other folks in your life? This could be neighbors, co-workers, and friends. What about family? It can be jolting to learn that someone you love is not open to your choices. It can feel jolting and very, very isolating.
3. So Many Decisions
Every relationship presents endless decisions. A bicultural marriage adds to that with a vast array of cultural norms. How will you and your partner integrate different expectations in a fair and agreeable way?
Just a few of the concerns are:
- Cultural traditions
- Family traditions, schooling, and supplemental schooling
- Food choices
Basically, how can two people from different backgrounds raise kids who maintain a distinct sense of identity?
6 Ways to Face the Challenges of Bicultural Marriage
1. Don’t Leave Anything to Chance
Communication is your friend. Talk about the challenges as early as possible. Plan in advance but remain flexible. Commit to not holding resentment inside to let it fester. Work as a team, and this means regular, healthy, face-to-face communication.
2. Start Out with 50-50
As you set off into your marriage, it could be helpful to choose a middle path. Try out a 50-50 split of the two cultures. Over time, this will naturally evolve as you decide together what feels best—by your own standards. Let your extended families know they can count on a 50-50 split when it comes to those obligations, too.
3. Educate Each Other/Educate Yourself
Make sure your partner knows what they need to know about your culture. Don’t expect them to just figure things out. That said, you both must pledge to semi-serious self-education. Show how seriously you take this partnership.
4. Be Excited About Your Differences
Every challenge is, at its root, an opportunity. This won’t automatically fall into place, but things can go more smoothly if you embrace the excitement of learning more about the person you love.
5. Close the Language Barrier
If either or both of you have a different primary language, the other partners can make a strong effort to grasp the basics of the other language. This can enhance your communication and also go a long way when interacting with in-laws.
6. Be Patient
Don’t set strict timetables for when everything will feel “normal.” Accept that patience and tolerance are critical. In the meantime, learn from mistakes and celebrate victories.
Counseling Can Be the Game-Changer
The challenges of a bicultural marriage can put a huge strain on both partners. Before this situation simmers too long, working with a seasoned therapist can be very beneficial. Meeting with an unbiased guide is a practical way to face hardships and maximize love. Your weekly sessions are your safe space where you can explore emotions, obstacles, and solutions