Influence of Cultural Diversity on Relationships
Most relationships have a honeymoon phase, where no one can get enough of the other, and everything is pure bliss. In this phase, nothing else really matters, but the emotions and differences just draw you nearer. In fact, some will actively romanticize any major differences as a triumph of their love. Once the honeymoon phase is over, the relationship moves onto the adaptation phase. Here, the differences become apparent, and a person’s quirks that used to be charming and cute now start to become a bother. Some habits become a source of discomfort, and these come with their issues and fights. That said, these differences become more intense if people are from different cultures.
Culture bears a huge influence on personal beliefs, values, traits, and tastes. In a culturally diverse relationship, these differences may be a source of conflict or unity because what is acceptable in one culture may not be in another. That said, it all depends on the individuals in the relationship and whether they have a rigid cultural framework or are adaptable. Sadly, for most people, the line between a cultural influence and a personal quirk is fuzzy. Most will mistake a personal trait as being a cultural influence and vice versa, but this clarity is critical if the important issue of compatibility is to be thrown into the discussion. Here are a few common impacts of cultural diversity on relationships.
Linguistic differences and miscommunication
Every culture has its nuances and unique way of doing things. In culturally diverse relationships, the common pitfall is expecting your partner to become an expert at understanding your culture right from the start. If, for example, you do not speak the same language, words will mean different things, and even perceptions will differ. This can spiral into miscommunication if one of the parties insists on a rigid approach to communication.
One study on communication behaviour and relationship satisfaction among American and Chinese newlywed couples demonstrates this aspect clearly. In the study, the researcher pitted the American culture of individualism, value intimacy, and romantic freedom of expression against the socially-minded, family-oriented, and approval-seeking culture in Chinese relationships.
While both cultures showed the same levels of positivity, Chinese wives expressed more negative emotions compared to American Couples. And this had a direct influence on their satisfaction with the relationships. The researcher concluded that it is because Chinese culture dissuades individualism and freedom of expression, which apparently hampered communication. These pent-up emotions mean that partners hold on to things that would otherwise be solved through communication.
Conflict over fundamental beliefs
The thing about “culture is that it nurtures everyone to believe in themselves”. This includes being convinced that their perspectives, attitudes, and demeanour are the right ones because they are acceptable to everyone around them, yet they share the same culture. This also affects how they do things and how they perceive other people going by their daily lives.
While this is okay exercised among people of the same culture, cultural diversity brings a whole different ball game. It becomes a challenge when one person cannot bring themselves to honour or accommodate what is important to their partners. Let’s take the issue of division of labour, for instance. In some cultures, such as Japanese, Chinese, and even American, house chores are divided around gender roles; that is, women are considered caretakers while men are providers. Such cultures are also considered masculine, meaning that women are expected to be modest and tender, while men are assertive and tough.
If someone from such a culture was to marry a person from more feminine cultures like Swedish cultures, a flexible personality would set the tone for what the future of the relationship will be. Whether it’s acceptance and tolerance or hardline stances on cultural beliefs and practices, it is with the latter that long-term success in the relationship will be founded on—even when the relationship ends. That said, you need to learn to respect each other’s differences. Learn more about each other’s differences and find a bullet-proof way to adhere to the traditions and expectations you each bring to the relationship.
Clashes in parenting
If you and your partner plan to have kids someday, then a discussion on parenting is long overdue. Are you both religious? If so, which religious practice will you instil in your child? What about language? Will your kids have to learn more than language? Will this affect how long they start talking? These are all questions that you will need to answer before taking your relationship to the next level.
Raising kids is challenging enough without the added layer of multiethnicity. Hence, parenting is a subject you can’t afford not to have. Remember, your kids will be of mixed race, meaning they are at risk of experiencing identity dilemmas, bullying, and discrimination. In fact, reports suggest that mixed-race children are more likely to experience mental health issues than those with one cultural identity. That said, the last thing your kids need is to live in a hostile environment. You and your partner will need to create a united front for you to effectively support your kids in navigating the world. This starts with you agreeing on how you will raise them.
Family and society disapproval
We can all admit that we’ve made some progress in terms of racial inclusivity? But is it enough? The truth is, interracial couples face massive opposition from people outside their relationship. Derogatory comments in public, negative stereotyping, and open hostility are no doubt troubling issues. What happens when the hostility comes from family? As much as we don’t like to admit it, our family’s approval is important, especially when it comes to marriage. This is why it’s extra painful when they are actively prejudiced against your relationship. Usually, family disapproval and prejudice is prompted partly by a lack of understanding and fear of the unknown.
As an interracial couple, you will need to support each other through it all. It’s up to the two of you to promote tolerance and understanding in your family. This may take time, and maybe your family will never truly embrace your relationship. But if you are serious about pursuing your relationship for the long haul, this should not be a deal-breaker.
Interracial relationships, like all relationships, come with their fair share of problems – problems that, if ignored, can easily lead to negativity or built-up resentment, which will eat away at the heart of the relationship. By choosing to date outside your culture, you subscribe to experiencing life from a different perspective besides your own – your partner’s perspective. That said, as an interracial couple, it’s important to find meaningful ways to nurture the connection with your partner. This could be as simple as building new rituals together to unite both fronts on a positive level. Go out on romantic dates to a restaurant you both love, exercise together if that’s something you would both enjoy, or simply have morning coffee together. These relationship rituals might seem trivial, but you will be surprised by how closer you and your partner will become when you focus on your shared interests rather than differences.
Church, A. T. (2016). Personality traits across cultures. Current Opinion in Psychology, 8, 22-30.
Morley, D., & Street, C. (2014). Mixed experiences: Growing up mixed race - mental health and well-being. London: National Children Bureau.
Williamson, H. C., Ju, X., Bradbury, T. N., Karney, B. R., Fang, X., & Liu, X. (2012).
Communication behaviour and relationship satisfaction among American and Chinese newlywed couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(3), 308.