Intercultural Relationships

I never in my life would have guessed that I would be in love with someone from another country. It's not that I was against it in any way. It just never occurred to me. Circumstances never presented themselves and I never sought it out. A year ago, someone special came into my life at an unexpected time, in an unexpected way. And he happens to be German.

I wasn't sure what to make of our different cultural backgrounds. First of all, what did I even know about Germany? I hadn't even been to Europe before. It was on my list of things to do but the passport I had received for the first time two years earlier had only made it to Mexico a few times. I had twice in the past considered working in Europe but my determination wasn't there and I never got past consideration. So when I met M., I only had my preconceived notions of what Europe, Germany and Germans were like.

Going beyond the questions I had about my ability to adapt and thrive in another country, I wondered what we were in for in learning to deal with two different sets of relationship expectations, founded on two different backgrounds. I applied my normal approach when in uncharted territory and started researching, forming opinions, researching some more and refining my opinions. What can I say? It's the scientist in me.

I found that asking opinions of friends, family and people who had lived this experience yielded as many opinions or warnings as people I asked. I bought and read a book I thought might provide some insight, 'Intercultural Marriage: Promises and Pitfalls' by Dugan Romano, a three part book:

  • Part I. Daring to Be Different
  • Part II. Food, Friends and Other Frustrations
  • Part III. Making Miracles Isn't Easy

This book does a nice job covering many topics that can cause not only intercultural, but I think any, marriage/long-term relationship to turn sour. The author presented real life examples of couples who have made it work, who haven't and who are still struggling with these issues every day. I found that in reading this book I recognized more than a few problems that killed some of my past 'traditional' relationships with the American boy next door. In cross-cultural relationships, the usual challenges that most couples face can become exacerbated because your core beliefs and expectations around relationships are so deeply rooted in your culture that you take them for granted or might not even be aware of them until a conflict arises.

After this last year of researching what works and what causes problems and living my own intercultural relationship, I've adjusted my relationship style for the better. I've made it a top priority to try not to make assumptions with M. I ask questions and we exchange our views on male and female roles in the home and in careers, our expectations on where we will live and when, how money will be managed, raising children, time and obligations with in-laws, and political views for example. I don't assume that he will know my expectations so I try to tell him what I want and need, even if I think it is obvious. As a result, I have been able to be closer to M. than I have ever been with anyone. When I think back on how many times boyfriends have told me that they didn't feel like they knew me or what was on my mind, I realize this was hurting me in the past anyway.

I don't know what the future holds and what our long term prospects are. I know that we will need to continue to communicate and negotiate for as long as we are together for this to work. I think that is true of any relationship. I think we have built a foundation from which we can continue to grow together and this is the first time I have really felt this with another person, German or otherwise.


Brendan said...

Don't worry, you'll be fine. Congrats on making such a big decision. Intercultural relationships are fun, you learn something new every day.



Michelle said...

Thanks, RY! Enjoy reading your blog - it's nice being able to get some perspective from people who actually are living it. And no kidding about learning something every day in this kind of relationship. BTW - are you a Yankee fan?

Sparky said...

Hope my wife gets around to your way of thinking, too ;).

SDB said...

I'm struggling with an interpersonal relationship as well. It's very difficult. We come from different cultures as well as different religions. It's scary...it can be emotionally distant at times because of the differences, but when we connect it's the best feeling.

I just wanted to say thanks for posting that...it was a great hopeful message to hear.

The Gori Wife said...

Great post. I'm in one of these kinds of relationships myself, with a Pakistani. It's great that there are so many people on the internet talking about this stuff - where were all these people six years ago when I needed it!!!