Navigating cross-cultural relationships

Dating outside your culture shows you an interesting and vulnerable side of your own culture whilst giving you a taste into another. This gives you the chance to learn about a different perspective on life, sometimes learn another language and maybe even shine a light on a religion that is different to your own. I’ve dated exclusively outside my culture for a few years, and am now in a relationship with someone who has made New Zealand his home away from home. This blog is by no means full of answers on how to effectively navigate the differences of perspective when two hearts meet, but instead just a collection of thoughts on the matter.

People, regardless of culture, will have different views and perspectives on how to live and of course on how to love. Social conditioning plays a major role in how we are raised and how are views are formed, as a result it’s only natural that those who has been raised in a similar environment find it easier to connect and take comfort in their shared views and understandings of the world. However, when you have a connection with someone who is from a world that is different to your own it can bring a series of challenges that don’t necessarily exist if you’d come from the same environment.

For example, gender roles within a relationship. In some cultures, the role and expectation of a woman is very clearly defined by the woman’s immediate family and the society she is raised in. For some this means marrying at an early age and starting a family, she may not be expected to form a career for herself as the role of bread winner is taken care of by her husband. A man’s duty as bread winner in some cultures may require him to move country  and send money home if it means that he can earn more overseas. This way his family is financially better off, but the role of husband and father would be very different to that of a man with the same family responsibilities of another culture. What if you grew up in a society where it was ‘normal’ for the man of the house to go wherever he could earned the highest $, but your partner grew up in a society where a man and woman should be together and let love guide them as a family unit regardless of their financial struggle.

What about the role of family? In some cultures, it is normal for 3 or maybe 4 generations to live together under one roof or in a family compound with a main house surrounded by external bedrooms for each family within the wider family. The expectation when you marry might be to move in with your parents, or your spouses parents and the idea of living in a house with just you and your spouse might be considered spiteful and very lonely. Yet in other cultures the idea of living with our parents after finishing school might seem absurd and your role as a son or daughter when your parents become elderly is to make sure that you find them the best rest home that suits their needs. What if you grew up in a culture of independence where living alone, or only with your spouse is your kind of normal… but your partner expects that you’d move in with his/her parents when it’s time to settle down. Or perhaps your idea of visiting family happens annually over Christmas dinner, while your partner expects weekly family dinners. These differences generally don’t come from personal preferences, our social conditioning and/or culture defines which if these options is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

How about the dating part? As you’re getting to know each other, maybe even falling for each other. The time spent in the honeymoon phase and courtship period, the expectations of yourself and each other can differ cross culturally. In some cultures, you would only go on a date in a group with other friends who might also be in couples. It might not be appropriate to go on a date unaccompanied until you’re ready for marriage. In others, you would take time to get to know your date and only introduce him/her to your friends once you know that you’re serious about them. Introducing your date to your parents could be really important early on for some cultures, yet an absolutely absurd concept in others. What if you’re from a culture that expects you to introduce your date to your parents within the first 3 dates to determine compatibility, but your partner is from a culture that wouldn’t involve his/her parents unless they were considering marriage with you?

Navigating any new relationship has its excitement and its challenges. Some of which are just down to personal preferences, but when you’re connecting with someone whose native tongue and motherland is different to your own it can really intensify these feelings. I’m not sure whether there are any magical answers on how to get it right, but it is definitely important, just like any loving relationship, to do your best to communicate and be real to yourself and each other about your deal-breakers.

Regardless of culture, we are all human and we are all pretty much seeking the same thing and this to love and to be loved. How that love is formed, communicated and understood depends a lot on social conditioning and your own life experiences. How your lives start to intertwine depends less about your differences and more on how you choose to overcome them, and whether it’s worth trying to overcome them.

Like I said, I definitely have no answers on the matter, merely thoughts. But I want to believe that love will always find a way.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s