5 Tips for Navigating Intercultural & Interracial Relationships
By: Hadieh Zolfaghari
If you’re reading this blog post, then you’ve probably found the person who makes you the happiest, who you couldn’t imagine life without, and who you could see being your lifelong partner. You and this person come from different backgrounds, cultures, or races. Although you may not have anticipated it, these differences come with their own set of challenges as well as advantages. You may be starting to become aware of these challenges now, but don’t let them discourage you.
The increase in cultural diversity in the United States is causing intercultural romantic relationships (which can consist of partners from different religious, ethnic, racial, and/or language backgrounds) to become more and more common. However, these relationships face higher levels of divorce and separation than intracultural relationships. Despite their challenges, intercultural relationships create a unique environment in which people, such as you and your partner, have a lot to learn from each other and many ways to grow from the relationship.
So, how can you make these intercultural relationships work?
Tip #1: Surround yourselves with people who support and accept your relationship.
When couples experience feelings of stigmatization or marginalization due to their identity as an interracial couple, this causes them to feel as though they should not be together, adding extra stress to the relationship. This also makes them more likely to view their cultural identity and couple identity as separate – sometimes causing them to feel as though they must choose between the two. Therefore, you should prioritize having a social network that supports your relationship and does not cause you and your partner to feel intense feelings of stigmatization or marginalization.
You can do this by putting in the effort to educate and enlighten your close friends and family so that they are able to support you and your relationship, as well as by living in an area with high levels of general acceptance of intercultural relationships. Developing resiliency skills to prepare you to face the social opposition that may occur because of your intercultural or interracial relationship will also protect and strengthen your relationship.
Tip #2: Be aware of, express, and respond to each other’s emotions by prioritizing communication.
Couples who share similar emotional processes are more likely to have stronger relationships and higher relationship satisfaction because they are able to offer emotional support to each other in more effective ways.
Romantic partners with effective emotional exchanges are also more likely to report higher rates of intimacy, trust, and commitment. Because you and your partner were raised with different cultural identities, the two of you have likely developed different values, beliefs, and norms.
These, in turn, lead to the development of different emotional processes. Because of this, you and your partner must engage in open communication to better understand these culturally influenced aspects of each other and have more effective emotional exchanges.
You and your partner should regularly set aside time to speak about your emotions, any issues that you are experiencing, and how these issues may relate to your cultural backgrounds. It may be helpful to schedule a time to talk about these topics. You should also be open to regulating and adjusting your own emotions to better support your partner’s emotions.
Effective communication skills will also allow for effective conflict resolution skills, which are a strong asset to intercultural and interracial relationships.
Tip #3: Develop an appreciation for your partner’s culture, even though it is different from your own.
As partners, you must be willing to celebrate and appreciate your differences and respective cultures in order to be open in your relationship.
In order to do this, you and your partner should dedicate time, effort, and energy towards learning about each other’s cultures, celebrating them, and engaging in the traditions, customs, and languages associated with them. You and your partner could celebrate each other’s cultural holidays, try to learn each other’s native languages, go to each other’s cultural celebrations and events, and even travel to each other’s countries of origin if possible.
This will allow you and your partner to feel seen and appreciated by each other in many cases. It will also allow for a stronger relationship with your partner’s family who shares the same cultural, racial, or ethnic identity – especially if this identity is an integral part of their lifestyle.
Tip #4: Try to understand the lived experience and identity of your partner, but don’t overestimate how much of their experience you are able to understand.
When intercultural relationships progress, couples often learn a lot about each other’s lived experiences, causing them to develop an understanding of their partner’s identity. Demonstrating an understanding of your partner facilitates more intimacy in relationships.
However, the concept of developing and demonstrating an understanding of romantic relationships is complex. When a person overestimates how well and how deeply they understand their partner and this overestimation exceeds their partner’s estimation of how understood they personally feel, this can lead to poorer relationship quality.
This poorer relationship quality consists of the partner feeling as though they are less cared for and viewing their partner more negatively.
It is important to work towards building an understanding of the ways in which your partner’s cultural and racial identity has affected their lived experiences. At the same time, it is also important not to assume that you fully understand every aspect of your partner’s identity and its implications. Intimate communication and vulnerability through the sharing of your cultural identities, your relationships with your cultures, and how your lived experiences have been influenced by your cultures will allow you and your partner to further develop your understanding of each other in a healthy way.
You and your partner should regularly set aside time to communicate about past and current experiences related to your culture, any discrimination that you have experienced, and how these experiences made you feel. You should also take a genuine interest in your partner’s lived experiences and do your best to respect and understand these experiences. However, you must remember that it is important not to overestimate your level of understanding.
Although you have a close personal relationship with your partner, you have not personally experienced their lives and their culture.
Tip #5: Develop and maintain a “we” mentality.
A “we” mentality refers to a mentality of unity between the partners of a romantic relationship and has proven to be a valuable method of promoting success in intercultural and interracial relationships. You and your partner should develop a united identity despite the differences in your ethnic and cultural backgrounds through aspects such as friendship, finding common ground, having similar goals, and commitment.
As a couple, you can create a “we” mentality through friendship by allowing your friends to bring you closer together despite your cultural differences. You can do this by engaging in activities that remind you of your core friendship and by spending quality time together. Finding common ground within the differences that you experience as a couple will allow you to identify similarities that you can both relate to despite the differences that you may experience, also promoting relationship quality.
For example, two partners may have different ways of approaching problems yet share the same value system regarding problems in general. As a couple, you should find the common ground in the differences you experience and focus on the advantages that this common ground presents in your lives.
In addition, working toward similar goals will allow you two to focus on and use your strengths and feel as though you are a part of a unit, again supporting the “we” mentality. You and your partner should identify common goals and work on them together as a team to accomplish this. Over time, increased commitment and ability to work effectively and positively alongside one another will also allow you to grow your united mentality.
To wrap it up…
Intercultural and interracial romantic relationships pose a unique set of challenges that may be overwhelming and hard to navigate at first. But don’t let this scare you away from pursuing a relationship that could change your life in a positive way. Through your newfound knowledge and the guidance of these tips and skills, you now have the power to strengthen and preserve your own intercultural or interracial relationship.
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