Risks and Rewards in Cross Cultural Marriages

It is a fact of life that inter-racial marriages are increasing rapidly in the United States. Why is this? Following reasons have been put forth by sociologists and demographers.

  • Immigration of young men and women into the US past 25 years
  • Increasing student population at colleges and universities from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds
  • More professional and social association of individuals with diverse backgrounds–through online sites, professional groups, activist groups etc.
  • Increased social acceptance of cross racial marriages
  • Globalization, which has increased awareness of other cultures and appreciation for people of other cultures

So do cross-cultural or inter-racial marriages make for long lasting unions?

Unfortunately, no. In fact, evidence is that such marriages fall apart before the customary measure of 10 years, even more than same-race marriages.

As you can imagine, there are special challenges in cross-racial unions. Each race is an amalgam of culture, practices, faiths, rituals and racial behaviors, whether we like it or not. When you try to fuse cultures, conflicts can arise.

Here are some tips on how to sustain a inter-racial marriage.

1. Have low expectations of acceptability. This is not a “downer” statement but a fact of life. You may be lucky and be accepted with open arms into the other family, you may not be. It is prudent to start out with an expectation that you have to “prove” yourself, at least within reasonable bounds, to be loved and accepted. The more “normal” and “mainstream” you appear, the higher the chances that if not all, you will find love in some corners of the other side.

2. Be yourself–within bounds of reason. Do not flaunt your religion, faith, cultural eccentricities etc. A friend of mine married a Middle-Eastern girl. He loved bacon and ham, taboo in the girl’s family circles. He wisely chose to avoid pork products when eating out. This is just a small token of respect for the other family’s traditions.

3. Take a stand on important things, leave trivial things alone. Again, you do not need to assert yourself at every step.

4. Understand other cultures, even if you do not agree with all of its aspects. Indian men and women talk loudly and do not use formal expressions of thanks nearly as much as westerners do. This is just their cultural upbringing. You may not agree with it, but resist “changing” their behavior. Instead, if you have to flaunt anything, flaunt the grace of western culture and reciprocity. Will it be a teachable moment for them? Maybe. You at least will have the satisfaction of taking the high road, and can proudly look your fiance or spouse in the eye.

5. Work it out with your partner about certain protocols involving children, visits, stays etc. In some cultures, it is considered “normal” to sudden descend upon your relatives’ homes and stay for days. Do not allow it. Gently, but firmly you must establish, with the help of your spouse, the bounds of what is tolerable behavior, even from your close relatives.

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