In today’s diverse world, seeing interracial couples and children of mixed heritage is hardly anything new. From celebrities to politicians in the news, many public figures have shown the world that colour is no longer an issue. Closer to home, you’ve likely had friends, family members, neighbours or colleagues who have partners of a different race.
While a potential mate’s race may be of little concern to you when dating, differences often go beyond skin-deep. Cultural norms are an important consideration when entering into a relationship, but with a little advance preparation you can foster a respectful bond with someone of a different ethnicity.
Focus on Your Relationship
Of utmost importance when contemplating an intercultural relationship is remembering that true love conquers all, and cultural differences can generally be resolved. Put culture aside and remember what it is about the other person that attracts you to them. Commit yourself to your relationship and your special bond.
Set a Strong Foundation
Being committed to making your relationship work means respecting their values and beliefs at all times. Set a foundation of appreciation for your partner’s culture by learning as much as you can about their background and beliefs.
If that special someone is Catholic and you are Jewish, find out more about their religion and how it is practiced. Be open to their customs and embrace the beauty of their traditions.
Know Yourself and Your Limits
Go into the process with the awareness that there will be differences to resolve. Making an intercultural relationship work starts with you. Carefully evaluate aspects of your own culture such as your religion, family values, language, education and professional goals, and preferred gender roles. Try to determine which ones you feel are flexible and which ones you are positively unable to compromise on.
Don’t Shy Away from Differences
Especially in the early days, you may be tempted to avoid your cultural differences. While it is important to focus on your similarities and shared preferences and goals, differences can present opportunities for learning and growth as a couple. Instead of ignoring or avoiding differing points of view or conflicting values, approach them realistically in order to bridge cultural gaps.
Recognize Cultural Issues and Communicate
Try to recognize disagreements related to cultural issues as they arise. Say your girlfriend believes in having a large family while you were set on having just one child- this could be a cultural difference! Make sure you feel comfortable discussing these differences with your partner by establishing early on that you’ll be able to chat calmly and respectfully. Make a pact not to escalate your discussions into arguments.
Prepare for Culturally-Sensitive Situations
When bringing your partner to meet your family or friends, brief him or her on what they can expect to see, hear and taste. Your more conservative boyfriend, for example, may be unused to seeing women in high heels or short skirts, so prepare him beforehand for a new experience. If your girlfriend is unfamiliar with spicy Mexican food, let her know in advance which dishes to be careful with.
For any gathering, clue your partner in on any cultural missteps to avoid.
Know When to Retreat
Addressing cultural issues early on can allow you to work through your differences and form a lasting relationship. However, paying attention to cultural differences can also help you determine if your relationship is viable in the long term. As much as you may care for a certain someone, if you’re thinking about marriage, commitment or children you’ll want to carefully evaluate if your cultural differences are too great to overcome.
Sonia Bieber enjoys a successful intercultural marriage and is the mother of two amazing Mexican-American children.