A Norwegian friend of mine once told me how he had to pass a very severe test before he was accepted by the parents of his Italian wife. He had to stay in a hotel and was invited to various meals, where he was vetted. As well as coping with the language barrier, he had to display an understanding of Italian cultural values as regards marriage and family. Fortunately, he passed the test and yes, they are living happily ever after!
Now that was easy, really. Consider where two lovers come from very different racial backgrounds and where religion, ethics, family values and beliefs about marriage will, sooner or later, be present on the stage. But, before you even reach that point, let us look at what hacks you can put into practice so that the relationship will be on a much firmer foundation.
1. Learn about the culture
There is no shortcut here. You really have to do your homework. You can ask each other about the family background and the values that were instilled in childhood. But you also have to find out a lot more by reading, watching films and getting down to the very core values that determine life attitudes in your partner’s country.
2. Speak the language
This is essential if one partner lacks confidence in the other’s language. Communication will be key in understanding attitudes, beliefs, political views, opinions, and values. Very often, these are tied to the language by having words, expressions and idioms which reflect their world view perfectly.
3. Talk about religion
You may be an atheist, very religious or something in between. The problem is that there is often a clash when your partner has strong views which are based on a religious upbringing which will determine attitudes to sex, child rearing, religious practices and customs. Use your time together to explore these and try to understand where your partner is coming from. If you are both from a much more secular background, this may make things less complicated. However, this does not remove the obligation to discuss these matters sincerely and honestly.
4. Be aware of pressure from outside the relationship
Very often, inter-racial and inter-cultural couples are perfectly at ease. It is when they encounter the prejudice of family and society, that problems may raise their ugly heads. There is some useful advice in an article mentioned in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. The best plan is to be prepared for this and also assess whether you can really cope with all that. Fortunately, things are moving in the right direction. In American society, according to the Pew Research Center, 1 in 12 marriages are now inter-racial.
5. Celebrate your differences
There may be customs and rites that should be celebrated together, rather than ignored. This can strengthen the relationship. There are some excellent stories about mixed couples who more or less coped with these issues in the book, ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner’ by Brenda Lane Richardson.
6. Fight stereotyping
Be prepared. There are commonly held views which make sweeping generalizations about different races and religions. Asian women are supposed to be very meek and submissive. Be on the alert for those friends who will spout all sorts of prejudices about races on the pretext of offering advice!
7. Talk about how you would raise children
Many people are put off by the fact that any children they have may be bullied or discriminated against in some way. It is important to discuss this openly. If your relationship is sound, any children will benefit from a loving home and grow up to be mature, balanced adults. Being bi-racial will teach tolerance.
8. Adopt your partner’s culture
You may get a lot of indiscreet questions and sneering references such as going for the ‘jungle fever’ if you happen to be dating an African or that the Japanese are workaholics. The best questions are those that ask you what is the part of your partner’s culture or traditions that attract you most. Think about this and have your answer ready.
9. Broaden your horizons
A great way to explore your partner’s culture and traditions is to experiment and try ethnic dishes. It is a great way of bonding and can open up new horizons, while becoming an expert cook as well.
10. Travel and explore
Travelling to each other’s country is one of the greatest experiences ever. You get an inside view and understand much better your partner’s background and upbringing.
11. Talk about what religion you would like your kids to have
Many inter-faith couples have to decide which faith their children should have. They may decide to bring up their children in both faiths. The benefits may well override any concerns about confusion, as outlined in Susan Katz Miller’s book, called ‘Being Both – Embracing Two Religions In One Interfaith Family’.
12. Inter-cultural relationships make you stronger
Going into an inter-racial or inter-cultural relationship can be a challenge. It is an excellent training ground in that it makes you think of issues that may arise. The great advantage is that you are both able to cope with differences and obstacles and that can make the relationship so much stronger in the long run.
13. Show tolerance in your arguments
At times, there may be arguments and rows. The best advice is never resort to racial slurs or stupid prejudice against your partner, because of an issue about his/her background.
14. Think of human diversity
Learn to look ahead. Forget the racial and religious differences and look forward to a society which is not based so much on race, but on human diversity. Your children will learn to do the same when you set the example.
15. Follow Kayne West’s advice
Kayne West has made no secret of the fact that the press hates his inter-racial relationship with Kim Kardashian. Follow his advice: ‘Write that… headline when you try to make me look like a maniac or an animal, because you afraid of inter-racial relationships, because you afraid of the future, because you afraid of a rapper that was raised by two educated parents.’
Let us know in the comments how you have coped successfully with an inter-racial or inter-cultural relationship.
Featured photo credit: Strange things are happening these days/Koshy Koshy via flickr.com