Being in a relationship where two people are from the same culture and country is already a challenge – imagine those couples that are from different cultures and countries! I am in one of those relationships.
Multicultural relationships versus multinational relationships
Multicultural relationships, as the name says, are when two people from different cultures meet, for example, an Islamic man who is in a relationship with an American woman.
Multinational relationships are when two people from different nations, but not necessarily from different cultures, meet, for example an English man who is in relationship with an Australian woman.
Some people might argue that even though the cultural background might be the same, English and Australians are still very different, which is true. For the sake of the argument let’s assume the two situations outlined above as a starting point for further exploration.
It is obviously possible to have one without the other, or both scenarios at the same time, like in my case: I’m born and raised Swiss and my husband is born and raised Australian with English ancestors. Given those differences it is also noteworthy that we communicate in English, which is my husband’s but not my mother tongue.
Challenges we face
Any combination, multicultural or multinational, will bring about its own challenges for one or both partners:
- Not having family around
- Living in a foreign country
- Dealing with another culture on a daily basis
- Having to change one’s values and beliefs to be able to live in a culture that is extremely different
- Dealing with different value systems
- Speaking different mother tongues
The list of challenges is far away from being complete and those of you who have experience with these kinds of unions might want to add some of your own.
Effects on communication
In regards to communication it is important to realize that given those challenges we need to spend more time clarifying, asking questions, evaluating, negotiating and practicing compassion and understanding every day. I have come to realize that my relationship has and is continuously teaching me to assume absolutely nothing. ‘That’s what I said’ is different to ‘That’s what I mean’ or ‘That’s what I understand’. Navigating through misunderstandings has become a daily learning experience. Still, after speaking English for over 25 years and having lived abroad for over 13 years I find myself saying ‘ah, I didn’t know this’ or ‘why didn’t you tell me before?’ And again, I’m reminded to assume nothing and ask instead.
My husband luckily has a lot of patience with my questioning and explains the intrinsic details of cultural habits that still elude me. I have also changed my pervious discomfort with questions to allowing myself ask anything, even twice or three times, which might push my husbands buttons once in a while. While growing up I somehow got the message that ‘I should just know’ and therefore didn’t feel encouraged to ask. Nowadays and specifically due to my profession I continuously question, even the seemingly obvious.
The most important tip I could give anyone is to question your assumptions, practice patience with each other and look at your partner with fresh eyes every day, learning and exploring continuously and jointly.