If you are in a relationship with or engaged to someone from another country, odds are at least a few of your loved ones are a bit worried about it. I know mine were. You’ll hear people bring up issues that have already been on your own mind for months, like:
“Are you sure you can handle the language difference? Communication is hard enough when you speak the same first language.”
“What will you do about celebrating holidays?”
“You know relationships with in-laws is complicated enough without cultural barriers.”
Or, most importantly:
“You do realize that you won’t be eating nearly as much Western food as you do here at home, right?” =)
As much as I love Mickey, I admit some of these issues concerned me a little. I’m not a self-confident person, so if others worry about me, I tend to worry with them. You may be in exactly the same place right now, or perhaps you’ve said similar things to a friend who is getting ready to make the leap between worlds.
But, after a little experience being married to a Chinese man, those worries have melted away. Yes, I said “those worries” because, well, you remember my title, “Cross-culture Marriage: The Biggest Challenge”? The biggest challenge for me is the “marriage” bit.
Oh, we may have a misunderstandings here or there because of language. We may still discuss how involved we should be in each holiday and we may even have days we wish for our particular brand of comfort food. But at the end of it all these inconveniences are dwarfed by the problems every couple faces: background differences, communication between sexes and the general exchange of flawed personalities. And they pale in comparison to the love that we have for each other, which eventually overcomes every difficulty.
The biggest cultural difference for me has been communicating with Mickey’s parents, who speak a dialect rather than the Mandarin I learned. When I went to his hometown over Chinese New Year I felt badly that I couldn’t always understand my new parents, and sometimes it was equally difficult for them to understand me. But other ladies in the same position have assured me that it gets easier to pick up a hometown dialect with time. That reassurance, and the fact that I don’t talk with them every day makes this a relatively small matter as well.
So what ARE the triggers for disagreements? I’d say the main thing is that we have different views on life. In the essentials – our faith, family matters, etc. – we agree, but sometimes our views on other topics can be so dissimilar that even when one of us is trying to please the other we start an argument instead.
Take, for instance, when my husband was looking for work. We had saved and were fairly financially stable, so I wasn’t worried if it took time for him to find a job. I just wanted him to be happy in whatever work he got, and if that took a couple of months to find, so be it.
But I knew sometimes he felt pressure to get a job, be the man, earn a living. He’s very responsible and as such didn’t like being without gainful employment. Knowing this, I made a point of doing two things (perhaps you will hear them and cringe because you are wiser than I was.) I regularly asked friends to pray that he could find a good job, and I regularly asked him if he had any news from companies he was looking into.
It turns out that my asking friends to pray made him feel awkward and embarrassed and my asking him for news made him feel pressure from me to find work quickly, even if I didn’t feel that way.
You see? I couldn’t do much practically to help him get a job. So I felt like the only way to support him was to let him know I cared by making it a focus of conversations. But from his side that was exactly the wrong thing to do and made him feel worse about being temporarily unemployed.
There were no language issues to cause or even exacerbate the problem. But still, despite best intentions, our personality differences caused friction.
Most problems stem from similar roots. Misunderstandings, lack of communication, personality differences and all those other maladies that every couple faces.
It’s been said that hashing out disagreements is healthy in marriage. Mickey and I have found that to be true. When one of us is unhappy, the other tends to be extra sweet, playful and encouraging. So after a fight, if you were a fly on our wall or a little birdie at the window you might see a notable increase in winning smiles, cajoling tones, teasing and/or tickling til the other one “cracks” and smiles. Because at the end of the day we love each other to pieces and hate to make each other unhappy.
So if you are considering wedding a foreigner, I wouldn’t automatically say, “Go for it!” because their beliefs, background or personality may not fit your own. But I would definitely say not to let the culture differences scare you off. I’m sure for some they are a bigger issue than for myself, but I would be willing to bet that the biggest issues for those people are still the same as for everyone else.
So if you meet someone who shares your faith, the thought of whom makes you smile and bounce on your toes with joy, then it doesn’t matter if they’re black, white, brown, yellow, red, tan or purple. Take the leap and bask in the love that only that one individual can give you. It’s totally worth it. I would never go back, even if I can never eat Butterfinger Crunch ice cream again. =D