When two cultures collide

When you meet someone and begin a relationship it sometimes doesn’t immediately worry you that you are from different backgrounds. Inter-cultural or racial relationships are of course commonplace and is much more accepted then it was 10 or 20 years ago. It would be easy to assume that because mixed relationships are so widely accepted that it would no longer be a problem. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and when this becomes apparent this can be long after feelings are established and the couple want to take that next step in their lives together.

There can be numerous pitfalls like:

  • The families do not approve
  • The friends do not approve
  • How will any children be raised?
  • Should one person convert to the others faith?
  • If they are out and about and someone says something disapproving (not everyone is as open to interracial or cultural relationships as we would like) should the couple say something or is it better to leave them to their opinion?
  • Any internal dialogue the person may have about “stepping out” of the culture.
  • What happens with traditional norms that are not shared by your partner, should they just conform or do you make a stand?

The above can cause a lot of upset as the couple love and care for each other and want to be together and live the lives the way they want to but the pressures from others and even internally can be a constant battle.

It would be easy and flippant to say that the couple should do what they want and forget everyone else, but that would not be helpful. There is so much to negotiate and compromise within the couple that help might be needed to work through it all. If the choice is to cut off family, this can be a huge blow and an additional pressure that others may not have contended with. If the option is to continue and to tolerate the unwanted opinions of family members who do not approve then this can cause extra strain.

Where a couple cannot compromise on certain issues then it can be helpful to enter mediation or therapy to work through these tentative points. Where there is an internal struggle, being able to talk this through with a non-judgemental and objective person who is sensitive to your culture may also help. Whether this is done with a therapist from your own community or someone external with the knowledge and insight to not make light of your culture and traditions can be brilliant for helping you and your relationship to move forward and reduce the stress of any future arguments that can occur from not discussing these issues that may be important to you.

Brushing these problems under the carpet rarely works and you might find the all-important differences coming up in the most inconvenient time which is never helpful, so airing your worries with someone trained to help may be the step needed to safeguard your relationship from falling foul to any problems that being in a mixed relationship can bring.

Finding love is a rare beauty that should not be missed. Wherever you have found it, it is worth fighting for regardless of where your partner is from. With a bit of work, you can move forward with the confidence that you have planned and discussed as much as possible the important issues that matter to you and come to an agreement on how you both will deal with them thereby giving you the space to get on with the loving and living.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Marilyn McKenzie BSc, PGDip, MBACP, Couple’s Counsellor

I am Marilyn McKenzie and I am a qualified psychotherapist who has worked with couples, addiction, DV, young offending, grief and bereavement as well as anxiety and depression.

I am integrative in my approach but often work systemically. I have a private practise and work with relate.… Read more

Written by Marilyn McKenzie BSc, PGDip, MBACP, Couple’s Counsellor

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