This article has been written by
Christine Redpath

Health Writer

How to Flourish in a Cross-Cultural Relationship - Making Your Relationship Work

Cross-cultural relationships can be wonderful, but it should be acknowledged from the get-go just how important the culture of each partner is. One should never discount it as insignificant to the relationship. While it is noble to state – and you undoubtedly mean it – that you aren’t prejudiced against your partner’s culture, and love them despite (or perhaps because of) your national differences, you should also take into account the fact that your partner’s culture has formed them, shaped and nurtured their identity, and will affect their behaviour and attitudes in a manner about which you should not be blasé . Similarly, you may find your own preconceptions and manner of doing things challenged by a partner to whom these things are alien. Cross cultural relationships can be stimulating, deep, loving, and full of surprises – but only when differences are acknowledged rather than dismissed as unimportant, understood and accepted, or mitigated by loving compromise. When this fails to happen, it may be time to seek the aid of a counsellor who will be able to help you work through your differences.

The Danger of Stereotyping
Cultural stereotypes can be insidious, and may have a profoundly negative effect upon relationships. Imagine that you are in France because you have fallen in love with a French person, but now you find yourself concerned about their fidelity. You know deep down in your heart that your fears are unfounded, but you nonetheless just can't shake the notion that they're playing away. You have fallen foul of a deeply ingrained cultural stereotype - and you would not be the first. The French have a reputation for romance which may work in their favour at the very beginning of a cross-cultural relationship, but often has precisely the opposite effect when things start getting more serious. Latent suspicion regarding the faithfulness of a partner from a culture widely considered incorrigibly flirtatious and sex-mad can be brought to bear at the most minor and unjustified of provocations.

Cultural Clashes
Genuine cultural differences can also prove a more awkward barrier than many expect. Something which may be considered a perfectly platonic norm for a French person – greeting an acquaintance with a kiss, for example – might be viewed as shockingly flirtatious by someone from a less demonstrative culture. On the other hand, personal displays of affection in public are thought inconsiderate by cultures such as that of the British – an attitude which a French person may erroneously take to indicate standoffishness, coldness, or even a sense of shame in the relationship. On a more subtle level, different cultures frequently apply different value systems to things like love, commitment, friends, freedom, money and so on which can cause conflicts if the value systems clash. Having been brought up saturated in a particular culture, it is easy to start throwing around words like ‘wrong’ when faced with an attitude which completely contradicts what you were always taught. This is understandable, but damaging. One cannot ‘correct’ another’s culture, and one should not try. In most cases, a little simple communication and compromise could help - but sometimes the differing values are too drastic to simply ignore. For example, safe sex and STD testing are of the utmost import to those from most Western cultures yet, as Kwikmed point out, many other nations abhor the idea of wearing condoms due to 'macho culture' or even religion. Issues like this are sensitive, and must be resolved in a sensitive manner. Compromise and communication are clearly key, here, but often this does not occur until emotional barriers have gone up and the relationship is past the point where a bit of simple cultural exposition could help.

Culture, Identity, and Personal Differences
Of course, all relationships have a cross-cultural element, in that each individual is coming at the relationship from their own angle, with their own perspectives and ways of doing things. The simple fact is that people have differences, and sometimes these differences can be hard for others to understand. This is not to say that they cannot be worked through and resolved – sometimes two people just need to accept and make their peace with certain aspects of their partner’s character. Other times, one partner may need to understand that their behaviour is hurtful and damaging to the other, and adjust accordingly. In all cases, communication is crucial – but this cannot happen effectively unless both parties are willing to abandon their ‘cultural’ identity momentarily and attempt to see things from either the point of view of the other partner, or at least from a neutral position.

Seeing Things From a New Perspective
It is very, very hard to step out of your cultural conditioning and attempt to see things from the point of view of another. It is even harder to step out of your own personal identity and attempt to study the world through the eyes of a partner. However, doing so will reap enormous benefits for your relationship. Sometimes in these cases what is needed is a neutral mediator who can help to ease both of you out of your personal comfort zones and get you to look with fresh eyes at the behaviours and attitudes you are displaying. This can be a difficult emotional process, but once you and your partner understand the emotional affect you are having upon one another, you can begin to explain in a helpful manner your cultural or personal motivations for your actions and attitudes. Then you can move forward in your relationship with enhanced comprehension and appreciation of the other, and perhaps with a few helpful compromises worked out for good measure.

Copyright 2003-2017 COUNSELLING IN FRANCE. All rights reserved.