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A black man pushes a baby stroller with his Persian wife on his arm, and as they walk down the street, they barely turn a head. Media technology has opened us up to different cultures, making them less foreign and more familiar. Interracial marriage is no longer a curious taboo. We’ve found that as humans, we have more similarities than differences, and that love is, indeed, color blind.
Yet, although external societal pressures have eased considerably, interracial couples still face unique challenges in maintaining their marriages. Cultural lifestyles, customs and habits can clash, causing misunderstanding. Oftentimes, each spouse isn’t fully aware of the adjustments that need to take place.
Some of the key potentially problematic areas include:
-How to raise their children. Some cultures are more lenient while others are strict when it comes to child-rearing. Some expect the fathers to play a dominant role while in other cultures, the mothers make the rules for their children.
-Religious beliefs. Where will the couple worship? Will they worship together or separately? Which faith will their children be taught? Are there unacceptable beliefs on either side that will cause problems?
-In-law relationships. In some cultures, it is expected that the firstborn son’s wife cares for his aging mother. Some also expect financial support. Will the new spouse live up or down to the in-laws expectations and can both spouses accept that?
-Money and finances. Who is expected to bring in the money? Who manages it? Will this cause any resentment?
-Sexual relations. Some cultures are open about sexuality while others more reticent. What is taboo in one country may be revered in another.
-Food. Believe it or not, even the more obvious areas like food and eating can present problems. My former brother-in-law refused to eat anything other than meat and potatoes. My Asian sister had a rough time when there were family gatherings. Of course, it was not a cause of their eventual divorce, but they surely missed out on a great way to bond.
-Cultural expectations about marriage and roles. If roles are forced to change, will each spouse adapt accordingly or will it cause inner turmoil?
Yet, mixed marriages also can bring new experiences that add dimension to the relationship. Couples find that they receive…
-A full-immersion lesson about another culture. Interracial marriage partners often learn a new language, experience fascinating customs, taste new foods and travel to foreign countries.
-An interesting relationship. When couples have too much in common, longtime marrieds sometimes complain of staleness and boredom. Spouses from different backgrounds view the world in a different way. Seeing things through his or her eyes gives you a fresh, new perspective.
-Beautiful offspring. This is not a scientific theory, but widening the gene pool seems to result in aesthetically attractive children (and yes, I know beauty is subjective!)
-Bilingual children. A full-immersion lesson for the spouse also benefits the children. Interracial couples are most likely to raise bi- or multilingual children who gains from this exposure to wider cultural awareness and new languages. These gains often reflect in their academic achievement in school as well as their social skills.
When people enter into mixed marriages, they expect to make some adjustments. But as the thrill of the initial romance dims, can they continue to make concessions? If one spouse insists living only one culture’s practices to the exclusion of the other, problems are more likely to arise. And it doesn’t have to be one’s own.
A Korean-born wife I know struggles with the fact that her husband insists on their maintaining a “Korean” home. He loves her culture so much that he wants their children to hear only Korean and eat only Korean foods. Ju, on the other hand, is anxious to assimilate into the American culture. She tries to learn English from her American girlfriends to the dismay of her spouse. She worries about how her children are being handicapped with English language deficits before they enter public school in the US.
Successful mixed marriages celebrate both cultures. “We never thought of it as giving up our own culture but opening up to include another,” said Laura, a Malaysian friend of mine who married an American. “It isn’t a matter of either-or but both!”
My own husband thought it odd to see the Thanksgiving table laden with the roasted turkey complete with trimmings, alongside the sushi and raw fish. Mashed potatoes or rice? Both! And now, he just laughs and digs in.
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