Crucial Factors for Success
Studies show that the most fulfilled intercultural couples are those who dedicate themselves to loving and serving each other, living a life committed to God, setting and achieving goals, and reaching out to others. The intercultural couples that I’ve interviewed also have listed a variety of other elements that they consider vital to marital success, including:
- a true, personal relationship with Jesus Christ
- a strong commitment to the marriage
- open communication
- a willingness to sacrifice one’s personal preferences for the sake of the other
- sensitivity to each other’s needs
- a positive attitude toward each other’s cultures and families
- the sharing of common dreams, goals, and interests
- a spirit of adventure
- a sense of humor
- a willingness to learn each other’s languages and cultural ways
- verbally building each other up rather than tearing each other down
- the dedication to stay in the marriage and work out problems when times get tough
Make it a point to sit down with a pen and paper and think honestly about your fiancé or spouse with regard to the above categories. Take notes. How does your loved one fit (or not fit) into each category? Be honest; it won’t help either of you if you gloss over problems at this point in your relationship. No person is perfect; all of us have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important for you to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of both yourself and your significant other.
Be Ready to Make Sacrifices
Recently, I sat down and talked with a friend about some of the changes that have occurred in my life and in my marriage over the past year. My husband and I have put in offers on two homes, but we felt a lack of peace about both and ended up not purchasing either one. We were forced to go back to the drawing board and begin looking all over again, which was not an easy decision to make.
In addition, we recently found out that we are expecting our first child. We are absolutely thrilled about this new development in our lives, but it is requiring us to make some important financial decisions and cutbacks in our spending. In addition, it has affected my work and writing schedule and has given me a reason to stop, reflect, and pray about my values, my priorities, my marriage, my writing career, and my family.
As I talked with my friend, I told her that the process of pressing on in intercultural marriage often feels like taking “three steps forward, two steps back.” Sometimes processes and decisions that seem so simple for other couples to make, like buying a home, become a long, emotional, and drawn-out ordeal for intercultural couples, and no one can pinpoint the precise reasons why. Divergent values, worldviews, priorities, different ways of making decisions, varying attitudes toward money, and more can make it difficult for intercultural couples to agree on an outcome that is mutually satisfying. Intercultural marriages can feel like much more work, and can require much more personal sacrifice, than non-intercultural partnerships.
But this line of thinking can be unproductive…
I meet just as many non-intercultural couples who face disillusionment and frustration as I do intercultural couples. I know just as many same-culture couples who have divorced as I do intercultural couples — in fact, probably more. Part of the difference may be that intercultural couples usually expect to have cultural and communication issues as part of the fabric of their marriages, so they prepare to deal with those issues from the beginning and commit themselves more deeply to the relationship. Same-culture couples often don’t expect to have issues related to communication, intimacy, money, child rearing, and more, so they may not be prepared to deal with conflicts on these issues.
Consider Your Marriage Your Homeland
Many intercultural spouses, especially those who have left their home, family, and friends to move to a foreign culture, begin to consider their marriage their new “homeland” — a haven of love, safety, and security.
One author notes that intercultural couples’ commitment to their marriages is often strengthened by pride. She writes, “Many of these marriages have taken place against the advice of family or friends. . . . [The spouses] need to prove to everyone (sometimes themselves included) that they made the right decision. They don’t want to admit that they might have made a mistake — that everyone else might have been right and face the spoken or implied ‘I told you so’s’ back home. So when faced with the prospect of marital breakdown, they have another try at working it out.”
Intercultural couples tend to form a unique bond — a special identity together that is quite different from the identity of each individual. This bond also provides couples with an impetus to stay together. Dugan Romano writes, “There might also be a reluctance to give up the new identity, the uniqueness the couple acquired through the marriage. It’s hard to go back to being just like everyone else, especially for those who need to be different, who perhaps were escaping from something they didn’t like in their own culture by marrying out of it. Often the same motives that led them into the marriage in the first place keep them working at it when the relationship goes sour.”
Keep a Positive Attitude
The most crucial factor for success is keeping a positive attitude about your spouse and your marriage. At times, doing so will require deep dependence on the Lord through prayer. Part of honoring your spouse is treating that person with love and respect even when you don’t feel like it.
The most successful couples I interviewed were optimistic people who had a positive outlook on life and felt confident about the way they were living their lives. They felt that their marriages were special, and they worked hard to keep their relationships happy and healthy. They prayed together and were committed to having homes that were founded on the principles of God’s Word. They were quick to name all of the benefits they had gained from their marriages, and they were committed to giving back to others. They were flexible and tolerant with their spouses and gave them room to grow and change.
From Your Intercultural Marriage: A Guide to a Healthy, Happy Relationship by Marla Alupoaicei.
Copyright © 2009 by Marla Alupoaicei. Published by Moody Press, Used with Permission.