An old Italian proverb advises men looking to get married and settle down to find both oxen and wives in their own home villages. The idea is that life is easier when spouses come from the same sort of cultural background. Today, in our multicultural world, it’s becoming increasingly common for couples to come from different cultures. So, how does the ancient wisdom hold up?
It is true that bicultural relationships face additional challenges. All couples have their tricky moments when they just don’t see eye to eye, and when you bring two possibly very different cultures into the mix, it can make things even more complicated. Everything we do, say, and think, is influenced by the culture we grew up in. That means that our attitudes to a whole range of things, such as alcohol consumption, gender roles, work norms—and really almost anything you can think of—are influenced by our cultural background. Add children into the mix, and it all gets even more complicated, as different cultures can have distinctly different views on child-rearing and the best way to care for babies. Couples who are having difficulties in their relationship can find that things are made worse by coming from different cultural backgrounds, and that the advice they are getting from their respective families is often contradictory.
On the other hand, bicultural relationships also offer opportunities that monocultural relationships never can. You have the chance to learn all about a new culture from the inside. You will become more flexible, more open-minded, and more willing to critically examine your own assumptions about life. If you have children, with minimal effort you will be able to give them the precious gift of being citizens of the world from birth. They will grow up being able to easily navigate two different codes of behaviour and, quite likely, two or even more languages. This will give them social and linguistic skills that will be useful in their personal and professional lives and will enhance their emotional intelligence.
So how can bicultural couples ensure that their relationship will thrive, despite what might be significant cultural difference? It helps to ensure that your fundamental values are the same or similar, to have open and frank conversations about what you expect from one another, and to be prepared to compromise a lot more than you might expect to if you had just married the girl or boy next door. When you have a disagreement (as we all do at times) it’s worth taking a time out to assess how much of your mutual crossness might be influenced by the fact that you were raised in different cultures.
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