How to deal with cultural differences in a relationship: Tactics to overcome the barriers

How does culture affect our relationships

What makes people from different cultures feel so attracted to each other? Nowadays it is extremely common to find romantic cross-cultural relationships, and one of the reasons why people choose this path is because of the enormous benefits it brings to their lives.

The truth is that knowing different ways of perceiving the world, social relations, other languages, religions and traditions enriches us, teaches us tolerance, gives us a broader vision of human behaviour and opens our minds.

But not everything can be perfect, because being part of a mixed couple means having to overcome obstacles that are very different from those faced by romantic couples who share the same culture. Having cultural differences in a relationship isn’t always easy, but with the tolerance and respect that love requires, everything is possible.

Quick scroll to section:  How to overcome cultural barriers: Top 10 tips


How does culture shape us?

Part of our identity is developed from our decision making and our lifestyle, but one thing that influences the most in our behaviour patterns and our fundamental beliefs is the culture we grew up with.

Culture is that invisible bond that unites people and that exposes ways of thinking and living. Once we understand our own cultural identity, we’ll realize that the way we react to situations and how we choose to think is partly because of how our culture shaped us to be since we were little.

Why is it important to understand cultural differences in a romantic relationship?

Once you know that all cultures have different ways of seeing things and beliefs that may be totally different from yours, you are one step ahead to understanding cultural differences with your significant other.

One of the most important aspects in a romantic relationship is respect, and even more when it comes to a cross-cultural relationship. When you learn to respect your partner’s culture and accept its differences, you are opening the door to a healthier intimate relationship.

To get to understand your partner’s culture thoroughly, ask questions. You will notice that knowing more about it will make it much easier to accept and understand it.

How does culture affect our loving relationships?

Depending on each culture, since we were kids we were raised with different values and taught to behave in a certain way. Our opinions, behaviours and even our feelings are mediated by a multitude of factors, culture is one of the most important ones to highlight.

Being in a intimate relationship, everything you have been taught is reflected in who you are and how you treat your partner. It may be perfectly normal for you to eat certain types of food, but your partner may find it as an insult. In this case, everything is about communication. Once you start to openly communicate with your partner, you are preventing any future misunderstandings.

Why is understanding cross-cultural communication important?

When you are in a cross-cultural relationship, communication and curiosity are imperative in order to achieve a greater and healthier relationship. 

Curiosity is the ability to dig under the surface and find out what the underlined values are, and that’s how you know how to communicate with your partner. By being genuinely curious you’ll understand the roots and the upbringing of your significant other.

TED TALKS – CROSS CULTURAL COMMUNICTION | PELLEGRINO RICCARDI


What is cross-cultural counselling?

Cross-cultural counselling is the study that emphasizes all those similarities and differences in different cultures. This study establishes that culture plays a very important role in the psychological functioning of each individual.

It investigates the factors that affect each ethnic group, generally seeking evidence of how culture can be taken as a set of variables that affect various aspects of individual behaviour.

Cross-cultural relationship challenges

Lets take a look at some of the common topics:

Overcoming language barriers while dating

Everything is beautiful when love is in the air, but what happens when love is spoken in two different languages? It can be frustrating when you just want to say what’s on your mind, but it can also be really interesting if you show an actual interest in your partner’s culture.

Learn to be patient with each other and don’t let frustrations get the best of you. Instead, have fun while learning a new language! Having a multilingual romantic relationship can be such an enriching and satisfying experience, so embrace the chance to learn from it.

Views on money and spending habits

The way in which money is perceived varies greatly among different cultures. For example, in Chinese culture, it’s very normal to save as much money as possible when buying something, while in American culture they simply don’t have this habit.

Knowing this, it’s good to have a conversation with your partner about what would the best option for both in terms of money. There are couples who choose not to share this aspect of their lives, but if you decide to share your finances with your partner, it is better to talk about it and know their point of view about what is preferable to spend on.

Remember that coming from another culture, you most likely have a different perception about money than your significant other, so make sure that you are both comfortable in this regard.

Why is food an important part of our culture?

In general terms, our upbringing leads the way towards our diets, alcohol consumption, and even the time of day we eat. It’s important to understand what your partner’s used to eat and what are their customs when it comes to food. This way, you learn more about each other’s and it can even be a fun way to enjoy a meal that you have never tried before.

On the other hand, religious differences can also play a major part when it comes to food. It is common to find cultures that don’t eat meat due to their religion, and this can be an important aspect to take into consideration when you are in a cross-cultural relationship.

Don’t be afraid to ask what they like to eat or what are their traditions towards food, you’ll get to know your partner better and respect their decisions when it comes to eating certain types of food.

How to deal with homesickness – Transitioning to a new environment

Once away from a routine and home environment, being homesick is a normal feeling for many people. But there are a lot of things that can make you feel closer to your own culture and your traditions.

Try cooking a traditional meal for your partner that reminds you of your country. This way you’ll feel a little closer to your culture and it will be a pleasant surprise for your partner. Remember to stay in touch with your friends and family back home. Remember your own roots while embracing another culture.

Stereotypical perceptions from other cultures

Most of us have heard stereotypical comments since we can remember, and surprisingly most of them are not true.

Stereotypes sometimes can become racist perceptions of different cultures – Don’t let them define how you see a certain culture. Being in a cross-cultural relationship is a perfect way to break those stereotypes and experience with your own eyes how a person from a different culture goes about daily life.

How to overcome cultural barriers: Top 10 tips

#1: Remaining patient – Be open-minded to change and compromise with your partner while building towards a happy balanced life.

#2: Respect each other’s differences – No two people are the same, be curious about both your partner upbringing and now the current culture has developed. It is possible they could have already experienced many cultural changes before they met you.

#3: Cultural stereotypes – Avoid making assumptions towards your partner beliefs and values. Instead, empower your knowledge towards learning.

#4: Learn to grow together – Never compare yourself to your partner, instead embrace your differences and enjoy what each of you can bring to the relationship.

#5: Visit your partner country – When things are getting serious, plan a visit to your partner’s hometown, ask lots of questions, try the food, visit your partner’s family and embrace the culture as much as possible.

#6: Be aware of cultural meanings – The language used and humour to interact – Do your research first, for example as telling a joke about a goat could be funny in one culture, but highly offensive in another.

Check out our other popular page > How to Approach Humour Across Cultures

#7: When faced with cultural challenges – Remember all the positives that brought you together in the first place. Make a list of all the reasons why you love your partner and another list with points to learn and improve upon.

#8: Educate your friends and family – If your partner means the world to you, your friends and family will be keen to understand more about them too.

Over time, aim to slowly educate your close circle of contacts towards your partner’s culture and way of life. This will help with any changes that you may be adopting towards yourself.

#9: Accept it will take time to adjust – All good things are worth waiting for right? Adjusting towards cultural difference will take time and patience. This will be a journey instead of race, enjoy!

#10: Create your own multicultural balance – Enjoy the best of both worlds to form your own one-of-a-kind set of powerful values. These will help define your relationship, your boundaries, your strengths and weaknesses.

Check out our other popular page > Laura & Thabo | South Africa & UK (Newlywed)