I met my husband in my late twenties. He is half Swedish and half American who is very proud of his culturally enriched Swedish origin.
My heritage is Chinese Vietnamese. When I moved to the states over a decade ago, I brought with me many traditions from my home country...those that make me who I am today but may not serve me well in my interracial marriage. I’ll tell you why.
Building a relationship takes hard work. Structuring an interracial marriage adds its own twists and flavors to the existing challenge. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the demand of picking and choosing which cultural values that you and your spouse must compromise over for the life of your marriage, you are not alone.
I’ve been there. Many couples have been there. There is hope!
Here is how you tackle the challenges of your interracial marriage:
1. Create a map for your couple and family dynamic.
Think of it as creating the blueprint of your marriage. Learn what family unions looks like in your spouse’s culture vs. yours. Learn how your in-laws operate their household vs. what your parents do. Explore what you like and don’t like about the way you connect with your siblings and parents as well as the way your spouse interacts with his family. Is it so much closeness that it’s easy for one person to speak for the other? Or is it so disconnected that it appears as if people don’t care?
It’s like choosing the interior and exterior design of your house. Discuss with your spouse what cultural and familial values you want to see and what you want to exclude from your “couple map.”
2. Discuss your view of relationship roles with your spouse.
Imagine what it’s like to be out in the ocean on a ship whose crew members are confused of their roles and the captain is nowhere to be found. It would suck, wouldn’t it? You might feel a little helpless, frustrated, or even afraid.
Be aware of how your culture views male vs. female roles and its impact on your interpretation of who should do what in your marriage. Is it acceptable that you are the bread winner and your husband is a stay-at-home parent? If yes, does this arrangement still cause conflict just because it collides with your beliefs? I don’t know what your culture preference is, but I know it’s a big no in my culture. So, make sure you and your spouse spend time discussing your ideal relationship roles to remove any unpleasant surprises.
3. Find a common ground for your marriage expectations.
In my culture, it’s very common that the parents live with the eldest child. The oldest sibling is also expected to take care of everyone in the family. Loyalty is equal to providing financial support whenever your family members need it. This is a raw spot for me in my marriage even though my husband and I had this discussion very early on during our dating relationship.
This can be a huge deal breaker if left unaddressed. So, I urge you to have clear communication with your fiancée or spouse about your marriage expectations. Ask each other questions like: “How is money handled in our marriage?” “How do we go about raising children?” and “Are we expected to take care of your parents/siblings and if so, to what extent?” Remember, exploring and discussing difficult areas of your relationship now will save you the headache in the long run.
4. Create your own rituals for your relationship, especially those for the holidays.
Did you know that the Chinese often show their generosity through the preparation of a 9 to 12 dish course for the big holidays? My fond memories include being a part of 30 something or more family members and relatives gathering and sharing good food. On the contrary, our holidays spent with my in-laws are held in a close-knit group setting with delicious, traditional Swedish dishes as a way of honoring the family’s heritage.
I adore the contrast of my culture vs. his. The question I had for myself and my husband in the past was “How can we create our own rituals for the holidays that honor our upbringings, yet with a distinct trait of who we are in our couple relationship?”
If yours is a blended family, this becomes an even more important topic to discuss with your spouse so that your children don’t feel torn by the disparity of loyalty between the parents.
As you read through this blog, you may recognize by now that these four pillars of an interracial marriage are also the essential elements of any successful couple relationship. However, because interracial couples bring into their marriage the uniqueness of their different ethnic backgrounds, these challenges needed to be tackled at the top of your to-do list.
When I provide premarital counseling, these four pillars are the core foundation of what I build upon in helping my couples prepare for the success of their future. If you’re struggling to navigate through the huddle of your interracial marriage, talk to a therapist. Reach out and take your first step in helping you and your relationship!
If you'd like to learn more about working with Michelle at Millennial Life Counseling, check out her bio and availability at our Dallas office here!