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Expat Tips on Cross-Cultural Relationships

10 July, 2013 12:01  Erin Erin

couple dock sunset Moving to a new country can open you up to a world of new opportunities - and new people. If you are on the hunt for love, thoughts of moving abroad can elicit images of exotic lovers, paradise locals, and spicy romances. Expat origin stories often involve falling in love with a local, or even moving around the world for love.

As fairy tale magical as these "How we met" stories can seem, the honeymoon period can be short in an intercultural relationship. Frustrations with a different culture can manifest within the relationship, and misunderstandings can multiple - especially when another language is involved. Relationships are no fairy tale - they're hard work!

We've covered stories of love abroad with Valentines Around the World, Adventures in Expat Life: Airport Dating, and Date Like a Local, but we have yet to showcase tips from expats loving across borders. We requested tips and advice from expats on Twitter and Facebook and they responded with words of encouragement and advice for all of those looking for love, or looking to stay in love. Finding love abroad is difficult, but holding on to it can be even harder. Check out these expat's tips on cross-cultural relationships and follow their blogs for stories of life and love abroad.

Advice on Love from Expats

Lauren Aloise of Spanish Sabores

Be patient with one another. When communicating in your non-native language small errors or even intonation can lead to misunderstandings. So patience is key while you figure out what the other person is saying! Long walks are the perfect place to discuss anything serious, no distractions and plenty of time to understand your partner's opinions.

Lauren's post on My Spain Story: Meeting Alejandro

Olivia of Not From Here!

I can add that most important thing in cross-cultural relationship is communication, communication and once again communication. To avoid any misunderstandings, don't be afraid to ask. Customs, cultures vary, it might be difficult to get a grip on it all straight away, therefore it's important to talk about it to have a mutual understanding. Cross-cultural relationships are harder to maintain, if the differences aren't too significant it get's easy to get by, but once there's more and more it can get tough. Lot's of patience, lot's of acceptance and a dose of sense of humour - a must!

Olivia's post on Long Distance Relationship - LDR

Russell Ward of In Search of a Life Less Ordinary

My top three tips would be as follows:
1. Be understanding of the other person and their feelings. At one time in the relationship at least one of you will be away from home and you need to provide support and understanding to the other person. It's always easier if you've both been away from home at different points.
2. Be willing to compromise. You need to be prepared to compromise on location at different points in your relationship. You shouldn't really go into a cross-cultural relationship without being prepared for the fact that one day you might need to spend time in the other person's home.
3. Be respectful of the other person's culture. If you're living in your partner's home and maybe not having an easy time of it, the relationship will suffer if you complain about the country, it's culture and it's people constantly. And especially if children are involved - you wouldn't want them growing up hearing negative comments about any one of their parent's homes.

Russell's post on Finding Love When You Least Expect It

Aisha Ashraf of Expatlog

Top tip: COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE. My husband and I are great at saying the same thing but in different ways, leading us to believe we're in dispute when actually we share the same view! The only way to overcome this is through continued attempts to communicate - big egos and sulks do no favours for an expat relationship.
And a close 2nd: you have to remember you're marrying the person, not their family or their culture - you don't need to change (you can't erase your past) & your commitment to one another takes precedence over relationships with family.

Aisha's post on Mixed-Race Family

Garrett of A Change of Underwear

It's important not to blame culture every time you don't see eye to eye. It does come into play, but everybody is different. We all have our own personalities, values, and beliefs and sometimes it can be too easy to just chalk that up to cultural differences, when it's more personal than that.

Garrett's latest post on Time to Change My Underwear

Olga of European Mama

My advice: Don't blame cultural differences on potential problems in your marriage. They could be the reason for these problems but don't have to be and often, the problems lie elsewhere.

Olga's post on And not because he's German: My take on Intercultural relationships

Cat Gaa of Sunshine & Siestascat sunshine and siestas

I have the feeling that bicultural or bilingual relationships have twice the depth, twice the fun, twice the language fumbles and can be twice as rich. My Novio gobbles down turkey and pumpkin pie and I give him a special gift on his saint day. Most of our little jokes are in English, even though we speak almost exclusively in Spanish. It's just more fun when you're willing to laugh at yourself and at your partner, too!

Cat's post on Why I Learned a Language for Love

Tom Le Mesurier of Eat Rio

Enjoy the differences between your two cultures and show an interest. Try to cook the food of your partner's country; learn more about their history, politics and culture.
When you don't like some aspect of your partner's culture, try to communicate your dislike sensitively and avoid being dismissive. Remember that a little compromise will go a long way. Just stating that your way is "obviously better" is not persuasive!

Tom's post on A Little About Me

Caitlin Downs of A Rant, A Rave, and a Little Bit of Everyday Life

*Open Communication:* This should really be on everyone's list whether you are in a cross-cultural relationship or not, but it is even more important to have open communication when you are dealing with different cultures.
For instance, if you don't tell your partner that the way they make the bed or put lemon all over the salad drives you crazy, they won't know. These things are programmed into their being. It isn't just a habit, it is how their family, friends, and everyone else they know was raised! They won't realize that you think it is weird or wrong until you say it.
However, accusing it of being wrong is not the way to go. It isn't *wrong*, just *different. *Ask him instead,* "Why do you do that in that way?"* Your partner will be happy to explain, and then you can explain that you do it a different way and explain your "why" as well. This question isn't accusatory, and it helps you learn more about your partner's culture as well as your own. There are times my husband has asked me "why," and I have to really think about it. It also opens the door for compromise and opens your mind to doing things a little out of your "norm." There are no harbored feelings either, so those annoyances turn into learning opportunities rather than building up into a fight or a blow up.

Caitlin's post on A Recap of Why I’m in Chile and Some Exciting News

R of China Elevator Stories

If your partner doesn't know a lot about your culture, try to explain whenever you think something should be explained. Try to talk about your past – cultural differences aside, you might find out that you have much more in common than you might think. Meet the parents and the family, it will be an eye-opener and show you many aspects of your partner's culture that you might not have known before. If there are some traditions or cultural aspects you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask your partner about it. Last but not least, stay true to yourself. Try to immerse yourself as much as possible in your partner's culture, but don't try to change who you are. Because after all, your partner loves you because of who you are. Also, you can only read so much advice about cross-cultural relationships, in the end, what counts is that you find your own way of how to deal with the challenges of a cross-cultural relationship on an individual person-to-person basis.

R's post on Falling in love over potato soup

Gary of Educated Abroad

In short, the best tip I can offer those in cross-cultural relationships would be to make a genuine effort to learn the other persons language, or at least have an elementary understranding of their language. After sixteen years of marriage, I've yet to reach a level of fluency with my wife's mother tongue, German. She, however, is fluent in my native language, English.

Gary's blog, Educated Abroad

Making Intercultural Love Work

What big tips can we take away from these intercultural relationship experts? A few things came up again and again...


Aren't these things present in any relationship, whether it be a friendship or your once-in-a-lifetime true love? What makes in intercultural relationship work is the same as any great relationship. And successfully living abroad is all about forming great relationships. So let's go out there and spread the love!

To hear more about the trials and tribulations of long-distance love, follow along with English soon-to-be expat Molly who is working on joining her American husband in The Move to America.

And you can find more stories of cross-cultural love can be found within the expat blogs listed in the BlogExpat Directory. If you are looking for friends, fellow expats, or maybe something more - connect with other expats and locals on the expat forum.

Do you have some advice you would like to share? Leave a comment below!



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Patience, Communication, and Realism [Reply]

I've been in two cross-cultural relationships, one was an epic failure but my current one is the best relationship I've ever had. With the right person, their culture and yours will harmonize with each other. However, there are several rules you must keep in mind:

1. Be Patient - As you should be always, but especially in a cross-cultural relationship. When navigating each other's worlds, both of you must understand that your partner is not native to that culture. If they do something that is embarrassing or rude in your culture, you must just be patient and understand it is cultural and not personal.

2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate - When hurt feelings occur, be calm and discuss it, both of you must come at your communication problems knowing that it may be a cultural or language issue.

3. Be Realistic - Not every problem you will have is going to be a cultural difference, sometimes someone is just mean or rude or even abusive. You do not have to patient when your safety (either emotionally, physically, or financially) is compromised.

4. Avoid Being Ethnocentric - Do not place your culture above theirs and judge their worldview based on your own.

  Kristance Harlow     14 Jul 2013, 15:29