My husband and I have been together for just over 6 years. He is Ghanaian, I am Australian. He has never married before, I was previously married for 28 years. He has no children, I have 2 children and 2 grandchildren. I am 50, he is 42. He was a muslim when we met and I’m an atheist. I was a vegetarian and he a butcher. We had less in common than anyone I can think of.
We have a very happy marriage because we make it work. We have our moments that’s for sure and believe me when I say it’s not all sunshine and rose petals but we’re incredibly happy and in love.
We moved interstate just 17 days after meeting each other and moved to Africa less than 5 months later, so we really did it the hard way. We took a brand new relationship where neither of us had experienced a cross cultural relationship in the midst of a ridiculously ugly divorce and threw it into West Africa! Who does that? We always say that if we can survive that, we can survive anything.
I have seen many relationships begin and end in the time we’ve been together and sadly cross cultural relationships are notorious for not lasting the distance. There are many reasons why this happens and while I’m no relationship expert, I’d like to share some things that I feel have helped us.
- Try to get a handle on each other’s cultures and what each of you values the most. This takes time and patience and you can’t possibly cover all of the things that are important to you until they crop up. Patience is critical here as things that come up for both of you will be in the moment, often unexpected and full of emotion.
- Compromise compromise compromise. You both won’t always be able to get things your way and you will both have to shift to accommodate each other. The pendulum might swing one way in some things and the other in others. When trying to work out which way to swing it, discuss what’s really important to you on this particular occasion and decide which of you can be more flexible, if it’s more or less important or not such a big deal to you or your partner. Establish your non-negotiables very clearly. For example my husband doesn’t celebrate christmas and we do. Our compromise is that he’s part of our family celebrations, enjoys the family day and eats with us, but he doesn’t participate in gift giving. This one was simple, others are much more complex and take a lot of discussion and negotiation. Compromise.
- If you have a misunderstanding, always assume language first. So many things can be misconstrued and miscommunicated and the slightest change of a word or two can completely change the context for the other person. Early on we had several misunderstandings that occurred simply by the use of one word. Always get clear on what your partner is trying to say or what message you are trying to convey before either of you take offence or heated emotions come into play.
- Family values are SO different that it could fill a book. Western family expectations are incredibly ridiculously crazily amazingly (get the idea?) different to those of developing countries. Get a handle on it and really understand the expectations of each others families on the both of you. Trust me, this one is HUGE.
- Did I mention compromise? Oh yeah I did, but just in case the point wasn’t clear – compromise, BOTH of you. Too often it goes one way and that’s why some relationships don’t work, it has to go both ways.
- Expect to be challenged. All relationships take work and are worth the effort, no marriage is easy but cross culture adds a whole level of complication that others don’t.
- Expect to be happy. Just like any ordinary relationship, you were attracted to each other for a reason and that reason doesn’t change no matter the pressures you each face.
I could write a whole lot more, but I like to keep my posts brief and these are just a few things that I’ve found work for us. The key to success is to find out what makes you both tick, what ticks you both off and doing the best you can every day.
Life is short. Live well. Love hard. Kiss lots. Love is beautiful. ❤