Ethnically Mixed Couples Face Challenges: Tips on How to Make their Union Work

Racially, religiously, ethnically, culturally or nationality mixed couples, all face challenges. Ultimately, it is an issue of cultural norms and attitudes.

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Source: Pexels

Most Americans Are of Mixed Ethnicity

Although the US Census only recognizes seven racial or ethnic categories: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Amerindian/Alaska native, native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and mixed ethnicity, the reality is a little different.

2019 U.S. Census Bureau Estimates

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By JC Scull
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Source: Photo by fauxels from Pexels

Rates of Failures

The Following are statistics to keep in mind:

  • Interfaith marriages are more likely to end up in divorce than same-faith couples. In fact, even among those interfaith couples that remain married, dissatisfaction with their union has been measured to be higher by a statistically significant margin.
  • While there are no figures kept on success rates of transnational marriages, it is an accepted fact that these unions face a broad range of difficulties, which include cultural, religious and language issues. Consequently, they too face a higher incidence of failure than intranational marriages.
  • Marriages with deep cultural differences, which can be a combination of any of the above, but could also include regional, political, or just plain outlook on life in general, can also pose challenges, perhaps leading to increased risks of failure.
  • Asian males married to white females are 59% more likely to divorce.
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Source: Cindy Baffour at unsplash

Understanding the Challenges

The challenges facing mixed marriages are vast and varied. The following are but a few of the different cultural, religious, ethnic, and racial perceptions and attitudes that we should keep in mind.

  • Be aware of nuclear vs. extended family structures. While the majority of families in the US live under a nuclear structure of father, mother, and children, other countries, especially in Asia and Latin America are organized in an extended family model. Extended families typically consist of three or more generations living either under the same roof or in extremely close proximity. While the father and mother of a nuclear family are independent of parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other family members, extended families operate in a more interdependent fashion. In China, for instance, it is quite common for parents to delegate a lot of the responsibility of raising children to grandparents, in order that both spouses can work the long hours demanded by many employers.
  • Extended family members could be perceived as intrusive and overly dependent on first-generation couples. Overall, the expectations from extended families and the pressures they’re able to put on a more independent espouse can be overwhelming.
  • Language barriers can represent challenges to communication. Even when both spouses speak the same language, this may not be the case between you and your partner’s family. On the other hand, when two spouses are not able to communicate openly because of language skill incompatibility, simple issues that could be easily resolved by just talking to each other could escalate into a major dispute. Visiting your partner’s home country and spending time with his/her family can be an arduous affair.
  • Interracial marriages will bare mixed-race children who could be ostracized in certain countries outside of the US, and even in some regions or neighborhoods in this country. For instance, Eurasian children in China can experience discrimination in smaller tier 2 or tier 3 cities, where provincial attitudes prevail. In Japan, an Hāfu is a person of mixed Japanese and other races. Discrimination and stereotyping against Hāfus occur based on how differently people perceive their identity, behavior, and appearance as apart from a typical Japanese person.
  • Culture shapes people’s behaviors and attitudes. Changing the way people have been formed from a very early age is difficult. Bending and compromising require a lot of negotiating. Additionally, as we age, we typically return to old habits or social attitudes.
  • The sense of loyalty and faithfulness within marriage varies with different cultures and national origins.
  • Different cultures, nationalities, and religions teach different values and priorities. This could become an issue not only at the beginning of a marriage but especially after children are born and parents begin to teach them moral and ethical approaches toward life.
  • Nationalistic pride can become problematic when couples from two countries with disparate political or world views are involved. The notion of inferior or superior nationality could be a point of contention if this feeling were to occur.
  • If a spouse helps the other gain citizenship or residency in a host country through matrimony, feelings that one partner owes the other one something could eventually drive a wedge through the union.
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Source: Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Do’s and Don’ts

The following are actions you should consider taking:

  • Make sure norms and expectations are clearly defined. Researching online is an easy endeavor in today’s age of Google, so there are no excuses for being uninformed. If you do not have a computer, most local libraries will make desktops available to visitors.
  • Discuss the positives and negatives of each culture. Identify their strengths and weakness. Look for features in each culture that could represent potential friction, as well as those that are acceptable.
  • Remember that you don’t just marry your spouse. People always marry each other’s families as well. Research and study other culture’s family dynamics. Nuclear family versus extended family structure is usually a good place to start. Ask questions about your partner’s family in particular. Are they the intrusive or domineering type? Are they overly religious or more secular? Simple questions like: How will they accept me? What can I do to make them feel at ease? Are there particular times of the year that are observed more than others? What are the expectations during family meals? Do not take anything for granted. Relationships with your spouse’s family can be explosive or wonderful. Aim for the wonderful.
  • Challenge false beliefs and assumptions whenever they arise. It is important to do this with your mate as well as with the families on both sides of the aisle. Make sure that belief systems are clarified and understood.
  • Adjust and adapt to each other’s culture. Compromise and communicate, even when it requires humility. Work together to make changes when needed. Look for mutual solutions to problems.
  • Be patient as you and your partner adapt to new norms and attitudes. Do not try to correct or prod each other into forcefully complying with one-sided cultural norms. The change will come in good time.

Written by

I write about culture, international trade, and history. Taught international business at two universities in Beijing, China.

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