Being a therapist, relationship coach, and someone in a multicultural and interfaith marriage, I talk about relationships a lot. How to make them work well, how to get past challenges, how to maintain them and build a family.
Many multicultural and interfaith couples often feel confused, stuck, or overwhelmed on how to get past challenges and move their relationship forward. They may end up arguing over and over about the same issue, have a partner that doesn’t want to talk about challenges, or feel like everything will fall apart if they talk about certain topics. This may surprise you, but this isn’t because they have a bad relationship or don’t really care about each other. Most often they just need more skills, techniques, information, and resources to build the happy and healthy relationship they want.
Multicultural and interfaith couples that are having doubts or concerns need know there are many ways to figure it all out. I am Jewish American and I am happily married to a Guyanese American Muslim man. We have plenty of cultural differences and have had to work through many issues that have come up throughout our journey together. Like many couples, some of our most common conflicts and differences are finances, child rearing, household responsibilities, and communication styles. We also have a two-year-old son and are expecting our second child, that we are raising in both religions and cultures. But of course there is no roadmap or guidebook for this, so we are navigating it as we go.
We may have different perspectives on certain issues that have been shaped by our cultures, upbringing, and faith; but ultimately, navigating these challenges together have also made us stronger as a couple. Here’s what you need to know to have the relationship you want:
1. Understanding each other’s backgrounds: Become knowledgeable and informed about your partner’s culture and religion not only from them but from others, including family, friends, literature, clergy, and community.
2. Find a community: Find and involve yourself in a community that is inclusive and supportive of your relationship and where you can interact with other couples and families just like you. This may be a religious institution, meetup group, or community organization.
3. Prepare for many conversations about children and in-laws: The more you communicate about it, the more progress you will make. Have patience, listen to stories of how other couples have done it, and be creative.
4. Use open communication: Learn which techniques and skills work for you and your partner to get over the hurdles, be supportive so you both can be vulnerable in hard conversations, get your partner that isn’t interested in talking to open up, and break negative patterns that keep you going in circles.
5. Participate in each other’s family traditions, rituals, and practices: Enjoy sharing holidays your partner celebrates, time with each other’s extended family, and learning more about each other through these experiences.
6. Grow together: As individuals our lives are fluid and our beliefs and practices may change over time. Share your insights, ideas, and changes you experience with your partner so you can grow together and not apart.
7. Acknowledge that all relationships take work: Even though from the outside looking in, it may seem that relationships where people have similar backgrounds are easier, remember that they experience many of the same growing pains that we do in our mixed relationship. Our route to overcoming it may need to be different, but it doesn’t mean that it is any easier. Healthy relationships take work but it’s almost always worth it.
8. Remember you are not alone: There are other couples having a similar experience even if you don’t know them. Stay positive and reach out for help if you are feeling stuck.
9. Forge a new path: Future generations will have it much easier than we do. There will be more conversations, examples, and resources available and about multicultural and interfaith relationships and families. Don’t be afraid to be creative, try something new, or push against a traditional boundary.
You are leading the way now, so if at any point it gets tough, think about the couples that will come after you and be grateful for your experiences, wisdom, and help.