Love, Lindsay

'Can Intercultural Relationships Work In The Long-Run?'

All your relationship questions — answered right here, right now.

Lindsay here, A Plus's resident relationship guru/columnist. While I may not know everything, I do know a lil something about love and our seemingly endless pursuit of it. Having written dozens of A Plus articles about dating, relationships, and sex, I'm ready and willing to investigate all of your romantically-inclined questions (submit here!) — because I've asked them myself. What I hope to bring to A Plus's readers is a sex-positive, body-positive, and most importantly, you-positive perspective on modern love. Consider Love, Lindsay your digital Cupid. 

This question originally appeared as a submission to a recent Reddit AMA I hosted. Because I thought the subject was so relevant and relatable to the intercultural interactions we all experience — including in our romantic lives — I thought it was important and necessary to use this platform to address it in full: 

"Hi! What are your thoughts on perfectly healthy, happy relationships that are despised by the partners' family members (due to race, religion, etc)? How do these relationships usually pan out in the long-term?"

For the purpose of answering this question to the best of my ability within the linguistic confines of this single column, I'm using intercultural relationships as a blanket, if imperfect, term to describe romantic relationships between two people with differing backgrounds. That said, I want to acknowledge that some differences in identity may be more difficult to bridge than others, and I'm happy to devote more time to answer specific questions from real-life intercultural couples in subsequent columns, whenever requested.

More than ever before, people have the freedom to date whoever they want — regardless of their race, religion, culture, etc. With this additional freedom, however, there may come additional difficulties that every intercultural couple may face at one time or another. 

Though I can only speak from my experience as the product of an interreligious couple, I do believe there are some general tips many couples can use to reconcile two different backgrounds into one joint relationship. To begin, compromises are totally doable, just as they are in every relationship. And while making those compromises isn't always easy, I've seen firsthand how much they're worth it. 

Because this is such an important — and delicate — topic, I've enlisted the expertise of  Dr. Lubna Somjee, a clinical and health psychologist who specializes in intercultural relationships. According to her, the unique difficulties that come with intercultural relationships, most commonly disapproval from family "is likely to exacerbate any pre-existing relationship issues and can cause the relationship to break down." 

"A partner from a culture where family of origin is most important may experience significant stress, and feel conflicted between respect for their family of origin and their respect for their partner," she explains. "Many people assume that people in interracial or interreligious relationships experience no bias/prejudice. Science teaches us that we all hold bias — it's what we do with that bias [that's] important." 

And that's exactly why, if everything inside your relationship is perfectly healthy and happy (mazel), you already have the most important tools to make it work together. "These relationships do have the potential to last long-term," Dr. Somjee says. "However, every couple is different, and will respond differently to disapproval depending on a number of factors." Whatever these factors are, remember they are mainly external elements having nothing to do with your actual connection to your partner. But if these outside obstacles factor into the internal relationship, it's easy to start doubting you and your partner's future. 

To work through these external issues, sit down with your partner to discuss the negotiable and non-negotiable aspects of each person's identity. For example, if it's an interreligious relationship, would one person be willing to convert for the other? On the flipside, is one person willing to cut ties with a certain family member who is unaccepting of their partner? If you're planning on having kids, would one culture and/or identity take precedence over another when raising them? If not, how would you introduce them to your different backgrounds so they can choose however they'd like to self-identify? The answers to these questions can help any intercultural couple determine whether or not they have a long-term future.

Once you've determined these things (easier said than done, I know), do your best to present a united front to your families. "Depending on circumstances, if your families allow it, try to continue to talk with them about your partner, stand up for them, and also remember, set boundaries for family consistently," Dr. Somjee says. "Try and connect them around common interests as a first step in the hopes it can lead to real and substantive discussions. It may be that while they tolerate your partner, they may never truly accept them." While in some cases families overcome their prejudices and accept the relationship, others may choose to sever ties with their family member over it. 

Regardless of your family's reaction, Dr. Somjee says it's "critical" for intercultural relationship survival to find support from others. "This can include friends or other family members (locally or long-distance), support groups or local social or interest groups."  

Throughout all of this, keep the lines of communication open and responsive to one another so neither person ends up harboring hidden resentment. Every relationship is about compromise, but perhaps no type of relationship better exemplifies this than intercultural ones. 

I grew up watching my parents negotiate and compromise, and ultimately agree, on the kind of household they wanted to create for their children. It taught me the importance of an equal partnership, which is something intercultural couples do admirably well because, well, they have to. And even though each partner has something deeply personal and important at stake, when it comes down to it, the love they share means they have more in common than they do different.  When all the external stuff is stripped away, you're just people who, in this crazy, messed up, divided world, somehow managed to find each other. 

Love, Lindsay 

Cover image via Filipe Almeida on Unsplash

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