The playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, "The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished." Intercultural couples know this like no one else!
You may already be committed to an intercultural marriage, or you may be considering marrying a person from a different country, culture, or ethnicity. If so, these eight tips will empower you and your significant other to build a healthy, happy marriage on the firm foundation of Christ.
1. Communicate with grace. In Colossians 4:6, the apostle Paul wrote, "Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone." Be proactive about discussing your expectations, needs, and wants with each other. My husband, David, and I have discovered that it's always best to ask questions first, especially regarding important decisions, family matters, and emotionally charged issues. Don't assume that you know what your loved one will say or do in a particular situation. And keep in mind that important events and holidays can stir up trouble due to conflicting expectations and worldviews. One Korean woman, who is married to an American man, says, "Sometimes we have conflicting ideas about holidays, and I've learned to tell my husband what I expect ahead of time so that I'm not disappointed when he doesn't read my mind."
2. Discuss your finances and your goals for giving, spending, and saving. Be clear about your expectations regarding providing support for one or both families, as this is a common practice for intercultural couples. David and I have made many sacrifices in order to provide financially for his family, including waiting seven years to purchase a home and start our own family. But we've also gained blessings and rejoiced because we were able to help them with their needs. Pray together about your finances. Most important, establish a budget and stick to it. Hebrews 13:5 says, "Don't love money; be satisfied with what you have." Christian financial planning books like Your Money Map by Howard Dayton and The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey will help you navigate the budgeting process and create a practical plan for achieving financial freedom.
3. Ask yourself honestly if you love the person for who he or she is right now, not for who you hope he or she will become in the future. Don't simply marry someone because you think he or she has the potential to be a great person (or a committed Christian). You may have heard the saying, "Men get married thinking that their wives will never change, but they do. And women get married thinking that their husbands will change, but they don't." Both you and your loved one will put your best foot forward before marriage, but afterward, you will find that (surprise!) that person is not perfect, as you once thought. And you're not perfect, either! Both of you will change throughout your relationship. Every couple experiences heartbreaks, disappointments, setbacks, illnesses and deaths of family members, job losses, and financial struggles during their married life. Ask yourself whether your love is deep enough—and your commitment strong enough—to stand up to the lifelong vows of "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, 'til death do us part?" When in doubt, don't.
4. Make certain you and your significant other are reasonably proficient in a common language before marrying. At the beginning of your relationship, you may find it exotic and fun to try to figure out what your loved one is thinking or saying. But over time, that excitement will diminish and the inability to communicate will present a difficult obstacle in your marriage. Decide which language the two of you will speak most often, and learn it as well as you can before marriage. If possible, sign up for a language course at a nearby college, or purchase language software like the "Learn in Your Car" series, the Berlitz "Think and Talk" Series, or Rosetta Stone. (For a list of the best language resources, see pages 70-71 of my book Your Intercultural Marriage: A Guide to a Healthy, Happy Relationship.)
5. Consider whether you love the person because of his or her differences or in spite of them. We tend to be attracted to people who are very different from us, but in the long term, our commonalities are the "glue" that holds our marriages together. When you marry, you will take a vow before the Lord to be "one" in heart, mind, body, spirit, and soul. But Satan will do everything in his power to make you believe that your spouse is your enemy. He wants you to expend emotional energy focusing on your spouse's flaws and failures rather than spend that energy on building up your partner with positive words and actions. Don't let the devil get the victory. Take your thoughts captive and refocus them on affirming your spouse. The Bible says, "Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32).
6. Be open to different ways of looking at situations. In intercultural marriage, there is no "right way"; there's only "your way" and "my way." Consider alternatives and try to come up with "our way" together. Choose your battles wisely; be flexible and consider alternative ways of evaluating situations. Find creative methods of melding your traditions with those of your spouse to form unique experiences that are the perfect fit for your intercultural family. And always keep in mind the "Thumper rule": if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
7. Consider what the Bible says about intercultural marriage and study the intercultural couples mentioned in Scripture. One of the questions I'm most often asked is, "What does the Bible say about intercultural marriage?" The Bible never prohibits intercultural or interracial marriage on the basis of race, culture, or ethnicity. God prohibited his people from intermarrying with others only on the basis of their spiritual values. For example, he told the Hebrew people not to intermarry with those from pagan cultures simply because those people worshipped idols rather than the Living God. Did you know that many of the greatest heroes and heroines of the Bible were in intercultural marriages, including David, Moses, Samson, Solomon, Esther, Ruth, and Joseph? Most of these marriages were godly marriages that God blessed. Taking time to study each of these couples will provide you with interesting fodder for conversation, and you'll learn more about the dynamics of intercultural partnerships.
8. Address the issues that cause the greatest challenges for intercultural couples. These include contrasts in personality and worldviews (Are you an optimist or a pessimist? A morning person or a night owl? A spender or a saver? Laid back or uptight?) as well as differences in how you perceive time (Is your spouse always on time or always late? What about you?). Also discuss what types of food you like to eat (and when), what types of work and hobbies you plan to participate in after you marry, what your spiritual beliefs are, and how your families of origin interact.
David and I discovered that even though we are both Christians, our worldviews, personalities, and habits differ in many ways. I am more of an optimist, while he calls himself a "realist." I care more about being on time; in his culture, establishing meaningful relationships is more important than being on time. When David has free time, he likes to spend it relaxing in front of the TV or watching movies, while I prefer to go out on dates, get together with friends, exercise, or spend time outdoors. He's a night owl who loves to stay up late; I'm an early bird who likes to wake up and meet the day with a smile. We complement each other in these ways, but these differences can also be a cause of conflict for intercultural couples. Ask questions of your loved one so you won't be surprised about his or her beliefs, habits, preferences, and hobbies.
Intercultural marriage offers an extraordinary number of benefits and blessings. David and I have seen the Lord use our marriage to bless, teach and encourage many others in their relationships and in their spiritual walk. By putting these principles into place and taking the time to ask relevant questions, you will take the guesswork out of your own intercultural relationship and have a stronger foundation for building a happy, healthy marriage in Christ.
Marla Alupoaicei is an author, sought-after speaker, and director of Leap of Faith Ministries, an intercultural marriage ministry located in Frisco, Texas. She and her husband, David, reside in Frisco with their son, Evan, and daughter, Eden. Marla's latest book is Prayer Warrior Mom.