Finding Our Way: Navigating Cross-Cultural and Interfaith Relationships

A budding relationship can be a challenge. Two people usually bond from mutual attraction, which is often based on shared experiences, common interests, and physical or mental attributes. But developing a long-term relationship requires a healthy dose of self-awareness. Before we can effectively offer ourselves mentally, emotionally, and physically to others, we must first know who we are.

In a relationship, our desire to know and understand one another is inevitable. Helping those we care about to understand who we are fosters self-awareness and establishes mutual respect. However, several nuances should be considered when it comes to cross-cultural and interfaith relationships.

If you are in a cross-cultural relationship or are an interfaith couple, take the following three areas into consideration.

Addressing Sensitivities

Cross-cultural and interfaith couples need to be mindful of each other’s values, worldviews, and assumptions. This is in addition to ordinary relationship needs such as trust, consideration, respect, understanding, flexibility, and support. Being knowledgeable about the distinctions of cultural and interfaith differences is essential in dismantling strife that may emerge. An unwillingness or a lack of awareness of cultural or interfaith differences between couples can increase the probability of failed relationships.

To foster a healthy relationship, keep in mind that vast cultural and interfaith differences may exist and that you need to communicate concerns, unease, and trepidations as well as reassurances, hopes, and encouragements. It’s fundamental for couples to have open, honest, fair, loving, and considerate dialogue as often as warranted.

Approaching Tension

Should differences lead to conflict, be willing to ask yourself what might be getting in the way of being able to recognize your partner’s needs. Consider the following questions:

  • Are you in a healthy enough space to mentally and emotionally forgo the need to be right and be OK with being wrong? If you are not in a healthy space, retreat. Giving each other space so that cooler heads can prevail can prevent an exchange of harmful words and actions. Be willing to ask yourself if your relationship is worth your need to be right.
  • Are you being considerate or level-headed in this moment?
  • Do you have blind spots pertaining to culture or religion that you may not be seeing because your own cultural, religious, or relationship needs are not being met?
  • Can you effectively communicate to your partner that your needs are not being met?
  • Consider if the shoe was on the other foot, would you be exhibiting the behavior that you desire to receive or experience?

Take the time to process each of these types of questions or come up with your own relationship-specific questions to establish a baseline of shared knowledge. This can be a foundation-building exercise that couples can benefit from for years to come.

Raising Children

Some of the challenges that arise when cross-cultural and interfaith couples raise children together are due to a lack of forethought. Good planning and realistic expectations will go a long way. Sooner rather than later, start asking each other some of these tough questions:

  • What will be the primary religion?
  • What will be the primary language?
  • Is there a mutual desire to instill one or both of our cultures within childrearing practices?
  • Do we want our children to be bilingual?
  • How will we balance each parental cultural influence within our childrearing practices?
  • What does this type of balance look like, feel like, and sound like? Will we need to establish a primary cultural influence within our household instead?
  • How will the holidays be celebrated?
  • What is or is not acceptable, essential, or pertinent to raising children together?
  • What additional considerations must we identify?

You can begin to address these challenges by identifying as many of these questions and answers as possible, and by planning accordingly. Do not wait until a moment of discord emerges. Instead, be proactive with your thoughts and ideas to avoid fights.

When ordinary relationship needs are combined with the consideration of cross-cultural or interfaith relationship needs, couples and families should be much more effective and realistic with planning. Exhibit fairness and consideration when compromising your independent values, assumptions, worldviews, and ideas. Maintaining these considerations at the start of a relationship has the power to establish a solid foundation.