I never could have guessed the local guy I met my first weekend in Spain would become my future husband. The plan was to stay for a few months, practice my Spanish, party, travel and then go home to Florida and get a real job. I guess things change when you fall in love.
It hasn’t been all sangria and sunsets however. Making a relationship work is hard enough—and when you add different languages and cultures to the mix it’s easy to see why multicultural marriages tend to be the most difficult to maintain.
Yes…his broken English is absolutely adorable and our mutual interest in good wine and travel is marvelous. But as an American girl married to a European boy, I can tell you there are some unique issues that will arise over the course of your relationship. If you two are able to overcome the inevitable complications that come with dating (or marrying) someone from another country it will change you forever…and for the better.
You will become more empathetic
Being the foreigner in a relationship makes you vulnerable. But, these experiences will make you more empathetic and kind towards others.
You will never understand how hard it is moving to a new country and learning a new language until you do it yourself. I remember every single person who went out of their way to help me as I struggled to get a Spanish bank account set up, find the closest supermarket or navigate my way to the correct bus stop. I also remember the people who were not so nice…the ones who said “You’ve been here for several months, why isn’t your Spanish better?” or the people who tried to cut me in line at the store because what was I going to do about it in my broken Spanish?
As a foreigner, the language barrier and unfamiliarity of your new surroundings makes you vulnerable. At some point you (or your partner) will have both positive and negative experiences with locals…and they will leave a lasting impression. It’s amazing how meaningful a kind gesture can be when you find yourself in a stressful situation. The next time you encounter someone who is lost or struggling to communicate, I promise you’ll be more inclined to help them out.
You will become more outgoing
Having a multicultural relationship requires opening yourself to new experiences. Once you step out of your comfort zone you become acutely aware of how big this world is.
Your option is to adapt to the new social situations your relationship entails…or you won’t make it together.
You’re going to have to step out of your comfort zone and attend events where the only person you know is your partner. On top of that, you’re going to have to accept the fact that everyone else at the event probably doesn’t speak your language.
I remember how anxious I was the first few times I attended one of Javi’s colleague’s birthday parties or his classmate’s wedding. I was so worried about saying or doing something wrong and sticking out like a sore thumb. But to my surprise, being the only foreigner at a party makes it easier for people to approach you—everyone wants to know your opinion on the latest happenings back home and they love to hear about your experiences in their country.
The more you open yourself to these new experiences the more fun you’ll have. There’s always something new for you to discover or experience!
You will become more patient
Patience is one of the most important qualities you need to develop if you hope to make a multicultural relationship work.
You will become more patient not because you want to…but because you have to.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked Javi to reword something he’s just said in Spanish or explain (again) what it means. Patience is not only required for basic communication…you’ll also need it as you confront each other’s cultural norms. When we first started dating Javi would say things like dámelo (“give me that”) instead of asking politely…eventually I got so annoyed I yelled at him for being rude. Javi had no idea the way he communicated with me could be considered rude. It’s just the way people speak to one another where he’s from (in Andalucía they’re all about chopping words down). Now he makes a conscious effort to ask me for things using full sentences and even throws in por favor from time to time…and of course I’m happy to oblige. 😉
Communication is one of the most important elements of your relationship. Now that you’re dealing with language barriers and new cultural norms it will require extra patience—from both of you.
You will be happier
If you’re in a multicultural relationship you should feel a sense of accomplishment—there’s a certain pride that comes with maintaining a union between two people who come from such different backgrounds.
I have learned a lot from Javi and his family during our time together…and I’ve also learned a lot about myself. Moving abroad and my marriage with Javi have helped me to discover what truly makes me happy. Our multicultural relationship has enriched my life so much—I know it would be impossible for me to be this happy without him.
We’ve overcome language barriers and cultural clashes to find love…and that’s something you don’t need a translator to understand.