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3 Surprises in Cross-Cultural Marriage


It wasn't a big shock to many of my friends when I fell in love with a guy from Guatemala. I loved culture and was living a rather multicultural life with friends from all over (especially Latin America). Cross-cultural marriage was not a surprise.

Of course, even though I feel like I walked into this relationship with my eyes open regarding the realities of culture, there have still been experiences different than I expected.

Identity


His cultural identity wasn't a novelty that only existed in our dating experience. It’s not the same as a youthful physique or interesting hobbies that may ebb and flow in the lifespan of a marriage.

No. Every day, he is Latino. He sees the world through that lens. He speaks with an accent and may ask me to explain idioms.

His need to connect with other Spanish-speakers (and Latino men, specifically) is real and has not faded the longer we've been married or the more American friends we've made.

I’m reminded that I cannot (read: should not) get frustrated when he doesn't catch every word I’m sputtering rapid-fire when I get excited. And sitting in rooms where I don’t understand what people are saying is part of the make-up of my marriage… long-term.

In fact, I’m often convicted that it's truly never too late for me to start buckling down and improving my Spanish because it will always be a part of my life.

Church 


We've done a lot of different kinds of churches as a couple. Small, multicultural church plants. Small, Latino gatherings. White mega churches. Multicultural mega churches. And now we’re engaged in a mid-sized Latino congregation.

They are a warm family that has welcomed our multicultural crew with open arms. They are generously accommodating to my English-speaking self, providing translation headphones and speaking to me in English.

I am grateful we are involved in a place where our family "fits." It has been a beautiful place for Billy to interact with Spanish-speaking Latinos and for our kids to meet other bicultural children.

As we combine cultures in our family, I believe there will always be aspects of church that are culturally different for both of us. And we're thankful for a community that has space for us to include both. 

Couple Friends


I read the most amazing and hilarious article several years ago about the trickiness of “dating” other couples and trying to find friends that both spouses enjoy. And now there’s this additional factor of “Does Ella get along with their kids or do they run away crying when she tries to trap them in small spaces?”

We’re actually very grateful for our community of friends, which includes a lot of couples (and kids) whom we all enjoy. As you might expect, most of our friends are either American or Latino families.

I think we are somewhat used to that dynamic at this point in our lives. But there is something unique about meeting other cross-cultural couples as we have opportunity to giggle at the same scenarios. It’s one thing I've really appreciated about this blog is the chance to meet other folks saying, “That’s exactly what it’s like at our house!”

The reality of our life together is that in many of our friendships one of us is always in their second culture and/or language. It doesn't make those relationships less wonderful, but it does sometimes mean one of us doesn't quite understand what’s going on (this is usually me since I don’t really have a second language).

Cross-cultural marriage has surprised me with joy, humor and adventure in ways I never imagined. And there have also been areas of navigation that I didn't expect.

What about you? If you are in a cross-cultural marriage, can you relate? What other areas in your relationship have surprised you?

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16 comments

  1. This hit me like a freight train just now...lol. And with good reason. You make a couple of good points that I can so relate to:

    1. You wrote: "And sitting in rooms where I don’t understand what people are saying is part of the make-up of my marriage… long-term."
    ===================
    This is so me right now. Especially the isolation factor. Nearly 4 years later, the isolation is still very real and very hard.

    2. You wrote: We've done a lot of different kinds of churches as a couple. Small, multicultural church plants. Small, Latino gatherings. White mega churches. Multicultural mega churches. And now we’re engaged in a mid-sized Latino congregation....
    They are a warm family that has welcomed our multicultural crew with open arms. They are generously accommodating to my English-speaking self, providing translation headphones and speaking to me in English.

    ========================
    We go to a catholic church in a predominately latino area of Las Vegas so its ministry is dominant latino & spanish speaking. No translators here, unfortunately, despite the fact that they do have English masses for its english-speaking parishioners. I have invested (note...spent more money to learn this language) in a bilingual missal for mass. I still make Maria tell me what Father's message was in the homily...I have to. It's my only way of trying to get something out of mass. With the missal I can at least somewhat try to participate in the mass, even though when I'm doing the rites and responses, I sound like a slow-talking Donald Duck because everyone else is already finished with the prayer and I'm only halfway through...lol.

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  2. Carrie5:31 PM

    I am already looking forward to it! :)

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  3. Wow, Erik. I am always so inspired by the ways you've committed to learning Spanish and gone "above and beyond" to engage in Spanish contexts. You do bring up a good point about isolation as that is definitely an experience I have had.


    One thing the translator at our church told me recently was that one woman in the church began by translating for her husband. Soon, other spouses were sitting with them in church and before long, it became a significant ministry of the church and now serves several families. I know it's one of the main reasons I felt I could see myself attending this church! Maybe your wife can kick off that kind of ministry at your church. :)

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  4. Denise8:15 PM

    I'm not really in a mulch-cultural marriage in the sense that you are. But I'm a caucasian bilingual Spanish/English that learned from public school and then trips to Costa Rica, Guatemala and 2 summers in Bolivia working at a baby home... And my husband is bilingual Pennsylvania Dutch (Mennonite church)/English... So I am constantly missing Spanish in our small-town Ohio community! You mentioned that your husband needs to connect with other Latinos and I feel that same need and miss Spanish soooooo much!

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  5. Thanks for joining in, Denise! I definitely think when we've been immersed in another culture for a long time, it becomes part of our heart as well. We may not feel completely ourselves without those opportunities to engage!

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  6. hmmm...something to think about.

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  7. Great read!


    Question: You said, "As you might expect, most of our friends are either American or Latino families." What do you mean by "American"?

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  8. Hi! That's a good question and may not have been the clearest way for me to write it. In this context, I meant friends whose backgrounds are more similar to mine than to Billy's. More specifically in our case, we tend to have African American or white friends (who don't identify as Latino).

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  9. I love everything about this! Especially #1. Super important.

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  10. Thanks, Alyssa! Yes, it definitely is and I feel like I'm constantly reminded of that truth. :)

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  11. Carrie7:57 PM

    Yes, to all of this!


    One of the other ones for us has been traditions. How and why we do (or don't) celebrate certain holidays. And maybe not just holidays, but seasonal activities too. Like right now, I am longing for fall - pumpkins and apple orchards and the like. Mardo doesn't have that same seasonal memories and traditions to relate to, so it isn't the same for him (if that makes any sense).

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  12. Oh my goodness, Carrie! This makes absolute sense and is spot on. I finally got Billy to a corn maze/fall festival this year, and it was so super fun. But you have given me an idea for another post. Let's just say it involves the concept of "pick-your-own-anything" farms! :)

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  13. Karla Childs7:32 PM

    What about food?? Being the Guatemalan wife I have found that my American hubby does not like certain things I cook... He has said he is willing to try but more than once he has just backed down... He does love some of the things i have cooked though, specially my tomato and onion spicey salsa and my pepian.

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  14. My Moroccan husband has zero tolerance or desire to pick his own anything - that whole concept is so beyond his understanding! He's like "why would it be fun to go do that when we could go to the store and get it??"

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  15. Hahaha. I mean, he has a point! :)

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  16. Thanks for sharing some of your story, Tiffany! It's always fun to hear about other couples in a similar relationship. :) And I agree with you: we are often surprised by the similarities we discover in our childhoods or the things we share despite having grown up in such different places. Thanks for reaching out!

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