Often international couples often see difference and novelty as a stressor in their marriage. But does it have to be? Here’s some international couple advice that can help bridge the gap if your in a long-distance relationship or living for what you may be the other side of the world.
In reality, studies have shown that novel experiences can actually stimulate the production of the neurochemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, which show up in the brain in the early, blissful stages of a relationship. When you started dating these differences were attractive and exciting. You took time with each other, and were patient when they’ve said, “I don’t understand.”
About 13 percent of people reported high levels of romance in their long-term relationships, in a new study published in the March issue of the journal Review of General Psychology.
Will your marriage be one of the lucky ones?
There may be some aspects of living in an international couples relationship that invites this type of novel experience from time to time. Here are seven of the big ones:
I’ve heard many say to “learn the language.” But try to go beyond elementary levels, and really study the idioms, the “mindset” and the worldview. International marriage is a lifelong commitment.
Watch movies that have sex scenes in that same native language, and learn what “sexy talk” is to your spouse. It may surprise you to learn that bilingual Spanish/English women in one study had a very different sexual experience when they had “sex in Spanish” than they did in English.
To really develop an appreciation for culture, food tasting is essential. But why stop at learning to make your partner’s “favorite food”? Why not work together to make foods that have elements of both cultures? Think in broad categories like sweet, savory, texture, or “mouthfeel.”
Is there a way to combine foods from each culture in a way that surprises the palette? What about experimenting with wines, beers, or other liquors? Can these be put together to make a novel meal?
Locate a travel video and “head back home.” Check out a film in your native language to watch together. Buy magazines from their “foreign” country and keep them around. Buy perfume that is unique or popular in your country. Sometimes even re-arranging the furniture in a way that “feels like home” can make a big difference.
In the USA, for example, a TV often dominates a living room, but this is less true in many parts of Europe. Try banishing it for a month or two to a less used room, and makes the area feel more novel and “homey.”
Studying a new language can be fun. But don’t weigh your spouse down by asking them to carry the burden of communication.
Slow down when you don’t understand and ask for clarification.
International couples require a shared understanding that is not only “good enough” for everyday use, it also must be good enough if something serious occurs, such as a family or personal crisis. At these times, you will wish you were perfectly fluent.
It takes work to become fluent in another culture. An appreciation for nuance and can convey intimacy.
Also, make sure that you nail down the cultural nuances in their home country that really matter. One piece of International couple advice we can safely offer is to be aware of cultural blinders. There are many cultural differences in social communication. International couples may use the exact same words to convey entirely different intentions.
Here’s but one example. Your best friend Buzz has been visiting. It’s getting late, and your Japanese Wife Hoki has just brought you both a nice cup of hot tea. You think, how relaxing, we can finish the conversation and leisurely chat for a while.
But Hoki’s real intent with presenting him with a hot beverage is “Buzz, it’s time for you to hit the road.”
Make an intentional effort to make friends with their family members and other similarly mixed couples and share experiences. This is a fun way to expand your vocabulary and have some fun with the typical misunderstandings that usually happen when learning to overcome a language barrier. It will also help you have a deeper understanding of different cultural backgrounds.
Having a network of friends, particularly when we are networking with our partner’s friendship circle is a great way to appreciate important cultural ideas that will help you to become a more sophisticated and resilient couple.
It’s also a way of normalizing the joys and challenges of cross-cultural romance. A peer group of other International couples is a powerful way to rapidly enhance your cultural sensitivity while having a good time in the process.
Be open, curious, and respectful. Don’t succumb to culture shock. Always be looking for new avenues to make your differences more intimately aligned and personal. Cultivate a relationship with your spouse’s family and friends.
Art. Music. How your home is decorated. It all matters. Look for ways to share and appreciate one another’s cultural influences. Sharing is caring. It’s fun to teach your spouse about something new. International relationships never are boring.
There will be times when you will be bewildered. There will be frustration. Some things you may never “get.” Use I statements. Instead of criticizing by saying ( for example) something like “you people are so emotional,” say instead “I feel overwhelmed when I hear how emotional you get.”
Let your partner vent in their native tongue. You don’t need to get defensive. You can develop a venting ritual that will diffuse the situation. Cultural differences are an ongoing novel experience, and the best international couples advice we can offer is to remain curious instead of furious. There is always something new to learn and appreciate about your partner.
Dr. K is the President and CEO of Couples Therapy Inc. She maintains her online couples therapy and sex therapy practice for couples in Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona and California. She is a Gottman Certified Couples Therapist, has advanced training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and has been a AASECT board-certified sex therapist from 1982-2017. She continues to work as a sex therapist.