As New Zealand becomes more multicultural it is likely that there will be an increase in cross-cultural relationships. The general expectation of cross-cultural relationships is one person will be from the perceived dominant culture (New Zealand) and the other person from a different culture. But with increased multiculturalism it is possible that both partners may originate from different cultures. For example one partner may be from South America while the other is from South East Asia. Or one partner may be from Africa while the other may be from Europe. As all relationships have their own particular problems, cross-cultural relationships may also have specific issues that lead to ongoing problems.

There are many different issues that may arise in cross-cultural relationships that may increase the likelihood of ongoing problems. These differences may become difficult to resolve due to cultural values and beliefs. The cultural differences may include; religion, social isolation, language, gender roles, and lifestyle.

A couple’s different religious beliefs may become a major issue in cross-cultural relationships. Problems may arise if both partners hold strong religious beliefs and are from different backgrounds. But problems may also arise if one partner holds strong religious beliefs while the other may be an atheist. Problems that may arise may include intolerance for a person’s beliefs or how to raise children.

Language difficulties may arise within the relationship or for one partner in the outside world. How we communicate is vital to solving problems. Limited language skills may create frustration in getting one’s thoughts or opinions across. Limited language skills may eventually lead to unresolved arguments and dissatisfaction.

Gender roles may impact upon cross-cultural relationships. If one or both partners originate from a country where gender influences the specific roles taken within the family then these differences may lead to confusion and conflict. Gender roles may include chore distribution and the way children are raised and educated.

Life style confusion and conflict may arise from diet, clothing, money, and alcohol use. Different cultures may have specific diet restrictions, or how individuals should dress and who controls the family finances. If one partner originates from a culture where alcohol is never used and their partner originates from a culture where it is in common use, then this may also lead to conflict.

Social isolation due to language and cultural difference may impact the relationship. Research has indicated that language and cultural difference has the greatest impact on social isolation. Social isolation can lead to loneliness and relationship dissatisfaction over time.

If you are in a cross-cultural relationship; try to learn as much as possible about your partner’s culture, and be tolerant of their religious beliefs. Try to be respectful of the differences between you and try to learn your partner’s original language. Bring your children up to appreciate both cultures and be patient with each other.

Christopher Swane - Couples Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand