Finding your special someone can feel like a life-raft in the middle of a vast ocean, whether your “ocean” is the concrete jungle or another large community. But what do you do when that special person doesn’t come from the same cultural background as you? It’s an added challenge, and I would know. I’m from the Philippines, and my husband is Polish-American. As we grew our relationship, we learned special lessons that helped us to bridge the cultural gap and grow in love for each other.
These are some points that have helped us build our relationship:
In any relationship, you ask about your partner’s childhood, their family, and maybe even about prior relationships. In an intercultural marriage, you also talk about socio-cultural customs, beliefs, and values that they are accustomed to. It is essential to know, understand, and embrace each other’s cultural roots. You can start by learning more about holiday traditions, family cuisine and dining style, and maybe get the chance to visit each other’s hometowns. After my husband, Lukasz, visited the Philippines, he deeply understood our traditions and beliefs. He immersed himself into the culture by living with my family for a couple of weeks.
Likewise, after spending a lot of time with his family, I began to appreciate his individuality and uniqueness. Educating yourself, learning new languages, trying new foods, listening to new music, discovering new histories and new realities allows you to broaden your perspective in ways that you might never have considered before. You get a special glimpse of their point of view and you might surprisingly find yourself embracing some of their culture.
Communication is an essential and sometimes difficult aspect of every relationship. In an intercultural relationship, challenges may double if one or both partners are facing a language barrier. Lukasz’s native language is Polish, and my native language is Filipino. We both speak English, but there are definitely some words and expressions that may be harder for us to express in one way or another. The most important thing to remember is to find clarification. If there are words or phrases I don’t seem to fully understand, I ask him to explain further; and if there was something I wanted him to understand, I put them into words that would be easier for him to recognize.
No matter how similar you are to your partner — you can be on the same plane of education, social class, or life circumstance — there will always be something new to learn. You can share experiences that shaped you to become who you are now and open another level of understanding of you as a person. Your background and upbringing, no matter whom you date, will always be different and worth learning from. Keep an open mind and communicate freely.
Being with someone from a different cultural background presents its own challenges. However, how you deal with those differences makes your relationship special. In my relationship, we don’t always compromise. There are some issues that we choose to respect the differences and let it be. Other times, we blend each other’s distinct ways and forge a new norm. Our wedding was the “best of both worlds”. We decided to pick some traditions from our individual cultures and make them parts of our ceremony. As individuals, our lives are fluid and our beliefs and practices may change over time. Sharing my insights and ideas with my partner allows us to grow together and not apart. As we grow together, patience is necessary to explain ourselves fully, to listen fully, and to relate to each other’s differences.
All relationships, regardless of background, experience challenges like we do in our mixed relationship. We may have different perspectives on certain issues that have been shaped by our cultures, upbringing, and faith; but ultimately, navigating these challenges together has also made us stronger as a couple. All relationships require work, but it’s always worth it to love each other well.
During our wedding ceremony, we incorporated some traditions that were distinct to both cultures, including portions of the ceremony that were spoken in each of our country’s languages.
In Filipino weddings, we have the blessing and presentation of the veil, cord and coins. The cord symbolizes the lifelong bond or ties between the bride and groom, and represents an everlasting promise of love and fidelity. The veil represents a wish for good health and protection during the couple’s married life. It also symbolizes the union of two families. The arras (coins) symbolizes the prosperity that would be shared by the new couple and the couple’s commitment to mutually contribute to their relationship, their children and their community. There are thirteen coins to represent Christ and his twelve disciples.
In Lukasz family, the lighting of the candles and paying tribute to Mother Mary during the ceremony was vital. The two outside candles are lit by the couple’s mothers to represent their lives to this moment. These distinct flames, each burning alone, represent the faith, wisdom, and love received from their parents. Together, the couple lights a center candle, symbolizing the union of their lives. Their thoughts shall be for each other, and they will share both joys and sorrows. The flames of the two smaller candles remain lit to show how although they are now one, they are still each unique individuals.
In addition, his parents presented us with bread, salt, and vodka at the reception venue. With the bread, the parents are hoping that their children will never hunger or be in need. With the salt, they are reminding the couple that their life may be difficult at times, and they must learn to cope with life’s struggles. With the vodka, they are hoping that the couple will never thirst and wish that they have a life of good health, and good cheer and share the company of many good friends. And of course, each table had a bottle of vodka to enjoy.
Jan Kathleen Vero is an ICU nurse residing in Las Vegas, Nevada with her handsome husband. She loves to travel, but lately she’s been hunting for new restaurants and trying out new food. She loves spending as much time as she can with family and friends. Find her on Instagram @stalkingjanvero.
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