When you fall in love, all you can see is only the good things. You may not see—or refuse to see—the bad sides that your partner has. This period is common, not only in intercultural relationships but also in any kinds of relationships. Simply embrace the feeling. You may not know where it ends, so take the chance that your intercultural relationship may blossom and lead you to a happier life.
In the honeymoon period, making good impressions is crucial. You want your partner to know the best version of yourself and vice versa. However, it doesn’t mean that you or he/she is dishonest. It is just the moment when you (as well as your partner) try to assure each other that none of you are making a wrong decision to land the heart for one another. Building trust is important in any kinds of relationship and showing only the good things are necessary in this phase.
The next stage is what I call as a realization stage. In this level, you start to recognize the differences that you and your partner have. You two will become more open to the cultural differences you have and start to bring this issue in your conversation. Paying attention to your partner’s explanation is the key to fully understand him/her. In this stage, do not only focus on yourself. Ideally, both of you should realize that cultural differences are important issues to be addressed in a relationship. The reason is not to find the differences between the two of you but to see how to work with those differences.
If you are familiar with the term “opposite attract,” it is maybe the best term to describe this phase of a relationship. Nobody in this world is created the same. Everyone is unique. It is the uniqueness that creates vibrant lives. In intercultural context, the differences that should be appreciated range from small things like eating habit to big things like norms and values. For example, when an American man has an Asian girlfriend, they may encounter some dining manners like the inability to use chopsticks and eat raw fish. The girl also learns that personal freedom is highly appreciated by the man whereas family’s interests are always a top priority in her own culture. However, it is the phase when the differences are still discussed instead of experienced.
Culture shock happens when we finally experience the differences. To put it simple, it is the time when you finally enter a Chinese restaurant and feel frustrated for not being able to eat anything with the chopsticks. When anyone of you experiences the culture shock, it is the job of the culture ‘owner’ to give some understanding or explanation, as well as encouragement. Giving understanding or explanation is extremely important so that the other one gets better insights of what he/she has experienced. On the other hand, encouragement is also important so that he/she will not give up experiencing ‘other culture shocks.’ Both of them should be nourished to attain enculturation, which naturally will happen when the intercultural romance works well and continue to the next level.
Don’t judge any culturally-related mistakes and misbehaviors. Learning a new culture is so difficult, so you must appreciate the big efforts that your partner has done to at least learn a little bit of your culture. But what should we do when one keeps on making the same mistakes, over and over again? Realize that not all people are born with excellent interpersonal skills who easily encounter with new people, new cultures, and new atmosphere. You or your partner may not be a chameleon who changes colors according to the situations. So, try a different approach. When one thing doesn’t seem to work well, do not focus on the mistakes but the effort instead. Start from something that you and your partner know will work well.
In this honeymoon period, argumentation will likely to happen but in a tolerable manner. You will fight and forgive easily. Big problems don’t appear so fast in intercultural relationship when both of you understand the meaning of tolerance and appreciation. Otherwise, just wait for a time bomb to explode and the relationship will be over soon.
Honeymoon period is over. You have been together for let’s say 6 months or more. In this stage, communication becomes more open and direct. You no longer show only your good version but also your bad one. Make sure to open a discussion on what is acceptable and not acceptable in your intercultural romance. For example, you can tell your partner not to kiss you or show excessive love expression in front of other people when you consider that it is not acceptable in your culture. However, you must be careful in stating your objection. Instead of saying “Stop doing that!” you’d better say “Let’s make it private!”
After both of you know what each of the cultural aspects are acceptable or not, you may not agree on everything. Remember, culture always becomes parts of someone’s identity that cannot be changed in one night. You can start to compromise on things from your culture that you wish to keep. For example, as a Brazilian man, you may agree to stop kissing everyone’s cheeks in every meeting and replace them with a handshake instead, but you can compromise that you still want to preserve the habit in your inner circles like family members and best friends.
After you make good deals with your partner, it is time for you to rehearse the things that you have compromised to see whether the things work well for both of you. Disputes may appear in this stage but treat them as normal things. Do not exaggerate on small mistakes. Make another discussion, another talk, and another conciliation to see which one is best for you two.
Please read all 50 Tips and learn more about this book: 50 Things to Know About Cross-Cultural Relationships by Lisa Rusczyk Ed.D.