Cross Cultural Relationships: Identifying the Roots of Commonly Occurring Issues in Cross Cultural Couples

Cross Cultural Relationships: Identifying the Roots of Commonly Occurring Issues in Cross Cultural Couples

Culture and tradition play a crucial role in our personal development. Our lifestyles, moral outlook and ideals are fundamentally determined by the cultural values we are exposed to after we’re born.

Adjusting with someone coming in from the same socio-cultural background can be a tad difficult. Adjusting with someone who comes from a different background altogether brings with it a whole new level of difficulty. The differences in ideals, religious conceptions and in some cases, language barriers can be the cause of much grief in cross-cultural relationships.

Loving and living with someone who comes from a different place gives rise to many issues within couples, with respect to the co-ordination and co-operation that is essential for a healthy relationship. Fact of the matter is, people who come from different cultures have difficulties understanding each other’s perspective and that inability to understand their partners is what causes most problems in cross cultural relationships.

Common issues that cross cultural couples report in their relationships are:

  • Displaced sense of identities
  • Differing conceptions of love and relationships
  • Differences in religious beliefs
  • Family disapproval
  • Differences in political views
  • Division of domestic work and finances

Displaced Identities:

When you love someone, it is only inevitable that you will pick up on some of the habits and mannerisms of your loved one after spending time with them. This is most noticeable in cross cultural couples since both people in the relationship are so different, that picking up the other person’s habits might constitute an entire personality shift.

The process of developing an emotional bond with someone involves developing an appreciation for the backgrounds that they come from, learning from them to become better people and to enhance existing compatibility by indulging in the same activities. It is a much simpler process if you pick up on some of your partner’s hobbies, however it might entail taking on their cultural and religious values. This induces a sense of displacement because of the drastic shift from worldviews that dictated your life before you met them.

This often leads to conflict because the anxiety from this realization and the sense of having given yourself up leads to a distress that compels you to hold on to older values that might make you more defensive and uncooperative.

Different opinions on love and relationships

Because of the integral role of cultural values in shaping personalities, it’s safe to say that these values also impact ways in which people form relationships and interact with others. This will also affect the meanings people attach to love, which determines the decisions on when to get married, how to determine the course of relationships and what qualifies as a valid expression of love.

When two individuals from different backgrounds come together, because of different ideas of what constitutes as a relationship in terms of its dynamics, distribution of responsibilities and emotional burdens couples find it hard to stay together.

Differences in Religious beliefs

If the purpose of religion is to guarantee salvation through the observation of specified rituals, there exists an obvious potential for conflict in terms of a disagreement on the lifestyle a cross-cultural couple ought to adopt as a unit.

Religious doctrines sometime also forbid relationships outside the circle of said doctrines and while people would still choose to form relationships with people who do not have similar religious beliefs, the resulting guilt and possible repercussions from family cause much turbulence in cross cultural relationships.

Family Disapproval

Sometimes family disapproval serves as a cause for much tension between cross-cultural couples. In the drive to seek approval from their families and maintain good relations, members of cross-cultural relationships develop a sense of guilt because of a sense of having given up on cultural values or having disappointed their families.

The dynamics of the relationship are subjected to much tension if even one of the members in the relationship finds that their families do not approve of their choice.

It is at these moments, that cross-cultural couples need to exhibit a sense of empathy and compassion for their partners. By communicating more openly and with a willingness to compromise, cross-cultural couples can create a solid foundation for wholesome and loving relationship.

Differences in Political view

Cultural backgrounds define where a person stands with respect to the rest of the world. This view of the self in relation to the outside world forms a worldview for people that’s reflected in their political views.

These political views encompass ideas on morality and conceptions on what the best way to act is. People in cross cultural relationships find themselves at odds with their partners because of disagreements that arise from different political views.

Being in a relationship requires that the two people grow together to become better person. Through compassion, empathy and open communication, people in relationships learn to appreciate where their partners are coming from and realize the value of the importance of unique life experiences in shaping their partner’s personality.

Division of Domestic work and Finances

The two basic types of labor that is expected of relationships are emotional and physical labor.

Cross cultural couples often find that disagreements arise due to a partner’s unwillingness to take on certain emotional or physical labor. This unwillingness stems from differing ideas about gender roles in relationships or personal history.

Couples need to realize that in order to create a wholesome relationship, personal goals need to be balanced with relationship goals. If a synergy is created between two people where the fulfillment of personal goals leads to the attainment of relationship goals or vice versa, these disagreements may not arise. People need to work together to create a wholesome goal oriented dynamic for a wholesome relationship.


Azizeh Rezaiyan is fluent in both Farsi and English, with 20 years of experience in helping couples in turbulent relationships find emotional stability. At the Silicon Valley Marriage counseling centre in Palo Alto, Azizeh works to help same-sex couples and cross-cultural couples develop healthy and long lasting relationship through couple’s counseling.

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