Marriage of any type comes with difficulties, but intercultural marriage has its own set of unexpected challenges. For single missionaries serving abroad, the possibility of marrying from within their host culture should involve deep considerations.
Like Moses and Zipporah coming face to face with his family’s racism, to my experiences with my husband refusing to translate the threats made against my body by men on the street, these unique marriages should not come without considering the cost. And while the external threats are extremely difficult, most of the challenges come from within the multicultural couple’s own varying cultural perspectives.
Here are four ideas to consider as you enter into a romantic relationship within your host culture.
Before entering into a relationship (or marriage) within the culture you serve, be aware that your arguments are likely to be a little extra heated. Even if one of you is fluent in the other’s language, emotions impact how we use our words. And when arguments arise, explaining the depths of what you are thinking and feeling can cause further complications. Having said that, don’t ever marry someone, especially someone from another culture, without having experienced a fair share of heated arguments. Cultures argue differently, as do genders, and knowing how your spouse argues is crucial preparation for marriage.
2. Conflicting Values and Preferences
It is also important to be aware that you will likely have vastly different perspectives on money and finances, an issue which is cited for the majority of divorces in western society. Even if you are in a country with a high economic status, you may have quite different ideas on how money should be spent. Marrying within a culture that is considered ‘developing’ means you will absolutely, no doubt, have different views on where each penny should go.
These are only two examples. Parenting, clothing, how time is spent, what should be eaten, gender roles, sitting through conversations with their friends without understanding a word, and in-laws are all other things that will absolutely come into play.
3. Openness and Learning
Never cease to try and get to know this person before committing to them for life and never cease to try and get to know their culture. In marrying them, you are marrying their culture. And culture comes out significantly more after the wedding than it seemed to exist before. This means that you need to continue to be open. You are marrying their culture, but they are also marrying yours. Don’t hide the parts of you that you don’t want them to see because they will eventually come out. Some of those things may be cultural, but they might also just be a part of you. Never assume that they will learn to handle it without first being open.
4. Importance of Christ in us
Remember that as Christians, we have something pretty huge going for us. I was drawn to my husband because of his Christ-like character and integrity. If you can find a man or woman within the culture you serve who displays this type of behavior, that’s a good start. But don’t just see them alone, see him or her among friends. See him or her in the church.
Once you are certain that this person has the qualities of Christ-likeness that extend beyond international barriers, or that his/her view of Christ is not impacted by potentially massive theological differences that have spread throughout regions of the globe, your marriage can be God-honoring. Once you are certain that their attraction to you is based on your own representation of Christ and not the country from which your passport was issued, your marriage can be life-giving. Once you are certain that you can marry this person, and this culture, your marriage can be one of grace and truth.
Christian couples have the advantage of this grace and truth. We have the advantage of ending our arguments with lots of prayer and, I recommend, a study on Song of Solomon with some practical application that speaks to all cultures. Outside of Christ, there are no such advantages.
There are enormous considerations before entering into a marriage within the culture you serve, but entrusting it fully to Christ is the first step. Beyond that, prepare yourself. Do your part and allow God to do His. His will be significantly greater.
Hannah Edington is a writer and entrepreneur living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Her long-term goals include writing about life in developing nations, working with widows and single moms to start businesses, and starting a family with her husband.