When Cultures Collide

Christian counsel from marriage and family experts, Willie and Elaine Oliver

When Cultures Collide

I’ve been married for two years to a wonderful woman I met while studying in a country different from my own. While we noticed many differences between us during our courtship, we simply dismissed or ignored them since we were having so much fun together. We imagined that as Seventh-day Adventist Christians these differences would become less noticeable after we got married. Well, we were wrong. The differences have become more prominent, and we often compete with each other about which culture makes more sense. Instead of growing together in our marriage, it feels as if we’re growing apart. Please help.

Thank you for your insightful question. We often share with couples that before marriage, opposites attract. Yet after marriage, opposites tend to repel.

While these statements might be a bit superficial, they contain a lot of truth. Couples tend to find differences quite charming and fascinating when they meet someone they find attractive. But often the traits they found appealing at the beginning of their relationship are the very ones they find bizarre when they’re married.

As you probably realize by now, you’re not the only couple that has experienced this. With the high levels of migration, mobility, and Internet-generated encounters through various social-media platforms, people from different countries, cultures, and ethnicities meet and develop a fondness for each other while involved in school, mission projects, vacations, work-related travel, and online relationships. This means that people from different backgrounds marry each other with greater frequency.

An inescapable reality in relationships is that the higher the rate of difference between two individuals, the more challenging that relationship will be. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with marrying someone from a different nationality, culture, or ethnicity. Still, you should be mindful that the more differences a married couple have to manage between them, the more mindful they have to be about their differences, and the more intentional they have to be about being patient and kind with each other.

Before and After

The best indicator of what will happen after marriage is often what happens before marriage. Yet so many couples simply sweep differences under the carpet, thinking that once they get married and live together, the issues that are currently barriers between them will disappear through the “magic” of marriage.

Marriage, however, doesn’t get rid of problems and concerns in a relationship. Rather, marriage tends to complicate matters because you’re now compelled to live closely with whatever differences you may dislike about your mate.

The good news is that while differences can make life difficult—especially  differences in religious beliefs—once married you must resolve to find a way to work through these difficulties, including developing better communication skills. If the issues become more demanding than your skill set, don’t be afraid to find a good Christian-relationship coach or marriage counselor to help you bridge your differences. The quicker you find professional help for your challenges, the faster you can get back to dealing with more consequential issues in your marriage and building a relationship that will stand the test of time.

Keep Jesus in Your Marriage

You must also remember the words of Jesus: “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27, NKJV).*

So keep praying for your marriage, and for maximum success trust God to give you the capacity to manage and bridge your differences.

* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.