When I moved to China for work, I had no intention of dating, let alone starting a cross-cultural relationship. However, Cupid had other plans for me when I met my current boyfriend, a local man from Guangzhou.
Now, more than five years later we’ve overcome our fair share of cultural differences, and we both wouldn’t choose to be with anyone else. Dating someone from a different culture?
You’ll both need to equip yourselves with compassion, an open mind, communication tools, and a whole lot of love. Use my advice as your guide to navigating cultural differences in a relationship with your boyfriend.
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already open-minded and want to see things with your partner work out. Open-mindedness is key to being a successful and happy couple.
The fact of the matter is, in a cross-cultural relationship, you’ve chosen someone who was likely raised in a much different environment and style than you were. You’ll each have different senses of “normal” habits and behavior.
Cross-cultural dating exposes you to new traditions and mindsets. Some of which, you’ll fall in love with and align with, and others you’ll pass on. You’re lucky to date someone from a different culture because it gives you a chance to widen your perspective and experience new ways of living.
Communication is central to the health of all relationships, but I might even argue it’s extra important in intercultural ones. Clear communication in intercultural relationships is extremely important for avoiding misunderstandings.
Since English isn’t my boyfriend’s first language, sometimes I need to carefully consider my word choice or phrasing. In the past, we’ve had arguments because we weren’t on the same page about what we were discussing. It’s vital to make sure you and your partner are fully understanding each other, particularly while having serious talks.
It’s also important to consider cultural differences in communication. Chinese aren’t usually as open about their feelings as Americans, so that was another learning curve with my boyfriend. I learned to be patient with him and encourage him to open up to me, which has helped communication in our relationship a lot.
Respecting cultural differences in relationships shows you’re willing to embrace who he is and consider his viewpoints. This goes two ways, as your boyfriend should always listen to your opinions as well.
I was shocked to learn that my Chinese boyfriend hand-washed his underwear and socks separately from the rest of the laundry. I didn’t understand why it was necessary. But, I listened to his case for hand washing, stating that he had been raised that way and felt it cleaned them better.
Honestly, I didn’t buy it. But, I respected him enough to try it out before shooting it down. After testing this, I can’t say for certain if it gets them cleaner technically. Although, it certainly helps them last longer. He also tried washing them altogether. In the end, he decided that he’d switch to my way.
Ask questions about cultural differences you notice between you and your boyfriend. Don’t be nervous to ask about things you don’t understand or things you want to know more about! Your partner will be flattered that you show you care about learning more about his culture.
I remember when my boyfriend’s sister was moving into a new house. He and his family told me they were going to the new home at midnight to do some traditional cleansing rituals. Although it was far past my bedtime, I told them I was very curious and wanted to learn more!
Honestly, it ended up being one of the most interesting experiences of my whole life! I learned a lot about Chinese symbolism for luck, wealth, and happiness, (rice, chickens, and water, for example) and what traditional families do when moving into a new home.
It also sparked a conversation between my boyfriend and I about when we will buy a home. Win-win!
Try Out His Customs
Ever heard the phrase, actions speak louder than words? Trying out your boyfriend’s cultural traditions will let him know you are open to his culture. He’ll be so ecstatic to see you joining in activities that are important to him and his family.
Before meeting my boyfriend, I only knew that during Chinese New Year, you get a red packet with some money and everything closes down for the holiday. Now, I consider Chinese New Year an important festival that brings the whole family together. And, the red packets with cash are a plus.
As I don’t speak Chinese fluently, celebrating the holiday with them through cooking, eating, cleaning, decorating, and simply being together, helped me bond with his family. Trying out these customs brought us much closer together.
Embrace the Differences
A relationship isn’t just about being copies of each other. Rather, it’s about fitting together like puzzle pieces. You both bring unique and valuable traits to the table. This means that you don’t always have to conform to each other’s traditions.
You can’t expect your partner to take on all of your customs and he can’t expect that from you either. Embrace each other’s differences and what each of you ultimately chooses to do.
My boyfriend, for example, will always choose chopsticks over a fork whenever he can. They’re simply easier for him to use. For me, I’ll use chopsticks when appropriate, but if we’re eating a casual dinner at home, I’ll always opt for a fork and knife. Neither of us expects the other to change this preference.
If you’re not comfortable with something, set boundaries. You may experience something about their culture that doesn’t align with your core values. In this case, you’ll have to discuss this with your boyfriend. Let him know that you aren’t willing to adopt or participate in the custom.
I faced this when I learned that my boyfriend’s mother is raising her grandchild. This is quite common in China, with grandparents taking the parenting role while parents work. I told him that I couldn’t accept letting our future child be raised by his parents, even though it’s tradition and what his mother also wants. Luckily, he also agreed to this.
Be confident in your values and where you draw the line on certain topics. Having a respectful discussion about your boundaries is necessary to build a successful intercultural relationship that will last.
Share Your Own Culture
Sharing your culture with your boyfriend and his family is so much fun, and will bring everyone closer. Yes, it’s crucial to embrace his culture, but it’s equally as important for him to embrace yours.
Because my boyfriend’s family is quite traditional, they had never celebrated Christmas before they met me. I was so excited to share my favorite holiday with them. I made Christmas cookies and wrapped gifts, cooked a turkey, and we had a feast.
His nephews were so excited and intrigued, that they became obsessed with Santa Claus and always ask me questions about Jolly Saint Nick. It’s fun for me to share this with him and his family, and definitely meant a lot to them that I was excited to welcome them into my culture as well.
Make Your Own Traditions
Intercultural relationships are an amazing way to discover what’s important to you and your boyfriend. This is because you’ll both be challenged to experience unfamiliar customs and strengthen your communication skills.
While practicing bits of each other’s culture is amazing, making your own traditions is a meaningful way to come together. Mold the identity of your relationship by creating rituals and habits together.
Although neither of us came from a background of working out, we both decided to embark on a fitness journey together a few years ago. We now love going to the gym together and cooking a healthy meal after. It’s strengthened our relationship a lot, and I look forward to it every day.
I really hope these tips about navigating cultural differences in your relationship will help next time you face any issues. Use them to overcome cultural barriers in your own relationship. By facing cultural differences respectfully and with an open mind, the love between you and your boyfriend will continue to grow!
Image credit – Photo by Victoria Roman on Unsplash
Katie Silverman loves traveling, weight-lifting, cooking, and reading. After living in China for 5 years, she is now starting the next chapter of her life in the USA. Katie works as a freelance writer and covers topics about travel, foodie finds, and lifestyle. Her first published book was Eat Like a Local: Chengdu.