Focus on the Family

Faith, Family, Friends, Finances and Food

Inter-ethnic couples face key decisions early in the marriage that establish their foundation. By intentionally attending to these decisions, they leverage their differences as strengths.

by Dr. Harold L. Arnold, Jr.

Couples make decisions daily that may have long-term impact on their marriages. It is logical, then, that developing effective decision making processes during the early years of marriage can enhance marital satisfaction over time. Of course, newly married couples are the least experienced in this kind of sound decision making. These skills are particularly important to inter-ethnic couples, who must learn to work with the divergent, though ingrained, attitudes each partner brings to the marriage.

There are five key decisions that, while vital for all marriages, are particularly important to inter-ethnic marriages.

Five Decisions to Protect Your Inter-Ethnic Marriage

  1. Prioritize your faith in God's purpose for your marriage. God has a purpose for your marriage – one that is designed to draw people unto Him. Inter-ethnic marriage holds unique promise as you sacrifice what feels natural for what is righteous.

    My wife's ethnic identity as a Hispanic wife impacts my marriage considerably. This manifests in her respect and patience with me – a traditional element of a wife's role in her culture – even when my own actions are self-centered. Based on my own upbringing as an African-American man with an outspoken mother, however, I misinterpreted her culturally-congruent deference to me as weakness. As we have jointly sought God's purpose for our marriage, though, our expectations and attitudes have converged, allowing us to understand our respective backgrounds, gifts and weaknesses as complementary and incorporating our disparate perspectives into our decision making.

  2. Communicate to your spouse that his or her emotional well-being is the highest priority. It is crucial to all marriages to communicate to your spouse that he or she is the priority in your life, and then to carry that out. Many inter-ethnic couples struggle in balancing the needs and demands of parents and other family members with those of their partners.

    The problem is particularly evident in cultures (e.g. many Asian cultures) or families with strong parental influence. Individuals from these backgrounds must view their marriage relationship as a divinely-inspired process of becoming one – a process in which your identity as a couple is prioritized over your extended family (Genesis 2:24). As such, your spouse's physical and emotional needs must also be a priority.

  3. Choose friends with similar cultural backgrounds that are invested in the health of your marriage. Every marriage needs friends, particularly those who support your marital relationship. As Amos 3:3 asks, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?"

    Inter-ethnic couples must cultivate trusting relationships with others who share each of their cultural backgrounds, love for the Lord and commitment to their marriage. Your inter-ethnic marriage is blessed when others who understand the cultural nuances can stand in agreement with you through prayer, encouragement, mediation and education.

  4. Jointly develop a financial plan. Money management is one of the most conflict-laden aspects of marriage, and it can also be a symptom of deep-seated disharmony. A couple's money attitudes nearly always reflect their experiences with money in their respective families of origin.

    Effective financial stewardship demands open and honest communication about needs, wants, aspirations and expectations regarding residence, workload, academic pursuits, pregnancy planning, transportation, tithing, entertainment, hobbies and other lifestyle choices. For the inter-ethnic couple, the heightened cultural innuendo and divergent preferences can be painful. Designing flexible financial plans for short- (1 year), mid- (3 years), and long-term events (5 or more years), while inputing each partner's preferences with equal value, fosters an openness that minimizes this stress.

  5. Understand the significance of food and meal planning to your spouse. Food is one of the most distinct elements of a culture. I fondly remember my enthusiasm when my wife spent time in my grandmother's kitchen learning to prepare those Southern sweets (nearly all unfamiliar to her culture) that are such a strong symbol of my childhood.

    In addition to gender expectations around who prepares the meals, cultural expectations also impact whether meals are eaten together as a family, prepared at home or served as specific times. It does not occur to most individuals that this important aspect of their ethnic identity may be challenged when they marry.

    The old adage that "the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach" may have validity across cultures. But, food is just as important to women as well. Inter-ethnic couples will benefit from communicating expectations around food. Husbands and wives demonstrate their mutual love by being open-minded about preparing and/or tasting dishes that their spouses enjoy. Although food is rarely identified as a marital stressor, attending to your spouse's stomach may be a key to tying your hearts together.