My youngest sister, Stephanie, a white woman, and her husband, Michael, a black and Japanese man, celebrated their first wedding anniversary in April 2020. The Bible tells us that two become one before God on their wedding day (Mark 10:7–8). But as any married person can tell you, there’s a significant learning curve for most newlyweds as they work to live as one. This new identity comes with incredible opportunities to bond — and some unique challenges couples must overcome. It’s especially true for those who come from different cultural backgrounds.
Some interracial couples find a common ground quickly. Others, like Stephanie and Michael, struggled with early conversations about race. So, if you’re in this same space, take hope. You’re not alone.
By God’s grace, Stephanie and Michael have worked through those tough conversations and continue to improve their communications. Recently I had a conversation with them about how they navigated these sensitive topics. As an interracial couple, had they learned habits or perspectives that they would recommend to others? Maybe those tips could help others navigate interracial friendships or extended family communication.
Here are five tips that helped them start approaching the topic of race as a new couple:
Identify first as children of God
Each person values and celebrates their cultural heritage. And believers also celebrate the kingdom culture and identity we’ve received as God’s beloved children. Here’s how to embrace your new identity as an interracial couple and grow together with your spouse:
- Root yourself in Bible reading so you’re informed and prepared for hard conversations. Topical resources can be helpful but start by asking God what He says about loving each other.
- Identify and acknowledge social tension with grace. Try not to let the tension overwhelm your God-given identities.
- Incorporate prayer in tough conversations. Ask God for grace and understanding.
- Affirm your love and commitment to each other when things become stressful. (Proverbs 10:12).
Strive to comprehend
Plan to listen more than to be heard. Spouses in an interracial marriage should foster a teachable heart by coming with questions to better understand your loved one’s perspectives and experiences.
- Are you ready to talk about these topics, issues and experiences?
- What is ___ like for you?
- What do you think about ___?
- I’ve never thought about ___ before. Have you experienced that? What happened?
- I read about ___ recently, do you agree with that perspective?
Show your desire to understand by taking the initiative to learn about each other’s cultural experiences, backgrounds and essential issues.
Be in their corner
You might identify with different communities and personal experiences, but now, you and your spouse have become one. You may be an interracial couple, but the person sitting across the table from you is now your family. That means you should consider asking these questions:
- Even if my spouse’s experiences seem confusing or unfathomable, how can I validate my spouse and show I take them at their word?
- Even when we disagree, what can I do to better understand where my spouse is coming from?
- How can we cultivate patience for each other?
- How can I support my spouse right now? (Don’t assume you know your spouse’s needs.)
Early in their dating relationship, Stephanie believed the lie that she’d never understand Michael’s point of view. While she may never fully understand his struggles, she can grow in her appreciation of his experiences if she faces hard things. Here are some additional things to make the process go more smoothly:
- Consider the physical posture you take. Can you cuddle or hold hands when talking about race?
- Confess your struggles and share feelings with each other.
- Apologize when you respond poorly or unintentionally hurt each other.
- Choose words carefully to show unity and relate to each other — instead of distancing yourselves due to differing experiences. Phrases such as, “I’m with you in this” or “I stand with you” are more appropriate than “I’m sorry you (or your people) are going through that.”
- Present a unified front when talking with others, even when sharing individual perspectives and experiences.
Focus on Marriage Assessment
Grace is giving someone favor they haven’t earned. As believers, we all need and receive grace from God. We also should extend His grace to our spouses. It often looks like this:
- We actively listen to understand, not to prepare a comeback.
- We don’t jump to conclusions.
- We work to believe the best, even when words are hurtful.
- We acknowledge the validity of how each person feels without letting emotions derail the conversation.
Michael believes the best way for someone to learn about racial unity is to have honest, gracious conversations with people they already know and trust. Stephanie understood the value of such open communication as she grew in the relationship. She also learned she didn’t have the tools or language needed to talk about race in grace-filled ways. Her emotions came out as anger and defensiveness. She needed Michael to help her understand him. Michael responded with grace and vulnerability. And together, the couple worked to bridge the gap between an unfamiliar topic and a personal heart issue.
Create safe places
Interracial couples face the same challenges as any other married couple, but they also need to be intentional to make their marriage a safe place to express hopes, dreams, frustrations and heartaches.
- Talk to each other even when you feel clumsy or uncomfortable about the topic.
- Admit upfront that you will probably say ignorant things. Explain that you don’t want to say insensitive things but you want to learn how to appropriately address the topic.
- You don’t have to resolve all different opinions in one conversation. Take the pressure off and agree that while it may take time, you’re committed to working together.
- Understand that discussing painful situations can be traumatic. Be aware of your emotional triggers so you can consider each other and safeguard against disproportionate responses or deeper wounds.
If you want to make your marriage a safe place, give it space to grow. It involves repeating the processes above and approaching conversations with the grace you’ve been given as a child of God. Put yourself in your spouse’s corner to cultivate vulnerability and create safe spaces for mutual understanding.
Your relationship doesn’t have to be a copy of anyone else’s. You don’t need all the answers … or even all the questions. Just keep in mind that you’re continually learning how to grow together as two individuals becoming one.