By Rachel O’Neill, Contributing Writer
Hello, my name is Rachel. I am an American. Meet my husband Niall (pronounced like the river) – he’s from Ireland.
We’ve been married for four years, we live stateside, and now we have a little daughter.
The Lord has taught me many lessons about life and people and Himself through our cross-cultural marriage. If you’re married to (or thinking about getting married to) someone who grew up in a different country, there are a few things you need to be aware of.
1. You think on different wave lengths
Yes, its true that men and women already think differently (men are from Mars, women are from Venus, remember?). But when your spouse hails from another part of the globe, this is going to be magnified to a much greater degree of intensity.
It may not be obvious at first. For example, Niall and I both grew up speaking English (though he also speaks Irish). He has been here for eight years and even sounds like an American. But I have to remember that he’s not.
Certain things he would say or do struck me as weird in the beginning of our relationship. Then I went to Ireland…. and he made perfect sense within his own cultural context. He wasn’t weird- he was just Irish.
Because he grew up on the other side of the Atlantic, Niall had a different perception of the world than I did. On topics like American politics, Christian “culture,” education and child-rearing, to name a few.
As we’ve grown together in our marriage, we’ve both shifted in our understanding. There is a greater blending and balance of the ideas we held before marriage, which brings me to my second point.
2. “Different” isn’t bad
In fact, it can be really good. Left to ourselves, humans tend to have a narrow view of things. We can be so opinionated and so confident that we have everything nicely figured out. While the truths of Scripture are everlasting, unchangeable, and authoritatively binding, the Lord has left many areas in life where we must use discernment and prayer to develop our own conclusions and convictions.
“Different” teaches me that everything in life isn’t as black and white as I’d like it to be. “Different” invites me to become more gracious, a better listener, and quicker to embrace understanding. “Different” tones down my arrogance, checks and balances unnecessary dogmatism, and reveals my blind prejudices for what they really are.
Because I married a foreigner, I (hopefully!) have a bigger view of the world. I’ve learned that the way people look at and process life varies greatly from country to country. While each culture has its own sinful tendencies to be wary of, they also have different strengths we can learn from. My culture is not perfect or best, it is not exempt from serious flaws (quite the contrary!). This has been revolutionary for me.
3. Someone will always be homesick
This is especially key at this time of year, when families around the globe celebrate different holidays in different ways (Ever heard of St. Stephen’s Day? How about Three Kings?).
If you are the spouse living at home, be mindful that while your spouse may seem at home, culture shock and homesickness can hit at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. It can be especially tough during the holidays!
Just ask your spouse how they are doing, and how you can help. See if you can surprise them by making or buying (online? in a specialty store?) special treats from their homeland.
If you will be spending the holidays overseas, be gracious and willing to leave your own family and traditions at this time. Think: your spouse gives up the familiarity and comforts of home on a daily basis for you. Marriage is about sacrifice, and serving your spouse. Do it with a joyful spirit!
Homesickness can be greatly healed by a supportive and loving spouse. You are each others’ home now! Let home be a place where you speak kindly to one another, respect the different understandings from which you came, and blend your two unique and beautiful cultures together.
4. Follow Christ’s example
Christ left the glories and riches of His home in heaven for love of His bride. Whether you are living in your homeland or your spouses, you can follow Christ’s example of looking not to your own interests, but the interests of your spouse, and considering them more significant than yourself (Phil. 2:3-5).
I’ve heard spouses of foreigners declare that they could NEVER live in their spouses home country. Thank God that Christ was more willing to come down to us! Please be gracious enough to never say never. Keep a willing and open mind to whatever the Lord might have for your future. Remember that as a Christ follower, this world is not your home.
Consider Him who laid down His crowns and traded them for a cross. Follow the example of Jesus, who for the joy of procuring His bride, humbled Himself and came down to earth.
Every Christian marriage is supposed to represent Christ’s relationship to His Church. It is a relationship that ought to be marked by sacrificial, servant-like love. Cross-cultural marriage is a special opportunity to leave your comfort zone for the sake of your love, and to serve your spouse, at home or away.
Let’s magnify Christ in this unique pursuit!