Why is being in an intercultural or interfaith relationship so hard?



On social media, people are enamored by photos of intercultural, interracial, or interfaith couples. People often comment on how beautiful a couple looks and how “#goals” they are. Very few may think about the courage it takes to remain in an intercultural or interfaith relationship due to the various cultural and religious clashes that are brought forward. While it is beautiful and wonderful to watch and support these couples, the reality can be scary and exhausting at times. Families have expectations, dreams, and desires for their children. One of those dreams might include the idea that their children will marry someone from a similar culture or religion as them. While couples may be celebrated by their friends or on social media, families are not always on board. Couples can begin to feel rejected by their parents or other family members. Family can also contribute to arguments, fights, and set the expectation that the couple needs to end their relationship. This can contribute to changes within their relationship, including heightened anxiety and/or depression that may lead to a decrease in excitement for their future. While not all families behave in this way, I want to talk about some of the struggles that can arise for intercultural and interfaith couples. Religious differences are one common struggle between couples. One example that I have worked with are couples in which one partner identifies as Muslim and the other partner identifies as Hindu. The conflicts between Hindus and Muslims have been ongoing since divisions like the Partition of 1947, or even prior (for those who don’t know, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan were one country in the past). There is historical context as to why some Hindus and Muslims struggle to get along, including war and colonization, which can make it especially difficult for couples to disclose their relationship to their families. While younger generations may feel distanced from these events, for parents and grandparents, this isn’t ancient history. Due to this, there are fears of retaliation from family. People do not typically want to hurt their parents; however, for their own emotional wellbeing and safety, couples have had to hide their relationship from their families. Hiding a significant relationship from one’s family takes an incredible amount of energy. It can take an emotional toll and feel truly heartbreaking. This can result in a range of stressors and challenging dynamics– from feeling generally disconnected from one’s family all the way to intense and physical conflicts. In addition to religious differences, some families also emphasize the importance of region and caste. There is debate as to whether caste divisions (a system that indicates your socio-economic status based on the family you were born into) still exist or not, especially in places like the United States. However, some families hold onto this system because it is what they were taught by previous generations and they may not see anything wrong with it. Due to generational gaps as well, it can be challenging for families to understand why characteristics such as one’s region of origin or caste, does not matter to their children. Similarly, individuals in intercultural relationships have shared enduring prejudice and bigotry from their partners’ families when they are part of the same culture, but may be from a different region or have differences in skin color. They often feel othered in these situations and it can feel painful to hear comments that are derogatory or disrespectful towards one’s background. Partnerships will feel strained and defenses can arise when one is experiencing judgment about their particular culture, region, or family’s socio-economic status. Finally, differences in race or ethnicity altogether can contribute to distress. Families who aren’t as aware of other cultures tend to pull on their knowledge of stereotypes, which can cause hurt and pain to couples. In addition to pressure and criticism from families, other strains may arise. An individual facing their own oppression and racial distress may not feel they are able to share and be open with their partner. There is fear of their partner not understanding their experience and worry that the partner may be persuaded by or side with their own family. It can feel emotionally taxing as one person feels the burden of carrying their struggles or is unsure how they can let go of their experiences. I have seen this occur for couples in which one partner identifies as South Asian and another identifies as Black or African American. Many within the South Asian community contribute to racism and prejudice towards the Black community, especially older generations who have been fed various messages from the media and other sources about what it means when someone is Black. Families struggle to see an individual’s character and personality, and focus heavily on their race as the defining label. Some families continue to struggle immensely because they did not envision this future for their children, therefore it can take years for them to accept this reality and some may not ever come to true acceptance. This leads to couples wondering and questioning if their relationship is worth facing these struggles and conflicts, with the strain ultimately placed onto the partnership. There is no right answer here. While families can be an essential part of an individual’s life, it does not mean a relationship is wrong or should not be celebrated because one’s family doesn’t understand it. The BlindianProject is one organization that works hard to celebrate Black and Brown couples and challenge anti-Blackness. They highlight stories of Black and Brown couples who have struggled with their families and some who have succeeded in other ways. While people may not feel validated by their loved ones, they can see others who have gone through similar experiences through this platform and see how powerful this recognition can feel. My specialty is working with both individuals and couples in therapy to provide a safe space to help navigate the nuances of these family and partnership conflicts. Some topics we might cover include: exploration of clashing values, increasing understanding of emotional pain, preparing for when and how to disclose one’s relationship to family or have conversations about one’s relationship, and deepening understanding of the importance of having their family’s approval. Despite various struggles, an intercultural, interracial, or interfaith relationship can show us how people can build beautiful connections when blending elements of their cultures and faiths: foods, traditions, clothing, and art, but also nuanced expressions of love and commitment.

 

Are you part of an intercultural or interfaith relationship? Have you found that this has impacted your relationship with yourself, your family, or your partner? Reach out to us! We’re here to talk.


About the author: Farzana Rahman, LMHC is a wedding and relationship therapist with AisleTalk. AisleTalk is a therapy and coaching practice devoted to supporting individuals and couples through wedding stress. Whether it’s related to COVID-19 or other factors, we are here for you! Book a free consultation call if you think our team can help you navigate this weird time.




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