Multicultural Relationships: Surprise! You’re in OneJune 10, 2014 • By Susan J. Leviton, MA, LMFT, LGBT Issues (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Topic Expert Contributor
When you think of the word “multicultural,” you probably envision people of different skin colors, or perhaps nationalities, but those are only two factors out of many that determine a person’s culture. Dialect, geography, religion, economic status, size of hometown, foods—these and more are part of a person’s culture. When you are gay, bi, or trans, you may be so focused on that culture that it is easy to forget about the cultural differences within your relationship. And that can be a mistake.
Knowing someone intimately includes knowing their life experiences and how things look through their eyes. If you ignore these things, you are opening the way to conflict and hurt. Differences don’t have to be barriers to a relationship, but they should be understood and respected. Otherwise, these differences can pop up in arguments without you realizing it. For example:
- Does your partner feel uncomfortable in situations that don’t bother you?
- Do you disagree on how much to be involved with family?
- Do you fight about money issues?
- Do you disagree on how to behave in public? How much affection to show? How “out” it is OK to be?
- Do you argue about place mats vs. tablecloths? Relaxing vacations vs. sightseeing vacations? Opening presents on Christmas Eve vs. Christmas morning?
Yes, these can be cultural issues. People in different parts of the country (or of different religions, or different economic status, etc.) have different ways of doing things, different traditions. Even within the common threads of the LGBT community, there may be sharply contrasting experiences. One person may have come out to a loving family, while the partner may have been kicked out of his or her home. One may be accepted within his or her profession, the other may always be fighting discrimination.
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The more you know about your partner’s world, the closer you will be and the more peace you will have. So … recognize all the ways you were raised differently. Ask questions! Share, and listen when your partner shares. Talk TO each other, not at each other. Be curious. Be interested. Don’t ridicule, tease, or criticize your partner’s life experience. Otherwise, he or she will be reluctant to share with you again. There may be times when sympathy is appropriate, or when you can laugh about something together. Sharing the past with someone who really cares is important to everyone, but particularly within the LGBT community, where there are many whose feelings had to be hidden and one’s self-expression was met with hostility.
Being aware of your differences and understanding them helps to avoid those dangerous assumptions we make when disagreements occur. When there is conflict, it is common for a person to feel his or her partner doesn’t care about them, or to assign a feeling to the partner that isn’t really there. “They aren’t coming with me because they are embarrassed by me.” “She hates my family.” “He is so selfish!” The truth may be that your partner is refusing to do certain things because of the way he or she feels about himself/herself. Maybe he is embarrassed about his lack of higher education and that is why he doesn’t want to go to your office party. Maybe having to be closeted most of her life makes it hard for her to go to gay events. Maybe where he comes from, you don’t show up at a party without a written invitation. You won’t know unless you talk about it.
Sometimes cultural issues don’t cause problems until children arrive. Reaching this phase of life, if you choose to be a parent, can’t help but stir up memories of your own childhood. Especially holidays. This is when conflicting traditions can spoil special events and cause a lot of pain. Having talks about your own family traditions, those you liked and those you did not, before becoming parents is wise. If you didn’t think of it then (and maybe assumed that you would both …), then do it now. But remember the points above—be respectful, listen even if you don’t agree, and ask questions. From a place of caring, it is much easier to make decisions about how to move forward.
Cultural differences do not have to get in the way of a loving relationship. They can deepen and expand it if you take the time to learn about your partner and share on a new level.
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othneilJune 10th, 2014 at 3:46 PM
Some of the cultural differences can be too great to overcome. I once dated a girl who was Jewish and I am Christian and although we really cared about each other I knew that neither family could get past the religious differences that we all possessed. Her parents were especially insistent that I convert if we were going to stay together and that wasn’t going to happen and ultimately split us apart. We parted on good terms but you do sometimes feel like you were a little narrow mindedd or that they were to let this get between what could have been a good thing.
AbeJune 10th, 2014 at 5:13 PM
If only we could all get to that point where we do not see others as you are this and I am that… we are all people and members of the human race… then wow, what an incredible world this could be.
Think about the things we can stand to learn from other cultures and to experience them through them. Instead the tendency is to close ourselves off from thsoe who are different from who we are, or that we perceive to be different, and actually shy away from all of things that we oculd teach each other.
KaciJune 11th, 2014 at 4:13 AM
There will always be conflict in any relationship no matter if you are with someone who shares the same background that you do or if they are from another social world altogether.
But this doesn’t matter if you are going to make this work out and stay together. You should not focus on the things that make you different.
You have to find what your common ground is and focus on that instead. When you look at only the things that make you different don’t you realize that this more than anything will drive a wedge between the two of you?
You have to find those commonalities that the two of you share and work on a way to keep those front and center. When those are the focal point of the relationship it helps make the things that you may disagree on or think differently about seem a little less daunting.
mayaJune 11th, 2014 at 12:50 PM
Just become you come from different backgrounds does not mean that there have to be all of these differences. You should look at these as a way of learning more about your significant other and not something to be critical of. You could probably learn alot from them and about other things in the world that don’t revolve around your hometiwn if you would take the time to actually listen to what they ahve to say and find a way to appreciate the differences instead of looking at them as just another things that separates the two of you.
WheelerJune 12th, 2014 at 4:25 AM
So you are saying that we don’t necessarily have to be involved with someone of a different race or religion to qualify as this being a multicultural pairing? That we could all be qualified as such given just the different familia backgrounds from where we were raised? Interesting… I have not given much thought to that as a possibility, have always assumed that it has to be true background differences to be labeled as such, but in the end you are right. Some of us could be next door neighbors and could come from different patterns of being raised as night and day. Clearly no matter how similar you may seem on the surface those things that we learn growing up could in the end be very divisive even with someone we assume is “just like us” and could be detrimental to a relationship.
HannaJune 13th, 2014 at 2:53 PM
This sounds like any normal relationship to me. There will always be differences and disagreements, but that does not always mean that it is because you were brought up differently, right? You could simply be different people with different priorities and points of view, and this is not always a bad thing. Who wants to be with someone all of the time that you always agree on stuff, like everything? That’s boring! Having a few things that you differ on, well that adds a little bit of spice and as long as your core beliefs are the same and the things that you think are important are the things that your partmer feels are important oo, then it’s okay to not always have the same thoughts about every little single thing.
OwenJune 14th, 2014 at 9:18 AM
I agree that two people in a relationship are naturally going to look at certain things in a different way. You say tomato, I say to-mah-to, right? But there is nothing about any of this that cannot be overcome with a little skill in the communication department. You don’t always have to see eye to eye, that part is normal. But you do have to be willing to at times agree to disagree, not press the point when it is beyond reason. There are always going to be certain things that are worth fighting for and then there will be those things that are siumply not worth it at all. Choose your battles wisely and you will be fine.
colleenJune 16th, 2014 at 4:26 AM
Being in a gay or lesbian relationship is already hard enough.
When you find that you then have come from different backgrounds and that there are different ideas about acceptance and being in a relationship that can already be so hard anyway, then there are even more obstacles that this couple may find that they have to overcome together.
This is met with its own unique set of challenges.
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