Let’s Talk about Cross Cultural Relationships, and How Therapy Can Help (1/3)

What are some challenges and unique strengths that people in cross cultural relationships possess? In the next few weeks, we will be releasing a series of articles that explore these very questions.

By Meng-lin (Benny) Hsieh, M.Ed., Counseling Psychologist in Taiwan

Photographer:Nandhu Kumar

Challenges that Cross Cultural Relationships Face

If you've ever been in a relationship, you know that it takes work. Each union is a meshing of individual habits, beliefs, and values. For some, those differences may be less apparent to outsiders, such as religious affiliation or sexual orientation. For others, it may be more visible, such as differences in race, economic wealth, and language, etc.

I have heard people both admire and harbor distrust about cross cultural relationships. When people first hear about a friend or family member who are currently in a cross cultural union, they are often fascinated by the novelty of it. "What is it like?" "How does it work?". Then comes the interrogation. "Do you argue a lot?" "What happens when..." or, somewhat bitingly, "Why?". In truth, all people who are in relationships have to navigate differences as they try and find ways to fit into each others' lives. When those in the relationship are from more widely divergent cultural backgrounds, they may have to work through additional issues that are unique to their situations.

One of the biggest challenges that people who are in cross cultural relationships face is lack of societal support. There are many negative stereotypes regarding multiple heritage relationships, such as the myth that they tend to be less stable and more prone to divorce. Another common misconception is that people who enter into cross cultural unions have ulterior motives, such as "making a statement" or somehow gaining economically or socially. Some may even face accusations of fetishizing certain aspects of their partners' identities. However, extant research does not seem to support these claims. Nevertheless, people in cross cultural relationships may encounter doubt or even distrust from family and friends, sometimes even outright disapproval or even violence, which can be huge stressors for any relationship.

Within the relationship itself, people in cross cultural relationships may diverge on certain values, which in turn can cause friction. Values about time, individuality, authority, privacy, sex, infidelity, and boundaries with families of origin are all influenced strongly by culture, and these values impact how certain decisions are made, which then inevitably impact the relationship. For instance, a married heterosexual couple, one who comes from a more individualistic culture and the other from a more collectivistic one, may have differing opinions about how close their children should be with their extended family. Such conflicts pile up when they are just brushed over, and in the end, cause strain the relationship.


Blount, A. J. & Young, M. E. (2015). Counseling multiple-heritage couples. Journal of

Multicultural Counseling and Development, 43, 137-152, DOI: 10.1002/j.2161-1912.2015.00070.x

Jandu. B. B. (2018). Intercultural couples in America: Challenges, strengths, and clinical

implications. Literature Review for CPSY311: Psychology of Marital Counseling at Santa Clara University. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344463032

Kenney K. R. & Kenney M. E. (2012). Contemporary US multiple heritage couples, individuals,

and families: Issues, concerns, and counseling implications. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 25(2), 99-112, DOI: 10.1080/09515070.2012.674682 

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Let's Talk about Cross Cultural Relationships, and How Therapy Can Help (2/3)

Let's Talk about Cross Cultural Relationships, and How Therapy Can Help (3/3)