We make mistakes because we’re human. How we choose to react to and handle these mistakes, however, builds our character and our relationships for better or for worse. I do not claim to know what is best for all multicultural relationships but the advice I give below are the lessons I have learned over time through my own personal experiences.
Don’t always assume you know what your partner is “really” saying
Words can have many meanings culturally as well as personally. The language we choose to communicate with should be considerate of the other person and sometimes, especially in multicultural relationships, you will have no idea beforehand that something you said, which you thought was harmless, could cause such a negative reaction. People can often be quick to react or feel hurt by certain words or phrases that evoke past negative experiences or feelings. We then cling to those specific elements and forget to listen to understand. We’d rather only listen to respond. This communication breakdown fails to resolve the issue. Without open and clear communication, we stay lost in translation and without compassion, we often fail to give our partners the benefit of the doubt.
As an American woman, I feel the English word “sensitive” can be very loaded and is often negatively used to belittle or to make others appear as weak. However, when my partner once used the Finnish word “herkkä” to describe me, which loosely translate to sensitive in English, my response was unnecessarily explosive because in that moment I could not consider how that word could be anything other than negative or even seen as a positive trait in Finnish language. We both had to exercise a lot of patience and compassion to overcome our misunderstandings and better understand one another.
If you feel upset by what your partner has said to you, it is important to explain how you feel but to also patiently and compassionately listen to their explanation. Maybe they meant something else entirely or even misused a word, particularly in a language that is not their native tongue. The best advice is to assume less and communicate more.
Don’t be unwilling to compromise
All relationships require compromise. In our romanticized modern societies, compromise is often seen as the antithesis to romance. However, as Alain de Botton, a modern philosopher, insists (somewhat tragically) that “choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would like to sacrifice ourselves for.” We, as humans, all have our complexities and we only fully start to understand them when we try to love and live with another complex individual. Often these complexities can be polar opposites.
Compromise is about learning to negotiate inevitable differences with a more kind, forgiving, and even humorous perspective. If we are not flexible in such a way, relationships will eventually break rather than learn to bend.
Don’t lose your curiosity (in your partner)
This advice will apply more to couples who have been together for a long time. Our culture, our upbringing is second nature to us and more often in multicultural relationships we frequently learn what is completely normal to us is often entirely foreign to our partner. In the beginning of any relationship we eagerly listen to our partners stories and want to learn everything about them. However, at some point in the relationship we wrongly assume we have done enough “homework.” We believe we have figured out our partner and have very little more to learn. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are always learning, and people change over time. The person you know and love now is not the same person you met years ago. This reality is so easy to forget but vital to remember.
After nearly six years together, my partner and I have certainly made our fair share of mistakes, but we always try to follow the advice above. We continuously recommit ourselves to building a relationship we both want to last.
De Botton, A. (2016, May 28). Why you will marry the wrong person. The New York Times.
Retrieved from: nytimes.com/2016/05/29/opinion/sunday/why-you-will-marry-the-wrong-person
I am an American and a recent graduate from the University of Helsinki currently living in Helsinki with my Finnish partner and our lovely dog, Luna.
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