Relationships: When Cultures Clash

Every person is a cultural being.  And therefore, we each bring our own story, family history, and cultural background into our relationships.  Unlike 20 or 30 years ago, in today's globalized world, we are more likely to interact, make friends, and fall in love with people from cultures other than our own.

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Whereas intercultural romantic relationships, like any romantic relationship, are based on mutual love, respect, openness, and sincerity, they also present with unique challenges that may only become apparent after the initial honeymoon period has passed.   Common challenges faced by intercultural couples are differences in family culture and expectations, religious and political differences, language barriers, and decisions around cultural practices, such as how to celebrate holidays and eating habits.  Down the road, these challenges may also play a role when the question of how to raise children may arise.

Other unique challenges and decisions faced by intercultural couples are:

o Response to stress & conflict

o Response to illness

o Sexual behavior

o Values

o Place of residence

o Friends and interpersonal relationships

o Finances

o Cultural and society’s acceptance of the relationship

o Parental/family approval

o Gender roles

o Cohesiveness of family

o Emotional expressiveness

Factors For Success

Facing all these challenges together as a couple takes much energy, patience, acceptance, and most importantly, the willingness to "go back to the drawing board" as often as necessary.  A first important step is to identify which cultural differences may cause stress and conflict in the relationship.  In this process, it's important not to make any assumptions about the other's standpoint.  Remember, differences are merely differences - they are neither good nor bad.  They are honest expressions of personal and cultural values.

As humans, we assume too quickly, and can accomplish much more if we are curious about each other.  Also, don't assume that understanding each other better necessarily means agreeing with each other.  Living with cultural differences takes constant work.

For additional relationship advice, see these blog entries:

Improving Relationships Through Vulnerability

Managing Expectations In Relationships

Are You In An Abusive Relationship?

I am a Houston psychologist who specializes in working with intercultural couples.  

Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

There is an irony - the fact that Halloween, where everything is fun and games around ghosts, spirits, and haunted houses also marks the end of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Many survivors of domestic violence continue to be haunted by their experiences even after they exit the dangerous situation.  Statistics show that 1 out of 3 women will become or has been a victim of domestic violence. Men, women, and children are victims of domestic violence and abuse daily.


Below find some warning signs that a relationship is becoming emotionally and potentially physically abusive:
1- Becomes involved quickly and pushes for a quick relationship
2-  Jealous and possessive, exhibits frequent calling and checking in behaviors
3-  Exhibits controlling behaviors
4-  Unrealistic expectations
5-  Isolates you from friends and family
6-  Blames others for his/her problems, feelings and mistakes
7-  Checks your phone for text messages and call history. May track you with GPS
8-  Says his/her feelings are easily hurt
9-  Cruel toward animals or children
10-”Playful” use of force during sex
11-Yells and calls you names
12- Subscribes to rigid gender roles
13-Sudden mood swings
14-History of battering
15-Threats of violence
16-Threatens to reveal personal or damaging information about you to your family, friends or employer

If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help from a professional and/or a trusted friend or loved one.  If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, please be non-judgemental and supportive and encourage the person to get help. 
NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE: 1-800-799-7233

Great Expectations and What's Love Got To Do With It




Romantic relationships are one of the most frequently discussed concerns in counseling.  Lots of people would agree that it is at least as hard to maintain a relationship as it is finding that special someone. 

What constitutes a healthy relationship?  Mutual respect, trust, and support are basic building blocks.  Honesty and safety, both physical and emotional, must be a given, not a privilege to be earned.  Open communication and willingness to negotiate keep relationships steady.  In addition, we all deserve to be respected by our partner as a unique individual, while acknowledging that we can make conscious choices to mutually make positive changes in our behaviors and attitudes towards our partner.

There are clear warning signs that a relationship is in trouble and that something fundamental needs to change.  Possessiveness and controlling behaviors, as well as threats or use of violence are obviously huge red flags.  Less easy to detect are unfair and unrealistic expectations that may slowly seep into a relationship once the initial romance wears off.  These expectations can be of your partner, yourself, or the relationship as a whole.  Some examples of common unrealistic expectations in relationships are:

  • Expecting that he/she will change.
  • Hoping that he/she will never change.
  • Assuming that your partner thinks and reacts as you do.
  • Assuming that your partner knows your wants and needs.
  • Expecting that he/she has the same priorities, goals, and interests as you.
  • Believing that the relationship will fulfill all of your social, intellectual, and personal needs.
  • Giving up other interests, activities, and friends.
  • Seeking improved self-esteem through the relationship.
  • Feeling incomplete without a relationship.
  • Expecting that each new relationship is "the one."
  • Expecting that he/she will never make mistakes.
  • Viewing conflict as a threat to the relationship and to be avoided at all costs.
  • Working hard to get the relationship started, but exerting little effort to keep it going.
  • Trying to be what he/she wants, rather than being yourself.
  • Not understanding that feelings of love and passion change with time, as do your priorities and expectations.

Most people recognize themselves somewhere in these expectations.  Individuals who succeed in relationships are able to recognize and work on unrealistic expectations of oneself and others.

Finally - what many forget is that within a relationship, you also have to be accountable to yourself.  This means that being part of a healthy relationship is taking care of yourself.  This can be deduced from several of the above bullet points.  By being yourself – from the beginning, keeping your own life balanced, and not losing yourself in the relationship, you plant seeds of stability and health within a healthy partnership. 

If you are struggling with finding or maintaining a healthy relationship, talking to a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can help. I am a Houston psychologist and I work with both couples and individuals.  Call me for a free consultation at 713-364-8328 or visit DrGortner.com for more information on my services.