LYH33: Five Ways to Thrive in Your Cross-Cultural Marriage [PODCAST]


Show Agenda

Featured Presentation

You can find the full blog post on this topic at

All couples struggle to integrate their personality differences, competing interests, varying emotional needs and divergent conflict resolution styles into one healthy marriage. For couples who layer distinct cultural backgrounds onto this mix, effective communication is even more critical.

GRACE: The Secret Sauce

Grace, modeled by Christ’s death on the cross, must be the bridge for the cross-cultural couple. Couples often miss each other in their efforts to cross the chasms of their differences. Graceful acts redeem their interaction – giving it purpose beyond their personal and cultural expectations.

I would like to offer G-R-A-C-E as a practical acrostic to help the cross-cultural couple surmount communication challenges. This five-step process emphasizes a mutual pursuit of grace in the form of God-inspired human action:

  • GGive your spouse the benefit of the doubt.
  • RRisk being honest
  • AAccept your spouse’s feelings at face value
  • CComplain without criticizing.
  • EEmbrace your differences.

I talk about G.R.A.C.E. as paramount for cross-cultural couples. And, it is. But, the reality is that these are also the keys for all couples.

Leave me a comment and let me know how you have successfully embraced G.R.A.C.E. in your marriage. What has made it difficult at times?

Please do me a huge favor and click HERE to go to iTunes and leave me a rating and review. It will only take 2 minutes of your time. And, it means so much to me. And, just for you, I’ll give you a shout out on the next show.

5 Ways to Thrive in Your Cross-cultural Marriage

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” from the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, was a line not directed to cross-cultural couples. But, it could have been. For more than 26 years, I’ve been in a cross-cultural marriage to an amazing Latina who is of Panamanian heritage. As an African-American male from the South I was ill-prepared for the impact that cultural assumptions would play in our marriage, especially in the early years. Part of the problem was that my wife’s ethnic identity was a mix of African-American and Hispanic. But, our ignorance in sensitively handling our different marital assumptions, caused a lot of problems in our marriage. We definitely had a failure to communicate.

Professional counselors agree that communication failures are among the most common reasons couples seek help.

All couples struggle to integrate their personality differences, competing interests, varying emotional needs and divergent conflict resolution styles into one healthy marriage. For couples who layer distinct cultural backgrounds onto this mix, effective communication is even more critical.

Our ethnic cultures constitute part of the package that socializes us into what is “acceptable communication” in marriage. Understanding in the cross-cultural marriage in particular requires grasping cultural nuances in both the content (what is said) and structure (how it is said) of communication. Communication content and structure are guided by cultural assumptions about power sharing, gender roles and acceptable conflict resolution styles.

GRACE: The Secret Sauce

What Business School Didn’t Teach Me About Marriage

Husbands and wives think that “understanding” is the key to success in marriage. Wives believe that if their beloved just understood how they feel about a situation that the tension and frustration that often exists would melt away. We husbands assume that if we could just get our wives to understand the details of the situation that they would inevitably see things our way. These beliefs lead spouses to undertake various measures to “market” their viewpoints to give the other understanding.

You might question my use of the word “market.” That sounds so manipulative doesn’t it? Marketing is what businesses do to sell a product, right? As I think back to my business school education, Marketing 101 instructed me about the marketing mix entailing product, price, and promotion. Selling a product depends on the elements of this mix.

Here’s what I’m wondering, how much of the tension in my cross-cultural marriage is about my approach to selling my point of view to Dalia? If I think about my perspective as the product in question, I am able to see all of the steps I go through to sell or “promote” it to Dalia. I can give her details of the situation in calculated details. I can explain the trade offs and the cost-benefits of seeing it my way. If all of these rational measures fail to make Dalia understand, I can insert or remove emotion as the situation dictates.
If and when I become desperate for the sell, I always know I can manipulate the stakes or the “price.” I might start off with a light reference to a past incident when I was right and she was wrong. If she still doesn’t get it, I can always rachet it up to a minor rebuke for being so irrational or so emotional that she can’t see the obvious. If I’m forced to raise the stakes even higher to get my point across, then I have to make it even more personal. And, I certainly know those hot buttons. After all, it is about selling understanding—at any cost. But it’s worth it if she gets it. She’ll see it my way. And, this will be better for our marriage, right?

I’m ashamed to admit that I have done all of these things. Don’t get me wrong. I never thought about it as selling my perspective at any cost. But, my actions prove otherwise. Here’s what I’ve learned. Marketing 101 is best left in the Business School rather than in my cross-cultural marriage. Marriage isn’t about making Dalia understand my perspective at any cost. Rather, it is about accepting that which I don’t understand.

Understanding between cross-cultural spouses can be difficult when each person has developed a perspective that comes from a very different set of assumptions. This is where grace enters the picture. Grace is learning to accept that which I may not understand. Why should I accept what doesn’t make sense to me?

The answer is profound yet simple. Integrating our viewpoints creates a co-constructed paradigm that is richer. Put simply, Dalia and I are better together than apart when we replace our natural push to sell with a sincere effort to accept that our differences have value.

What else can couples do to show grace in marriage?