Written by: Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT
It is becoming increasingly more common and more accepted to date and marry someone from outside of your faith and cultural background. Thanks to living in large cities and urban areas, such as Chicago, we are now exposed to different types of people with diverse backgrounds and upbringings more than ever before. Not only are we more exposed to different types of people around us, but we are also more likely to date them and even marry them than in previous generations. Couples who are from different faith, religious, cultural, or ethnic backgrounds face the same issues and concerns that any other couple faces. However, there are often differences in how each person was raised, rules of the home, values around family expectations and obligations, and so forth. Often times, couples do not realize the differences they have until later in the relationship or when they start raising children of their own. These differences can cause conflict and lead to frustrating conversations. It is more important than ever that couples therapists be equipped to ask questions about faith and cultural identity and how it’s shaped clients’ views when working with an interfaith or intercultural couple.
I often see clients in couples or premarital therapy who come from different faith or cultural backgrounds. While couples who have different religious and cultural backgrounds face the same issues and hurdles that any other couple from the same background would have (such as struggles communicating, building trust, financial concerns, parenting issues, sexual concerns, and so forth), it is also important to understand the extra layer of differences the couple could potentially have. These differences may come up when it comes to values, boundaries with family, and how to communicate about difficult topics that may be due to religious or cultural beliefs.
Each family, no matter which faith or cultural background they may have, has its own culture and traditions. A family’s cultural and traditions may not be explicitly said, but it is often just known amongst family members, such as, “We always see a movie on Christmas Eve and open presents the next day after breakfast” or, “You attend Hebrew School until you are Bar or Bat Mitzvah’eh, and then you no longer have to attend”. These traditions and rules can be as obvious and explicit as the ones previously described, or can be implicit and can be seen as underlying messages, such as, “We don’t discuss sex”, “No one talks about so-and-so’s drug addiction”, or “When Mom and Dad get older, we support them financially”. Every family has their own unique communication style as well as values which may be impacted by religious or cultural views. It is important to understand what your family of origin’s values and traditions are, even if they do not seem to be related to religion or culture. This is especially important if you are in a relationship with someone from a different faith or cultural background than yourself.
When discussing this with your partner, a great place to start is to ask about what their family’s cultural and religious identity is. Even if your partner may no longer identify with a specific cultural or faith background, it is still important to ask since upbringing plays a giant role in shaping who we are and how we see the world as adults. Topics to discuss and inquire about are family traditions or holidays, how much emphasis is placed on cultural or religious identity, is it important to be a part of a faith or cultural community, expectations with children and religion, family hierarchy (matriarchal or patriarchal family), boundaries with family, and so forth. These conversations should ideally be had before getting married, so expectations and values are clearly stated before tying the knot.
If you are in an interfaith or intercultural relationship and are having trouble navigating some of the differences in upbringing, values, communication, and so forth, it would be valuable to meet with a couples therapists whose specialties include interfaith and intercultural couples counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling to set up an appointment with one of our couples therapists.