Tips for Adjusting to Life When You are Married to a Foreigner

I get a lot of hits and a good deal of personal emails from people who are either involved in a long-distance relationship with an Italian or are planning to tie the knot with a foreigner and want to talk to someone “who’s been there.” Interestingly enough, I’m actually the “foreigner,” in this relationship, but since this is my blog-and he rarely reads it-we’re not going to worry about that detail.

Here are five tips I’ve picked up on adjusting to life when you are married to a foreigner.

1. Embrace Both Cultures
This might sound like common sense, but it is harder than you might think. I’ve found that in order for us to blend our cultures, we have to make a conscious effort to 1) learn about each other’s culture and 2) appreciate the differences. Some ideas we’ve found that help us embrace both cultures include varying our dinner recipes (for example, we had both Tex-Mex and Chinese food last week), watching both Italian and American sports (Forza Azzurri … uhm, How ’bout them Cowboys?!?) and even learning to watch and enjoy movies, shows and music from both countries.

2. Celebrate Holidays
Along those same lines, make an effort to celebrate each other’s cultural holidays. We are typically in the US for the Christmas season where La Befana has yet to travel, yet, lucky us-she stops by each year. While we don’t exchange gifts, we acknowledge the day and give La Befana gifts (that we’ve brought from Italy) to the kids in the family. Here in Italy, we celebrate, albeit without the fireworks, on July 4 and today-America’s Labor Day-we’re having burgers for lunch.

3. Learn Each Other’s Language
With the exception of #4 (see below) this might be the toughest tip of all. Yet, in the four years since I’ve lived here (and learned Italian) I can see a difference in how I relate to, and how much more I understand, my husband. There are some quirky habits in both of our languages that used to stump, confuse or even anger us. However, now that we know each language, we understand each other’s intent and that goes a long way in ensuring a happy marriage.

4. Don’t get Defensive
I think this is more of an issue for the native spouse, who’s expat partner can easily become stressed, irritated or frustrated by her new country’s nuances, but it is important not to get defensive. My husband is pretty great at this (if I can brag a bit) and lets me get away with mini rants and raves. In return, I try to keep them to a minimum and defuse my own defensive nature when he has something unflattering to say about the US.

5. Be Patient
Patience is the key to any successful marriage, but especially if you are with someone from a different culture, you should give them the benefit of the doubt (an expression I had a hell of a time explaining to my husband a few years ago) and be patient. For the native spouse, try to understand what your expat partner is going through, how she misses her family, friends and culture and be patient when she is moody or frustrated. For the expat partner, be patient with yourself and know that with time, you’ll begin to feel a real connection to your new home and those little things that once seemed oh-so important, will begin to fade.

They say marriage is never easy and I imagine a union of people from two different cultures, languages and traditions has even more obstacles to overcome. But remember what you saw in that person when you decided to move, or in some cases permanently stay, in a different country. Those are the things that are really important-the rest are just details. And remember … we’re not going to worry about those.

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Photos: Damon Green via Flickr and our personal wedding album

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Comments

  1. Ciao bella, such a beautiful bride. I think you have truly become one with P since you forgot Labor Day this year. Are you sure you’re from Texas? LOL

    Definitely! I just “forgot” it was Labor Day in the same way I forgot today was Monday! lol We had burgers, fries and watermelon at lunch … I made up for that blunder!

  2. Gorgeous picture! I think learning the other’s language is ESSENTIAL!!!!!!!!!

    Thanks, Andi … and like Monica said, it makes it easier for when there are little bambini!

  3. From someone who is Italian born and been married to an Englishman for 20 years, I totally agree and I had something: when the kids come along make sure to teach them both languages without difference, very very important! The kids will obviously pick one for mothertongue, but it is nice to be able to have a conversation in two languages!!

    Great tip! Thanks, Monica!

  4. Cherrye–
    Excellent advice for even those of us married to those of different cultural descent. I am Latina, my husband German, and if that miss doesn’t make for fireworks every now and again, I don’t know what! Not taking things personally is key.
    Love your wedding photo, Peppe looks like an alter boy!
    Ciao..Betsy

    Ha, thanks, Betsy. I’ll tell him you said that!

  5. Good suggestions! I am German and my boyfriend is Italian…. and despite 8 lovely years together, we are both still struggling with each other’s language. But we’re working on it. What helps us is that we live in a third country, the US. We are both foreigners 🙂 I can imagine that it would be much tougher if we ever were to move to Germany or Italy.

    I think the dynamics of all of these relationships are so interesting and I agree it would be much different if you are both foreigners, if you are the same nationality in a different country, etc. In bocca al lupo to you two!

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