Emily is an expat, a writer, an editor, a vegan foodie, and a bookworm. She and her husband are from different countries.
When you are in love, it tends to override many practicalities. It is becoming more and more common for interracial couples to get married. Far from being a problem, I think this is a wonderful thing! I think that any couple in love, gay or straight, young or old, of different or the same race should be able to get married and live happily ever after.
However, there are some unfortunate practicalities which come with marrying a person of a different race and culture, especially one who resides in a different country. I met and fell in love with my husband in the Czech Republic. He is American and I am English, so fortunately we share a common language, but we've been through a lot of difficulties to be together and face many more to come. These are some of the life-changing things you'll need to talk about before taking the plunge.
1. Where Will You Live?
You may think that anywhere is fine so long as you can be together, but real life throws a lot of spanners and other bits and bobs in the works. Will you live in your native country, or your fiance's? Of course, if you are both based in the same place this won't necessarily apply. If you are from separate countries, though, here are a few things you'll need to discuss before making the decision:
- Can you speak the necessary language? If you plan to move abroad, you should consider the potential isolation of not speaking the language. It will mean total dependence on your spouse, which can upset the balance of a relationship.
- Can you or your spouse work abroad? Wherever you decide to live, make sure you have realistic job prospects. It took me six months to be eligible to work in America. Having financial dependence on your spouse as well as nothing to occupy your time can really put a strain on a new marriage.
- Can you obtain a visa? Visas are expensive, complicated and an overall headache. Think about how you will go about this before anything else - what steps you will need to take, how much it will cost, and how long it will be until you can live in the same country.
- What about family and friends? Marriage is permanent, and one of you will be permanently removed from your family and friends whatever happens. Don't take this lightly. It's a huge step and you'll need to talk about it together before making any solid plans.
2. What Will Your Wedding Be Like?
It may seem like a small one, but for a Catholic marrying a Muslim or even an American marrying an Englishwoman, it can be a big deal. Will you get married in a church? A religious ceremony? At home or abroad? On learning how many different traditions were attached to an American wedding, I was surprised. Luckily my husband and I both wanted a quiet, non-religious ceremony so no troubles were had. For others, here are some considerations:
- Will your family approve? Uniting families of different cultural backgrounds can be a challenge. It shouldn't stop you, but it creates some complications. Even our respective American and English families had some troubles not reverting to stereotypes on meeting each other. You needn't try to please everyone, but you at least need to please yourselves. If you're having trouble now, be aware that the issue will continue to affect you in the future.
- Where will you get married? The one regret I have about my wedding is that it happened in America. Marrying someone from a different country can mean making sacrifices, and this is just the first stepping stone. Be aware that if this small thing is an area of dispute, there will be troubled waters to come.
- Which traditions will you embrace? Picking one cultural tradition over another or intermingling the two can be a challenge. We shirked all tradition and just went with what felt natural, but it can be a big deal if you have a strong ethnic identity. Make sure you talk it over and both find a solution you can be happy with. Making sacrifices at this stage means you will be making more down the road, so watch out!
3. How Will You Raise Your Children?
I know, it's the last thing on most people's minds as newlyweds, but eventually you'll need to think about it, and it's best to know if you share opinions. Here are a few of the things you need to agree on:
- Education: Where will they be educated? When my husband and I have children, I'd like them to go to school in England even though they will probably be born in America. Luckily it's something my husband will consider. Make sure you're on the same page, or at least the same chapter, on this issue. It will be a huge factor later.
- Religion: Luckily neither my husband nor I have strong religious views, but for many interracial couples this is a huge issue. Raising your children in a certain religion is a big decision - if you are a religious person living in a country with a different primary religion, consider how much it will affect you and your family long-term. Make sure it's not something which will divide your opinions.
- Family: Again, having children away from your family is a big consideration if you have family in separate countries. Will you be OK with that? It's a point worth discussing and one which my husband and I still haven't come to a conclusion about.
4. Can You Learn to Compromise?
Of course, all marriage is about compromise. Essentially, both of you need to agree to disagree on some matters, but marriage is not about giving up on the things you love and value. For a successful marriage between two people from different countries, the most important factors are that you:
- Have similar values: You should have similar goals in life, ideas about the roles of men and women, about right and wrong, honesty and ethics. Similar values generally mean that you want and expect the same things, which will mean fewer problems and disagreements. Of course you can't agree on everything, but make sure your fundamental values will mesh.
- Love and respect each other: This is the key to any successful marriage. Even if you have different cultures and traditions, respect the other person's values. I make sure to pipe down on the Fourth of July, and my husband dutifully eats his pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Marrying someone from another country should never mean that either one of you loses your own culture.
- See each other's point of view: Even if you have different ideas of how things should be, you need to listen and understand the other person's perspective. During my first Christmas in America my husband couldn't understand why I insisted on making Christmas Pudding even though he hates dried fruit. Now he recognises that integrating both our traditions is important, even if it is over something small.
- Make sure you compensate for living abroad: For us, my living in America means frequent and expensive trips to England are a must. It's not ideal, but we knew before we got married that it was inevitable and non-negotiable. Make sure you have a plan you agree on so that you are both happy. It's not about winning or losing the fight to have your own way - it's about finding a way that works for both of you.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can you marry someone on your first visit to a foreign country?
Answer: Yes, but in the U.S., you will need to apply for a fiance visa first. I don't know what the rules are for other countries.
Question: If I marry my fiancé, who is Canadian, and I am a U.S. citizen, can we maintain our individual citizenship?
Answer: The basic answer is yes.
For a more in-depth answer: Your citizenship status will not automatically change if you marry someone who is a citizen of another country. You or your fiance will need to apply for citizenship, depending on where you choose to live. There may be a long process and requirements you need to meet before you will be eligible. Often you need to get a green card first and have it for a certain number of years. You also need to live in the country where you are applying for citizenship. You also do not have to apply for any other citizenship if you don't want to. You can just opt for permanent residency. If you do apply for and receive citizenship, you will be a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen (the same applies for your fiance).
I hope all of that makes sense! It's a complicated topic, and I can't really do it justice here.