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How to Overcome Cultural Differences in a Relationship

As you might have guessed from my posts about long distance relationship (How to make LDR work and 10 Advantages of LDR), I am actually in a relationship with a person who lives in a different country. This person lives in Japan and while I am kind of having a break of long distance relationship right now, there are still many other difficulties I have to overcome in this relationship.

Based on my own experience and my psychology studies, today I’m going to give you some brief tips on how to overcome and learn to accept the cultural differences in cross cultural relationships. I’m focusing mainly on romantic relationships but you could apply some of these to friendship as well.


A bird and sakura in Yokohama

1. Don’t compare

You should never compare your culture with your partner’s culture, or at the very least, never think of pluses and minuses of one or another. No culture is really better than another and even if it was, thinking about things like this will make either you or your partner feel bad at some point.

I used to do this all the time in past, comparing everything from food to people of the country where I have grown up with those of Japan. While I still think Japanese food is better than that of my home country, if I were asked which country has nicer people or which country has better manner rules, I wouldn’t know the answer – and even if I had an opinion, I wouldn’t answer to questions like that.

2. Don’t assume

Never make assumptions about your partner based on his or her culture. For example, thinking that all Japanese men are work-a-holics and all Japanese women want to get married & become housewives is a big no-no. It’s like thinking that all American people love french fries and coke – a childish and incredibly generalizing assumption. These examples are a bit over-emphasised but seriously speaking, you should not make a single assumption about your partner based on the culture he or she has grown up.

In the beginning of my current relationship, my boyfriend sometimes used to say “Ah, well I guess that’s normal in your country” when I did something weird. I made sure to explain him that it’s not about the country – it’s just me being weird.

People in Shibuya, Japan
You can see many people in this picture. They might all be people of the same country (Japan) but without knowing any of them, could you say that you knew something about their personalities? They might have something common as Japanese but they might not, and the same goes for all people.

4. Don’t compromise too much

3. Think positive, not negative

Try to think of cultural differences as pluses, not minuses. Differences are what make the life richer and more exiting. The more there are differences between your cultures, the more you have things to talk about and the more you can learn from each other.

Rice bowl with sea urchin (uni) and cod roe (ikura)
Differences in food culture have definitely made my life richer. I totally love this Japanese donburi with uni (sea urchin) and ikura (cod roe)!

4. Don’t compromise too much

Don’t try to assimiliate too much to your partner’s culture and don’t force your culture on your partner either. I think you should introduce one another’s culture to each other but never push it on each other: both of you have your own lifestyles and you are free to choose what parts of them you change – if any. Even if you move to your partner’s country at some point, you shouldn’t compromise too much. Change only what you feel comfortable changing.

A plane near Haneda Airport, flying over the sea
There are some walls you are better off not hopping over – literally. Even though this is a pun, this

5. Don’t assume your partner doesn’t know anything (or knows everything) about your culture

As stated above, differences of the culture might be a nice and never-ending topic for conversation. However, you should not just go on and explain everything as if your partner knew nothing. It really annoys me when my boyfriend automatically assumes I don’t know something just because it’s something mostly only Japanese people know. I realized that I do the same as well though so can’t really blame him. I guess only way to resolve situations like this is to smile and inform your partner you already knew – getting annoyed and angry is going to get you nowhere.

In the contrary, it’s not good either to assume your partner already knows everything by default and there’s no need to explain anything. It might sound complicated and difficult but well, no one said relationships are easy, right?

A beautiful flower bed in Japan
Like these flowers, people are also different. A complete cliché but true.

6. Think & talk about the future

Even if you both live in the same country and the same city, you should talk about where you will live in the future. You should never assume your partner thinks exactly the same way as you do and wants to live where you want to live – or the opposite. If you’re going to be together your whole life, you should also think about your families. For example, I always thought I want to live in Japan but thinking about it more, I’m not so sure. I have many people very important to me in another country and I want to spend time with those people as well.

There are also countless of other things you should talk about, including views on marriage, work, money and children. If you ever have children, you should seriously consider teaching both of your languages to them. Even if you feel like your child won’t need the language of one of you, that child may feel another way when he or she grows up.

7. Remember that it’s not always about the culture

While some difficulties do originate from the cultural differences, you should not tolerate anything and everything just because of the culture. Sometimes the one you’re dating is just not worth you and might be a complete idiot. Also, even if the difficulties were about the culture, overcoming those difficulties can be impossible sometimes. If you feel that some differences regarding the culture, religion or language are impossible to overcome, you should talk about that with your partner as soon as possible.


By the way, I wonder if I am the only one who feels like most of these tips apply to any relationships and not just to the cross cultural ones? I guess that only tells you how similar cross cultural and long distance relationships are to “ordinary” ones (no relationship is really “ordinary” though, they’re all special in their own ways ♥).


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