You would think that today it would be easier than ever to integrate someone of a different faith or culture into your family. I’m finding that the opposite is true. In working with my cross-cultural clients I’ve discovered that while we’re exposed to other cultures more than ever, some families still experience a hard time accepting your relationship.
Seeing how much need there was I actively went out to intentionally support multicultural, multiethnic, cross-faith couples. As a multicultural wedding planner, I’ve learned so much about what it takes to navigate these murky waters. While every situation is different I outlined what you can expect and some tips on how to navigate that world.
Culturally Integrated Family
When you choose to marry into another culture you’re marrying into what I call a ‘Culturally Integrated Family (CIF).’ This is typically a situation where you have migrants in their second or third generation here in America where two worlds influence your partner's identity.
For a CIF, you can expect that culture played a heavy influence in the upbringing of your partner’s childhood. As your partner progressed into adulthood their American surroundings also influenced their upbringing, which is now their new complicated identity. So now you're experiencing a complex dynamic where foreign culture has blended with a new culture to create the very person that you've decided to spend the rest of your days with.
It's not easy to understand because your partner is unlike their parents. Cultural adherence isn't as clear and definitely not easily identifiable. It's likely that your partner has taken on some aspects of their heritage that they believe in and has actively decided to reject other aspects of their culture especially if they're not religious. If your partner is Indian you can't just plan a Hindu Wedding Ceremony and hope that it is enough.
In a time when we hate labels it's important to not just hear, but to listen intently to your partner's priorities and to their family needs. While some traditions may be difficult to understand the key is to respect them.
As a person marrying into a CIF it’s important to show the family that you understand and honor their history because that's where most frustrations stem from. The way your partners family responds to you will dictate how you navigate your relationship and ultimately your wedding.
Common CIF Reactions to your Relationship
When you're dealing with a CIF, you're likely to experience one of the following responses:
- There is the worst case scenario where you find that your partner’s family does not accept the relationship and therefore want nothing to do with you as a new family.
- You’ve been accepted into the family but there is no respect or regard for your way of life.
- Completely embraced with open arms and love! But tread lightly because it’s very unlikely that they will go out of their way to understand your culture and way of being so you have to integrate that from the get-go.
Navigating CIF Reactions to your Relationship
Let's discuss the worst case scenario. It's hard to not take offense when your partner's family completely rejects or has reservations about you marrying into the family. Right now in this moment, I want you to know that it has NOTHING to do with you and who you are. You could be the best human on this planet but you still won't be what the CIF was hoping for if you're from a different culture. Here is the thing, America has a history of stripping identities from minorities/people of color and a lot of them have had to hide or deny their identities to make it here in America. It's a matter of preserving that very identity that someone tried to steal from them. It's not you, it's about keeping the lineage and unfortunately, that sometimes comes in the form of reservations about your relationship. I married into a CIF and here is the thing: it's all about showing respect for your partner's authentic culture.
You’ve got to fully engulf yourself in that culture which could be as easy as learning to cook the foods that your partner grew up with, or it could be as difficult as converting from one religion to the other. It's very likely that the CIF only recognizes a marriage when certain aspects in a ceremony take place. By completely immersing yourself in the culture you can figure out what that means for them. In deciding to incorporate those aspects of their traditions into your wedding, you're most likely able to gain the respect they are fearful that they won't get from you as an outsider. Like anyone, the family values their sacred roots. By performing a traditional wedding ceremony you're showing them that you care and that your intention isn't to strip them of their identity but to unite the two.
The biggest barrier my clients face when it comes to one culture marrying into the other is language. I cannot stress how important this factor is. Not only will you not be able to communicate but it’s easy to slip in a state of isolation when you're surrounded by family members speaking the language. It leaves you out of the inside jokes or simply denies you the ability to connect and make memories with the very people that are now your new family. Solitary confinement is the worst punishment for a reason: biologically we need to connect with other human beings- that's how important this is.
Upfront I can share that in order to plan a cross-cultural wedding successfully compromises have to be made . If you get nothing from this post, at the very least, please make every wedding decision from here on out knowing that a compromise will HAVE to be made.
Weddings by nature stir up a mix of emotions now throw isolation into the mix and you’ve got yourself a whole can of worms to deal with. The best advice I've ever gotten is:
"Would you rather stick to your guns about your needs on this one day or would you rather use this time to foster a relationship with your forever family." - Michelle Isabel & Co
The complexities of planning a multicultural wedding vary by the couple and by the family. You’ll need to determine what is important to the family while still honoring your partner who may or may not be super into their culture but respects the faith and heritage. I always say, “everyone gets married but no one does it the way you do.” I encourage you to explore what is important to you and your partner. Some deep soul searching may be required. It’s important to understand why you’re doing certain things and make sure that they are authentic representations of what you believe in your heart.
We’ve made it our mission to guide our cross-cultural couples through their vast and varying options . As multicultural wedding planners we spend our days figuring out ways to help you blend and infuse your cultures into your wedding. Wedding planning is complicated as it is so we’re here to not only help you plan your wedding but to do it in a way that feels true and authentic to who you are. If you’re in search of this type of support, we encourage you to fill out the form below to see how we can support you.