Bi-Cultural Relationships

These days I’m busy creating my new on-line program for cross-cultural couples. You’ve heard about it, right? Well, it’s coming down the pike soon, so sign up to get advance notice.

As I put the course together, all sorts of ideas have popping up about what makes for a successful bi-cultural relationship.

Qualities and traits that will help you navigate the journey in cross-cultural coupledom.

Acceptance, Patience and Resilience are three that come to mind.

Plus, strategies you learn along the way, like saving face and making compromises.

Looking back, I wish I’d kept track of all these when I was starting out on my own bicultural romance.

But, there’s no time like today, right?

That’s why I’m introducing a new series.

The Culture Genie’s A to Z Guide to Cross-cultural Relationships.

(I know, the title trips right off the tongue, doesn’t it? If you’ve got any ideas for a snazzier title, let me know.)


In this new series we’ll talk about the characteristics, behaviors and insights that make up this life we’ve chosen.

And we’ll toss in some research-based concepts like fatalism and personal space, too.

But don’t expect these posts to be in alphabetical order. My mind just doesn’t work that way.

After all, I’ve got to keep you on your toes. It’s more fun when you don’t know what’s coming next.

Ready to brush up on you’re A, B, Cs? Great!

I hope you’ll follow along and add your own thoughts and comments._________

H is for Honor.

I admit it; way back when I was a young commitment-phobic global nomad, the word “honor” just rubbed me the wrong way.

Honoring someone seemed like a nice, but antiquated custom – like a knight pledging allegiance to his lordship.

I’m not really sure where I got this negative view of “honor” but I suspect it’s because I’d conflated “honor and obey.” After all, that’s where I’d most often heard the word – in traditional Christian wedding vows.

In fact, it wasn’t until a couple of months into my marriage that I was forced to examine how important honor is for a happy relationship.

And it all came down to names.

Last names, or, surnames, if you’re reading this from across the pond.

You see, when I got married, I kept my maiden name.

No biggie, right? Well, yes, if you grew up in post-women’s lib America, then it might seem perfectly normal to keep your own name.

Especially if you were a, ehem, mature bride, like me.

Growing up, I didn’t feel this way, thanks to the many times I got teased for my less-than-melodious moniker. Trust me, having a name like “Ickes” builds character.

But, after three-plus decades, I’d finally learned to love my last name. It was a source of pride, and a sign of strength. I loved explaining how to pronounce it and sharing its ethnic origins.

“Oh, it’s from Alsace,” I’d say, “The region between France.”

So much of my personal identity was wrapped up in my name for me to toss it away just because I’d gotten married.

My husband, on the other hand, was shocked, to say the least.

To him, my insistence on sticking with my own name was downright weird.

Insulting, in fact.

The name dilemma was never-ending.

And it became an on-going source of conflict for us. He’d make his case. I’d make mine.

“I’ve had this name my whole life,” I’d argue. “Everyone knows me as Justine Ickes.”

“How am I going to explain this to my family?” he’d counter.

Round and round we’d go, each of making totally legitimate cases for our argument.

Then one day in a particularly heated exchange I blurted out, “I’ve had this name my whole life. Why should I take yours just because we’re married?”

“I’m not asking you to take my name,” he said. “I just want to give it to you.”

And that’s when the penny dropped and, I realized, this wasn’t about a power struggle (okay, it was on some level ;-). It was about different ways of showing and expressing honor.

I know, I know. From the outside, and from a certain cultural perspective, this can look and sound like patriarchal pushiness.

And maybe it is, to a degree.

But I also can see where my husband’s coming from. By offering me the gift of his surname he was really talking about belonging.

Not belonging as in possession. But, belonging as in being a part of something bigger – a relationship, a family, a community.

The upshot? Well, I still use my maiden name. Did my husband come to be okay with my decision? Not really, I don’t think. I think I just wore him down. ?

There are some things you have to agree to disagree about.

But I do think that having to reflect on and communicate our different perspectives helped us to grow as a couple.

And isn’t that the beauty of a bicultural relationship?


What does it mean for you? How do you show it? And your partner?

P.S. Want to suggest another word or letter? Let me know in the comments.

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