All couples experience struggles in their relationship from time to time. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community, got married young, believe in abstinence until marriage, or have a “picture perfect” relationship, you can understand that all relationships need to be filled with love and respect in order to last.
Even though it’s 2016 and people have made significant steps toward accepting relationships of all kinds, interracial couples still experience struggles that outsiders can’t relate to. We’ve talked to an expert and college students who've been in interracial relationships to explain a few of these struggles as well as ways to deal with them.
1. Not understanding each other’s culture
Many American millennials tend to have an understanding, or at least an awareness, about different cultures. After all, we are the “melting pot” of the world. When it comes to dating someone from a different background, this can be difficult in terms of not understanding certain cultural traditions.
Matthew Powers, a senior at Emmanuel College, puts a positive spin on explaining why this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. “Interracial relationships are a lot more special than regular relationships because they give you the opportunity to be exposed to a culture that you may be entirely unfamiliar with,” he says. “In dating my girlfriend I was exposed to foods I might’ve been too nervous to try otherwise as well as a new type of family style eating.”
Food is one factor that can arise when dating someone with a different cultural background, but it goes way beyond that too. Matthew further explains, “We didn’t always understand each other’s backgrounds, for instance, her family was Buddhist and mine was Catholic. The first time she came to my house and saw crucifixes hanging from the walls, she was very confused.” He continues, “Similarly there were times when I went to her house and there would be food set out on tables as gifts for her ancestors, and I was shocked to learn that this was a ritual of her religion.”
From religion to food preferences, there’s a lot you can learn in an interracial relationship. Just be sure to keep an open mind, especially if it’s for someone you love.
2. Dealing with negative public perception
This particular struggle really pulls at the heart strings.
Jeffrey Smith Jr., the Director of Multicultural Programs at Emmanuel College, shares his professional insight on how interracial couples are perceived by others. “Despite the fact that multiracial and multiethnic relationships and families are becoming more common, many people still refuse to support people entering relationships with someone outside of their race,” he says. “Many couples choose not to respond to negative comments while other couples choose to confront aggressive language and behavior from people who disapprove. In an America where racist, sexist and homophobic language appears to be surging, many couples grapple with the decision to ignore the hate or confront it.”
Every couple deserves to feel safe in their environment. Our country would not be nearly as beautiful if we were all the same. We must all do our part to spread love, while educating those with hate in their hearts on the importance of diversity.
3. Dealing with unaccepting families
Fitting in with a new family can definitely be a difficult task. This can be even more stressful if your SO’s family isn’t fully comfortable with your relationship.
Michelle*, a senior at Bishop’s University, shares insight from her interracial relationship. “Both of us come from backgrounds that are not as accepting of different races as ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ material,” she explains. “I have personally decided to keep my relationship private from my family. Like anything you struggle with personally, a family divide because of differences in opinion can have a big impact, so I've decided when I'm ready to tell them I will.”
Families tend to have a great influence over relationships. Smith shares more advice on what to do in these situations. “I believe it’s important for people to seek support and understanding from their family,” he says. “It’s important to challenge disapproving family members about their bias. If they absolutely refuse to accept your relationship, as painful as it can be to disconnect from family, consider maintaining some distance if you think your relationship is worth fighting for.”
As much as your family is important to you, be sure to put your personal values first once you are confident in what they are.
4. Feeling out of your comfort zone
Negative public perceptions and even family remarks can cause relationships to waiver depending on each partner’s personal comfort zone. This could mean one partner is more comfortable being affection in public while the other may not feel safe to act this way.
Michelle elaborates further on her relationship’s comfort zone. “We are both extremely open about being together in places we are both comfortable, like on campus, but when traveling to a new place where we aren't sure how we will be perceived can be hard,” she shares. “As we see how people react to us simply holding hands, we can soon tell if we will be welcomed as a couple or not.”
She concludes with advice that should be considered by everyone, in any type of relationship. “We both understand that people have their own views but as long as we are happy and comfortable in our relationship that's all that matters." We couldn’t agree more.
You should never have to feel ashamed of who you are or who you love. People may not always understand each other, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be accepting. With everything going on in our country right now, the last thing we need is to fuel the fire with hate. Hate doesn’t solve anything. Be kind to others, embrace their differences, and never be afraid to live authentically.
*Name has been changed