In 2015, 17% of all newlyweds in the U.S. were in an interracial marriage. This is representative of an increasing trend in interracial marriages over the past few decades. Personally, I am also in an interracial marriage, and have seen an increase in interracial couples coming into therapy.
In any marriage there can be differences in values, beliefs, or just lifestyles that can be difficult to decipher and learn to love. For interracial relationships these differences tend to be just a little more obvious. When working with couples from different backgrounds (whether it is different races, religions, or family dynamics) it is important to start with establishing the things that bring them together. What are the values you share and the customs you both enjoy? And more importantly, what really drew you to your partner?
Once this groundwork of togetherness is established, you can look at the things that may be barriers to intimacy or value clashes that result in ongoing arguments or miscommunication. It may sound silly, but many couples (interracial or not) don’t discuss some of their deepest values before tying the knot. This creates a plethora of stuff to sort through once they are married, leading to marriage feeling “difficult” or “unsatisfying”.
Some of the common themes couples forget to mention pre-wedding are:
- how to incorporate different faith practices
- dealing with family members’ biases
- family traditions to continue, and whether it will differ if kids come into the picture
- gender role expectations
- differing parenting styles
- values around money
- managing comments from strangers
- multi-family households
Now a lot of these are topics that any couple may need to look more deeply into, but for interracial couples more items from this list may have been forgotten or looked over. Having to deal with one stressor vs having to deal with 3 or 4 value clashes may be the difference between a lifelong romance and a trip to the attorney’s office.
Partaking in pre-marital counseling or pre-natal counseling, can be great ways to recognize the diversity in your relationship and establish a joint culture of love and respect for the various beliefs and practices in your relationship. Use the therapy process to increase the tools you can utilize to communicate effectively and understand your partner fully. Make this a stage of togetherness and development on your way to a happily ever after!