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Intercultural Marriage

Updated on August 22, 2016
elayne001 profile image

Ruth, aka Elayne Kongaika, was raised in the orchard town of Orem, Utah. She married a Polynesian boy and has had amazing travel experiences

Behind our home in Tonga not long after we moved there.
Behind our home in Tonga not long after we moved there. | Source

I chose to marry a person from another country. We have had many adventures together. Was it easy? Definitely not. Would I trade my experiences to have stayed in my own country? No, I wouldn't.

In any marriage, you have to compromise and find a middle ground to keep your relationship compatible. There are some choices that intercultural couples must make that are very difficult.

Here are a few things that stand out to me as difficult decisions for us and an interracial couple.

In my new home in Tonga with my baby. This picture was taken at Liahona Campus, the school where we lived for several years.
In my new home in Tonga with my baby. This picture was taken at Liahona Campus, the school where we lived for several years. | Source
Our children and I in Tonga.
Our children and I in Tonga. | Source
Us | Source
Aloha! | Source

Where to Live

I think this is probably the most difficult decision, since in most cases, one or the other will have to sacrifice more.The way you grew up is how you are most comfortable. You usually pattern your own home after what you are used to. But, with two cultures you have to be open to a mixture of styles.

I grew up with my own room, slept in a canopy bed, with pink carpet (pretty much spoiled rotten), and my husband never had his own room, and he slept on a mat on the floor in a one room house with the whole family. So, needless to say, we had a bit of adjusting to do. We lived our first year where I am from, and then made the decision to move to where he is from for three years, but ended up spending a total of 13 years in Tonga, two in Samoa, and 20 in Hawaii.

My husband was not fond of the cold weather in the winters where I grew up, and I was not particularly fond of the hot humid climate in the islands, but I managed to adjust.

What language to speak

When the husband and wife speak different languages, they may have problems expressing their feelings with one another. What might be teasing in one language can be taken as offense in the other one. For example, in my husband's culture, if they say that you are "fat", it is a complement, but to me that was not taken very well. We have had a few problems with this language issue, and have to make ourselves very clear when it comes to our relationship.

Ideally, both languages will be spoken by both the husband and wife, and also taught to the children, but usually one language is preferred over the other. I did my best to learn my husband's language, and our children picked up quite a bit also, must mostly we spoke English (probably because I was the main one who raised the children).

What foods to eat

Gotta eat, right? But what the wife likes to eat, and what the husband likes to eat may be totally different, especially if they are from different countries. It would be ideal if you had enough money to pay a cook for each of you, but since that is not practical, there has to be a lot of give and take.

I grew up in a family where we ate mostly meat and potatoes with a side of veggies, and cake or pie for dessert. My husband, on the other hand, grew up by the sea. They ate a lot of seafood, including fish, octopus, mussels, and crab. Also, because he lived close to Fiji, they ate very spicy curries. This was all very foreign to me, but I was willing to give them a try, and am so glad that I did in some cases. I still don't like raw fish very much or octopus, but I am a fan of most cooked fish and I love curry. Also, I was delighted to learn there are many different kinds of bananas, papaya and I especially enjoyed the variety of fruits in the islands.

What traditions to keep

There are good and bad aspects of all cultures. You need to decide which ones to embrace and which ones to discontinue. Probably my biggest challenge during our first years of marriage was the extended family tradition in his culture.

We had only been married a few months when my husband's brother came to live with us. We have had several of his nieces and nephews live with us over extended periods of time. And, we have had my mother-in-law live with us, too. Being a more private person, I have had to learn how to share my space, food, clothes, kitchen, time, vehicle and money with those that stayed with us. My husband's family do not have "distant relatives". They are all considered close relatives. You have to know where to draw the line, otherwise you may lose yourself. Also, I had to give up my "American dream" because moving to the islands meant earning a much lower income, since my husband didn't become a US citizen until much later on.

How to Raise the Children

My husband was raised with the "hands on" type of discipline growing up. I don't remember ever being spanked (maybe once), so when it came time to raise our children, we had a few disagreements about how to handle them. I would cry as much as the kids when my husband got his belt out, but fortunately he mellowed as each child came along. I am happy that we were able to raise our children mainly in Polynesia. They had an excellent education at an English-speaking school, which was patterned after the British school system. They have all done very well, and each went on to graduate from college. One great thing the children learned where they were raised is respect for older people. That is something that seems to be missing a bit in the youth today.

After the Kids are Gone

Our latest dilemma is where we will retire. My husband would love to go back to his homeland and farm year round or lay on the beach. I want to be near my grandchildren, so we had thought of going our separate ways, and meeting up a couple of times a year, but that is still under discussion. We have to work this out together, so I will let you know how it turns out. It definitely takes a strong commitment to our marriage vows for us to live happily ever after together!

We have had so many wonderful experiences in our travels. We decided to live in Hawaii because it is the best of both worlds. I am still in America, but it is located in the South Pacific. The population here is so diverse, and I still have the shopping, medical facilities, and conveniences that I am used to. My husband can garden year round, and go to the beach just like his homeland, so it will be hard to leave.


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  • LetitiaFT profile image

    LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

    Very insightful. I married a Frenchman and now live in Paris. Less of a stretch than Tonga, but still requires patience & a lot of love...

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 5 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thank you Yoridale. I appreciate that! Best wishes and much aloha!

  • Yoridale profile image

    Yoridale 5 years ago

    Enjoyed reading your hub and the true points you made.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 5 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    So right, LianaK. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • LianaK profile image

    LianaK 5 years ago

    I know that you will both find a way to work it out, but a get away in the islands is not a bad idea! Love ya mom!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Glad you liked it Yoridale. I think there is a growing number of biracial couples that would have some fun stories to tell. Thank you.

  • Yoridale profile image

    Yoridale 6 years ago

    I enjoy reading your story. I know some couples there can relate. Thanks for sharing.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thank you Riverfish24. So glad you found my hub insightful. Best wishes to you and your husband. You can make it work if you keep an open mind and loving heart.

  • Riverfish24 profile image

    Riverfish24 6 years ago from United States

    This is a wonderful hub. My husband and I belong to the same country but from different cultures and geogrpahical regions with differences in language, food, upbringing etc. It has just been a few years but I can see how it is going to be and your hub has given so many insights. Thank you, I can learn so much and I see ourselves following a similar path like you two did! Making the best of both worlds and loving and cherishing the differences amongst the commonalities.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I hope that this hub will help someone who is contemplating an intercultural marriage. Thank you for your positive comments Pamela99. Aloha!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thank you PWalker281. Yes, I thought it would be like moving to Hawaii, but Tonga is quite a bit different from Hawaii in many ways. I really didn't know what I was getting myself into, but perhaps it was better that way.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    I appreciate the fact that you shared so openly about the trials and adjustments you both made to have a good marriage. This is an excellent hub which I think would be helpful to other interracial couples. Voted up and interesting.

  • profile image

    PWalker281 6 years ago

    I had a lot of "cultural" adjusting to do when I moved to Hawaii from Washington DC, where I had lived all my life, so I can definitely see how challenging an interracial and intercultural marriage can be. But, as you and your husband have demonstrated, it can also be an enriching and rewarding experience. The video interview at the end of the hub was excellent.

    Voted up, useful, and (very) interesting.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thanks, Jaggedfrost, for reading to the end. I truly appreciate your comments. Aloha!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I doubt that we could stay apart very long - we enjoy annoying each other too much! Glad you have positive things to say about my husband's race. They are really great, and have many fine qualities. And, yes, they are big boned, so they are doing quite well in athletics. My husband played rugby when we first met. He has scars to prove it. His smile is one of the things that endears him to many. Thanks for your great comments.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Don't worry Lisa HW. It was more of an joke than for real. We couldn't live apart that long after all we have been together. We are leaning towards the mainland, but it would be great to have a get-away in the Pacific to run away from the snow to.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thank you writtenbylv. Glad you liked it. Aloha!

  • Jaggedfrost profile image

    Jaggedfrost 6 years ago

    lol Don't tell the other hubbers I have hopped to today but I actually read all the way through this one. I loved the clean format and the humor as well as the engaging examples that you have given. Best of wishes and luck with that retirement question. Sincerely Jaggedhopper

  • diogenes profile image

    diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

    I, too, was disappointed to see you may live apart much of the time. It seems a damp squib after what you have done and created together.

    I love Tongan people. Many years ago, we had Queen Salote here for the Coronation of our queen. Salote's smile lit up the whole of rainy Britain and we all loved her to death.

    Now we have some Tongan rugby players who catch lesser mortals; throw them in the air and forget to catch them!

    Their own side is great, too.

    Your husband is a handsome man with one of those great smiles.

    I hope whatever you decide, Elayne, it brings you happiness as you age: not a good time to be alone.


  • Lisa HW profile image

    Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts

    elayne101, I was sorry to get to the end of your Hub and see what your latest dilemma is. Best wishes in finding a way to work it out in a way that you're sure is the right way for you.

  • writtenbylv profile image

    writtenbylv 6 years ago from Atlanta, Ga.

    I like this article, it was very informative. Thanks!