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Successful Transnational Couples ~ the Secret of Their Success

Updated on July 20, 2019
mtkomori profile image

mtkomori and her family have lived in both Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and Yokohama, Japan.

Why are Transnational Marriages More Work?

It is said that divorce rates among transnational couples are higher than those marriages that are between two people from the same country.

Obtaining permanent residency or citizenship for the foreign spouse can be a lot of work and the language and cultural barrier can become major obstacles in making a transnational marriage work.

I think it boils down to this. Trying to build a happy and working marriage requires open and meaningful communication which is more difficult between two people from different countries. Often times, at least one spouse is communicating in a language that is not their native language.

In some cases, this can be quite stressful and can be an obstacle in maintaining good communication essential in any marriage. Different values as well as religious differences can be obstacles as well.

I am not, however, saying that communication is nearly impossible in a transnational marriage. Here, I will introduce transnational couples I actually know (their names have been changed to respect their privacy) that have been successfully and happily married for many years.They have children and in many cases, one spouse is communicating in his/her non-native language. Despite this "stress", they have made their marriages successful. What is the secret of their success?

Sam & Akiko (Sam: British Akiko: Japanese) Married for 22 Years Living in Canada

Sam and Akiko met in England while Akiko and her friend were visiting on vacation. Akiko left Japan and moved to Manchester, England when she got married to Sam. She had never lived overseas until that time and there were no Japanese in Manchester, hence acquiring the language was essential.

She enrolled in an English language course and worked hard to learn the language.She communicates with Sam in English and he helped her to get some of the homework done for the classes. He encouraged her to learn the language. Her English improved with time and she started to make friends in the neighborhood in the process.

Later they moved to London where Akiko found a job with a Japanese company. She was able to use Japanese on a daily basis so at least during the day, she was able to take a break. With time, she no longer found it stressful to communicate in English. The couple moved to Waterloo, Ontario, Canada in 2007 and later to Edmonton. They became parents to twin girls in 2009. They continue to speak in English with their daughters as well. Their daughters go to Japanese school on Saturday but since they are attending a public school during the week, they have started to speak in English only.

The secret of their success: Akiko`s hard work in learning English and Sam`s continuous help and encouragement.

Takashi & Amy (Takashi: Japanese Amy: American) Living in Japan Married for 24 Years

Takashi was pursuing graduate studies at an university in Niigata Prefecture, Japan when he met Amy, who came from Texas to take up a teaching position. Amy knew little Japanese but took the time to study Japanese when she wasn`t teaching.

After Takashi finished his studies, he moved to Tokyo to take up a position at the company he had been working for. Takashi and Amy saw each other from time to time, and after they got married, Amy moved to Tokyo. However, she had trouble adjusting to life there since she knew no one and all her friends were either in Niigata or in Texas. Not being fluent enough in Japanese didn`t help, either.

They eventually moved back to Niigata and their son arrived in 1996. Amy had been going to a Japanese language school for foreigners to learn Japanese but had to take a break after their son arrived. The couple speak to each other mainly in English.

Takashi had to commute on the bullet train from Niigata to Tokyo since he was still working for the same company. After taking time off from work to care for his elderly mother, he resumed work. However, he felt that he had lost his place at work. Besides, he had had enough of serving as salesman for the company. Takashi decided to leave the company. He and Amy started a business in Niigata where Amy taught English and Takashi served as manager.

When their son finished elementary school in Niigata, the couple decided he should attend middle school and high school in Hawaii. Amy moved to Hawaii with her son and took up residence within commuting distance of the school her son was attending. Takashi supported her and their son and travelled to Hawaii from Niigata once or twice a year. This went on for about six years and when their son started college in Indiana, Amy moved back to Niigata to be with Takashi again. Their son is attending graduate school so he is still living in Indiana.

The secret of their success: Takashi`s continued understanding that Amy is a foreigner in Japan (hence he still mainly speaks to her in English), choosing a residence that is comfortable for Amy (moving to Niigata) and continued financial support for Amy and their son while their son attended school in Hawaii. Amy continues to live in Niigata, Japan and continues working in the business she and Takashi started.

Hiroshi & Emily (Hiroshi: Japanese Emily: American) Living in Los Angeles Married for 18 Years

Hiroshi spent several years overseas as a child due to his father`s job. He spent some time in Panama and Mexico. Since he attended international schools, he became fluent in English. He returned to Japan for college, and went to work for an American securities company in Tokyo after graduation. He left his job after becoming sick of "counting other people`s money" and enrolled in an art school in Los Angeles. He met Emily at a party hosted by a mutual friend. After two years of dating, they got married. They took up residence in Los Angeles while Hiroshi set up his own art studio and began illustrating for clients and creating "flash animation" ( a brief animation lasting for about 3 to 5 minutes) for a prominent artist.

The couple communicate with each other in English; after their son arrived, Hiroshi was mainly caring for their son since Emily went back to teaching at the local elementary school. The couple decided they wanted their son to learn Japanese so they enrolled him in a preschool where the language of instruction was Japanese. Their son went on to an elementary school which has a Japanese/English immersion program.

Recently, the family spent the summer in Tokyo, near Hiroshi`s parents’. Their son attended a local elementary school briefly. He had some difficulty adapting to certain customs, such as taking shoes off before entering the building, and cleaning the classroom at the end of the day. However, he picked up Japanese rather quickly from his classmates, though subjects such as Japanese language and social science proved to be a challenge.

The secret of their success: Hiroshi speaks in his wife`s native language, English, and he cares for their son while his wife is at work. He also supports his son in learning Japanese. Emily continues working as an elementary school teacher.

Kazuya & Marie (Kazuya: Japanese Marie: American) Living in Japan Married for 30 years

Marie was working at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan while still a student at a university near San Francisco. She met Kazuya through a coworker and a year after they were married, they moved back to California since Marie had to finish school. They were still quite young so they did not have children for several years. They purchased a home and their daughter arrived soon after. They had another daughter when they moved to Chicago due to Kazuya`s job, and their third daughter arrived in Singapore when Kazuya`s company transferred him there. In Singapore, their oldest daughter attended a Japanese school during the week so she became fluent in the language. Kazuya supported her school work at home. Their two younger daughters attended a local preschool and did not have the opportunity to learn much Japanese. Kazuya and Marie spoke in English mainly at home so their daughters maintained their English.

In 2007, the family moved to Yokohama, Japan due to Kazuya`s job transfer. Initially, Marie did not want to move to Japan since she had only lived there briefly and knew no one. Her family and friends were all in California.

Despite this, she registered herself with the school board and obtained a part time position as an English teacher at the local middle school. Marie already had a TESOL from the university she attended in California. She knew some Japanese from studying at university and attending a Japanese language school in California so she was able to get by at the local middle school where there were hardly any English speakers.

She also became a member of the international church where there were numerous foreigners who spoke English although they were from countries as diverse as Venezuela, Germany, and Singapore. The church held events from time to time and Marie helped out in the planning; she also attends the English conversation group founded by the members of the church. Kazuya continues to work in a foreign firm based in Tokyo and is often on business trips. Marie spends the summer in California with her elderly mother and sees her siblings who live nearby. This is the only time she can see her family but Kazuya is patient about it, although he has to stay in Yokohama all by himself for two whole months.

The Secret of Their Success: Kazuya`s continuous patience in living in Marie`s hometown in California and speaking in English, and his continued support for Marie when she was studying Japanese. Marie was able to find a part time job that utilizes her skills and she was able to find a community of friends, even though Japan is still a foreign country for her.

Kazutoshi & Maria (Kazutoshi: Japanese Maria: Filipino) Married for 25 years Living in Japan

The couple met in the Philippines during Kazutoshi`s business trip which lasted a few months. They were married in Manila and soon after, they moved to Kazutoshi`s hometown in Yokohama. Maria had already studied Japanese since she knew it was essential; her husband didn`t speak Tagalog (the "common" language in the Philippines) and wasn`t very fluent in English.

When their sons arrived, Maria spoke to them in English, but as she became more proficient in Japanese, she was able to communicate with them in Japanese. Maria was a very outgoing person, and easily befriended Japanese mothers at her sons` preschool. She started a part time job selling cosmetic products and later, taught English at home. After she left both of these jobs, she became a volunteer interpreter for foreign patients visiting local hospitals. She often interpreted for Filipino women who were pregnant. She also interpreted for foreigners who needed assistance in family courts. Maria was able to make use of her fluency in Tagalog and English and she felt a little relieved as she spoke in Japanese at home, which was still a foreign language for her. That aside, she continues to improve her Japanese and is planning to take the N1 exam, which is the highest level of the Japanese proficiency exam for foreigners. Kazutoshi assisted her in studying Japanese.

Kazutoshi went to most of the parent-teacher interviews held at her son`s schools, since Maria was not too confident with her Japanese in communicating with her sons` teachers. Kazutoshi`s parents lived nearby and Maria always made sure to be on good terms with them.

The secret of their success: Maria`s continued hard work in learning Japanese and playing an active role as volunteer interpreter served to be an area where she can put her language skills to use and to take a break from speaking Japanese. Kazutoshi supported her and took care of most of their son`s school affairs, such as speaking with their son`s teachers during the parent-teacher interviews.

As you can see, continued hard work is necessary for both the husband and wife to make the transnational marriage work. Most of the couples discussed above has one spouse that is studying the other spouse`s native language. He or she is consistently making the effort to improve his/her foreign language skills and at the same time, he/she has found a position where their native language skills can be put to use. With the transnational couples described here, this would be teaching, interpreting, or being involved in church activities.

I wish all transnational couples much happiness in the years to come, however challenging it may be!


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    • mtkomori profile imageAUTHOR

      Takako Komori 

      8 months ago from Yokohama, Japan

      Thanks for your comment. The thing that amazes me about transnational couples is that even if one partner is doing most of the compromising, this doesn`t create a source of stress on their relationship. It seems like both partners accept and even appreciate their differences. I guess this may be the secret in being able to stay together happily for many years.

    • Jason Capp profile image

      Jason Reid Capp 

      8 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

      This is a wonderful article and a great means of understanding the situation more clearly. Although I am personally not in a transnational relationship, a lot of my colleagues are and I have noticed many of the things you pointed out.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write this! Such a great gift to this Hub community!

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