How to Make Marriage Across Cultures Work

When I boarded the international flight as a naïve, newly graduated cross-cultural missions major, little did I know just how steeped in cross-cultural communication my life was to become. At the time, I was eager to spend six months serving the Lord on a college campus in Cape Town, South Africa—more than 8,000 miles away from my hometown in the Midwest.

Barely twenty-one years old, I could hardly wait to meet new people, see the sights, be exposed to new ways of doing things, and put into practice what I had learned at Bible college.

Our ‘unplanned’ love story
When I first felt myself falling for the South African man who is now my husband, I thought to myself, “No!  Stop that!  This is not why you came here. Get those thoughts out of your head!”

But apparently the Lord had other plans—we are now in our ninth year of matrimony.

Growing up in predominantly white, Dutch, middle-class suburbia, I envisioned that I would probably have blond-haired, blue-eyed offspring. I certainly never thought I’d be seeking tips on how to manage my daughter’s beautiful Afro!

Our ‘caramel’ kids love Toby Mac’s song, ‘Made for Me,’ especially when Toby sings of his wife, ‘Well I got white skin and she got brown skin, but milk and coffee’s always been a beautiful blend.’

Many people take one look at the dichotomy of our skin colors and can’t resist asking,

So what’s it like to be in a mixed race relationship?”

Some may see it as a severe handicap, perhaps even an insurmountable hurdle. After all, is it really possible for two completely different cultures to be joined as one?

In our case, we saw the challenge as an advantage. The coming together of any two individuals is bound to create some discord as expectations and assumptions go head to head in a clamor to come out on top. But because we knew from the beginning that we had vastly different worldviews, we made an extra effort to articulate our expectations.

To have unity—communicate!
Some people may assume that if their partner went to the same high school, was raised in the same town, or possessed the same culture and worldview, they would naturally do things the same way—but each individual will come to a relationship with different ways of doing things. No two families bring up their children exactly the same way, and therefore couples will have to articulate what they expect, what they are used to, and what they would like to see happen in their own marriage in order to have unity.

For us, the fact that the differences were so blatantly obvious forced us to be overly talkative about our worldviews, our upbringing, and our assumptions. We couldn’t presume that the other person would necessarily think in a similar manner regarding anything—children, extended family relations, money management, birth control, etc.

When cultures clash
On the points where our cultures have clashed, we’ve been afforded the opportunity to search the Scriptures to find a common ground. We can critique each other’s cultural presuppositions without being judgmental or offensive. We can point out blind spots, drawing out the best of each culture, and form a new version. We can then celebrate a richness of diversity in our family.

As we began the process of expressing our views on various issues, we realized that we had more in common than we thought because our world views were based on the same source—the Word of God. With Christ as our foundation, we could agree on most of the important decisions.

Why stay rooted in Jesus?
If a cross-cultural couple builds their foundation on the Rock of Jesus Christ, that house could be uprooted and re-established anywhere on the planet without the slightest hint of entering new territory. As Matthew 7:24-25 says,

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

Sure, we think differently from each other. Most couples do. As a middle-class American, my thinking is often permeated with materialism and individualism. My husband’s African heritage has caused him to consider issues from a community perspective.

Yet, when it comes to decisions that need to be made, what makes our marriage tick is the commonality of the gospel. We can put our cultural differences aside and recognize the higher authority, our Lord and Maker. By his grace, as we strive to give up our culturally-tinted glasses and submit to His will, we can grow a marriage that transcends and supersedes any worldly barrier— racially, culturally or otherwise.


Kate Motaung is the author of A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging (2018), A Start-Up Guide for Online Christian Writers, and Letters to Grief. She is the host of Five Minute Friday, an online community that encourages and equips Christian writers, and owner of Refine Services, a company that offers writing, editing, and digital marketing services. Kate blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@katemotaung).

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