The ABC’s of surviving an inter-cultural marriage (on a daily basis)

My husband and I have been married for only a year and a half but it has been nothing short of an adventure. I am learning something new every day, be it about him, his culture or about marriage – most days, its a ball of fun, some days, not so much. But it has always, always been worth it, Alhamdulillah. I always get the same question when Sisters get to know that my husband is British-Moroccan (and I am Singaporean-Malay), “How do you do it? Leaving your family so far away and living in a completely different atmosphere, culture? Is it difficult?” Yesterday marks one year of us living in Morocco and I thought, “Ma Sha Allah. I survived one year! I did it!” I sat for a few hours, reflecting on our journey thus far and today I’m going to share with you what I think is the ABCs of surviving an Inter-Cultural Marriage. Bismillah!

A: Adapt
You have to adapt. Adapting does not mean forgetting and neglecting your own roots and culture, but to reconcile and orient yourself to your other half’s customs. Start small, and then work your way up. I never pressured myself to be Moroccan and start cooking Tagines on Day One, but just start. If they eat roti (bread) for every meal instead of nasi (rice), then adapt. If they celebrate Eid Adha more elaborately than Hari Raya (Eid’ul Fitr), then adapt. Putting in effort to adapt not only allows you show to your spouse/in laws that you are respecting their traditions, but you are also making your life a lot easier than resisting change and being in denial that you are married to someone outside your own race.

B: Balance
Balance is key. I cannot stress this enough. No one spouse should be sacrificing everything while the other partner just keeps receiving and taking. If your wife is learning how to cook your traditional cuisine, you should learn her language. If you live with your wife’s family or reside in her birth country permanently, make time to fly home and visit your parents and family. Always have balance and compromise. Imagine your children only knowing one side of their heritage and not knowing the other? It’s pretty sad AND unfair.

C: Curious
Stay curious of each other’s cultures. Ask questions, get involved, learn. If you don’t know each other’s values and traditions, how then will you emphatise and understand, let alone fall in love with each other’s heritage?

D: Daily
To survive and flourish in an Inter-Cultural marriage (or any marriage actually) requires work every day. Communicate daily, share daily, make time daily. A little bit each day, will go a long way, In Sha Allah.

E: Encourage
Encouraging your partner is vital. Do not laught at him/her if she mispronounces some words in your language, or do not make fun of him/her wearing your traditional garment. Encourage, flatter and spur them on! They are doing all of these out of love for you!

F: Food
Food is a universal language. Use it to the advantage of your marriage! Go on a food journey across each other’s country, and share some of the stories that is connected with certain food – its super fun! My husband for example, would do anything for a bottle of Sambal Belacan or a plate of Nasi Lemak, and because of that, I think, he is already half Malay.

G: Give
Give everything that you’ve got to your spouse. Not necessarily physical gifts, but more importantly your time and attention. Especially to the spouse who left everything to move across the world to be with his/her wife/husband. You are the only friend he or she has got. So give. Give all you’ve got to each other.

H: Help
Help each other out, in anything, to the best of your capabilities! This should be obvious, but any help your partner needs, give it! If you do not help your husband/wife, who else will?

I: Islam
Islam and our Deen is vital to survive and flourish in a marriage, and in our lives. It could be the only thing that binds you two together – the common love for Allah and His Messengers. Make Islam the centre of your marriage and you should be more than fine, In Sha Allah. Pray together, learn together, read the Quran together, go for classes together – Islam should be at the very centre and the core of your marriage.

J: Justice
Be fair. No matter how tough things can get, be fair, and listen to each other’s opinions and views. Time should be equally spent between both sides, both families, both countries, not just one particular side. It’s never good to be one sided.

K: Knowledge
Never stop seeking knowledge, individually or together. It prevents us from being ignorant about each other’s cultures and traditions and it will allow us to be more compassionate when dealing with sensitive issues. Knowledge is key.

L: Listen
Too often, we speak more than we listen. Its so easy to criticise or want to give an opinion or an advise (without being asked, I must add) but it’s so hard to listen. When your partner has something to say and/or raising a certain issue, listen. He or she is being vulnerable and is opening up to you, so listen. Listen, listen, listen, and stop being in a highly-charged reactive mode all the time aound your spouse – that should be reserved for work situations, not with each other!

M: Merriment and Fun
Have fun and be merry! Don’t make anything a burden, and complicate unnecessary, trivial things! Whatever it is you are trying to do or learn, have fun with it. It keeps the pressure away and instead of dreading it and putting things off, you will actually be more inspired and motivated to do it.

N: No Nagging, Be Nice
This is especially for the ladies, and a reminder to myself first and foremost. Nobody likes to be nagged at, nobody. And as adults, both partners should be equally mature and responsible enough to know what is best for the marriage. No matter how much you want your partner to do something, do not nag. Be nice. Smile. Say please and thank you!

O: Optimism
No matter how hard/tough/tricky things might get, stay optimistic and keep faith in Allah. The worst thing that can happen is when both of you become pessimistic, and nobody is there to spur the other one on. As Muslims, we should always be optimistic and positive, for the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” (Narrated by Muslim, 2999)

P: Parents + In Laws
Your parents and your in laws should be your strongest allies! No words can describe how important the blessings of your parents and in laws are for your marriage and you should always remind each other to serve both parents and parents in law the best that you two possibly can. Allah says in the Quran, “And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour.” (17:23)

Q: Quran
Which brings me to my next point. Quran. The Quran is so important in our lives, it is the Book of Wisdom and the Book of Guidance. Every single situation that you are in or any difficulty that you face, the answers are all in the Quran. We have to make time to read it, and learn it and live it and keep it as our closest companions.

R: Rekindle
Always find an opportunity to rekindle the love or the bliss that both of you felt when you were newly married. Husbands, charm your wife. Wives, dress up for your husband. Its so easy to be too comfortable and before you know it, your marriage will easily be like a routine. Freshen things up once in a while, both of you will appreciate it and it is good for your marriage.

S: Space
It is so important to give each other space. Living together, and seeing each other every day does not allow you or your spouse to have your own much-needed me-time, to reflect and to work on your own stuff. Be each other’s rock and support system but, also remember to give each other space.

T: Team
We have to remember that our partners are our teammates, that the success of my partner is also my success and the failure of my spouse is also mine. If we always keep in mind that we are actually on the same side, on the same team, more energy will then be focused to solving problems than just merely attacking one another and engaging in petty fights. Those aren’t very healthy for any marriage.

U: Understand
For a marriage to work, especially an inter-cultural marriage, both partners have to be understanding and flexible. Men, deflate your egos. Ladies, be more accommodating. It will only work to both of your advantage!

V: Valor
You need courage, valor and fearlessness to take a leap of faith to not only settle down and get married but also to be part of a completely different culture/tradition/country/race/background. If you are too afraid, you can never move forward with peace and ease. Pray Istikharah and constantly Du’a to Allah to guide you and to show you if an Inter-Cultural marriage is for you or not.

W: Work, Don’t Whine
If something is not working out, stop whining and fix it! Be a winner, not a whiner!

X: (This is a tricky alpahabet. Pass!)

Y: Y.O.M.O
Ideally, You Only Marry Once. That’s what we all aim to do: to grow and nurture a marriage, till Jannah. So whatever happens, always remember that this marriage is for Jannah. Its okay to lose some fights, its okay to give in a little more, its okay to sacrifice a little more because your spouse is your key to Jannah. Keep your eyes on the ultimate prize!

Z: Zikir
Zikir always, for verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest. With Allah as your Protector and your Helper, In Sha Allah, an Inter-Cultural Marriage will not only be manageable, but harmonious, strong and full of love and kindness.

Written by Aida Azlin

Aida Azlin

Based in Morocco, Aida is extremely curious. A life-long seeker of knowledge, she also runs The Shawl Label full time. One of her biggest life's purpose is to advocate these three core values that she feels are essential to having a fulfilling, productive and blessed life: knowing and living out our purpose, owning our Self-Worthiness and the importance of strengthening our relationship with the One and Only - themes that she focuses on writing at aidaazlin.com.