Things to Consider Before Marrying a Foreigner

This one goes out to all couples out there who are contemplating taking the plunge into marriage. I’ve received several messages from women who are dating or engaged to a foreigner and many have wondered if I had any advice (bahaha) for them or if I had any suggestions for things they could discuss to make the transition into bicultural marriage easier. I’m not really a bicultural marriage expert (at all), but I do have some suggestions for things to consider and talk about before you get married. If you had asked me three years ago, I simply would have said, “RUN. Far and fast in the other direction.”

Thankfully you’re asking me now when I’m a little more mature and a lot more rational.

These days I would say that if you love each other, you both love God, and you’re both willing to work for it, you should go for it. If you find an amazing man (or woman), don’t let the fact that you’re from different countries get in the way. It’s not every day you find someone amazing enough that you consider marrying them. That being said, here are some questions that I think are worth asking and discussing before you get married:

  1. The obvious one: Are you both committed to God? Obviously your commitment to God in marriage is going to make a huge difference no matter whom you marry. Specifically in bicultural marriage, there can be some loneliness and misunderstanding due to language/culture differences. You NEED a commitment to God because He will sustain both you and your spouse through those times and remind you that He knows you, understands you, and is with you.
  2. Has God confirmed this relationship to you? This one has been particularly helpful to me when things have gotten difficult. Whenever I started having doubts and questioning if we made the right decision to get married, I’ve thought back to God’s clear confirmation and hand within our relationship. It gives so much security knowing this was of God, is from God, and is done through God.
  3. How would each of you define the roles of men/women in marriage? It’s always good to discuss what each person expects/desires from the other. This is important because there are many cultural expectations or customs that can be complicated. If in your husband’s culture the women always stay home with the children and always do the cooking, but you want to work and hate cooking, obviously you’re going to want to talk about that. That one is easy, but things can get sticky if you haven’t talked about areas like this before you get married. Watch how each other’s families interact and discuss how you like/don’t like what happens. Better now than later. Honesty is key here.
  4. Are both of you willing to live in either country? It is highly likely that at some point or another you’ll live in your country or the other’s country. Make sure that both of you are comfortable with this. Even if you plan to live in the U.S., you never know what could happen in the future. Maybe you’ll have to go back and live to take care of his parents, etc. Are you willing to live in a foreign country?
  5. Are you willing to work through the various processes that are inevitable when you marry a foreigner (such a paperwork, immigration/residency, etc.)? These things cost money and require a lot of time and patience. It’s a good idea to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions before you get married because you’ll be able to save yourself time and money if you do the process right the first time.  Recognize that if you someday want your man to move to the U.S. with you, smuggling him in isn’t the best option. You have to follow the process and that can be frustrating. (P.S. Never give the original copies of documents like your marriage certificate to immigration officials of foreign countries. You may never see them again. You can thank me later for this priceless piece of advice.)
  6. Are you willing to wait a few years for you to fully understand one another? I’m assuming that you both speak English or at least share one language and can communicate somehow, but even with a husband who is  fluent in English, I have a hard time fully expressing myself sometimes so that he can understand and vice versa. Something good to do before you get married and while you’re married is to be OVERLY direct. If you’re a lady that is easily offended, gets quiet and doesn’t explain why you are mad–that needs to change. You have to explain everything in detail and in a way the man can understand…especially since he is probably going to compare your behavior to what he has seen in women in his culture and possibly not understand the problem. It took us a few years to truly know each other and communicate well. As always, communication is everything. Start now. 🙂
  7. Sex. This is a must. Different cultures have different expectations, different presuppositions, and different ideas for how your sex life is going to play out. Save yourself the trouble of an awkward wedding night, honeymoon, and possibly the frustration in the first several years of marriage by discussing this a little in advance.
  8. Money. Albin and I come from very different socioeconomic statuses, and on top of that our countries deal with various aspects of handling money differently. You and your future spouse should talk about who will keep the budget, whether or not both of you will have access to your joint money (I’ve heard horror stories about this one), tithing, debts, etc. Money is such a touchy subject as it is, and when you add cultural differences, it can cause some serious dissension. You may also want to talk about whether or not you will be supporting anyone else outside of your immediate family. It is very common for foreigners living in the U.S. especially to send money home to help support extended family. Albin and I haven’t dealt with this too often since we live in CR, but many of my friends have needed to have this discussion. Get it out in the open now to avoid conflict later.
  9. Kids. Talk about which cultural customs you plan to uphold when raising your kids. Spanking is illegal in Costa Rica, but I grew up with a paddle at home and one in every car in case we were on the road and someone got crazy. Being on the same page about discipline, language, customs, etc. when raising your kids will save you from a lot of heartache in the future.

I hope this list is helpful and at least gives you some ideas of things to discuss. I know a lot of the items are rather obvious, but it can be easy to overlook areas when you’re lovestruck and swooning over that sexy foreign accent. Most people will talk about these topic before any marriage in general, but try to think through how cultural norms will play into each one.  In the next few weeks I’ll be posting my top ten favorite things about bicultural marriage and top ten not-so-favorite things to give you some more food for thought. As always, if you want to discuss something more specific or have questions, please feel free to hit me up!

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Wildly Successful Marriage

Nobody wants their marriage to fail, including me. Before I got married, not only did I not want to fail, I wanted my marriage to be wildly successful. I loved to win. I wanted to be the best at everything I did. My parents have an amazing marriage. In my mind, it was pretty near perfect. It hasn’t been easy for them, but they have set an incredible example. In my mind, their example was the standard. I was crushed when I found out that I couldn’t meet my own high expectations.

When Albin and I first started dating, a well-meaning missionary lady asked me to get coffee. She told me she had worked with several bicultural couples over the years and that they hadn’t had much success. She told me a few horror stories about her friends. In some cases, the problem wasn’t the cultural difference, the problem was that they married crazy people. There was, however, some truth to a lot of what she said and I appreciated that she cared for me. A little seed of fear was planted.

Throughout the rest of our dating relationship, engagement, and marriage, we encountered SO many people that were more than happy to give us any negative comment, horror story, or struggle they’d ever heard of in a bicultural marriage. Each time, another little seed of fear was planted in my heart. Comments about how we would be miserable, how Albin would treat me as a second-class citizen, how the Tico man/Gringa woman marriage was rated the most likely to fail (how does one even measure that?!). On several occasions I was told that I was crazy to stop traveling and get married to live in Costa Rica. I am not kidding you; the list could go on and on.

The problem was that the negative comments came so often that I started to believe them. All that fear became a huge ball of anxiety in my gut. Fear about things that weren’t even close to being true about my husband, about my marriage, or about my life. I was discouraged and had a hard time recognizing what was true and what were pure lies. We went through a lot of difficult challenges during that period, and each time I felt like all those negative people had been right after all.

Here we are "cutting" our first anniversary cake...

Here we are “cutting?” our first anniversary cake…

We finally went to marriage counseling and I told the couple we were working with that I felt like such a failure. I still wanted my marriage to be wildly successful, but I didn’t know if that was even possible based on all the negativity I had heard. One thing the counselor said totally changed my perspective.

You need to make your own success.

It’s simple, but it was the proverbial shot to the heart. I had been basing my idea of success off of what I saw from my parents, pictures on Facebook, my friends’ marriages, my unattainable expectations, etc. I was doing a lot of comparing, and that is never healthy.

Albin and I started praying that God would show us what His idea of a successful marriage was. Hearing His truth spoken over us was amazing. He showed us how to reject the negativity spoken over our marriage and how to set limits with people who were literally speaking death over us and stealing joy from our marriage. We started guarding our hearts and minds against all of the attacks.

We realized that we needed to make our own “culture” that worked for our family. We chose our favorite parts from each of our upbringings and instilled those into our family culture. I was reminded again that one of the very reasons that I was attracted to Albin in the first place was his culture and that he was different than anyone I’d ever met. I decided that I couldn’t let the negativity of others steal the joy from what is one of the things that attracted me to him in the first place.

Ultimately, our success comes from Jesus. He shows us what true success looks like. We can read over all the statistics in the world about bicultural marriages; but none of those statistics are taking into account that both of us are surrendered to Jesus and that a relationship with Him changes everything.

I still want my marriage to be wildly successful. We haven’t “arrived” by any means, but I can tell you that our perspective of success has changed for the better. Though we only have three and a half years of experience under our belts, we are on a mission to encourage all of you who are bicultural marriages and relationships out there. We want to be painfully real and extremely honest, but we also want to speak life, encouragement, and fight fear.

Just remember that what you’re fighting so hard for is worth it. It’s possible. You can be wildly successful.

And a note to my husband, Albin:

So many of the negative comments that were made about you and us were as far from the truth as possible. I will never be able to express how grateful I am to you for your faithfulness and unconditional love. The way you have loved me and our daughter (and our ridiculous dogs) is such a testimony to me. You are the most unselfish, caring, and patient man I’ve ever met. I am so glad that none of the Debbie Downers talked me out of marrying you. You are such a blessing from God to me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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