Being with someone from another country is often an adventure and sometimes a challenge. Which is it more of? Well, that’s hard to say. Have you ever been in a relationship with someone from a different culture than you? Then you get it. If not, it’s hard to imagine. Here are what I think are the upsides and downsides and how to manage them.
You are forced to learn your whole life.
Upsides: Not only do you have to learn each other’s languages but you also have to learn each other’s cultures. Getting to know a person when you come from the same place is complex but when you’re from other cultures you have so much more to teach other. Plus, your babies will grow up bilingual. How badass is that?
Downsides: There are nuances of language and culture which are either very difficult to understand or impossible to know all of. You can’t really reminisce together about those cool TV shows from the ‘90s, weird food products they had when you were a kid or things you used to collect. Imagine the difference between the ‘90s in America and the ‘90s in Poland. Yeah kinda different. Do those things really matter? No, not really, but sometimes you catch yourself realising that yeah you had very different childhoods and that could cause some dissonance.
My advice: Take the time to learn their language, at least a little bit. Even if you speak your native language most of the time like I do with my husband, speaking their language as well opens up a lot in the relationship. Their language will help you understand them better, as well as their family, friends, culture, all of that. Plus you get to enjoy all those funny language mishaps. A few of my favorites are when my husband called hash browns hash brownies… two very different things. So when he told me he ate hash brownies for breakfast I was pretty surprised. Another one – when I told my mother-in-law that my baby “rucha się” (fucks) instead of “rusza się” (moves)…that’s pretty embarrassing. Or what about the time when I called frytki (french fries) fiutki (little dicks)…
You either get to travel abroad or live abroad.
Upsides: Some may say my husband is lucky as he has a second family in Florida. We vacation there about once a year, which isn’t something to complain about, especially in the winter months. That may be true but I get to live in Europe, which is hard to beat.
Downsides: Just as it’s an advantages to live abroad or travel abroad, it’s also a disadvantage sometimes. What about holidays? What about when you have kids? Someone’s family is always going to miss out and that’s pretty sad. Also, you have to have a lot more money if you’d like to travel to and from your respective countries regularly.
My advice: Acknowledge the fact that your partner, especially the one living in a different country, has many challenges to face on a daily basis. It can be hard to notice, especially if they’ve assimilated well, but it’s exacerbated when there’s high stress, very important events, or special occasions that you don’t get to spend with friends or family. Sometimes you just wanna see your mom and you can’t. There are a lot of sacrifices that that partner makes and it should be acknowledged.
You go through a lot together.
Downsides: These are the things which will make or break your binational relationship. Do you care enough to apply every two years for a new residence permit? How about go to court when you want to get married? We’ve done things together that are so absurd that mono-national couples will just never have to go through. My husband has to have a visa to visit my home country and I have to have formal permission to live in his even though I have a house, business, husband and baby here. I couldn’t understand his parents or any family members when we first met… on Christmas day. Those things can be very challenging and if your relationship isn’t strong, it’ll break under the pressure.
Upsides: You do these things together which aren’t easy, require a lot of patience and understanding, and they seem so ridiculous at the time but, in fact, we have a lot of fun reminiscing about all our red tape nightmares. It’s like something special which only we have.
My advice: Support your partner and acknowledge that it’s a struggle to be with you sometimes. When it come to things like bureaucracy, the individual who’s actually from the country where you live has to put forth the effort to help you with this. It can be intense and you probably need their support in order to obtain everything you need. Likewise, it’s important to show them that you understand what’s difficult about being with you. Just simple “thank you for helping me with that” or letting them know that you appreciate that they speak your language or make the effort to… those things matter.
Also, you just have to be more flexible in general. You can’t communicate your irritation through the subtleties of language, you just have to say them out loud because there’s no way your partner will pick up on them. You just have to literally say “Are you mad at me?” or “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” Is that a minus or is it a plus actually? Being from other cultures might not allow you to hold back your feelings and therefore may force you to suck it up and communicate more clearly and directly. It could be uncomfortable but overall it’s probably better, right?
In general, it’s a lovely thing to be in a bi-national relationship and a lot of the time you don’t even think about it because it becomes so normal. You don’t even think twice about asking “Wiesz gdzie jest ten cup I was using earlier?” or “that’s ciekawy”, something I found myself saying today. Even though you might go through a lot of hard times together, those will make your relationship stronger and it’s something that a lot of people don’t get to share. I think when you have to fight to be together, you appreciate it more.
I know a lot of my readers are also in binational relationships and can surely provide some interesting insight here. What do you guys think? What’s hard about being with someone from another country? What have you gone through? Would you recommend it?