By Isabelle Chefdor, MBACP Counsellor

Culture Clash - how cultural differences impact our relationships

In today's modern, more connected world, interacting with people outside of your own sphere is far easier than at any point in history. Our eyes have been opened up to how people live in other parts of our own country, and other parts of the world. It feels both easier and more difficult than ever to nurture relationships, and this difficulty can extend to relationships with people from cultures other than your own. Romantic relationships, friendships and even workplace relationships can be influenced by cultural differences - but what is culture and why can it have such an impact on our relationships with people?

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What is culture?

Culture is broadly defined as all the ways of life passed down from the generations before you: art, food, music and traditions all form a part of your culture and as a general rule it will shape your values and beliefs as you grow up. It can encompass what you wear, your religion, what language you speak, your views around marriage and having a family, and what you consider important in life. When your culture is so deeply a part of what makes you you then it is understandable that encountering other cultures will sometimes lead to a misunderstanding. Even more so when you are committed to a person, but your opposing cultures mean that you need to step back and take a look at how to compromise on views that you both hold dear.

How different can two cultures really be?

While none of us want to be a clone of our partner - we truly love their differences and the fresh perspective that they bring to us, we often rely on a certain base level of similarity to relate to the other person and understand them. When this isn’t there, and your cultures seem to be in direct opposition with each other it can be truly difficult to find a way to relate to each other.


While this may seem a little obvious, an easy way to ease the stress initially is to show your partner that you respect them and their cultural differences. Showing a willingness to learn can go a long way in making a partner feel seen and understood, and respectful questions can broaden your understanding and give you food for thought. Simply taking the time to understand how your partner is viewing a situation can show them that you are treating them and their views with respect. Time is the most valuable commodity we have, so spending it on learning more about your partner's culture sends a powerful message. 

Equally, showing respect to cultural beliefs that you may not understand yet is important. Although you may have a personal or cultural preference for, say, a smaller wedding, in many cultures large and extravagant celebrations are hugely important so do not be tempted to dismiss something until you understand why it is important. Compromise will be key in a relationship combining different cultures.


Accepting that you will both have to make compromises, and that it may be a difficult process, and that things may take longer than a ‘traditional’ relationship will be important. Both parties will have to make compromises on things that feel important, and initially this can be hard to reconcile with an upbringing where cultural beliefs are important. 

Accept that you may upset or unintentionally offend your partner on occasions, and sometimes you may be the injured party. This will be part of learning to mesh your beliefs and find a way to navigate the world together.


Communication is absolutely key to a cross cultural relationship, but it is also important to understand that even this can be tricky to navigate on occasions. Some cultures are loud and expressive whereas others can be far more reserved, and understanding the differences in how you communicate is a major part in learning to compromise. Good communication can deal with almost anything. Take the time to sit down and discuss how you would like to do things according to your culture, listening to your partner's views and then working together to understand how you can find a way to work that makes everyone happy. Ideally do this before the situation becomes a problem, when everyone is calm and able to enter into the discussion without high emotions becoming an issue and blowing the whole thing up. No one wants to discover that actually their partner's family are all coming over to meet the new baby as you get home from the hospital when you were expecting a calm, quiet house - discussing these types of issues beforehand can massively reduce stress and upset in the moment. Even smaller aspects of life such as food and chores at home can cause conflict, working together to understand each other's strengths and preferences can hugely reduce this.

Ultimately all relationships deal with some type of differences, however when we enter into a relationship with someone from our own culture these differences are generally limited to seemingly smaller issues such as personal taste. When you’re navigating differences that span every aspect of what you believe in things can seem a little harder, however with good communication skills and faith in each other most difficulties can be dealt with in the long run.


For help with learning to communicate more effectively, contact me on 07305 920 437


Further reading:

Ways to manage difficulties in a relationship

Ways that culture can affect relationships