The Struggle is Real: 3 Practical Intercultural Marriage Lessons

This post is contributed by Carrie Herrera Niesen, a SPS Featured Blogger.

My husband and I celebrated our one year anniversary this past June (wahoo!), and it’s been a huge learning curve for the both of us. One that we’ve both welcomed with open arms, but a tough one nonetheless.


Beto’s from big city Mexico and I’m from small town Wisconsin, and more often than not, we get each other. There are, however, more challenges than we anticipated beyond the usual marriage things (“Don’t put the dishes away that way!” “Why would you take this street instead of that street?”) couples naturally have to acclimate to.

While I can’t speak for all intercultural couples, I imagine our experience isn’t unique. Throughout this past year, we’ve tested each others’ patience levels, laughed through the day-to-day grind, and tried to shed light on the this-doesn’t-make-sense-things in each others’ languages. Here are three lessons we’ve learned in our intercultural marriage:

1. You have more miscommunications than you’d ever anticipate.

The amount of times I don’t understand something (or even hear it in the first place) has exceeded my expectations. When interacting in a language other than your own (but have a strong handle on it after 10 years studying/practicing it), it’s insanely challenging to keep up at the same speed you do in your mother tongue.

You have to be incredibly conscious of the context, conversation, and topic at hand when trying to anticipate what’s coming and how to respond. When you’re not familiar with a word or phrase (and, ahem, slang and idioms!), it (naturally) inhibits and slows down clear communication.

I consistently work on grasping the context before fixating on a word I don’t know. I can usually figure out what the missing word is if I listen intently enough around the context.

The amount of times I have to ask my husband to repeat, slow down, or clarify is more than I can count on a daily basis. We’re realizing that explaining and slowing down is part of our day-to-day, and that’s okay. More often than not, he’s using slang that I’ve never used before and then I looooove using it later on (sin pelos en la lengua, anyone?).

2. Your shared grocery lists can yield some…interesting ingredients.

Okay, so this one is more tongue-in-cheek, but when you’ve got a recipe in mind for something delicious that week and he brings home the opposite of what you asked for, it can be both hilarious and disappointing.

For our weekly groceries, we share our list in an app called Wunderlist. When one of us purchases something, we check it off the list so we don’t double purchase. Recently, I put together this list (half in Spanish, half in English): oatmeal, canned pineapple, chicken, green chile salsa, and eggs. Relatively normal, right?

While my husband was at the store, he messaged me and asked me, “When did we get a cat?” Uh…? I got excited because maybe it was hint he was going to bring one home? (We don’t have a cat – yet). Much confusion later, I realized thought I’d written avena (Spanish for oatmeal), but in reality, I’d written arena (Spanish for cat litter, or sand). I was wondering why he asked me, “Who eats cat litter for breakfast?” Whoops!


3. You acquire a knack for explaining the unexplainable.

While Beto doesn’t need any help in the U.S. American pop culture reference arena (he’d cream me in any Trivial Pursuit competition), he sheds light on things that just don’t make sense in the English language. He speaks and understands it enough to get by, and we mainly speak Spanish at home. However, there are times when he throws up his hands at the English language and frankly, I can’t blame him.

When making a homemade pizza a few weekends ago, I told him we needed to put it on a baking sheet and I asked him to grab it out of the cupboard. He grabs the aluminum foil. I look at him puzzled. To him, ‘sheet’ meant something similar to paper (as one might expect – it makes sense). As I grabbed our baking sheet and said that this is the baking sheet we needed, he threw a puzzled look right back at me. “That’s not a sheet! This is a sheet!”. He had a point, and the best I could do was elaborate on the baking sheet’s flatness in comparison to a sheet of paper…

The list of these things grow exponentially on the daily and I’m realizing how much I need to take a bird’s eye view for perspective on the situation or conversation. Some days I want to tear my hair out, and other days, I can only laugh at my cat litter for breakfast.

What have you learned from your intercultural relationships?