3 Important Tips for Intercultural Long-distance Relationships

Cross-cultural dating can be a lot of fun, but it can also mean a lot of work for the both of you if you’re serious about it. Intercultural long-distance dating or online dating across cultures are challenging because you come from very different backgrounds. But, in a way, you’re very lucky because the very things that brought you together in the first place can keep you stay connected and see your long-distance relationship mature through to the end. So, how can these bonds be strengthened further and make your intercultural online dating experience turn into a lifetime commitment?

  • Hang on to the ‘why’ of how you fell in love despite intercultural differences

Can you put into words each other’s qualities that made you fall in love or want to continue the relationship? It doesn’t have to be dramatic. It could be something simple like a smile, a laugh, a thing he liked or a thing she thought was funny. But what is it? If you can crystallize your reasons for wanting to be in this relationship, that alone can help you deal with the problem of physical distance.

Think about this for a minute: what do we really fall in love with or get attracted to? The concept of the other person, right? Since you don’t know that person in the beginning, that’s the only thing you can fall in love with. Learning about each other and growing that love comes later. So, use that to your advantage.

How? Use your imagination.

No, I’m not asking you to use your imagination to figure out how to do this; I’m asking you to literally use your imagination to strengthen your love or attraction for this person. It actually comes quite naturally in the beginning and is similar to something called called imprinting. Imprinting is a biological phenomenon that happens to newborn animals and humans. What they first see when they open their eyes is what they get imprinted to. In most situations, this is the mother or father, or both. It often happens in bird species like ducks and fowl, where you see the duckling or chick following the mother around almost as if it was programmed to do so. That’s because it is. Here’s what researchers say:

There is evidently an innate tendency to follow but there is no requirement that the object to be followed be the biological mother. After the infantile following behavior has been outgrown, the attachment continues to exist and forms the basis of later social preferences

In essence, that’s sort of what happens when we’re attracted to someone for the first time. It is the imprint of them that we are attracted to, not necessarily the real person – because we barely know them. The problem is, as our relationship matures, we often forget about this imprinting and start gradually focusing on the negatives, which is when the relationship problems start to creep in.

If you want to strengthen your relationship with a long-distance lover or someone you’ve started dating online, you need to remember the initial imprinting and keep fortifying it with positive thoughts about that person. And this becomes even more critical when you’re in an intercultural dating situation or long-distance relationship because you don’t have the advantage of the ‘touch’ imprint, which is crucial for any mother-baby relationship.

In summary, what was it that first attracted you to that person? Keep your focus on that and try to find even more things that are similar and that you really like. That’s a great way to strengthen any bond and create a healthy relationship.

For example, did you first like her because she was honest about herself? If she’s honest, she’s probably quite humble as well. If she’s humble, she may be soft-spoken. If she’s soft-spoken, she’s likely to be slow to anger… and so on and so forth. Keep connecting the dots and, as you progress, what you’re doing is creating a larger and larger ‘likeability profile’ of her, and that imprint gets stronger in your mind, thereby strengthening your relationship with her.

In the end, every person in our life is merely a collection of memories or imprints, and it is these memories that either drive relationships upward or crash them into the ground. If a relationship has become ‘stale’, then what’s happening is that we’re not creating new imprints and memories to strengthen that relationship. That’s a sign that the relationship is on its way down. Don’t let that happen.

  • Understand that sacrifice is not always a bad thing

There’s no meaningful relationship without sacrifice on both sides. If you’re not willing to give up something or do something extra for each other, it could mean you’re not giving the relationship the importance it deserves. This is a fact you can’t afford to ignore. Too many couples tend to let their egos come in the way of nurturing a relationship; neither side wants to give in, until what’s left is a tension-filled relationship. That’s no way to live.

An important thing to remember is that sacrifice doesn’t always mean giving up what you love, by the way. For example, if you’re a smoker and he doesn’t like it, figure out whether you can do without the cigarettes. In truth, it might be a habit you yourself have wanted to give up in the first place. Here is now a solid reason to do that. In such a situation, it’s not so much a sacrifice or compromise as an agreement to do what both of you want anyway.

Another aspect of sacrifice is that most people think it’s about doing more of what the other person likes and less of what you like. Sometimes, when you do more of what the other person wants, you might actually get what you want in the process. An example of this would be: If she complains that you don’t call often enough, make an effort to call her at least once more per week than you usually do. It’s a small step and a small effort on your part, but it could mean a lot to her and make a huge difference to your relationship. In other words, what might have initially be an inconvenience for you actually ends up benefitting you.

Yet another important point about sacrifice is that it is an ongoing effort, but it’s equally true that the effort itself becomes second nature to you after a short time. Moreover, the benefit usually far outweighs the cost.

To give a very lose analogy, think about doing a software update on your smartphone. The update is usually a large file. It takes forever (or so it seems) to download and install, and your phone will restart many times. It’s a pain in the neck, which is why most users don’t bother to update their phone software until things become critical. But what does this lead to? A slower phone, no access to better features, greater risk of malware infections (viruses), and worse.

On the other hand, what if you grit your teeth and update the phone right away, sacrificing valuable time? You benefit from a faster device that’s safer and has all the new features that came in the update, right? An act of sacrifice to strengthen your online relationship or long-distance relationship with a person from another culture is often like a software update. It’s a mildly annoying hurdle but it leads to a superior user experience at the end of it. The best part is that once you’ve upgraded your relationship, the painful parts don’t matter anymore and are virtually wiped from your memory, leaving only the good parts. You won’t even remember the faults in your old software!

  • Take time to understand each other’s cultures

While most couples in a long-distance relationship don’t need to do this if they’re essentially from similar backgrounds, it becomes of paramount importance if you’ve had culturally different upbringings. There’s a sort of double-jeopardy while you navigate not only a new relationship but also the understanding and appreciation of a culture that’s pretty much alien to you.

This is where the learning curve comes in. Take it as slow as you need to because this is something you need to get comfortable with over time, not overnight. Does her family come from a culture where they eat with their hands or with chopsticks instead of spoons, forks, and knives? Do his parents insist that you call them before you drop by? Is your PDA (public display of affection) making his friends uncomfortable? Does her family’s veganism make you long for a cheeseburger when they invite you over for dinner?

Of course, you may not be dealing with such things at first because the relationship itself is a long-distance one. But you’ll eventually be visiting each other. So, unless you want things to overwhelm you at that time, it’s a good idea to be well-prepared.

Learning about the other culture can come from a variety of sources, but the most valuable one is your partner. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, it helps you avoid stereotyping the other culture, which is often what happens when you learn about it from a book or online. Second, it gives you first-hand knowledge about the other person’s own proclivities and tendencies within the subset of that culture. In other words, there’s better context there than anywhere else. Third, it encourages both of you to open up about how you feel about your own cultures. Not everyone likes every aspect of their own background, and the communication around that will help you become more tolerant and appreciative of where you come from.

A word of warning, though. You don’t have to immerse yourself in another culture just to understand it. The risk here is that you may end up giving up some important values that you’ve been brought up with. For instance, in many Asian cultures, it is important to respect the elderly and honor the deceased. If you’re in love with someone from a Western culture, you may see that element missing. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up your own beliefs, even if your boyfriend or girlfriend thinks it’s unimportant. It’s also crucial that you not try to cram your own preferences into your partner’s mind. The key to a cross-cultural relationship is not becoming like each other but, rather, appreciating the differences as much as the similarities.

Finally, be ready to get some mutual pushback from each other’s families and friends. Maybe not friends, initially, but family for sure. There are bound to be members of your or your partner’s family that object to the relationship because of their own biases. While it’s important not to let that affect the relationship itself, you need to be aware that this is something you have to learn to deal with. If you can gradually win the heart of her crotchety old grandma or his jealous sister, that can only help! Try being nice to them or doing things for them in order to help your relationship find firm footing within their family.

Parting Words on Long-distance Intercultural Relationships

One of the benefits of being in a long-distance relationship is that all these things don’t have to be dealt with together or even in rapid succession. You typically have a lot of time before even the two of you meet. Use that time to get to know the other person and their culture. Be aware of the differences but don’t let them come in between the two of you.

Above all else, understand that there may be a rough patch of forest with thick undergrowth to go through before you eventually arrive at the lush meadows that await you. You need to sit together and decide whether the effort is worth it; because, if it is, then it’s up to both of you to give it everything you got in order to make it work.

All the best of luck and love to you!

Additional Resources:

Long-distance Relationship Tips: 7 Habits of Highly Effective LDR Couples

Relationship Advice Online: 7 Top Websites to Help Make your Relationship Work

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