Are you and/or your partner new to Finland? Are you currently in an intercultural relationship? While all couples may face hardships such as communication difficulties, misunderstanding, lack of closeness, or even infidelity, immigrant/expat and intercultural couples often find themselves burdened with additional challenges. It is a well-known and sad fact that divorces are more common among immigrant and intercultural couples.
According to Statistics Finland, in 2018, the divorce rate for those with a foreign background was nearly double that of native Finns, and the rate for intercultural couples was as high as over four times that of homogamous Finnish couples!
Expats and immigrants try to adjust to life in a new country- often without a support network. The resulting stress and loneliness can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems, and may also cause an added strain on even otherwise healthy relationships. When one or both partners are struggling with these challenges- culture shock, integrating into a new country, finding work, learning a new language, etc., the relationship can suffer as a result. Stress levels are high, tempers flare, and patience is running low. When personal problems drain our reserves, our relationships often get neglected. When you compound this problem with feeling all alone- far away from family, and perhaps even without new friendships- the burden can become unbearable.
People in intercultural relationships also have their own unique challenges. While integrating two sets of customs, beliefs, and values is never without challenges, this is especially pronounced when the partners come from two different countries. This often becomes evident especially in parenting. While everyone in the family has the potential to benefit from the richness of multiple cultural heritages, this first requires the parents to learn to talk about, understand, accept, and even appreciate their differences, and then make necessary compromises.
Besides child-rearing practices, communication can also be more challenging in intercultural relationships. The partners often speak two separate native languages, and communicate either in one of those or a third one. Even with excellent skills in a second language, misunderstandings or frustrations can still arise.
While the statistics may seem daunting, fortunately, none of the above-mentioned issues need to continue to negatively impact your life or your relationship. Through individual and/or couples counseling, these issues can be discussed and skills for navigating them can be learned. I have traveled extensively, and lived in the US, South Korea, and Finland. I therefore have both personal experience as an expat and an immigrant, as well as professional experience working with these communities. In other words, I get it. I also truly believe that no problem is insurmountable, and no relationship is hopeless. By addressing individual concerns, practicing communication skills, increasing acceptance, learning to lean on one another rather than turning away, and negotiating differences (cultural, personal, parenting), multiculturalism can become a source of joy and pride rather than another obstacle to overcome.