The Offbeat Couple:
Brittany and Joel have been married for 6 years. They are blessed with three boys, Liam, Levi, and Lucas, and a dog (or a dragon) depending on what their children have decided she is today. They currently reside in Illinois. You can read more about their story at, Almost Indian Wife.
What makes your marriage offbeat?
My husband and I come from two completely different backgrounds. He is East Indian and his family was born and raised in India. He lived in India for part of his childhood, but spent most of his life in the Midwest. My family is from the Pacific Northwest and we moved around a lot with my dad’s job. We both grew up with different traditions and customs. While we were raised very differently, we are now raising our family using both cultures as an example.
What made you end up in an interculturalmarriage?
I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to marry someone with a different culture. It happened naturally and while we were dating we realized having an intercultural relationship would make things more difficult, but that was nothing compared to how special it would make our relationship and family. We knew the hardships would be outweighed by how much we loved each other. I think having two cultures in one relationship makes us very unique and has blessed our family.
Tell us about the wedding. Did your different cultural background affect how you planned the wedding?
My husband and I had an American and Indian wedding. We tried our best to incorporate both culture’s traditions throughout the wedding ceremony and reception.
Before the wedding we had two engagement ceremonies. One of those was called a nalugu. This ceremony was a time for our friends and family to give us marriage advice and wish us well. While they shared their advice, they rubbed a turmeric paste onto my husband. The reason for this is to lighten your skin color and essentially give you a great skin treatment before the wedding.
Our ceremony was mainly traditional American with a few Indian traditions sprinkled in. A typical American ceremony is pretty short, maybe thirty-forty minutes. Our ceremony was an hour and a half. It also ran on “Indian time” which meant we started about two hours late. During the ceremony, I wore a typical American wedding dress. This was the one American tradition I strongly wanted. What little American girl doesn’t dream about the pretty white dress?
We had multiple people, in addition to our Pastor, give messages and blessings during the ceremony. In addition to the wedding ring, my husband also gave me a thali. A thali is a necklace that my husband gave me signifying the commitment we made to each other. After my husband tied it around my neck, with three knots, we were married. This necklace is just as special to me as my wedding ring.
Then we transitioned into the reception. Our reception was mainly Indian, so I changed into a beautiful red sari and my husband into a handsome kurta. We had a lot of entertainment during the night. Some of our friends and family put on different dance numbers for us during dinner. It was great! Then we ended the night on the dance floor, dancing to American and Bollywood music.
What are your biggest challenges (as an intercultural/interracial couple) and how do you solve them?
I would say expectations. We all have expectations of each other. The hard part has been trying to change them and not expect the other one to do what a traditional Indian or American would do.
We’re still working on this one. Usually we end up talking after something happens. I’d love to say we have it all figured out and figure it out before things happen, but that’s usually not the case. We figure it out as we go.
Communication is the only way to deal with it. We have to be open and willing to talk with each other so we can know where we’re both coming from. Sometimes, we don’t realize we’re putting those expectations on each other so it’s nice to always keep open lines of communication.
What compromises are required in order to make your marriage work?
I would definitely say location is one of them. We recently decided to move to Illinois to be closer to my husband’s family. We have three children and have always said we would end up settling down by his family. We are raising our children in a predominantly American culture. If we want them to be exposed to Indian culture, we have to be surrounded by it. We now live by my husband’s family and there is a huge Indian community here as well.
Did you ever encounter people who frown upon interracial marriage? How did you deal with them?
We’ve had people give us looks. Usually people don’t go out of their way to say anything to us. I remember one time my husband and I were together with our kids. We were getting groceries at a local supermarket. I looked next to us and saw an Indian couple. The wife was glaring at me. I didn’t understand in the moment why she was so angry. This has happened multiple times since we’ve been married.
Some people still don’t like the idea of interracial marriages. They think that Indians should marry Indians and so on. I’ve even gotten emails from readers saying that it’s not fair for Americans to come in and steal good Indian men from them. There’s not much you can do other than join with other people in interracial relationships and share our stories. I want people to see how amazing intercultural relationships are.
How did your in-laws and extended families from each side react to your interracial marriage?
Overall, I think both of our families have been very encouraging and accepting of our relationship. The idea of an American daughter in law or an Indian son in law hasn’t ever angered anyone. While the idea doesn’t bother anyone, we have seen some of them struggle with the cultural identity.
It’s been a struggle at times for family members to remember they can’t expect us to behave the way their culture dictates. When we fail to do something the traditional daughter/son in law would or wouldn’t do, we have been criticized. It turns into a matter of us being “disrespectful” rather than us doing what we have been raised to do. This can range from not listening to people older than us, overstepping boundaries and telling younger siblings what to do, etc.
What are the benefits of an intercultural/interracial marriage?
One of the biggest benefits I have seen is for our children. Our kids are blessed with two vibrant cultures. When you are exposed to two different ways of life, you become more open. Instead of being stuck in your own way, you are open to different ways of doing things. I think our relationship has helped us to be open to different cultures and not let race ever be a factor.
What are the things that you learned about each other’s culture? How does learning about each other culture benefit your relationship?
I have learned so much from Indian culture. One thing is the importance of family. Family is extremely important in Indian culture. That is why you see a lot of joint families. They don’t separate and create boundaries after they turn eighteen. Instead they are always involved in each other’s lives. They are a unit that always steps in when needed. Older siblings help raise younger siblings, parents always share their wisdom, kids take care of their parents, friends are your family, etc. I love it.
I asked my husband what he has learned from my culture and this is what he said. “One of the big things that I learned is how special holidays are. In my family holidays were special, but didn’t have the same sentimental meaning. With my wife and her family, Christmas took on a whole new emphasis with so many traditions that were passed down. In my family, we didn’t really have “traditions.” Being second generation, my parents were trying to learn what the holidays were and creating some kind of tradition. My wife and her family had a rich history of traditions that were passed down and held together through generations.”
Does cultural difference affect how you raise and discipline your child/ren? In what way?
Definitely! Both of our families raise and discipline kids very differently. For example, my family tends to stick to disciplining their own kids. While they will tell them no and correct them, there is a line. They know how far we want each other to go and let the parents be the parents. My husband’s family is very involved. There is no line. That line doesn’t exist in Indian families. Family members can all come in and correct and discipline each other’s kids. The line doesn’t matter because they raise the kids together.
What’s your favorite way of spending time together?
My husband travels for work a lot. Right now, my favorite thing is to go out as a family. It’s very simple, but I love spending time together. Last week, this meant letting the kids drive their little kid’s car to the park and we spent the evening looking for fireflies. While the kids play, we can catch up and spend time together.
What are your secrets in keeping the romance alive?
We try very hard to go out on date nights regularly. When we’re out we don’t talk about the kids, just each other. We love our children very much and they need us to have a strong marriage. For this reason, we need our alone time. As we’ve had more kids and they’ve started to get a little older, we’re now able to spend a night at a hotel periodically. Even if it’s in the same town as the kids, it’s great because we get a little mini vacation to spoil each other.
What advice would you give to those who are planning for or are new to an interracial/interfaith marriage?
Interracial marriages are beautiful and amazing. Like any other relationship, they require hard work. The biggest piece of advice I can share is you need to communicate. I can look back on my husband and my disagreements and they were usually due to a lack of communication.
Interracial relationships require you both to do things differently than you are used to. You have to open up and talk to each other to see what part of your culture you want to bring to your relationship. You also have to figure out how to blend those pieces of your culture together. Communication is one of the most important things in your relationship.