Interracial couple, two men facing camera in restaurant
Binational relationships give us the opportunity to learn a lot about other cultures. Image by Max Harlynking, public domain.

When love crosses borders


What happens when love crosses borders? In psychology, we often use the term “binational relationships” to refer to relationships between two people of different nationalities. There are several wonderful and interesting aspects to having a binational relationship. Not least of which is learning about new things that are peculiar to the culture of our partner. Many times, we are forced to learn something new, like a new language, to improve communication with the person we love. This facilitates communicating more clearly and without noise interfering with our communication.

This is particularly interesting in multilingual relationships. Even if you both speak English fluently, for example, a fight is totally different when you can express yourself in your native language. Assuming, obviously, that one of you isn’t a native English speaker. When speaking another language, we often speak without the intensity we should. Or even exaggerate our expressions, which can make our partners extremely upset in an argument over something silly.

Communication is always difficult, both for binational couples and couples of the same nationality.

Especially during moments of tension. We sometimes end up saying things we didn’t mean, with the intention of hurting the other and “winning” the fight. But the big problem with this is that the constant fights over silly things, and others that are not so silly, end up wearing down the relationship. We start looking at our partners as a source of stress and problems. There is no other way out: to solve this, we need to be calm when talking. We need to try to listen to our partner to understand his or her point of view. After this, the couple needs to try to put together an action plan of what both of them are going to do about the problem. So that the “blame” for the situation does not fall on just one. When a couple has a problem, it is a problem for both of them.

Couple embracing
We need to develop empathy for our partner’s situation. Image by Justin Follis, public domain.

Besides the problem of communication we also have to deal with the expectations that we create.

Usually, when we start a relationship with a person from another country, we can only see the positive qualities. Of the person, their culture, and their country. Precisely because we are in love. But we must always remember that every country has its own problems. And this type of culture shock, which at first is extremely exciting, over time can become exhausting. Therefore, this also needs to be handled with assertiveness from both sides.

Moving between countries and cities compounds a couple’s stress.

This is something I always notice in my consultations. And sometimes the responsibility is attributed solely to the person who is moving. They need to organize their move, their documentation, their visa, and so on. The big problem with this is that moving in itself is already very stressful. If everything becomes the responsibility of only one person, this ends up becoming even more stressful. This may lead to postponing the move or even giving up on the binational relationship entirely. It’s important for it to be a couple’s move and not just a single person’s move.

Couple facing camera, standing in park
Clear communication is even more important in binational relationships. Image by Ben White, public domain.

All of this needs to be talked about. All the uncomfortable things that go on in our heads need to be shared. We shouldn’t assume that everything is clear to the other person because it usually is not. We need to learn to speak assertively about what we think and, especially, what we expect from the behavior of our partner. This tip applies both to binational relationships and to any relationship we have in our lives; with bosses, friends, neighbors, and family members. Nothing is as obvious as we imagine.

Learning to communicate openly and honestly with your partner is vital.

It doesn’t have to be an excess of honesty that goes so far as to offend your loved one. You can simply speak the way you would want to hear it if someone were to broach this subject with you. When we develop empathy for our partner’s situation and can picture ourselves in their situation, we tend to be more loving when dealing with everyday problems.

When I visited Leipzig for the first time I remember how impressed I was to see so many people from such different parts of the world. Maybe this is because of the university or the great hospitality that the city has for foreigners. Obviously, this makes people who are passing through or who decide to move there want to create bonds that go beyond the professional. They want to create bonds of life, of relationships, of families; literally, create lifelong bonds and set down roots. Are you perhaps in this phase of planning to move to Leipzig? Either to be with your loved one, or to glimpse new professional possibilities, or both? I can highly recommend the move! After all, this small city in Saxony is extremely welcoming and exciting.

Jessica is a psychologist, writer, and relationship therapist.
She has two specializations (Politics and Mental Health) and a Master's degree in Medicine. She is interested in issues around immigration, binational relationships, as well as Positive Psychology, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Emotional Intelligence. She gives online sessions, workshops and lectures, as well as publishing content on her Instagram and YouTube channels.

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