Tom and Crystal come from very different backgrounds. Crystal is from North Georgia and Tom is originally from Taiwan and grew up in Colorado.
They’ve been married for five years. Crystal works at Orange leading the XP3 High School Initiative. Tom is a Marketing Manager. Their marriage is a great example of a unique marriage that blends different families of origin.
How did you two meet?
There was a Christmas party that North Point put together for singles. Our mutual friend invited us both and that’s where we met.
Crystal: It was my first single’s event ever, and I met my husband!
As you started dating, did you run into any unexpected challenges based on your backgrounds?
We got along and our personalities clicked right away. As we started involving our family & friends, especially at holidays, that’s when we started noticing our differences.
Crystal: In my small town, if you’re dating someone you meet their family quickly. But Tom’s family (and maybe most of the country) will usually wait longer. My family started asking if they embarrassed me since they hadn’t met Tom yet.
Tom: I thought I was showing her honor and respect by not introducing her to my parents until we were further along.
What was it like when you finally did meet each other’s parents?
We put a lot of thought into where to meet our families. We ended up meeting at a Chinese fusion buffet. Our families really like each other, though sometimes they don’t understand each other’s accents!
So have you guys felt any big challenges being married?
There are a million little things. It’s not five big things; it’s all the small things where you notice the cultural differences. For example, in Tom’s culture, conversations are very transactional. One person speaks, the other responds. But in America it’s more a free-for-all; you have to break in and interrupt!
When those little things pop up, how do you handle it?
Tom: One of the things we always talk about is knowing that the other person is doing things with the best of intentions. Instead of saying “why did you do that?” you realize that your spouse has your back.
What have been some of the surprising great things about being in an interracial marriage?
Crystal: Holidays are easier! Christmas is not as big a deal to his family, so my family gets their choice of how to celebrate. But Chinese New Year is a huge deal to his family, so we block that off for them. Tom’s family isn’t into the Fourth of July, but they have a holiday to celebrate the day that grandma passed. So we gather for that.
How have you decided what to adopt from each of your families versus what you want to embrace in your own family?
Tom: First is clear communication with our families, usually well ahead of time. I like to say “If I’m going to disappoint you, I’ll tell you in advance.”
Crystal: Often we’re asking our families what it is they want us to pass down. If it really matters to them to have a picture of grandma who passed away on a table, we want to know that.
Do you have any advice for couples whose parents aren’t as involved or helpful as yours?
Chrystal: One of the things I struggled with the most at the beginning was being given unsolicited advice. I asked someone I know for insight on this and she told me that in Western culture, you show love to your grown children by allowing them to be independent. But in Asian culture, shame is a huge motivator. To help you prevent shame, you give advice. So when they give advice they’re truly trying to connect.
What would you say to couples who come from different families of origin and are struggling?
Crystal: I had a situation on a trip to Taiwan where I had culture stress. I hadn’t given myself any breaks and I needed a minute. Anytime you spend time with someone else’s family, you’re going to experience culture stress and need to watch your own well-being.
Tom: One of things you can do is reach out to your in-laws without your spouse. It speaks volumes when you proactively reach out over the phone or in person.
Crystal: There are also times when you have to disappoint one of your families. Whoever’s parent it is, their child gives them the bad news. That’s worked out well for us.
Afton: One of the things I’m noticing about you two is how curious you are to learn the other person’s background and why they are the way they are. We all have different backgrounds, and approaching your spouse with a curiosity to learn about them could make a big difference in any marriage.
Your one simple thing for this week: Think the best about your spouse – know that they’re doing things in your best interest. Sit down with your spouse this week and talk about the way your family of origin impacts your marriage.
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