Relationship Skills

Family Resources on Marriage in Different Cultures

Project and Purpose

People from different cultural backgrounds may find additional difficulties in an intimate relationship, students will participate in a cultural competence activity to consider how to work out cultural differences

Essential Questions

What are healthy questions for an intimate partner of a different cultural background?

If this lesson was used in the classroom: Students considered how people from different cultural backgrounds might view marriage. In class students defined what a culture is and how cultures can affect a person’s outlook and mindset about relationships (there are many things that affect cultures including geography, ethnic background, religion, and other factors). Students discussed how one’s culture can affect a long-term intimate relationship or a marriage.

Getting Ready for the Conversation

Romantic relationships often start because of attraction (not only just physical attraction) and common interests. It may be after some time before a couple realizes that cultural issues could interfere with a relationship. It is important to learn that it is okay to talk about cultural differences and that those differences should enhance a relationship

Conversation notes:
Developing good listening skills takes practice and understanding, this lesson focuses on listening skills and then helps students apply those skills to romantic relationships.

Article from Love Is Respect on relationships and cultural context:

Article about marriage to someone from a different cultural background by Stephanie C. Toelle and Victor W. Harris at the University of Florida IFAS Extension:

Constructive Conversation Starters

The first item is for follow-up after participating in class activities.

What are some of the comments that were made in class about cultural differences and how those differences could affect a marriage? Do you think that two people from different cultures can have a successful marriage? Why or why not?

Choose a married couple with different cultural backgrounds you know from the community (do not think only in terms of ethnic background). Do you think their cultural differences created a problem for their relationship? Why or why not? If possible, have a discussion with the couple about their experiences.

How could cultural differences enhance a marriage? If you considered marrying someone from a different cultural background than ours, what ideas do you have to overcome differing cultural expectations within your relationship? Why would your ideas work?

School to Home Resources on Marriage in Different Cultures


  • Facilitator will need to make cards (using attached sheet or by making their own)
  • Paper and cards
  • Markers and writing utensils


Review and restate session norms. These should remind students how to interact and communicate respectfully. The topic involves intimate relationships and should be discussed appropriately. Essential question should be prominently displayed.
[2-3 minutes]

Activity 1

Start by introducing the concept of culture. Solicit responses from students regarding the basic definition of culture. The facilitator should determine how deep to go with the definition based on the group of students. A simple working definition of customs, social practices and language within a specific group of people should suffice.

Students will need to arrange pairs of chairs or desks back to back. This activity is a common group building exercise called “Back to Back Drawing”. Using knowledge of students, the facilitator will place students in pairs (if there is an odd student, there can be a group of three with two people drawing). Have students sit in chairs so they are back to back. Give one student a card with a shape on it and the other student should a pad and pencil/pen to draw.

The student with the card will describe how to draw the shape or picture on the card without telling their partner what the shape is. If an example is necessary describe drawing a triangle as, “draw a diagonal line, then another diagonal line and a horizontal line-but you cannot say the words ‘triangle or three’”. The facilitator may create their own cards or use the ones attached to this lesson.

Allow 3 or 4 minutes for students to attempt to draw what their partner described and then allow students to compare drawings to the cards. Switch roles and repeat.

Debrief with students focusing students on the understanding that it is often hard for people to clearly communicate even simple concepts to each other. It may be helpful to select certain students or student pairs to discuss their experience with the group to emphasize the communication difficulties they experienced.

[10-15 minutes]

Activity 2

Individual Reflection

  • Ask students the following questions. Give students time to think and possibly write down some answers or thoughts.
  • Did you notice that how difficult it was for you or some other students to understand their partner’s directions?
  • Do you think an intimate relationship or marriage between two people of different cultures would be easy work out?
  • If it was hard to draw a figure like in our activity, do you think that it might be hard for two people of different cultures to develop a positive intimate relationship?
  • After students have reflected, have them share some thoughts. You may wish to read students’ comments aloud to the group to keep the comment anonymous and less emotionally charged.

[10 minutes]

Activity 3

Group Activity – Cultural Competence Activity
Individually have students list personal cultural identity characteristics. Characteristics could include:

  • Nationality
  • Ethnic and/or racial background
  • Occupational aspiration
  • Geographic areas where the student has lived (anything could count even in small towns different neighborhoods can be culturally different)
  • Religion

Have students play “Four Corners”. Ask all students to stand up and split the room into 4 different sections (or 4 corners). Facilitator will choose 4 of the choices from above and have students go to the appropriate area of the room based on the following question.

“Which of the cultural identity characteristics do you think would create the most problem for
two people to overcome in an intimate relationship?”

[Facilitator note]
You will not want to single out students whose beliefs may be outside the mainstream of the group. The question is not necessarily the cultural construct that an individual student may consider the most important for them, but the construct they think would create conflict among people in general. In other words, you do want to single out a student to say that their own opinion is that people from two different nationalities should not marry, but instead that the student believes that would be an area of conflict for a lot of people.

If students remain at their chairs, see if there is another characteristic that needs to be addressed and make adjustments accordingly.

Once all students have chosen a corner, randomly ask one of the students in one corner to make an argument for why their corner is the best choice (the choice being the cultural identity that has the greatest potential for conflict within a relationship). Ask any other
students in the group for anything to add. Then go to the next group, allowing students to change groups if they wish.

The facilitator should ask follow-up and probing questions as necessary as students consider their choices.

Using your knowledge of students in the group, place students in groups of 2, 3 or 4 within their corners. Ask each group to develop one or a couple of questions that could be used to respectfully start a conversation between two people in an intimate relationship about how to find out about the different marriage and/or relationships with someone from a different culture. Have each group share their questions with the larger group.

It may be necessary to mention that arranged marriage is common in some cultures.
Remind students that it is important to be respectful of this cultural construct. Historically arranged marriages (or parental approval for marriage) were common in the United States until the late 19th century. In cultures where arranged marriage is common, surveys indicate that couples have similar marital satisfaction as in cultures where couples choose their own marriage partners.

Optional Activity
Assign students or groups of students to complete a presentation on marriage in a different cultural group or geographic place. Have students present at the next session.

[20-30 minutes]


Debriefing questions.

  • How can a person respectfully learn about a potential intimate partner’s cultural background?
  • How can a person’s culture affect their beliefs about an intimate partner?
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