My next novel, due within eight weeks, is a sequel series of books that center around the marriage of an African-American woman and Hispanic man. Marriage Vows Under Fire captures experiences in the lives of Joseph and Natalie Reyes as well as the experiences of other couples on both sides of their families. Throughout much of their plots, the characters’ ethnic background differences are basically depicted without being branded as such.
I’ve been married to the love of my life on Earth for eighteen years. I’m African-American and he is Hispanic. We have four children together. We have found that an abundance of differences in an interracial marriage could spill from our tongues within a matter of a minute. Over the years, I have found the adjustments in our marriage to be challenging yet adventurous, painful yet character-building, discouraging yet promising, tearful yet loving. I would do it all over again.
Against all odds, a couple from different ethnic backgrounds can have a strong marriage with a realistic outlook in their optimistic world. And while the rest of the world might be a mixture of pessimism and optimism, a couple can be feel various impacting differences without succumbing.
Growing up watching my African-American mother and father raise their children while nurturing a marriage that has lasted even to this day, I learned early that marriage is an incredible challenge. The laughter, the upsets, and everything in between, within the boundaries of what I was familiar with, formed my image of family. This image that I had was structured by what I observed in my surroundings, and it was somewhat romanticized as the entertainment we watched in the pre-1990’s primarily paired couples according to race. Of course, I had learned to accept mixed married couples as normal and had even dated outside my race.
But the day when I realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my Hispanic boyfriend, what I was mostly familiar with concerning family had become a complicated inner battle that I felt I could share with no one. Only my Holy Bible could assure me that my next step in life would not devour who I was and what I aspired to accomplish in my future. On the day my husband and I married, I knew what stepping out on faith meant in a new way.
Eighteen years later, we and our four children are a picture of a typical family. In fact, we live across the street from an African-American man with his Hispanic wife and their three children. To see a bi-racial married couple today is no longer rare. But as my husband and I are often reminded in the midst of occasional circumstances, we still face our distinct challenges – one, because we are in a marriage (which often compels battles as part of the territory) and two, because we are from very different backgrounds that have so much to do with our races.
Common Causes Of Bi-Racial Marital Problems and The Solutions
Certainly, there was a time when society’s views on bi-racial couples could strain those marriages. Now, as those issues – though not gone – have far less impact than they did in the past, many couples still face other obstacles that are less likely to affect same-race couples in the same way:
Different preferences in styles of food, music formats, and other cultural values can cause problems after a spouse’s build-up of constant tolerance, intolerance, vocalized objections, and silent objections alike. A series of small irritations here and heated discussions there can lead to outbursts. Sometimes impulsive decisions about a marriage can be made after a person convinces himself or herself that these types of differences are too unbearable.
Solution: As my husband and I continue to face these little hurdles, which do build up often, we are still learning to stop expecting perfection from each other living in an already imperfect world. As long as we live, there will always be an opportunity to complain about something. The task of dealing with people at work, waiting in traffic, standing in long lines with frustrated people combined with slow blase cashiers, and tolerating troublesome relatives or neighbors will still wait for our energy. And these outside nuisances build up on us, too, whether we stay married or not. So, there is no escape from any build-up of problems. They are everywhere and in every relationship.
Learning to compromise the compromiseable values like preferences and even cultural familiarities can develop patience in a person. Can you detect when you’re in the presence of someone who is rarely inclined to adjust or bend their way? And when things don’t go their way, they show a spoiled, bratty-type side of themselves. Many of these types of people are accustomed to having their way somewhere and can’t deal with giving that privilege up in other territory. We are still learning to sacrifice and give up what has been familiar to us if it threatens the household peace. Likewise, we are learning to embrace unfamiliar practices for that peace. Doing that is not harming us. It is, however, molding us.
The home environment is where character begins to build. But it builds under pressure – challenge. A person’s character cannot develop well if he or she is accommodated most of the time. If we can’t compromise and learn to adjust within our four walls of shelter, we won’t be able to function effectively once we plunge back among a mixture of good and evil forces the next business day. So, if my husband and I can start at home and weather these storms at base where it’s safe, we can both prepare for the world that encircles us.
Comparisons To Same-Race Couples
Living in a world where people constantly subject each other as well as themselves to individual comparisons, married couples are likewise subject. More so, mixed couples are subject – to the point of becoming victims of comparisons to same-race couples. And many times these comparisons are not just imposed by someone making a comment to them but also by the couple themselves making the comparisons.
Solution 1: I had to lean on Jesus Christ, my Personal Savior. Both Black and Hispanic friends of mine have made sly statements to me alluding to their conflicting views on bi-racial couples. Friends share their views with each other. So, I was okay with them sharing their views. My problem was that, at some point, I had begun to let their views tamper with my perception about my relationship with my husband, the love of my life on earth. In doing so, I was at fault for my own insecurity.
At some point, early in my marriage, I had to listen to the comparisons and then make some other comparisons of my own as a result. When I’d hear people imply that my husband and I could not measure up to other couples, because those couples were more fortunate to be in same-race marriages, I had to lean on a Bible chapter (Numbers 12). Almighty God Himself had to intervene on behalf of Moses, who had married an Ethiopian woman. In fact, I began making comparisons between God’s disapproval of Moses’ critics to His disapproval of mine with their motives.
Solution 2: I had to look at a bigger picture that no critic was capable of pointing out. Someone pointed out to me that a bi-racial couple, with whom we used to gather at church, had divorced. He proceeded to point out that racial differences were likely their cause. This friend had always found some type of opportunity to lightly point out why couples should not mix. And he was doing it again – pointing at this former couple’s racial backgrounds as the probable underlying reason for their break up. To look past this heart-breaking news for a more objective view was not that hard to do. From the mouth of a man, who himself had once divorced from his wife of a same race, was a point at the failure of a bi-racial marriage. I had to take this route. When someone points out to me the failure of a bi-racial marriage, I have to reflect on the many same-race marriages that have ended in divorce as well. At the same time, I’m grateful for knowing one Black and Hispanic couple who have been married almost 40 years already. I have made up my mind that I must not be bound by narrow-minded comparisons but instead look at a much broader picture.
Racial Offenses Within The Marriage
No type of stereotyping can interrupt sleep like what was said between a husband and wife of different race in the heat of an argument.
“You are just like the average Hispanic man doing this and that!”
“And you are just like the average Black woman with this way and that way about you!”
Many times when loved ones argue, as we all know, things that can’t be taken back are blurted out in wrath. And we want to be able to take back hurtful words once we calm down. Sometimes we long to have that past moment again to do over. But all we’re left with is the present and an opportunity to be more humble. In a bi-racial couple’s case, any time there is an exchange of words that point out each other’s ethnic-based flaws, we can slip into civil war right in our homes. And how is a territory restored once the war is over? Not in one day.
Sometimes those differences that attracted you to your mate in the first place can drive you straight up the wall when you find yourself on edge for various reasons. In an interracial marriage, if you admire your mate’s unique and outspoken points of view, it could all be disrupted by one national racial divide constantly being broadcast on the media. Having an outspoken spouse whose unique views bend more toward a direction in which you disagree could create a problem from both your sides.
America’s broadcast airways are often used as a bully-infested playground full of instigators and one-sided babblers who seek to discredit anybody who does not share their views. And they clash among one another, having their different takes on almost everything. Those of us with less-heard and even no public voice are caught in the middle surrounded by many diametrically opposed positions on so many issues – many of these issues causing significant racial barriers.
Sometimes in the middle ground among everyday citizens, quarrels and accusations arise resulting from controversial events as well as statements made by public commentators. Again, many times, these create racial tension in this country. So, imagine the strain such issues can cause between a bi-racial couple who are so in love yet vulnerable to one another’s views about their racial differences. Arguments can arise abruptly and unapologetically at the mention of critical racial topics that stir up defensiveness. And all of a sudden, that sense of danger, that many bi-racial couples have felt from time to time connecting with someone so opposite yet so attractive, now just ticks them off because that danger translated from being lovingly open and exciting to something untrustworthy and even a reason to regret.
Solution: My husband and I have more immediate control confronting differences between the two of us than we have over resolving those same differences on a global level. I still sometimes have a hard time coping with the fact that he is going to think the way he was raised – as a Hispanic male. And he still sometimes finds it difficult to see that I am going to think the way I was raised – as a Black female. But we are who we are and will form many opinions accordingly – sometimes being swayed by what we see and hear in the media. If accepted, that fact does not have to be so intimidating. It’s certainly not a betrayal but the opposite; it’s transparent. And our differences don’t have to be such a threat to us individually or as a couple.
How have I dealt with unique differences with my parents when I lived with them? Sometimes very boisterously. But they are still my mother and father. I have to carry that over to my relationship with my husband.
Our one sure common ground on which my husband and I can always meet is Jesus Christ, where our faith abides. So, Bible discussions tend to mellow us out and bring us together. Outreaches and church projects bring us together.
And there are other projects which we have found to be instrumental in helping us be more agreeable with one another. Together we love to watch clean comedies, we love little leagues ball games in which our three boys participate with my husband as coach, and we love group dating with friends and family. We have taken road trips together to attend wonderful Christian marriage seminars conducted by Jimmy Evans and his wife Karen Evans (from Marriage Today). Reading Evans’ book, Marriage On The Rock has brought us into agreement during very crucial times. Also, we have written our own book, Just When You Thought They Were Your Friends.
For every time that we spend arguing our points about an ethnic-based issue or pointing out stereotypes that irritate us, we have to bring to the table of discussion things that would also make us laugh, cry, work together, and pray – together. We seek to find the balance between the pros and cons in our relationship. Even some same-race couples have not been willing to do that.
In-law conflict can sabotage any marriage and certainly a bi-racial one if given the chance. Compared to one or more resentful in-laws fuming over your marriage into their family, society’s view on interracial marriage is like a race against tricycle riders.
Growing up, I was taught to shun ignorance because of its powerlessness yet also because of its shabby influence. But ignorance does feel powerful when you’re battling it in its form of prejudice by a key person in your life – a result from an initial choice that is yours as you walk onto that battlefield as opposed to moving on without the one whom you’ve fallen in love with.
Of course, this issue does not exist in all bi-racial marriages. But I would have to wonder if it does exist in most – especially in all states of the South. After hearing many stories about the way families have mistreated newcomers of different races into their worlds, I can honestly say that my husband and I have been blessed with our own in-law experiences that could have been far worse than they were. Was there ever tension? Were there ever nagging questions about our relationship? Were there comments? Yes. They were some of the same questions I myself had once asked, some of the same concerns I once had, and some similar comments that I had once made – minus any malicious intentions – when I was in their shoes before my love came into my life. And there were probably things said about us behind our backs by certain family hecklers. But I also believe that my God positioned advocates that spoke on our behalf on each side of our families.
When visiting with in-laws of a different race, what can sting more than a blunt challenge about the relationship is the sting of passive aggression. Those unspoken disapproving glares speak loudly. They penetrate the gut like a knife, and they are intended to do so.
Feelings of isolation during gatherings with those in-laws are more common than anyone outside the relationship could ever imagine. As well, there can also exist those feelings of discomfort and unexpressed shamefulness when someone mingles his or her own prejudice relatives with the ethnically different mate. These are silent battles that can neither be easily confronted nor easily resolved.
The start toward resolving any kind of in-law issue begins with a team mindset between the couple. That is in every marriage. After that team of twosome has been established…
Solution 1: If the personality permits, a spouse must learn to put people (including family members) in check and tell certain people, except their parents and elders, completely off in defense of his or her spouse in a tactful and God-fearing way. (I didn’t read that Moses did this when he was challenged about his wife to the Ethiopian. Although he was meek with seemingly no interest in giving a rebuttal, he certainly could rely on his God to answer for him – so much that he had to ask God to take that leprous punishment off of one of his critics, who was his sister.) No one has to disassociate themselves from their family members just because some clear rules have to be set. It simply helps when a spouse will address his or her own side of the family in defense of the mate when necessary. This is more effective than a person having to fend for themselves against one or a brewd of in-laws full of venomous intentions.
Solution 2: Hanging out with other couples (the friends) on a more frequent basis provides a very neutral environment after struggles in a hostile environment.
Two Races But One Marriage
During the exchange of vows, a bride and a groom make a very serious decision to incorporate who they are as individuals in order to live as one. Living with my husband for thirteen years, although I see two ethnic backgrounds, I see one institution that we formed before our God. This institution is vulnerable to outside attacks as is any other relationship. But we have to nurture it as one institution and not as two conflicting backgrounds. The backgrounds are going to always be there. The backgrounds will always have their place of regard in both our lives. I accept that he will understand and regard his background more when forming opinions – as I do mine. After all, he regards the needs of a man more than the needs of woman because that is what he is more in touch with. Likewise, I regard the needs of a woman more. The issue of race is similar.
I’m curious about the future. From here, it looks like the mulato offspring of bi-racial parents won’t experience in their relationships the same challenges their parents experienced. But theirs are bound to exist in a different way – in a racial way. But that should never intimidate those who have fallen in love. If treated as just another difference in line with all the other differences in the world, then that is the only way race should be regarded by two people who have set their hearts on being together for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, til death parts them.