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Seven Reasons Why Some Intercultural Marriages Fail

Paul has experienced intercultural marriages. He was married to a Chinese from Taiwan and is now married to a Thai.

Some Intercultural Marriages Don't Last

The author with ex-wife, two sons, and sister in Maryland in 1986.

The author with ex-wife, two sons, and sister in Maryland in 1986.

Love Will Keep Us Together so says the 1976 popular hit song by The Captain and Tennille. Does love, however, always keep intercultural marriages together?

The cruel fact is that some intercultural marriages fail. I have witnessed five of them end in divorce.

I define intercultural marriage as a legal union between two persons of different cultures. For example, a marriage between a Caucasian American man in the United States with a Thai woman from Thailand or a marriage between a British citizen in England with his Chinese partner in China.

Although some intercultural marriages are successful and last, a significant number also end in divorce.

In this article, I argue seven reasons why some intercultural marriages fail.

Love Will Keep Us Together

Seven Reasons Why Some Intercultural Marriages Fail

I have experienced two failed intercultural marriages and witnessed at least three others that have ended in divorce. In examining these failed marriages, I have concluded that seven main reasons are causing some intercultural marriages not to last. These reasons are:

  1. Language barriers
  2. Cultural differences
  3. Different expectations
  4. Clash of values
  5. Educational differences
  6. Age differences
  7. A lack of giving and taking

1. Language Barriers

It is highly unlikely that two partners from different countries and cultures will both speak the same language well. Most of the time, it is the woman or man from a country like China, Thailand, or Mexico who must learn English well enough to communicate for example with a British or American husband and other people in England or the United States.

If the husband for example lives in his wife's native country, the wife still must learn her husband's native language for communication. In Thailand, for example, most foreign spouses know little or know Thai.

A lot of big misunderstandings can be caused by a lack of understanding between husbands and wives. At times, the communication might seem like a chicken trying to talk with a duck.

2. Cultural Differences

Traditionally, most of the younger American and British men who find foreign brides want to take them to live in the United States and England. The problem is that unless the spouse is educated and can speak and understand English well, he or she will not be able to adjust to American or British culture. One of the biggest challenges might be getting accustomed to western food and not getting the favorite food from his or her native country that the spouse is used to eating every day. A Thai woman living in rural America would probably have difficulty buying a spicy papaya salad or burying the ingredients to make it.

If the foreign spouse decides to live in his partner's native country, he must deal with a different language, religion, food, and customs. Some foreign spouses are not willing to make this sacrifice.

3. Different Expectations

If a husband and wife have different expectations, it will be hard to have a successful marriage. For example, some men expect their spouses to be homemakers and stay-at-home moms. A liberated spouse, however, expects to be independent and work outside of the home, especially if he or she did this before marriage. Unless a compromise can be reached on expectations, a marriage can be doomed.

I know of one marriage that failed because the Taiwanese spouse expected her foreign husband to live with her in the United States. When the foreign spouse balked at this idea, his Taiwanese wife quickly filed for a divorce.

4. A Clash of Values

My mother and father maintained a marriage for 61 years because they shared the same values related to education, frugality, and hard work. If a husband is hard-working and wants a clean house but his wife is lazy, gambles, and doesn't have cleanliness or tidiness, there could be conflicts leading to divorce.

I know of one possible intercultural marriage that never happened because an Israeli man would not value his Thai partner's Buddhism.

5. Education Differences

If there is a significant educational difference between two partners in an intercultural marriage, it will be difficult for that union to last a long time. By significant, I mean one partner having a college education and the other only a few years of grade school. After the initial joy and satisfaction of sexual relations wear off, it will be difficult to have any meaningful discussions other than talking about, for example, food and the weather. If both spouses can not read or write well the language of the country where they are residing, this will present a great obstacle in everyday life. For example, if a Thai woman living in Thailand can not read or write Thai very well and her foreign husband knows no Thai at all, it will be extremely difficult to read emails, buy insurance, or understand any kind of contract.

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6. Age Differences

An extreme age difference between husband and wife will also doom most intercultural marriages. For example, if an American man in his early-60s marries a Chinese from China who is 30 years his junior, this marriage will probably not last a long time.

After the man reaches his mid to late-70s and can not have sex due to medical problems, this could be unacceptable to a much younger wife.

Furthermore, if a man marries a woman who could be his granddaughter, what does the couple have in common other than sexual compatibility? Both partners come from different generations and they likely have different likes and interests.

7. A Lack of Giving and Taking

I cannot forget the 1966 song by the Supremes You Can't Hurry Love.

Some of the lyrics of the song go like this,

But mama said you can't hurry love

No, you just have to wait

She said love don't come easy

It's a game of give and take

Any marriage and especially an intercultural marriage requires giving and taking. Both partners will often have different ideas and goals. Unless there is a compromise agreeable to both parties or one party gives in, it will be difficult to maintain a harmonious marriage.

In Thailand, for example, a Thai wife often expects her foreign husband to provide financial support for the wife's mother and other members of her extended family. If the husband doesn't give in or reach a compromise with his wife on this matter, I don't see how this marriage can last very long.


There are other reasons such as the mental illness of one partner that cause intercultural marriages to fail. Language barriers, cultural differences, different expectations, and a clash of values are the primary reasons for some intercultural marriages to end in divorce.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on December 15, 2020:

Thanks for commenting. I agree that the remaining five reasons are issues in every marriage and relationship.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on December 15, 2020:

Yes, a lack of mutual understanding and communication can also lead to intracultural marriage failures.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on December 15, 2020:

Thank you for your thoughtful and very true comments. Yes, a lot of hard work is needed by both parties to make an intercultural marriage work.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on December 15, 2020:

Thanks, Pamela. There are also other reasons that I didn't list.

dashingscorpio from Chicago on December 15, 2020:

I believe the first two reasons are legit issues for intercultural marriages and relationships (Language barriers and Cultural differences)

However the remaining five reasons could be potential issues in every marriage or relationship.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on December 15, 2020:

Nice article with valid points for failure of marriages. I agree with all the points you have made in your well written article. But, lack of mutual understanding, communication, adjustments can lead to failure of marriages, even if it’s of the same culture. To make a marriage successful, sustained efforts have to be done from both the partners.

Nice and thoughtful article. Thank you for sharing.

Takako Komori from Yokohama, Japan on December 15, 2020:

Thank you for a thoughtful hub on a theme that I have been interested for a while.

I think the most important reason you discussed is "different expectations". In Japan, the wife expects to be financially dependent on her husband`s income throughout their marriage especially when the kids are young; at this time, the wife will be a stay-at-home mom. This I believe is not the case in the U.S. So if the Japanese wife of an American husband moves to the U.S. she is expected by her husband to have a job and raise the kids as well, instead of being a stay-at-home mom. Since this is a different expectation in the eyes of the Japanese wife, this can create conflict in their marriage.

I think for an intercultural marriage to work, one spouse does more compromising than the other; that is not to say the other spouse isn`t trying. It requires a lot of hard work for both and if both the husband and wife aren`t willing to put in the effort that is required, then divorce is likely.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 15, 2020:

Each of those reasons you wrote about for failed marriages sound like olid reasons, Paul. This is an interesting article.

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