Let love blossom: How Czech-expat couples can overcome conflict and thrive

A professional mediator shares solutions for the common couple clashes that can prevent multinational relationships from flourishing.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 01.05.2024 09:20:00 (updated on 22.05.2024) Reading time: 5 minutes

Dating someone from a different culture can initially be exciting, but as the things we once found intriguing or charming become annoying, understanding and respecting your partner’s cultural background becomes crucial to your relationship's survival.

Mirella Kreder, a professional international mediator based in Prague and founder of Mirella Kreder – Integrated Consulting and Mediation, says it’s important to reflect on the root cause of these conflicts in the early stages of the relationship before such challenges lead to significant problems.

“In the case of expat couples, relationship issues focus even more on communication and a certain lack of awareness,” she said. We posed several interpersonal issues that our readers commonly face to Kreder, a conflict management coach and trainer. These were her solutions.

Mirella Kreder consultandresolve Dec2022
Mirella Kreder consultandresolve Dec2022

Problem: My partner doesn’t get my sense of humor. I’m American and come from a really big family where teasing and joking are ways of showing affection. My Czech husband sometimes gets offended by what I consider gentle ribbing.

While humor can defuse tensions, it can also backfire, especially due to intercultural differences. Multicultural couples may struggle to understand the nuances in each other’s humor since it is inevitably influenced by language, customs, mindset, and beliefs. What may be considered fun in one culture may be perceived as microaggression in another. One’s humor must respect others' boundaries, she says.

SOLUTION: To improve understanding of each other’s humor, multicultural couples should make an effort to learn more about their cultures and language and communicate openly and respectfully about what they find funny and why. “This can help build shared experiences and references that enhance their ability to understand and appreciate each other’s humor.”  

Problem: My Czech partner’s parents often spanked him and yelled a lot. They insist that anything less leads to spoiled kids. I’m very averse to spanking or aggression, and while my husband doesn’t spank our kids, I know he feels like we take a much stricter approach.

Multicultural couples may typically come from different cultural backgrounds with different ideas about disciplining, educating, and communicating with their children based on their cultural upbringing. Differences in beliefs about the role of children in the family, gender roles, and the importance of education and achievement may also cause conflicts.

“In my experience, parents’ greatest common goal is their children’s well-being. Here it helps to ask yourself whether the discussion of parenting style is centered uncompromisingly on the physical and psychological well-being of the children or cultural, familial, or social expectations.”

SOLUTION: Kreder encourages couples to make a sincere effort to identify common values, which many couples share despite cultural differences in parenting. Such values (such as a commitment to nurturing, education, or safety) serve as a foundation for building a mutual parenting approach. Having an open and honest conversation regarding parenting goals and priorities also can bring you closer to overcoming clashes and bring you closer together as a couple.

Problem: Everything is so easy for my husband. He speaks the local language, ‘gets’ the local mentality, and takes that for granted. However, I also face complications from the language barrier or cultural misunderstanding. This makes me jealous of him and often frustrates me (and makes me homesick)!

Kreder says that one of the main causes of conflict in multicultural couples who live in one partner’s home country is often related to issues of integration.

One partner may feel powerless in cultural contexts where the other is more familiar and dominant, exacerbating dependency, particularly with language barriers. Addressing power dynamics is crucial for relationship harmony. Additionally, the unfamiliar partner may experience isolation and difficulty integrating into the new culture, resulting in frustration, resentment, and loneliness, further straining the relationship.

SOLUTION: Overcoming the "home-court advantage" of one partner in a multicultural relationship involves fostering a sense of equality and empathetic partnership support, says Kreder. Multicultural couples can foster deeper cultural understanding (reciprocal and situational) and shared ownership of their home via language classes, cultural programs, and expat groups.

While these are just a few of the scenarios that commonly cause multinational couples to quarrel, Kreder says there are other subtle things that can upset the power dynamics in such relationships.

On the flip side of home-court advantage is the “guilt-trip phenomenon,” which Kreder describes as the expat partner holding the notion that they moved and endured over the other partner’s head. Bias and cultural conflict also come into play in which the expat partner has a negative attitude toward the country of choice and communicates this, making the other partner defensive and protective about their country. “Attitudes like these should not go unaddressed, as they offer the potential for frustration and escalation," says Kreder.

When to seek outside help and when to call it quits

If power imbalances persist or cause conflict within the relationship, consider seeking the assistance of a mediator. One option that especially works for multicultural couples is co-mediation, says Kreder.

In this case, the mediation is conducted by a pair of mediators, whereby it can be ensured that a mediator from the respective culture and language is represented in order to guarantee a sense of impartiality and to build linguistic and cultural bridges where necessary.

Mediation, however, isn’t appropriate in all situations, particularly in cases of domestic violence; mediation is not the way forward. However, it can have the transformative power to facilitate meaningful connections and resolve deep-seated relationship issues. 

“In my experience, embracing mediation has led numerous couples to reconnect profoundly, fostering empathy, self-awareness, genuine curiosity, and understanding towards each other. Many untouched questions have been answered through mediation, and longstanding issues have been resolved in less than 20 hours."

Initial excitement does not have to become an insurmountable obstacle. Partners who are dedicated to mindful communication and cultural understanding, marked by mutual care for each other’s individuality, will find their way. A good first step, says Kreder: "Being mindful of how words, actions, and cultural influences shape the partnership.”

What else can a mediator do?

A lawyer is professionally trained and licensed to provide legal advice, represent clients in court proceedings, and advocate for their rights and interests. A mediator is a neutral third party trained to facilitate communication and negotiation between conflicting parties to help them reach a mutually acceptable and sustainable solution. Mediators can also be useful in: 

  • Child abduction cases: In highly escalated and time-critical situations like child abduction, mediation can help find viable solutions in the best interest of the child, even when conducted online due to the transnational nature of the issue.
  • Accompanying court proceedings: Mediation can complement court proceedings, with each party represented in parallel by respective legal advisors. The impartial mediator facilitates self-determined dialogue, aiding in reaching consensual decisions within the legal framework.
  • Shuttle mediation: In cases of communication breakdown, a mediator may decide to hold sessions separately with each party act as the “messenger.” This allows to better manage triggers and emotions and can be helpful in contexts with different (culture-specific) temperaments or a high degree of escalation.
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