3 Rules For Fighting Across Cultures

The good news is that fighting itself, isn’t an unhealthy past time for couples. But when you’re in an intercultural relationship, the arguments are bound to happen. You’re not just fighting over preferences, you’re having to navigate things that you might not even know you feel.

How do you not know you feel something? Oh, my friend, so easily it’s scary. I did not know, for instance, that I felt very strongly about corned beef. For me, corned beef is a chunk of meat that’s been cured in a salty brine, and then is boiled in water with carrots, onions and herbs. Typically my corned beef is served with white sauce and vegetables. When my mother-in-law cooked up corned beef, it came from a tin labelled ‘corn beef’ and resembled spam. This was then stir friend with some onion, garlic and chilli, plus secret herbs and spices, to be served with rice. For the love of her salty, spicy, stir fried dish, I could NOT get my head around this being ‘corned beef’. And my inability to do so got Homeboy feeling like I was disrespecting his mother’s cooking. And hello to an argument that I never could have imagined because if you had asked me before that meal, I would have said I did not give a flying rat’s butt flap about corned beef, and then looked at you suspiciously for asking such an absurd question.

So without further ado, here are 3 rules that will get you through any intercultural barney:

1, The round is only over after you’ve listened

Arguments don’t need to be resolved in one go. Some take multiple rounds to come to an understanding, especially when it’s about cultural stuff that can bring up very strong emotions and can involve incredibly delicate family situations. So I think it’s great to take breaks, park things and come back to them later. The only rule I think needs to be followed is to make sure everyone feels heard. The fastest way to feel like your point of view is not valued is when your significant other just refuses to hear it. That’s not cool, so stay with the discomfort and hear your partner out. Then you can call a time out.

2. Generalisations are a foul

Don’t be throwing cultural generalisations and stereotypes out during arguments – you guys are ducking that stuff from society all the time. Even in arguments make your relationship a culturally safe space by talking in specifics, admitting what you don’t understand and naming your interpretations. What does this look like in action?

The argument goes from:

“I hate how your people make me feel so uncomfortable when I walk in a room and they look me up and down. They hate me.” Well what can be said back to that? Let me talk to MyPeople and get back to you buddy… grr… 


“I hate how your Aunty Shaz makes me so uncomfortable when I walk in her house and she looks me up and down. It makes me feel like I’m unwelcome because she doesn’t seem happy to see me.” Oh yeah, that’s just Aunty Shaz, even I hate going to her house.

3. Living with it is the goal

We’re primed to feel like every argument needs to come to a resolution that we’re happy with, but unfortunately cultural clashes can be huge and one person’s way isn’t always an option. So this final rule is about knowing how to steer towards a resolution that you can live with. If you can’t live with what’s being proposed, then you need to go back for further negotiations. If you are being told you must live with something that is completely unaligned with your values, then there’s probably some more serious issues to look at beyond this one argument. But if you can live with the resolution – yeah, you’re not thrilled with it, but you can get on with your life – then you have won the game!


So that’s it. Three very simple rules to argue by – along with everything else that makes arguments healthy of course!

Do you have any rules that have helped you survive intercultural arguments?

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