What Makes Interracial Couples Different?

On our second date, we went to the Chicago History Museum. They were running an exhibit on race and I wanted to suss out how this White Guy from Wisconsin would react to it. If this wasn’t going to work out, the earlier I knew, the better. Plus, they were free on Tuesdays.

Fast forward a few years and White Guy from Wisconsin and I are now married. We join the 1 in 10 marriages today that are interracial and the legacy of Mildred and Richard Loving, who fought for the legalization of interracial marriages only 50 years ago, in the landmark Supreme Court Case, Loving v. Virginia.

Many people would argue that interracial relationships are just like any other long-term relationship. There’s the work of integrating families, dealing with past wounds, and figuring out ways to communicate and make decisions together. Negotiating views on sex, finance, and gender roles. Creating a new story of us, when we’ve been waltzing around in our own separate chapters.

Interracial couples work through all that, plus the unique challenges that come with being with someone who experiences racism differently. Especially in this climate of increased racial tension, these challenges have become pronounced. Here’s why: 

  1. You’ve experienced privilege, oppression, and discrimination differently. This means that you may have different emotional reactions to the same event, based on how you and your group are being treated. This is to be expected, no matter how socially conscious you are.
  2. You might interpret microaggressions differently. A POC partner might interpret a microaggression as insensitive and hostile, while a White partner may attribute it to other factors. Or, a White partner may have a stronger reaction as a result of newly seeing the world through witnessing how their partner is treated. In any case, each person’s appraisal feels very real to them.
  3. You may both skew toward the White partner’s version of reality as “truth.” This comes from being raised in a society where we are taught to value White (and often male) experts and authorities. Since this tends to happen subconsciously, it can oftentimes go undetected, while contributing to the dynamic of who feels heard or unheard, confident or doubtful in their perspective.

Let’s be real: most interracial couples who come to therapy aren’t coming for issues related to race. And most POC aren’t coming for issues directly related to racial dynamic with people in their life. This is to be expected. But what we’re going after is an awareness that we breathe the air of white supremacy and that it is connected to our everyday problems.

But don’t stop there.

What if lifting the veil on these dynamics gives your relationship the chance to become a safe harbor against racism?  

What if shining the proverbial light in and wading through all the muck leads to a relationship that can together resist white supremacy and create a new liberating narrative?

What if fighting for justice is not only the big, bold protests, but also the repeated tending of our own homes and hearts?    

From one interracial couple to another– what you have can be exhilarating and messy, strong and confusing. No one seems to talk about us much. Together, we can start.

If you are the academic type, some ideas for this post were drawn from this article by Leslie and Young (2015).

Tiffany Fang, LPC, NCC

Tiffany Fang, LPC, NCC

Hi, I'm Tiffany, and I'm a counselor who helps people balance work and life. I offer counseling to create space for people to discover their inner voice, as well as the strengths that may have been overshadowed by oppressive experiences. If you're interested, you can read more about me on my about page.