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Spouses’ Common Religion Helps in Intercultural Marriage

When partners are of the same religion, it helps to compensate for any differences in their values, while monocultural couples are more satisfied with their marriage

Nadezhda Angarskaya and Rayed Bani

In Brief

Situation: There is a common perception that people in interethnic marriages face lots of difficulties. These are usually related to differences in mentality, upbringing, values, culture, and social norms.

In reality: Spouses in interethnic marriages are less satisfied with their family life than in monoethnic families. At the same time, they are much more open to discussing their marital problems. And if they are of the same religion, the couple has a higher chance of a balanced marriage.

In More Detail

Scholars from HSE University and RUDN conducted a comparative analysis of life and family values in interethnic and interfaith marriages. They compared monoethnic Russian, Russian-Arabic, and Russian-Transcaucasian couples where spouses are of the same or different religion. It turned out that for men and women from different ethnicities, normative (cultural) values play a bigger role than individual ones. And a shared religion helps decrease stress in the relationship, thanks to similar understanding of gender roles, among other things. At the same time, couples belonging to both different ethnicities and different religions were less satisfied with their marriages than the others. The results of the study have been published in Behavioral Sciences journal.

What Is This About?

Studies of values and attitudes in interethnic marriages have often demonstrated contradictory results. Some studies confirm that different cultural traditions lead to more conflicts between spouses who belong to different ethnic groups. This leads to lower marriage satisfaction in such families. Academic publications have also shown a lot of evidence that ethnically homogeneous marriages are more stable and happier.

However, some other studies demonstrate different levels of satisfaction and stability in intercultural and monocultural marriages. The factors that help the partners deal with difficulties include a positive attitude to a partner’s culture. Scholars agree that comparing values and attitudes in interethnic marriages is one of the most difficult problems for researchers.

There are many different perspectives on the values’ part of the issue. On the one hand, it is assumed that intercultural families are created by people who are either culturally assimilated, or have certain values, such as universalism, tolerance and multiculturalism. On the other hand, differences in spousal attitudes can be considered to be the main problem of such marriages.

There is a hypothesis that cultural differences can be diminished by similar levels of education and personal development. There is also an idea that two people create their own culture of relationship, which does not contradict the values of either of the partners.

The authors of this new study decided to investigate the differences in life and family values in various types of couples – monoethnic, interethnic and interfaith, and interethnic with a common religion. This factor of a shared or different religion is not usually taken into account in intercultural marriage studies,  and this paper aimed to bridge that gap.

What Was the Method?

A total of 138 people as part of 69 heterosexual couples participated in the study. Among them, 20 were monoethnic Russian, 30 interethnic and interfaith (Russian/Arab), and 19 interethnic with a common religion (Russian/ Transcaucasian Christians).

The spouses in the Russian couples were Orthodox Christians. The Russian-Arab couples consisted of Russian Orthodox women and men from various Arab countries (Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, etc.), belonging to Islam. The Russian-Transcaucasian couples consisted of Russian Orthodox women and Christian men – mostly Armenians and Ossetians and some Georgians.

The respondents were aged from 23 to 47, and had been married from 3 to 24 years. Most families had 1 or 2 children aged from 1 to 13 years. All respondents were employed – mostly they were low-level employees or middle-ranking managers. The foreign partners had lived in their partner’s country from 5 to 30 years. All participants of the study were moderately religious.

To study the life values of the respondents, researchers used the methodology of S. Schwartz’s ‘Value Questionnaire’, adapted by V. Karandashev [29], and for identifying family values they used the method of ‘Role Expectations and Claims in Marriage’ by A. Volkova et al. In addition, the study included an express method —the ‘Marital Satisfaction Questionnaire’ by V. Stolin.

The Result?

The results of the study confirmed that an interethnic family is a complicated structure, where different values and attitudes not only compete, but mutually transform the partners’ ethnic and cultural identity.

The scholars found that in intercultural families, the level of life values’ concurrence is much lower than in monocultural ones. Meanwhile, in couples with the same religion, differences in life values do not reflect the partners’ contradictions, but mutual conformity.

Religion has a big impact on couples’ family values. If the man and the woman belong to the same faith, their family values are more traditional in terms of gender role distribution. When compared to monocultural families, both types of intercultural families are more concerned about external factors, such as their partners’ appearance.

The most interesting result was that in interethnic and interfaith couples, the average level of satisfaction with marriage was lower. It increases if there is a common religion in the intercultural family. But still, monocultural marriages demonstrate the highest level in this indicator.

The results of the study have demonstrated that interethnic and interfaith couples have the highest levels of conformity of partners’ perspectives on the quality of relations. ‘This means that when spouses belong to different cultures (both ethnic and religious), it optimizes the process of comparing values and family attitudes’, the authors say, ‘which promotes a deeper attachment in the couple’.

Why Should We Care?

Interethnic and interfaith couples is a widespread phenomenon, particularly as the world is becoming more and more open and globalized. People have more and more opportunities to find a partner in a different country, particularly thanks to an increase in digital technology.

This is why the topic of values and cultural attitudes in intercultural marriage is becoming more and more relevant. The results of the study, according to the authors, can be used by psychologists and social workers, in order to help intercultural families realize their potential to a fuller extent.

Author: Marina Selina, November 12