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Intercultural Couples

Intercultural Couples: Crossing Boundaries, Negotiating Difference

Jill M. Bystydzienski
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 222
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  • Book Info
    Intercultural Couples
    Book Description:

    Despite the growing presence of intercultural couples in the United States and worldwide, their stories often go untold. In Intercultural Couples, Jill Bystydzienski provides a rare and comprehensive understanding of the multidimensional experiences of intercultural couples, drawing mainly upon in-depth interviews with persons living in domestic partnerships - heterosexual and same-sex - representing a broad spectrum of ethnic, racial, religious, socioeconomic, and national backgrounds. In these relationships, each partner brings a different set of cultural experiences that may include gender expectations, ideas about appropriate relations with family members, childrearing, financial matters, and general lifestyle. Sometimes differences may be unrecognized or seen as minimal, yet some can become salient, forming the basis for conflict, enriching diversity, or both. Bystydzienski's findings show that, despite hurtful incidents from persons outside the couple partnerships, intercultural unions are a source of satisfaction for the partners, and are able to bridge divisions and reduce inequalities between persons of diverse backgrounds, providing a rich portrait of how these couples negotiate their identities as individuals and as couples in relation to the outside world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2319-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Diverse populations in the United States have interacted increasingly during the last several decades, despite the persistence of racial segregation, ethnic antagonism, and anti-immigration sentiments. Cross-cultural, cross-racial, and international contacts have grown tremendously, facilitated by the breaking down of legal and cultural restrictions to interracial marriage, by affirmative action—which expands the opportunity for meeting people of diverse backgrounds in the workplace, and by technological advances that make possible greater mobility and communication around the globe. A rapidly growing consequence of this increasing contact is intercultural couples: domestic partnerships comprised of partners from different ethnic, racial, religious, or national backgrounds....

  5. 1 The Couples
    (pp. 17-44)

    Thirty-five couples were interviewed for this study of intercultural domestic partnerships. A most interesting and enjoyable aspect of the interviews was the range of experiences, backgrounds, and personalities the couple partners revealed in the course of our conversations. The study participants come from twenty-five different nations besides the United States: Algeria, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Honduras, Hungary, India, Iran, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, and Tanzania. Fourteen different U.S. ethnic groups are represented in the sample as well as the broad U.S. “racial” groups: Black,...

  6. 2 Reinventing Cultural Identity in Intergroup Couple Relationships
    (pp. 45-80)

    The fact that two people living today in the United States are able to form a lasting partnership, even when they possess common social characteristics, is a remarkable feat, given high divorce rates and pressures against long-term relationships. At some level, every domestic partnership is “intercultural” as each couple develops its own unique culture out of two (Grearson and Smith 1995, xvii). In heterosexual relationships, women and men typically view their marriages in dissimilar ways (Bernard 1972; Coontz 2008; Rubin 1995). Every person comes into an intimate partnership with a different set of personal and social experiences that require some...

  7. 3 Differences That Matter Within Couple Relationships
    (pp. 81-110)

    The thirty-eight domestic partnerships examined here represent a broad range of ethnic, racial, religious, socioeconomic, and national groups; most also differ by gender. In this and the following chapter, I explore the significance of multiple forms of difference to intercultural couples. How do these social categories vary in their salience and consequences for the couples involved? From the perspective of those living in intergroup partnerships, one may begin to see how their members experience (i.e., are both affected by and resist) the categories of difference commonly used in U.S. society.

    This chapter highlights those differences recognized by the couples as...

  8. 4 Differences That Matter Across Relationships
    (pp. 111-136)

    Let’s now turn our attention to a different set of differences, those less salient to the partners as a couple but mattering more to those external to the union—persons with whom the partners have invested outside relationships (extended family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors) as well as total strangers.¹

    The categories of difference that outsiders consider most salient, according to the intercultural couples’ reports, are those of race and religion. Although these differences are of little perceived importance to the partners within the couple relationship, in dealing with the outside world interracial couples in particular recount incidents of racism and...

  9. 5 Accommodating Differences
    (pp. 137-164)

    Although racial, ethnic, and national variations usually are important in the early stages of the partners’ relationships, for most of the inter-group couples included in the study, such differences lessen in significance over time and have little influence on how partners relate to each other. Some differences, however, remain salient, requiring considerable negotiation and accommodation. Economic class differences and related cultural expectations in particular are a source of tension for more than half of the couples in this study. External pressures especially in regard to racial and religious differences can bear down on the partnerships. The majority of couples do...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 165-176)

    Most people choose partners from within their own social groups and all known human societies have proscriptions as well as sanctions designed to keep members from pairing up with those who are constructed as outsiders or otherwise inappropriate potential mates (Goodwin and Cramer 2002). However, as ethnic, racial, religious, and national boundaries become weaker, more and more people establish intercultural partnerships (Lee and Bean 2004). In short, things change. What might have been unthinkable, or at least required the breaking of a major taboo for our grandparents or parents, can become possible, even mundane, with the passage of time. A...

  11. Methodological Appendix: A Feminist Approach to Interviewing
    (pp. 177-185)
    (pp. 186-188)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 189-192)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-206)
  15. Index
    (pp. 207-212)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 213-213)