Discuss the influence of culture on romantic relationships.
Within the world there is no relationship that is the same, there are many different experiences and these experiences are vastly different for each culture. The western culture (Europe or USA) is very different when compared with the non-western cultures (India or China). The main different between Relationships in Western and non-Western cultures is the in the degree to which they are voluntary or non-voluntary.
Western cultures place importance in the rights and freedom of an individual, Individual pleasure and happiness are important so individualistic cultures have a focus on the individual, meaning that relationships are based on freedom of choice. On the other hand non-western cultures have a clear focus on the wider group, group goals and interests are more important than their own individual views. In Western cultures people live in mainly urban settings and voluntarily interact with a number of people, they therefore have a big choice in who we date, there is a large “pool” of potential relationships however In non western cultures there are less urban areas And less social mobility making interaction with strangers is rare. This means they have less choice in who they can interact and have a relationship with. In societies with reduced mobility arranged marriages are easy and make a lot of sense. In collectivist cultures, relationships are more likely to reflect the interests of the entire family. The idea of arranged marriage can give the family a say in the romantic relations.
There is a significant amount of research into this area which can show how culture does effect romantic relationship. Gupta and Singh(1982) compared 100 professional Indian couples. 50 had been married for love and 50 had taken part in arranged marriages, they used Rubin’s liking and loving scales. ‘Love’ was found to be high at the beginning of love marriages but then declined rapidly over the first 10 years.Arranged marriages started with low levels of like and love but these increased after 10 years. After 10 years arranged marriage couples liked and loved their partners more than those who had chosen each other. Suggesting that involuntary marriages are more likely to be successful.
Although it might be expected that more voluntary relationships based on love would produce more compatible partners and therefore be more successful, this is not necessarily the case. In cultures where families play a key part in arranging a marriage, parents may be in a better position to judge compatibility as they are not ‘blinded by love’. Another difference between Western and non-western cultures is the importance of love in romantic relationships.Levine et al (1995) investigated love as a basis for marriage in 11 countries. Respondents were asked if they would be willing to marry someone that had all the qualities they desired in a marriage partner but whom they did not love.Western –US- respondents were reluctant to marry in the absence of love ( only 14% said they would.) Non-western respondents however indicated that a higher proportion of people in these cultures were prepared to marry in the absence of love ( India 24% and Thailand 34%.)This suggests that in Western, Individualistic cultures love is
important in a relationship compared to non-western, Collectivist cultures where the extended family for example is more important.
There is research support for this idea that non-voluntary relationships can work as well as, if not better than relationships based on love. Epstein found that in cultures with reduced social mobility, non-voluntary relationships appeared to work very well, with lower divorce rates than Western marriages. However, this may be due to different cultural attitudes towards divorce. Marital satisfaction was the same for voluntary and nonvoluntary relationships, suggesting that they work equally well.In contrast to this finding, a Chinese study by Xiaohe & Whyte found that women who had freedom of choice and who married for love were happier than women in arranged marriages. This study appears to support the claim that freedom of choice, which is more common in Western cultures this promotes marital stability. There is larger support for the effect of culture on romantic relationships Ho (1986) found that Marrying for love is seen as a vital component in the West, but for Chinese couples, romance and love are less important and are only considered in light of responsibility towards parent and the family. Spontaneous expression of love, especially in terms of sex outside of marriage, is not considered appropriate in Chinese society.
There disputes about whether culture does effect romantic relationships as questions such as, is love universal regardless of culture. Pinker (2008) found that views romantic love as a ‘human universal’ that has evolved to promote survival and reproduction among human beings. Being in a long term committed relationship offers lower mortality rates, increased happiness and decreased stress. There is a clear adaptive value to being in a long term relationship- across all cultures. Pinker suggests that romantic relationships are a form of an evolutionary process and I universal, and thus occurs in every type of culture. Pink therefore opposes the theorys idea of that romantic relationships differ between different cultures and thus decreases the theorys internal validity.
Psychologists also propose that the theory is ethnocentric. The theory only bases itself upon
individualistic cultures and their values and thus neglect collectivist cultures and their values. As the theory only considers individualistic cultures it lacks external reliability as the theory cannot explain the difference of all cultures specifically collectivist cultures.
There may also be a historical bias in much of this research. There has been a significant increase in the number of voluntary and temporary relationships in the West in the past several decades, perhaps due to the increased urbanisation. This would also explain the significant increase in voluntary relationships in non-Western cultures such as India and China.