Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century

Loving across border
control: Couple
relationships in the
21st Century
Dr Reenee Singh
& Dr Martina Klett-Davies
Faculty of Social Sciences
The Open University, UK
AFT Annual Conference, London, 20.9.2013
Plan for the workshop
Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century – Methods and
findings from quantitative study
Overview of literature
Qualitative sample and Clinical Vignettes
Research Questions
Self Reflexivity
Clinical Implications
Enduring Love?
Couple Relationships in the 21st
How do couples experience and understand
the qualities (‘connectors’) of their long-term
Qualitative research
Psycho-social mixed methods study
The sample includes:
• 50 couples (aged between 18 and 60)
• heterosexual and same-sex couples
• equal numbers of men and women
• couples with and without children
• Ethnic minority
Research methods
Research methods
individual interviews
couple (collage)
Research methods
online survey
Survey/5 Measures/Likert scale
Religion and relationship measures
Sexual orientation, parenting status
and relationship maintenance
Parenting status and relationship
My partner wants to have sex more than I do:
relationship duration and sexual orientation
Heterosexual women
LGBT women
Under 1 year
1-5 years
6-10 years
11-15 years
16–20 years
more than 20
Stressors and relationship measures
• 31% of participants have
started an educational
• 23% experienced job loss
or redundancy and/or
starting work
• 32% moved house
• 25% experienced
In contrast to
previous research
findings (Walker et
al., 2010) there
appears to be
significant positive
between the
number of events in
the past two years
and relationship
Help and advice seeking
Plan for the workshop again
Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century – Methods and
findings from quantitative study X
Overview of literature
Qualitative sample and Clinical Vignettes
Research Questions
Self Reflexivity
Clinical Implications
Overview of the literature
“Things are harder across the divide and it would be foolish to deny that.”
Yasmin Alibhai Brown, 2001.
Falicov (1995, 2007) cross-cultural marriages and migration
Focus on pathology and difficulties in relation to religion, food, language,
understanding self and families (eg. Bacigalupe, 2003)
Melendez and McDowell’s focus on immigrants or transnationals.
Killian (2001) discourse of ‘homogamy’, hypersensitivity and ‘no race’ talk.
Karis and Killian (2009) – Power and developmental frameworks
Singh and Dutta (2010) Intercultural Couples – U.K.
The overall sample of 50 couples entailed 15 couples who were either Asian or Black
African or Black Afro Caribbean
Of MKD’s sample there were seven couples were at least one partner was either Asian (2)
or Black African or Afro-Caribbean (5)
Of those RS sample for qualitative research seven couples where one or both identified as
RS sample - Could have refined the category to ‘South Asian’
Of the seven couples, one was an older Asian couple but all the rest were in intercultural
Amongst the twelve participants in intercultural relationships, four identified as mixed race,
one was Taiwanese, two Indian and the remaining 5 were White English
Six of the couples were heterosexual and one was lesbian
In this disparate couple, the theme of migration, in this generation, cut across two of the
couples whom I have chosen for this workshop.
Research Questions
• What are the experiences of couples
where one, or both are migrants to the
• What are the resiliencies or strengths in
such relationships?
10 Data sets
• 4 Diaries of Participants 1, 2, 3 and 4
• 4 Transcripts of four Individual interviews
• 2 Transcipts of two couple interviews
IPA is a “qualitative research approach committed to the
examination of how people make sense of their major life
experiences.” (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2012)
Phenomenological and interpretative
• Detailed and idiographic
• In depth look at a small, homogenous sample
• Meta Themes
• Development
• Resiliencies
Developmental Stages
1: Becoming a Couple
• Unintentional Migration
• Participant 4 : “And I never really anticipated
that I would be living in the UK as a wife.”
• Participant 1: “ She didn’t really come to Britain
with any intention of staying here, she just came
to her Masters degree.”
1: Becoming a Couple
• Escape from patriarchy
• Participant 2: “ I think it’s just my dad is very, um,
controlling and very, umm dismisive… my dad is really
um from a patriarchial background”
• Participant 4: “…Because they had visions of me never
getting married, and every time they tried to arrange a
marriage or somebody suggested it I would just say, “Oh
I don’t want to get married because it was easier to say
that than to say ‘I don’t want to get married like this…
1: Becoming a Couple
Mismatch of Cultural Expectations
• Participant 4 : “….I would have liked him to take
my cousin to the train station but he was
reluctant – said it would take an hour. I was a bit
annoyed but decided not to push it- she said she
didn’t mind taking a cab.”
1: Becoming a Couple
• Participant 1: “It was really difficult to negotiate because I
didn’t want to be that kind of, as oh, I was trying to live
up to some sort of breadwinner patriarch… so I wanted
to, you know, I felt it was only fair that you contribute
something, but then I was also wrestling with that guilt…”
• Participant 2: “Because before, when we started going
out, I only had a one year visa and, for some time, it
seemed the only option for me to stay in England was to
get married. And there was no way you would marry me
at that point. So that I was really worried, an I think I
was, kind of, expecting you to do more for me, but it was
really early days, so it was too much to ask.”
1: Becoming a Couple
• Negotiating Intercultural Differences
Participant 1: “Well, we’ve clearly had to develop our awareness
of each other’s cultural differences, because there’s so much that
you don’t really know how it’s going to impact on each other. Like
you know, compared to Taiwan, English society, you know,
women…a lot of women make jokes about sex and talk about it,
it’s there much more prominent and I don’t know. When I was
younger I always used to have quite a kind of, cheeky sense of
humour, like a bit rude and a bit, like always double entrendres
and things. And um, I think I just took that for granted, so I
assumed…it took me a while to realise how that..it wasn’t
because you were prudish, and it wasn’t because you were, kind
of, stuck up or anything. It was just, kind of the cultural standards
are different.”
1: Becoming a Couple
• Experiences of Racism
• Participant 3: Um, I suppose Participant 4 has a strong
sense of um her Indian identity, the legacy of UK
domination over India pre-independence, um and I think
there’s a lack of sensitivity to that often within my family
or or a sort of …a difficulty in acknowledging it.”
• Participant 2: “I know, just so many, well…we don’t have
to brand them but they’re like chavvy looking teenagers
and I got robbed, and I got shouted abuse…”
1: Becoming a Couple
• Experiences of Racism
Participant 1: “Last summer we went to the ---- festival and as we
were leaving some drunk guy came up and he, he looked at Anne
and he said to me, “Oh she’s Chinese.” And I said, “She’s not
Chinese’’ and he, he looked at me and said, I think he thought he
was being funny but he said, “Did you buy her?”
• And I said, “You’re drunk and you’re ignorant. F--- off.” And he
stumbled off, but, um, yeah, I don’t know, I think there’s that,
particularly in English men with Asian partners, there’s that
stereotype of, kind, of you know, Thai mail order brides and things
like this, that people assume there’s going to be a big disparity….”
• Recognition of sacrifice
Participant 2: “Yeah, so then, because I usually got frustrated
with visa applications, the fact that I had to apply and then
take time off and book the train and everything, you know, the
cost added up, so then you decided to come with me and
made it a pleasant day, instead of just getting the visa sorted,
we booked the high tea in the afternoon….”
• Participant 3: “It’s much tougher for Participant 4 because
she’s in the UK and I think, um, because she’s here
permanently. Her relationship with, with the culture if you like,
is much tougher, and difficult to sort of feel integrated in
because you’re because you’re living here permanently…”
• Interplay of Cultural Differences
• Participant 3: Yeah we do, we do Diwali and Christmas
• Participant 4: Yeah. We don’t – probably do as much for
Diwali because we don’t get time off in the same way so
it’s a bit harder to do something on the day. But we do
try to do something. We used to try and go out for a meal
or something on Diwali, or call friends over .
• Participant 2: Yeah, and I think you’re usually very quick
to point it out. Like he’s very patriotic and aware to point
out that I’m from Taiwan, not China, yeah…”
• Parental Approval
• Participant 4: “And I think they always wanted me to get married and
they’ve been trying to arrange marriages of me, then they realised
that it wasn’t working, that I wouldn’t go ahead with it. So, um, so
they were very pleased when I got married, when we got married.”
• Participant 2 “Sometimes I think they (her parents) like Henry better
than they do me and the fact that he’s got a Ph.d, he’s teaching at
the University is very respected in Taiwan…”
• Similarity in class, political ideologies, values
• Participant 2: “ I think we have similar values um, we’re
more on the Left really and um, interested in helping
people in a more vulnerable position.”
• Participant 3: “Because although we come from different
cultural contexts our class backgrounds aren’t dissimilar
so, um, I think that’s that makes it quite a lot easier in
certain respects.”
2: Marriage: Crossing the
• The Home Office Affects Relationships
• Participant 4: “…. I mean the UK border agency I think that did
initially put a bit of stress in our-on our marriage because, uh, I hadit took me over a year to get indefinite leave to remain. Um and I
couldn’t go to India because they had my passport for over a year.
Um so I – I mean I think they again, and I know from my own work
that they are making it much more difficult for couples where one
couple is – one of the partners isn’t from an EU country; they’ve
raised the income threshold and they’ve increased the time, or
they’re planning to increase the time, and I just think that would just
put a lot of stress on relationships which isn’t, you know – in a sense
it isn’t necessarily for the government to decide who you should
marry, and help and encourage certain kinds of marriages and not
others. Um, so I think that that, again, is something that should
possibly be changed…..
2: Marriage: Crossing the
• Being married equates being entitled to protection
Participant 2: “I think as a migrant you always feel like you’re
in a vulnerable position and people have been telling me at
work that um, you’re entitled to a different set of rights if
you’re married than if you’re not married.”
• “And being married, it just, you know, offers me protection.”
• Not acceptable to have children outside wedlock
• “It was only this year that I came to realise if we don’t get
married I will have less protection, and for a long time, it’s just
the fact that it’s not really possible to have kind if we don’t get
married. It’s not acceptable for my parents…”
• Being part of a mixed race community
Participant 2: “Yeah like in my office, for example, um,
one, two, three, um and yeah, they all have a foreign
husband or boyfriend and one of my good friends, she’s
English but her husband is um, from Indonesia and I’ve
got another friend who is Japanese and her husband’s
English and one from Hong Kong, her husband’s
English…yeah and I think there’s this kind of unspoken
thing among all these mixed race couples, is you, you
understand how difficult for the other…”
• Growing and changing together
Participant 1: Participant 2’s often said that Taiwanese
culture compared to British culture isn’t that sexualised. I
mean, I thnk when she first came to Britain she was
shocked how, you know, not even your closest friends,
but just mates from your courses go to the pub and you’d
be drinking and people would be joking about sex and
things to do with their sex life…So I guess I’ve kind of
learned that it’s easier to keep it behind closed doors a
bit more, um, yeah…
3: Parenting
• Re-negotiating relationships with parents and in-laws:
• Participant 3: “And they’re very religious Catholics, and when the
children were born they wanted to have them christened…what we
wanted was like a sort of naming day ceremony which was secular,
but you know, maybe, just have…we wanted something where, you
know, well, we call it the Namkaran and you know, you know just
have the child..my mother was there at the time and she just wanted
to do a (inaudible) they sort of assumed that that was all Hindu,
whereas actually it wasn’t…”
• Participant 4: “I think having children’s been quite tough as well.
Um.. Particularly because Asmi ‘s somewhat separated from her
family in India. And they’ve been good in coming here…a few times,
but it’s not quite the same as having them close by.”
3: Parenting
• Differences in Parenting Styles
Participant 3: “Um, last Christmas I just decided that I
wouldn’t go to their house again because also it was, it’s
not so much me, I think but I don’t think they are all that
giving with the children. My father-in-law’s constantly
tutting at them, and… I suppose I’m biased but I don’t
think they’re sort of spoiled or naughty, I think they’re sort
of normal toddlers… I don’t really want them to go
somewhere where people are just, kind of…start tutting at
them because they’re doing things which anybody should,
all normal toddlers do.”
• Recognising the importance of having bilingual
• Participant 4: “ I mean my mother-in-law ticks
me off for speaking to the children in …. (own
language) she doesn’t like me doing that
and…Participant 3 just told her off once because
he just thought that was unacceptable.”
• Love
• Participant 4: “At the end of the day, we do love each other a lot. I
think that’s what keeps it going..”
• Participant 3: “Ah well without meaning to sound sort of…smultsy
about it, I mean I think we sort of do, deep down, love each um and I
think when things have been very tough for us, we’ve, we’ve always
recognised that we are there for each other… I’ve been in other
relationships and they don’t compare with …the depth of, the kind of
feeling I have for her or the kind of um, sense of loyalty and…safety
I suppose of being with her (Participant 4).
Representations of Mixed Race Families in the Media
• Participant 4: Yeah, because it’s yeah. In fact you see so little of
it and you see so little reflection on what it might mean and what
it might mean to bring up children in um, in a mixed race
relation…you know, and considering that I’m sure it’s not a small
percentage of the population and in fact there’s talk about it
actually increasing dramatically as it would; so yeah you’d hardly
ever see it portrayed in films that much either….
• Participant 1: “So I do hope when our, you know, if we have kids
and they’re growing up, that they will see, um…when we were
watching the Olympics opening ceremony the other night, the the
scene with the family that was a mixed, mixed er race family…”
• Financial security
• Participant 3 : “We’re not worried about the finances it’s
more a sense that um…because we’ve both got pretty
good jobs and they’re pretty well paid…”
• Participant 2: “..we’re really lucky because we both have
jobs and we’re still together and we very settled as a
• Rituals
• Participant 2: “We like to do nice things together
and celebrate, um, occasions, you know,
birthday, Christmas, or you know, treat each
other, if you know, I pass my test or he’s
• Playing with cultural differences
• Participant 1: I think humour helps sometimes. We,
we’ve joked over the years, like when I first went to
Taiwan to meet your family I actually was quite nervous
about it, it was a big step. But we, in um, Wayne’s World,
there’s a scene where he met the, the girlfriend’s Dad
from Hong Kong and there’s like a kung fu fight. But it is,
it’s very very silly, but we were just, I was just joking
about that scene, like your Dad’s going to want me to
fight him to prove my worth or something. I don’t know, I
think, I think that it helps…”
• Are couples where one is a migrant very
different to those where both belong to the same
• Participant 4: I don’t think it’s an issue between
us, in fact I think most of the time we don’t even
think of it. And in a sense all couples are
different from each other, aren’t they, even if you
are the same colour there will be some other
difference within white – or even if you’re from
the same social….
• Does negotiating with intercultural
differences and sacrifices on both parts
build up resistance?
• Does this translate into a stronger and
healthier relationship, in keeping with the
quantitative findings of the study?
Cultural Genograms (Hardy and Lazloffy, 1995)
Internalized Other interviewing (Tomm, 1997)
Separate cultural spaces (Falicov, 1995)
Particularizing the ‘universal’ (Killian, 2001)
Contextualising and Universalizing the ‘Particular’
Encouraging Couples to Reauthor a Family Identity
Self as a Tool
Positioning and polarities
Redressing the power imbalance
Alibhai-Brown, Y. (2001) Mixed Feelings: The
Complex Lives of Mixed-Race Britons
Bacigalupe, G. (2003) Intercultural therapy with Latino immigrants and white partners: crossing borders. Journal of Couple and
Relationship Therapy. Volume 2/3: pp 131-149.
Karis, T.A. and Killian, K.D. (2009) Intercultural Couples. Exploring Diversity in Intimate Relationships. London: Routledge.
Kilian, K.D. (2001) Reconstituting racial histories and identities: the narratives of interracial couples. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 27 (1): 27 -42.
Falicov, C.J. (1995) Cross-cultural marriages. In N.S. Jacobson and A.S. Gurman (Eds.) Clinical Handbook of Couples Therapy. New
York: Guilford.
Falicov, C.J. (2007) Working with transnational immigrants: expanding meanings of family, community and culture. Family Process 46:
Melendez, T. and McDowell, T. (2013) Race, class, gender and migration: family therapy with a Peruvian couple. Journal of Systemic
Therapies 27(1): 30-43.
Singh, R. and Dutta, S. (2010) Intercultural Couples. In R Singh and S. Dutta (2010) ‘Race’ and Culture. Tools, Techniques and Trainings.
A Handbook for Professionals.
Smith, J.A., Flowers, P and Larkin, M. (2009) Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Theory, Method an Research. London: Sage.
Enduring Love?
Keep in touch with the project
Dr Martina Klett-Davies [email protected]
Dr Reenee Singh EMAIL????

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