Psychotherapy for Arranged Marriages - Family Therapy - Couples Counseling NYC, New York

Therapy: Arranged Marriages in the United States

"Challenges and Opportunities"

Arranged marriage, the formal or informal pairing of marital partners by third parties remains prevalent today in many countries particularly, India, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and throughout Africa. Some arranged marriages have a certain degree of choice on behalf of the partners while at the other end of the spectrum forced marriages offer no choice and are usually associated with oppressive political and economic structure. Usually motivated by economic and social class factors, arranged marriage is often a complex undertaking involving not just the husband and wife but joint extended family systems with overlapping motivations and expectations. Many of today’s arranged marriages involve active participation and solicitation of parents as a manifestation of what is perceived as a caring and protective measure of parental responsibility with significant input from the child, often over age 25 and highly educated. Some courtship may be encouraged although usually short in duration. There is a general belief in proponents of arranged marriage that parents can predict the success of the union by choosing partners that have similar backgrounds including religion and education. The divorce rate, eg. in India, although growing happens to be extremely low. This can be a result, however, of the pervasive stigma attached to divorce and not based on marital satisfaction.

However, because of so many voices entering into the project of implementing an arranged marriage, sometimes including extended family and/or broker, a consensus or even dialogue may be difficult to reach not only in the choice of partner but during the course of the marriage itself. If a partner has been selected through courtship by the child, parental involvement becomes strong in ensuring the preservation of local tradition and customs. Either partner can become vulnerable to pressure of these family and societal forces in terms of financial, career, childbearing and other areas regarding extended family respect and related rituals.

As immigrants or students in the United States, these couples may be challenged with conflicting cultural perspectives on marriage as they become exposed to the concept of shaping marital goals with significantly more individual choice. For example, despite high education levels, strict gender roles for men and women can be sustained by one partner in contrast to a desire to change prescribed expectations and parameters in the other. A wife may view joint responsibility for household chores as liberating, while the husband may consider this relinquishing as a source of shame within the surrounding community. A husband may be deeply hurt that his daughter’s fiancé did not ask for his permission to marry at the same time his wife was asking for a divorce. Their families had arranged the marriage when he was age five and felt deeply in love with his wife. A graduate student who began to engage in University life and peers was told by her husband that it was not safe to socialize in mixed company leading to isolation, resentment and depression. She met her husband three times before their arranged marriage and felt she had not known another male in a capacity that could lead to friendship rather than the established myth that possible sexual threat, if enacted, could ultimately bring shame to her family. An undergraduate female engineer who has fallen in love with a fellow student is faced with inevitable rejection because her boyfriend does not want to displease his parents who have selected a wife . A mother wants to allow her sixteen year old daughter to date and learn about birth control while her husband believes she will lose her opportunity to be a wife because of the accompanying stigma of not being a virgin.

Acculturation, representing the pace and quality of adaptation to a new culture or blend of cultures, then, can be quite different for each partner and impose strain on the marriage. This can lead to a sense of loss in the partner who wishes to hold onto the traditional cultural values in a purer form . A sense of frustration and confinement can develop in the partner who wishes to experiment with novel ways of being a spouse, parent and active participant in many facets of their career. The involvement of parents and grandparents in major decisions in child rearing, location of home, frequency of contact, and the possibility of divorce may be questioned. This critique, however, may engender feelings in the individual or couple of betraying family of origin as their influence has been predominant.

Most arranged marriage couples do adapt to life in America and learn to negotiate many cultural frames that they become exposed to , adeptly and creatively balancing the new and old with sustaining supportive family bonds. Most helpful is open expression of the joys, fears and concerns that may seem overwhelming at times and the acknowledgement of felt insecurities that may arise. Often, becoming targets of racism may emerge as a new obstacle for the couple. The intergenerational transmission of immigrant experience through narrative and forums for family discussion appear to be helpful in the immigrant experience as a whole. Accepting diversity of opinion from children on various topics including arranged marriage and allowing expression of their day to day experience can facilitate processing of the often conflicting cultural messages received in school and media.

Some arranged marriage couples, however, grow apart . Couple, family and individual therapy highly sensitive to cultural frames and their impact on development and sense of self can help to negotiate between dynamic cultural influences and disruptions in intimacy and felt sense of loyalty to family and country. Widening role possibility and comforting feelings of grief and mourning by each partner can facilitate healing and restoration . It can be reassuring to the partner that a broadening perspective involving active choice can enhance rather than threaten the marriage. If the dictates of the arranged marriage are proving to be damaging or abusive to the self, therapy can help partners realize their incompatibility and explore decisions regarding the viability of the marriage itself . Crucial is the consistent regard to garnering support , if possible, from the extended families.

Arranged marriages in the United States create many distinctive challenges and opportunities for the individuals and families involved. A combination of extended family support with appreciation of openness and assessment of what new cultural influences each partner and the marriage itself will embrace can bring a sense of choice , freedom of expression while cherishing traditions and ritual that hold meaning and bonding for the couple.

Indian Couple Holding Hands