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Influence of culture on relationships

Relationships in Western and non-Western cultures differ in the degree to which they are voluntary or non-voluntary. Western cultures generally have a high degree of social & geographical mobility, allowing frequent interaction with a large number of people and thus a high degree of choice in romantic relationships. Non-Western cultures have less social and geographical mobility and people therefore have less choice about whom they interact with; Interactions with strangers are rare and are often tied to other factors such as family or economic resources.

Cultures also differ in the degree to which relationships reflect the interests of the individual or the family. In individualist cultures, individual interests are deemed more important & romantic relationships are more likely to be formed on the basis of love & attraction. In collectivist cultures, relationships are more likely to reflect the interests of the entire family.

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Influence of culture on relationships

Cultures differ greatly in terms of the norms that apply to the development of romantic relationships. These norms act as guidelines for appropriate behaviour within a culture & dictate how people relate to and communicate with each other in the development of romantic relationships. Ma studied self-disclosure (revealing your motives and intentions) in internet relationships and found that American students self-disclosed sooner than East Asian students. Moore & Leung found specific differences between Anglo-Australian & Chinese-Australian students in their attitudes to romantic relationships. This shows that cultural norms influence ideas of the development of romantic relationships.

Cultures differ in terms of the rules that apply to the development of romantic relationships. These rules can include courtesy and social intimacy. Argyle et al. studied relationships rules in the UK, Italy, Hong Kong and Japan, and found that different relationship rules applied to each of these cultures. However, some rules such as the showing of courtesy towards a partner were present in each culture. There is a cultural bias in Argyle et al.’s research. The problem is that the list of rules 

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Influence of culture on relationships

being tested was put together in a Western culture. This may have resulted in a failure to include rules specific to particular cultures. This represents a cultural bias where a culturally specific idea is applied to a culture where it is less relevant: an imposed etic.

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’. 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 non-voluntary relationships, suggesting that they work equally well.

In contrast to this finding, Xiaohe & Whyte found that women who had freedom of choice and who married for love were happier than women in arranged marriages. 

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This study appears to support the claim that freedom of choice – which is more common in Western cultures – promotes marital stability.

Unlike the cultural approach, the evolutionary approach to romantic relationships suggests that relationships are largely universal and thus that culture should have little effect. This claim is supported by Jankowiak & Fischer, who found clear evidence of romantic love in most of the 166 pre-industrialised societies studied, suggesting that it is universal & therefore a product of evolutionary rather than cultural factors. However, such an approach reductionist as it ignores other proximate explanations that take into account factors such as culture which influences adult relationships due to the extensive research support it has received. 

There may also be a historical bias in much of this research. There has been a significant increase in the number of voluntary & temporary relationships in the West in the past several decades, perhaps due to the increased urbanisation. 

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This would also explain the significant increase in voluntary relationships in non-Western cultures such as India and China.

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