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The Role of Culture in Marriage and Divorce

DiPietro Law Group, PLLC

The United States has been called a melting pot of cultures. The melting pot metaphor has its origins in traditional smelting practices where alloys were formed by melting different metals together in a pot. The result was a new metallic alloy that incorporated certain properties of the underlying metals. However, the resulting alloy would be unrecognizable as strictly one or the other of the underlying substances as it was considered to be its own new distinct metal.

This metaphor implies that American culture incorporates properties of other cultures together while erasing the underlying distinctiveness of the component cultures. Like smelting, the cultural metallurgy that takes places in America’s melting pot occurs on a fundamental level: the family unit. This article analyzes the role that culture places in marriage and divorce.

Culture and Marriage

Although culture and race are not synonymous, there is an undeniable link. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percent of interracial or interethnic marriages rose from 7.4% to 10.2% between 2000 and 2012-2016.

However, culture extends beyond race and ethnicity to include religious, political, and other aspects of society. For example, an individual’s perception of sexuality and sexual orientation can be influenced by the religious and political background of their parents and the local community.

Significantly, culture can also influence an individual’s perception and expectations regarding marriage and family. For example, in cultures where there is a clear division of rights and responsibilities based on gender or sex, husbands and wives have distinct roles. In some cultures, men have a duty to go out in the world and provide their family with security and sustenance, while women have a duty to remain at home to take care of children and household responsibilities. Households where both husband and wife pursue their own careers and ambitions subvert these traditional cultural expectations and are seen as disruptive.

Conversely, other cultures put a premium on individual freedoms and independence. Personal identity and satisfaction are viewed as essential for promoting overall societal good. Success and happiness are things that an individual must earn independently from others. A person is judged based on what they can “bring to the table.” As a result, the idea of sacrificing individual aspirations for family or community is perceived as

Individuals with different cultural backgrounds may encounter opposing values as a significant obstacle in their marriage. This difficulty can manifest itself in their expectations in approaching daily responsibilities, celebrating holidays, pursuing careers, child-rearing duties, and the personal sacrifices they should make for the sake of their marriage.

Culture and Divorce

According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control in 2002, mixed-race marriages had a 41% chance of getting divorced, whereas same-race marriages had a 31% chance of ending in divorce. Again, given a strong correlation between racial or ethnic identity and cultural background, this type of statistic might reveal an important property about multicultural couples and divorce.

Generally, divorce is universally seen as something negative across many cultures. For example, cultures that focus on collective identity tend to perceive divorce as a failure of societal duties that results from a personal flaw or weakness that either or both spouses possess. The family and community looks down on and sometimes blames the couple for not trying hard enough or for being “bad” or “selfish” spouses. However, societal blame tends to focus on the spouse to whom tradition assigns the duty of maintaining the household. As a result, individuals who identify with these cultural values face strong societal pressures to avoid divorce. They are taught that fulfilling a person’s marital duties requires personal sacrifice.

In contrast, cultures that prioritize individualism accept that divorce is the product of personal incompatibility and “irreconcilable differences.” Although Couples generally understand that compromise is essential for a successful marriage, the spouses are not expected to make significant personal sacrifices for a “bad fit.” Although societal blame for divorce plays less of a role, it tends to revolve on the spouses’ mutual lack of foresight and insight; the couple wasn’t “ready” and didn’t know enough about themselves and each other to understand what was expected of them as individuals.

In a multicultural marriage, a failure to communicate expectations and the refusal to compromise will lead to frustration and the dissolution of their marriage. Cultural background can cause a spouse to make substantial concessions to avoid divorce and the public shame that follows. Significantly, allowing a child to maintain a connection to their ethnic and cultural background is a significant factor when considering their best interests in custody determinations.

Spouses can greatly benefit from trying to see the big picture from each other’s cultural perspective. The chances of successful marriage improve with this sort of cultural empathy. Furthermore, negotiation and compromise become more achievable in the context of divorce when the parties and their attorneys can see issues from opposing viewpoints.

Just as the component metals in a melting point sacrifice their individual properties to form a stronger alloy, it might be necessary for multicultural marriages to surrender their cultural expectations when it comes to marriage, to accommodate the values of the other spouse.

If you are going through a divorce, you should contact an experienced attorneyfrom DiPietro Law Group, PLLC who can give you a broad perspective on legal issues. Call us (888) 530-4374 or contacting us online.

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