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Counseling Issues for Arranged Marriages

Two hands, one with African tattoos

Arranged marriages remain relatively rare in the United States, but are a common cultural practice in many countries. As many as 55% of all marriages globally are arranged, most of them in South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Immigrants and children thereof are sometimes involved in marriages arranged by third parties in the United States. Although the practice remains controversial due to concerns such as freedom of choice and the oppression of women, abuse is not the norm in arranged marriages.

Many people willingly enter into arranged marriages, believing that their parents are well equipped to choose a lifelong partner for them. People in arranged marriages face many of the same issues as people who marry for love—communication, infidelity, the death of romance, fights about money, and different parenting philosophies—and sometimes seek counseling to resolve these issues. Therapists counseling clients involved in arranged marriages must be sensitive to cultural practices, and may need to take a closer look at some common issues in arranged marriages.

Cultural Awareness and Ethnocentrism
In a culture that focuses on marrying for love, it’s easy to look down on arranged marriages and to view them as products of force. But many people enter into arranged marriages of their own accord, and the low divorce rate among arranged marriages globally—between 4% and 6%—clashes greatly with the high divorce rate in the United States (around 50%). Therapists counseling couples involved in arranged marriages should suspend judgments and display respect for cultural practices, even if they disagree with them.

Premarital Counseling
Some people believe arranged marriage involves a couple meeting for the first time at their wedding, but many couples in arranged marriages know their spouses for years before getting married. However, they don’t typically live together and may not spend much time together prior to marriage. Some couples are introduced to each other by third parties but left to make the ultimate decision as to whether to pursue marriage. Premarital counseling can greatly benefit couples involved in arranged marriages and help them prepare for the stress of adapting to a shared life.

Values Within Marriage
Married couples come from all walks of life, and every couple has its unique set of values. Some couples may relish religious-based counseling, while others may struggle with establishing equality within marriage. Couples involved in arranged marriages may have a wide variety of values, and therapists should investigate the core beliefs of their clients early in the process. For some couples in arranged marriages, divorce may not be an option due to family values, beliefs about marriage, or a simple commitment to see the marriage through. Therapists should not make assumptions about marital values; for example, some couples within arranged marriages may highly value gender equality, while others might see separate roles for men and women as a fair approach that promotes marital harmony.

Abuse and Coercion
There are many happy arranged marriages, but abuse of women and coercion into marriage remain a sad legacy of some arranged marriage practices. In cultures where women are not treated as equals, women may be hesitant to report abuse, and may not even recognize abuse as a problem. Therapists should be prepared to intervene if they see signs of abuse and to educate both partners about steps they can take to end abusive behavior. Some abused partners may benefit from meeting with the therapist individually, as they may be hesitant to report abuse or other marital issues in the presence of a spouse. Consequently, therapists should consider meeting with each spouse individually from time to time.

Family Issues
In cultures that practice arranged marriages, families often play a central role in the relationship. Spouses may have conflicts with their in-laws or struggle to establish proper boundaries. Therapists should determine each spouse’s comfort level with family involvement before making recommendations. Some couples, for example, may welcome the input of parents or in-laws but need help determining how much input to accept or whether living with parents is an appropriate strategy. Others, however, may want to establish completely separate lives from their families and may need advice about how to establish boundaries and navigate conflicts.

References:

  1. Delp, V. (2006, November 20). Lessons from an arranged marriage. Families.com. Retrieved from http://www.families.com/blog/lessons-from-an-arranged-marriage
  2. Lee, J. H. (2013, January 20). Modern lessons from arranged marriages. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/20/fashion/weddings/parental-involvement-can-help-in-choosing-marriage-partners-experts-say.html?pagewanted=all
  3. Pre-marital counseling. (n.d.). Between Us Relationship Helpline RSS. Retrieved from http://betweenus.bharatmatrimony.com/?p=263

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Comments
  • Sasha March 14th, 2013 at 11:45 PM #1

    The issues faced isn’t any different for these couples.. and if they are able to strike a chord before they get married then I don’t think it is any worse than marrying for love.. what’s needed is more awareness on the professionals’ part so they’re better able to serve these couples coming with a different set of values and usually from a different culture.. until and unless the professional fully understands the client the help provided may not be as effective as it can be.

  • shushma March 15th, 2013 at 3:57 AM #2

    My parents actually had an arranged marriage, and I can assure you then when they were married there was no such thing as premarital counseling for them.

    I think that over the years they have grown to have some love for each other, but not exactly what I am looking for in my own marriage. It iss ad when I think about their lives and look at how much freedom that I have had and how relatively constricted they have always been by the culture that I have chosen to let go of but they have held onto.

  • Rhianna March 19th, 2013 at 3:51 AM #3

    I guess I am kind of surprised to learn that this is still an accepted custom in certain cultures even today. It feels so dated, so far out of my realm of experience as a female that I can’t even imagine having to live this way.
    With that being said, I know that there are probably thousands of couples worldwide who would benefit, but in the areas where this is still accepted I hardly think that there will be people encouraging you to seek counseling. It kind of feels that they would just encourage you to suck it up and live with it the way your ancestors have always done.

  • maria April 4th, 2013 at 7:30 AM #4

    the divorce rate is low in those marriages only because of the shame that is attached to divorce. the abuse rate is very high but is not reported- again because of the stigma and expectations to fall in line with culture. statistics only show what is reported-not what is actually occurring.

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