Married couples communicate in a myriad of ways throughout the world. Different countries have cultural norms that people conform to, and these norms directly influence how individuals in intimate relationships communicate. These norms also affect other behaviors and attitudes that significantly affect relationships. Chinese and American cultures are quite different, and therefore, it is assumed that couples from China might have different communication styles and beliefs about their relationships than American couples. These diverse views are important to understand in order to better address and treat the issues that plague Chinese couples in America.
To find out how attitudes and communication patterns shape the overall satisfaction of Chinese couples compared to American couples, Hannah C. Williamson of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently led a study evaluating these factors in a sample of 41 Chinese newlywed couples and 50 newlywed couples from America. Taking into consideration that American couples are more inclined to conform to individualistic ideals and value intimacy and personal and romantic expression over the social expectations of extended family harmony and approval, as Chinese culture dictates, Williamson expected that the American couples would be more positive than the Chinese couples. This finding was not realized. Instead, all of the couples showed equal levels of positivity.
However, the results did show that the Chinese wives held more overall negative attitudes toward their husbands than the American wives. This directly impacted the levels of relationship satisfaction in the Chinese participants. Williamson believes this could be due to the collective nature of the Chinese culture, which dissuades people from directly expressing their feelings to intimate partners and family members. This nondisclosure of emotional experiences can hamper open communication and cause partners to hold on to resentments, thus negatively affecting the relationship. In contrast, American couples showed higher levels of relationship satisfaction, perhaps due to the more expressive and individualistic behaviors encouraged in American culture. Williamson believes these findings can help clinicians better understand the factors inhibiting communication in couples whose values differ with those of most Americans. She added, “The culture in which a relationship occurs therefore may be an important factor in determining how individuals behave toward their spouse and how they assign meaning to this behavior.”
Williamson, H. C., Ju, X., Bradbury, T. N., Karney, B. R., Fang, X., & Liu, X. (2012). Communication behavior and relationship satisfaction among American and Chinese newlywed couples. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027752
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