Does Culture Determine Communication Style and Relationship Satisfaction?

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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  • AmyH

    March 27th, 2012 at 4:08 AM

    No matter where you are from, be it a different country or just a different part of the same country, I think that it would hold true that how spouses interact and communicate with one another is going to be different. I am sure that my husband and I have a very different relationship from a Middle Eastern couple; by the same token, I am sure that we also have a very different one from say an Amish family who could live five miles from me. Every individual marriage is going to be different. What should however be the same at the heart of all of them is love and trust for the other person, not dominance of one over the other.

  • loretta

    March 27th, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    I am kind of surprised that the Chinese and American couples had the same levels of positive feelings toward one another and their relationship. I guess I kind of thought that Chinese women would feel more repressed due to the differences in the American and Chinese cultures. They seem from the outside like it would be a society that places far more value on men than it does women (I mean, girl babies are killed you know) and that would naturally filter down to how women feel in the marital relationship.


    March 27th, 2012 at 9:56 PM

    cultural norms may be different and the way of expression may be varied too,but what’s important is mutual respect and love and everything else will fall into place.things around us may influence us but what is inside and what is between the partners is what holds more importance.


    March 28th, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    For me it has never really felt like it is a cultural thing so much as a generational thing. I think that for instance our ancestors were far more likely to marry for reasons other than love, whereas now you would rarely hear people talk about this. I think that most couples do go into marriage with the best of intentions- who goes into a marriage expecting to get a divorce? But thins don’t work out for whatever reason. It may have something to do with culture, or it could be the age of the couple or the finances of the couple or anything. I really don’t think that happiness and unhappiness and dissatisfaction boils down to where you are from.

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