Picking partners for your children? It might work because of family focus

Relationships can suffer from mixed messages in some cultures

Psychologists at Brunel University London discovered that even though parental influence on mate choice can drive relationship commitment down, a cultural focus on devotion between family members can mean that, conversely, passion and commitment are also possible.

However, the research shows that these two competing factors can serve to put opposing pressures on an individual’s romantic relationships.

Lead author Kathrine Bejanyan said: “This research shows mixed messages coming from cultures that put others above the self. The strength of family bonds boosts good relationships, but parental control is a passion-killer. For those that straddle Eastern and Western cultures the countervailing forces of family versus peers can create tension.”

The competing values arose in two surveys – the first involving 154 participants in the UK and the second involving 346 participants from India and the USA, countries that have a very different view of cultural values around collectivism and individual preference.

The purpose of the research was to test values of collectivism, prevalent in India but less so in Westernised cultures, on relationship commitment, passion and parent-child discrepancies in mate preferences.

In the UK study, Bejanyan and her colleagues found that people from collectivist backgrounds accepted greater parental influence on their choice of mate, which was associated with decreased relationship commitment because people are less willing to invest in relationships that parents don’t approve of.

The second study confirmed the findings and further showed that collectivists’ devotion to family was likely to enhance commitment and passion in a relationship.

The results of these studies separately suggested prospective latent struggles that collectivists may experience in their romantic relationships as they try to manage opposing forces.

The paper ‘Associations of Collectivism with Relationship Commitment, Passion, and Mate Preferences: Opposing Roles of Parental Influence and Family Allocentrism’ by Kathrine Bejanyan, Tara C. Marshall and Nelli Ferenczi, is published here.

 Brunel University London