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Intercultural marriages predisposition: desire for assimilation?



A couple of months ago I introduced a first predisposition for intercultural marriage: a need for fulfillment. The main idea was that…

A lasting relationship requires one’s needs and preferences to be met and fulfilled. An individual who feels a sense of something lacking could be led to believe that a foreign spouse would fill the gap that a person from his or her culture would not be able to fill or help complete.

Today I would like to argue that another side for this desire of fulfilment exists: someone who feels or who actually is excluded at some level from his community can possibly seek an “outsider” for his life partner and consider intercultural marriage. This was the case of the biblical figure of Joseph who was excluded from his family. Though he did not have much choice and freedom in his life context, he assimilated to Egyptian life and his administrative position through the intercultural marriage Pharaoh arranged:

Why did Pharaoh choose her (Asenath) for Joseph in particular remains a mystery. Actually, both Joseph’s Egyptian name and his wife’s are mentioned in this verse alone, perhaps as a way to recognize and yet to minimize the issue of mixed marriage? Joseph being given a new Egyptian name and wife attests of his new social position in Egypt, a position with privileges he could hardly reject despite his covenantal background.  This is actually the best way to make sense of his acceptance of intercultural and interreligious marriage: The context would not allow Joseph to take a stand against such a marriage as his wife is given by Pharaoh himself.

According to psychologists this is still true today: someone who feels or who is excluded from his community can possibly seek someone completely different for his life partner. Because of one’s exclusion from his community of origin, whether felt or real, one will aspire to break from the social rules that once governed him or her. At the field research level, Nina Cohen observed that certain wives of intercultural marriages sometimes felt uneasy in their original culture, particularly about the sexual stereotype their culture produces. In effect, they did not see themselves fitting into their own culture’s expectations nor could they accept a spouse who did. Though they sometimes became involved with partners of their country as teenagers, they wanted a different kind of adult relationship than the ones they experienced.[1] As a result, such a person will seek to break from its community of origin, accept to become « different » by assimilating into another culture in which he or she can enter through marriage. [2] Desire for assimilation can therefore be a powerful predisposition to intercultural marriage.

  • Does it surprise you? Have you encountered intercultural couples that may have follow such a predisposition?  
  • What is the cost for such a desire for assimilation?

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[1] Nina Cohen, « Same or Different? A Problem of Identity in Cross-Cultural Marriages, » Journal of Family Therapy, no. 4 (1982).

[2] Petit, La migration dans l’organisation psychique des couples interculturels. 34.

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