Marriage Satisfaction and Wellness in India and the United States: A Preliminary Comparison of Arranged Marriages and Marriages of Choice

Article excerpt

Marriage is an important institution in almost all societies in the world. In the United States, for example, over 90% of persons choose to marry at some point in their lives (Brubaker & Kimberly, 1993). The results of numerous studies suggest that people tend to be both healthier and happier when they are married (e.g., Gottman, 1994; Orbuch & Custer, 1995; White, 1994). As a consequence, the most frequently studied aspect in research on marriage and family relationships is that of satisfaction, or what helps people maintain happiness in their marriages (Heyman, Sayers, & Bellack, 1994; Larson et al., 1995; Spanier, 1976). A second concept that has received much attention in the literature relates to the processes by which individuals develop intimate relationships and, in particular, how love develops over time (Murstein, 1987; Sher, 1996; Sternberg, 1986). However, few studies have examined how factors such as love, intimacy, happiness, and satisfaction differ in marriages across cultures (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2000). In an increasingly diverse and global society, knowledge of cross-cultural differences in relationships and relationship satisfaction is important information for counselors.

Buss et al. (1990), working with a large team of researchers, administered surveys to 9,494 adults from 33 countries to determine the effects of culture and gender on heterosexual mate preferences. They found that men and women around the world agree that love and mutual attraction are the most important factors in mate selection. Additional factors that received near-universal support were dependability, emotional stability, kindness, and understanding.

Buss et al. (1990) noted that in countries where more traditional values are the norm, such as China, India, and Iran, men place a high value on women's chastity, their desire for home and children, and their abilities as cook and homemaker. In these same societies, women value men with ambition, with good financial prospects, and men who hold favorable social status. Earlier studies by Udry (1974) revealed that the criteria used in the selection of spouses vary according to the type of mate-selection system in a particular country. Where mate selection is autonomous, which is the prevalent mode in Western societies, interpersonal attraction or "romantic love" is likely to be considered the primary or legitimate basis for marriage. In countries with collectivist orientations, what Buss et al. referred to as "traditional societies," mate selection is often accomplished by the family rather than the individual (Chang & Myers, 1997; Dion & Dion, 1993). Important criteria for selecting the individuals to be joined as a couple in these societies include subsistence skills, family alliances, economic arrangements between families, and health (Udry, 1974).

Although demographic factors related to mate selection in traditional and modern cultures have been studied (e.g., Buss et al., 1990), few studies of marital satisfaction in arranged marriages or studies comparing satisfaction in arranged marriages with satisfaction in marriages of choice have been conducted. In one of the few such studies, Shachar (1991) surveyed 206 young married couples from Israel to determine differences in marital satisfaction in arranged marriages and in marriages in which spouses were selected autonomously. He found that the duration of courtship, premarital cohabitation, and patterns of spouse selection were only minimally related to marriage satisfaction.

Yelsma and Athappilly (1988) studied marriage satisfaction and communication practices of 28 Indian couples in arranged marriages, 25 Indian couples in "love" marriages (marriages of choice), and 31 American couples in companionate marriages. They found that persons in arranged marriages had higher marital satisfaction scores, as measured by the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (Spanier, 1976), than either the love-married persons in India or the companionate-married persons in the United States. …