Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Intermarriages between Western Women and Palestinian Men: Multidirectional Adaptation Processes

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Intermarriages between Western Women and Palestinian Men: Multidirectional Adaptation Processes

Article excerpt

This article addresses cultural adaptation of Western-Palestinian intermarried couples. Using in-depth interviews, information was gathered from 16 participants, 7 Western women and 9 Palestinian men, living in Palestinian cities in the West Bank. Adaptation strategies are typified by the extent to which each spouse embraces the partner's culture. The data suggest that intermarriage engenders a multidirectional adaptation process. Patriarchy and East-West power relations affect mainly the women, having to face marginalization on the basis of their gender and their foreignness. The men undergo a double process of cultural adaptation: to the Western culture and to their native culture after their return. Both the husbands' extended family and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were found to affect both partners' adaptation.

Key Words: cultural adaptation, intermarriage, political conflict.

The cultural adaptation of intermarried couples involves the social and psychological processes Research on such adaptation enables us to understand the personal perceptions of the intercultural encounter and the relation of each partner to both cultural environments. Furthermore, it provides us with an insight into the essence and the strength of societal forces acting on partners who challenge endogamy rules. This article is derived from a broader investigation of identity change in intercultural marriages between Palestinian men and Western women (Ben Ezra, 2003). It focuses on the patterns of cultural adaptation of intermarried couples and their interplay with power relations in Palestinian society, such as patriarchy, EastWest relations, and the Israeli occupation. Understanding the cultural adaptation patterns of intermarried couples in times of political conflict adds a crucial dimension to the study of intercultural families, a dimension that has been neglected by researchers and practitioners alike.

Researchers use the terms intercultural families, cross-ethnic intermarriages, mixed marriages, cross-cultural marriages, and intermarriage to identify a wide range of marital unions in which the partners come from different countries or have different cultural, religious, or ethnic backgrounds (Breger & Hill, 1998a). Although the majority of researchers have investigated interfaith marriages or cross-ethnic intercultural marriages, more recent studies have begun to shed light on unions of Western and non-Western partners (Cottrell-Baker, 1990). The overriding impression among most writers is that intermarriage challenges norms about endogamy and creates problems both for families and for society as a whole (Ata, 2000; Breger & Hill, 1998b; Johnson & Warren, 1994; Root, 2001). Researchers emphasize the problems and risks thought to be intrinsic to these types of marriages, such as the high rates of divorce and family conflicts. Some even regard interfaith marriage as pathology (Hoge & Ferry, as cited in Larson & Munro, 1990; Zurofsky, as cited in Parelman-Judd, 1990) and address methods to prevent its occurrence (Belin, 1991).

Only a few publications present intermarriage in a favorable light, highlighting positive and enriching elements, such as the greater degree of acceptance, tolerance, and respect found in intercultural families; broad opportunities for learning and growth; broad perspectives for children; and a vitality in family life (Breger & Hill, 1998a; Ho, 1990).

Environmental Factors Influencing Intermarriage

Structural, economic, and cultural factors have been found to influence the incidence of intercultural marriages within a particular society. Structural factors include the presence of opportunities that permit individuals to meet and to get acquainted with partners from the same or a different background as their own. The availability of these opportunities depends mainly on the size of the foreign group in a given society and on the proportion of men to women in this group (Cretser & Leon, 1982; Gordon, 1964a; Klein, 2001; Spickard, 1989). …

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