Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

From Strangers to Spouses: Early Relational Dialectics in Arranged Marriages among Muslim Families in Lebanon

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

From Strangers to Spouses: Early Relational Dialectics in Arranged Marriages among Muslim Families in Lebanon

Article excerpt


Although restrictions over gender relations in Lebanon have relaxed over the years and romantic marriage has largely become the norm in most of the country's communities (Dafer, 2003), arranged marriage survives in the capital Beirut today, mostly among religious families. Because it is a conscious, active effort to produce a new familial nucleus, such a nuptial process offers an opportunity to study relational development in a cultural-specific context. The current form of arranged marriage in Beirut, Lebanon, presents a window of freedom for couples to negotiate their aspirations and concerns and to develop a bond before they get married (Nasser and Dabbous, 2008) and thus provides insight into the communication that slowly advances and shapes the relationship.

This research focuses on those possible relational dialectics (Baxter and Montgomery, 1996) that surface during the pre-wedding period of arranged marriages among the Sunni Muslim community in Beirut, Lebanon. Relational dialectics are the set of opposing forces, tensions or desires experienced by the couple as a result of being in a relationship. Those forces, such as the desire for intimacy or independence, may push the couple together or may pull it apart. Based on the relational dialectics theory, partners develop their relationship during the daily negotiation ofthose contradictory tensions (Baxter and Montgomery, 1996).

Scholars writing on arranged nuptial relationships have focused on their characteristics in comparison with marriages based on love, the religious perceptions about those relationships, and the social change resulting in the decline of the traditional, arranged relationships and the increase of romantic marriage practices (see Fox, 1975; Gupta, 1979; Korson, 1979; Prakasa and Rao, 1979; Xiaohe and Whyte, 1990). The arranged marriage in those societies is caught in the middle of different social dynamics; mainly, the tensions between child-parent, individual-collective and progressive-conservative (Hart, 2007). As Hart (2007) argues, scholarships have studied the phenomenon through the biased paradigm of modernity. They looked at the process as an antithesis to the love marriage, a sign of modernity, freedom and individuality-all characteristics of Western societies (Giddens, 1992).

In this study, arranged marriages are conceived as a site of relational development resulting from the interplay of interpersonal and socio-cultural factors. In this regard, the study of arranged marriages provides the opportunity to account for the influence of the social conditions on the development of marital relationships. We define the arranged marriage as the marital process where a family member introduces and arranges the encounters of the couple for the sole purpose of marriage. The family arrangement of marriage is a conscious and active effort to produce the nucleus of a personal relationship before any emotional commitment is involved. Yet, this development is an emotionally rich experience, threatened constantly by multiple interpersonal and social tensions. The underlining assumption here is that the two partners of family-arranged marriages might not hold the same attitudes and expectations toward their marital relationship. Arranged marriages are not a smooth ride. Gender, socio-cultural, individual and religious differences are factors that influence partners' individual and relational attitudes. Relational dialectical tensions, rising from those differences, constitute a motivation for the couple to invest in, or solve, the relationship (Baxter and Montgomery, 1996).

The Middle East in general and Lebanon in particular are significantly under-studied in this field as most arranged marriage studies focus on South-East Asia, Turkey and China and usually date from the 1970s (Fox, 1975; Gupta, 1979;Korson, 1979; Prakasa and Rao, 1979; Xiaohe and Whyte, 1990). This research hopes to start a conversation that eventually fills that gap. …

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