Health Care Dialogue
By Kim S. Hwang, PsyD
July 14, 2012 — Dear Dr. Hwang: There has been a lot of important controversy about what constitutes a, “Real Marriage.” I am a happily married Hmong woman through an arranged marriage by my parents. I am educated. I understand American laws regarding marriage. Yet, why is it so difficult for some people to understand that an arranged marriage is also a, “Real Marriage?”
Dear Ms. Marriage: Your question about what constitutes a, “Real Marriage,” is an inquiry that deserves an inclusive perspective. You are not alone. Increasingly, citizens of the United States are being challenged to look at the broad range of diversity or relationships and marriages that exist. Some people do this enthusiastically and others with differential expectations.
Currently, we watch our political leaders debate marriage as though politicians are relationship experts. We listen to endless arguments about what constitutes a “Real Marriage.” Meanwhile, we tend to ignore important cultural perspectives like arranged marriages.
You have made an accurate observation of your experience. As humans, we seem to impose harsher judgments on differences much more quickly, overlooking obvious similarities. After consulting with another mental health professional about this topic, she brought to my attention a reminder that Western Society enjoys a sense of pride about individualism versus collectivism.
Therefore, it didn’t seem surprising to her that some Americans misjudge culturally/ethnically pre-arranged marriages because western society places a heavy value on the right to choose instead. She further stated, “Who is to say that we don’t participate in arranged marriages?” She added, “Don’t we set up our friends, family members and colleagues on dates?
Aren’t these relationships pre-arranged? What about computer dating?” She implied that computers are also pre-arranging relationships based on the information that people provide, just as parents of adult children provide each other in the careful selection of one’s future partner in marriage.
Having said this, I’m sorry that you continue to deal with ignorance and judgment about the validity of your happy relationship. What matters is that your marriage is, “Real,” to you and your family. At the same time, I can imagine that having others question your relationship and your happiness in an ongoing way can be insufferable.
Having to defend your relationship in this way can be exhausting. Educating others about inclusion and what constitutes a, “Real Marriage,” must feel like a full-time job. It’s not your relationship that’s the controversy. The controversy lies in the people’s hearts who are questioning your obviously, “Real Marriage.”