After the child is born the new parents patterns of intimacy and communication change, sexual satisfaction tends to decline, and new parents report an increase in conflict and disagreement. This might lead to a reliable decrease in relationship satisfaction and seems consistent across western cultures and is therefore likely to affect intercultural couples in Finland. The importance and impact of this decrease in relationship satisfaction upon the baby’s development can be seen in the link to depression, attentional and emotional related problems, withdrawal, poor social competence, low self-esteem and conduct related disorders later in life. The environment that is provided by the parents is shaping the way in which the baby’s brain is developing and can inhibit the emotional and intellectual development of the baby. If the parents are experiencing a reduction in their relationship satisfaction then they are likely unable to provide a healthy emotional environment for the baby’s development (1,2). Furthermore, women in the partnership tend to experience a larger change in their relationship satisfaction than men. This can be partially explained by the stereotypes of labour distribution for gender roles within the home, as the mothers are more likely to have disproportional demands on their time over the fathers (1).
This major life change of parenthood, forces the re-examination of the prior arrangements within the relationship and changes the perceptions of imbalances and injustices. The problems that existed in the relationship before parenthood become exacerbated with the additional dynamic of a baby. This new dynamic creates issues common to both mono and intercultural couples alike for example;
• disruption to sleeping patterns
• reduced quality one to one time and agreement on how that time is spent
• reduced physical and emotional intimacy
• conflict and arguments, like the division of labour within parenthood
• a reduction in relationship satisfaction
• a realisation of expectations verses reality
• the time that partners spend together and how it is spent
Intercultural couples additionally suffer from stresses related to their change of circumstances, for example;
• A reduced social support network, as the foreign partners have likely moved away from their family, friends and familiar networks.
• A lack of acceptance and support in the host country, due to discrimination, migration, unemployment and integrational issues.
• The stresses of developing a third culture, this is the way that couples combine their cultures and traditions to create a third culture for their child and themselves to celebrate (3).
• The stresses of differences in cultural communication styles, this is the differences in the implicit values of meaning of what is being communicated within the relationship and difference in the cultural understanding of the concepts being communicated, e.g. such as implied difference in gender roles within a culture (4).
• The stress of cultural bereavement, this is where the foreign partner has to deal with the loss of his or her own culture through the loss of social structure (friends and family), cultural values (traditions and values) and self-identity (sense of belonging). This can create feelings of grief and loss, cultural confusion, feelings of alienation, isolation and depression (5).
• Culture shock, where the foreign partners go through a process of acclimatisation and integration to the new culture e.g. learning a new language and creating a new social network and this can create feelings of cultural confusion, alienation, isolation and depression (5)
• Cross cultural communication, the difficulties in the language of communication that is used within the relationship and the difference in the understandings of that language. This can lead to frequent misunderstandings and lack of depth of connection within the relationship.
These additional stresses, and many more within intercultural relationships are clearly reflected within the per year divorce rates in Finland, being three times higher for intercultural couples than mono-cultural couples (6).
Keys to success
As we now know this worrying statistic, it is important to keep in mind what factors create success in relationships. The key differences that predict a stable or an improvement in relationship satisfaction are for example (Romano, 2008);
• Commitment to the relationship
• The ability to communicate
• Being sensitivity to each other’s needs
• A liking for the others culture
• A positive self-image
• Love as the main marital motive
• Common goals
• Spirit of adventure
During the transition to parenthood any relational problems that are present in the relationship or individual psychologies before the birth of the child can grow to become more of a problem. This can be explained by the couple’s self-regulatory strength depletion. Self-regulatory strength can be understood as the ability for a person to repress, change or regulate their own behaviour. Self-regulatory strength can be temporally weakened by recent exertion and stresses common to new parents such as time pressure, noise, fatigue etc. This can lead to the decline in the relationship satisfaction as the depletion can affect the parents emotional regulation, choice-making, physical persistence, impulse inhibition, and high-level cognitive performance (7).
The couple’s individual psychologies interact with the transitional issues, who we are, the circumstances we encounter, and create the way that we respond. This will define whether there will be a decline in the relationship satisfaction or not (1).
The negative transitional issues that are associated with a decline in relationship satisfaction are;
• A decline in communication and discussing of problems
• The ability to express needs, intimacy and closeness
• Declining feelings of love
• Increasing conflict and increasing feelings of ambivalence
In part 2 we will read more about how to improve and protect against a decline in relationship satisfaction.
(Timothy Hudd BA)
The author is a BACP registered Counsellor and psychotherapist in the UK, living and practicing in Helsinki, and married to a Finn himself.
1. Kluwer ES. From Partnership to Parenthood: A Review of Marital Change Across the Transition to Parenthood. J Fam Theory Rev. 2010;2(2):105–25.
2. Shapiro AF, Gottman JM. Effects on Marriage of a Psycho-Communicative-Educational Intervention With Couples Undergoing the Transition to Parenthood, Evaluation at 1-Year Post Intervention. J Fam Commun. 2005;5(1):1–24.
3. Romano D. Intercultural marriage: Promises and pitfalls. 2008.
4. Hofstede G. Dimensionalizing Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context. Online Readings Psychol Cult. 2011;2(1).
5. Bhugra D, Gupta S, Bhui K, Craig T, Dogra N, Ingleby JD, et al. WPA guidance on mental health and mental health care in migrants. World Psychiatry. 2011;10(1):2–10.
6. Lainiala L, Säävälä M. Intercultural marriages and consideration of divorce in Finland: Do value differences matter?
7. Vohs KD, Baumeister RF. Handbook of Self-Regulation, Second Edition: Research, Theory, and Applications. Vol. 35, Vie pédagogique. 2005. 609 p.
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