Posted by: Dennis Hinkamp on Jul 14, 2006

What Makes Strong Latino Marriages?

Writer: Dennis Hinkamp 435-797-1392 Contact: Linda Skogrand 435-797-8183

USU RESEARCHERS IDENTIFY CHARACTERISTICS OF STRONG LATINO MARRIAGES

LOGAN —When it comes to teaching about successful marriages, one size does not fit all. As the nation becomes increasingly diverse, the way marital happiness is addressed becomes more complex. In the past, marriage education tended to treat everyone the same. New research on successful Hispanic marriage indicates this approach may have flaws.

“There is more to it than just translating English to Spanish,” said Linda Skogrand, Extension family and human development specialist at Utah State University. “There are cultural differences in how couples gauge marital happiness.”

Skogrand conducted research that focuses on the strengths of Latino marriages. The Latino population continues to grow disproportionately to the rest of the United States, increasing by 14 percent from 2000 to 2004, while the non-Latino population grew by only 2 percent. Latinos, especially young families, now constitute 24 percent of the population in western states.

“One of the main things we found is that Latinos in our study are much less likely to think of the marriage as something separate from the family,” Skogrand said. “Whereas non-Latino marriage enrichment might focus on spending more time as a couple, this probably isn’t the best approach for Latino couples. The children need to be part of the process.”

In Latino marriages, family affiliation is so important that “parenthood” is considered to be more important than “partnerhood,” she said. The study found that the primary goal of marriage is to have children and be part of the family that ensues. Marital happiness may not be the primary goal of marriage and may not be viewed as necessary in achieving a satisfying family life. Intergenerational connections, such as the relationship of a parent to a child, often take precedence over the marital relationship, with the children taking a higher priority than the marriage.

Rather than looking at divorce rates, Skogrand’s research focused on the strengths of Latino marriages. She and bi-lingual research assistant Danny Hatch interviewed 50 couples identified by community and church leaders in Logan and Brigham City. Of the 50 participants, 43 were first generation immigrants and seven were second generation immigrants. The husband and wife were interviewed separately, usually in their home.

“We found that children are the source of happiness and the glue that keeps Latino families together,” Skogrand said. “Only two out of 50 couples indicated that children were a source of stress.”

“Without children, I think there aren’t marriages,” one Latino in a successful marriage said. “Almost 90 percent of couples who don’t have children separate. They always separate. So if there aren’t children, I don’t think there is a marriage. The children are the happiness of the house.”

Skogrand said the research found that religion played a much greater role in successful marriages than for non-Latinos.

“All participants in the study who talked about commitment described it in the context of religion,” she said. “Marriage was a life-long commitment, which made them feel they needed to stay together through difficult times. They sacrificed personal benefits for the good of the family. Since religious teachings were also against divorce and living together outside marriage, there was an increased commitment to marriage.”

This is not to say that non-Latino couples don’t consider religion and children important in their marriages. The study only looked at how different attributes were ranked. Skogrand conducted the study and collaborated with a colleague at Kansas State University who is replicating the study there and helping design the curriculum.

“This is for marriage enhancement education as opposed to therapy,” she said. “It will be something educators, such as Extension family life specialists, could use.”

How might these findings change how we present marriage enrichment training to Latino couples?

“Some possibilities include having a series of family events where parents and children are invited and there are activities for strengthening the family unit,” Skogrand said. “The family time could include activities that show how family members rely on each other and how love and support go from parents to children and from children to parents. It could also include time to have fun together, which was described as an important benefit of having children. Another part of the event might include activities for children in a nearby facility, while couples engage in programming that focuses on topics unique to the couple relationship.”

Another implication might be that marriage education programming should be planned in partnership with spiritual leaders, she said. Although many of the participants in this study were Catholic, any religious group that serves Latino families may be a place where the programming can take place. Religious institutions are likely to be a trusted meeting place for couples and families as opposed to a school or government building. Because these couples relied on religious leaders for help in many aspects of their marriage and family life, religious leaders might also be appropriate and respected co-facilitators of marriage and family education.

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