Successful Marriage

Cultural humility affects relationship quality in inter-ethnic couples

story by Claire Miller

Interethnic couples – relationships between two people with different racial/ethnic backgrounds – often cope with prejudices from their families or communities and must navigate cultural differences within their relationships.

CEHD postdoctoral scholar Stacey McElroy and faculty members Don Davis, Cirleen DeBlaere and Ken Rice recently published a study in the Journal of Counseling Psychology highlighting the links between conflict and relationship quality in interethnic couples.

More specifically, this study focused on how cultural humility, or a person’s ability to focus on his/her partner and demonstrate respect for the partner’s cultural background and experiences, impacts their relationships.

“Having to regularly negotiate cultural differences may make interethnic couples more vulnerable to experiencing misunderstandings or hurts that deteriorate relationship quality,” Davis, DeBlaere and Rice wrote.

The research team conducted this study with 155 undergraduate students in committed relationships with partners who identified as a different race/ethnicity than themselves. Participants rated how often they had disagreements rooted in cultural differences, answered questions about ethnicity and cultural identity, and discussed their experiences with ineffective arguing – having repeated arguments about specific issues with neither partner feeling understood.

They found that ineffective arguing often leads to participants viewing their partners as less culturally humble, and perceptions of cultural humility have an impact on relationship commitment and satisfaction.

These findings also have implications for counseling psychologists working with interethnic couples.

“Therapists may benefit from empirically supported interventions to help partners develop cultural humility and have more productive discussions about cultural differences,” Davis, DeBlaere and Rice wrote.

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