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Divided Together: How Marginalization of Intercultural Relationships Is Associated With Identity Integration and Relationship Quality

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Despite the growing prevalence of intercultural romantic relationships—in which partners identify with different racial, national or religious backgrounds—people in intercultural relationships still face marginalization and disapproval from others. Relationship marginalization sends a message to couples that they do not belong together, and partners may feel that their cultural identity and their relationship are disconnected. Two studies —one study of people in intercultural relationships and one of both members of intercultural couples— showed that when people perceived greater relationship marginalization, they were more likely to separate their couple identity from their cultural identity or believe they had to choose between these identities, and they were less likely to integrate these identities. Less integration and more separation between a person’s couple and cultural identities was associated with lower relationship quality for both partners. The findings suggest that marginalization can create challenges for the maintenance and quality of intercultural relationships.
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Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 1
Divided together: How marginalization of intercultural relationships is associated with
identity integration and relationship quality
Maya A. Yampolsky1, Alexandria L. West2, Biru Zhou3, Amy Muise4 and Richard N.
Lalonde4
1. Université Laval, 2. Duke University, 3. McGill University, 4. York University
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 2
Maya A. Yampolsky is an Assistant Professor at Université Laval. Her research examines
how multicultural identification and intercultural relationships are connected to broader
context factors such as acculturation, enculturation and racism.
Alexandria West is a Postdoctoral Associate at Duke University. Her research tests how
the processes biculturals and intercultural couples use to negotiate their cultures affect
them psychologically and socially.
Biru Zhou is a Research Associate at McGill University. Her research is on interpersonal
relationships and social support, as well as sociocultural determinants of mental health.
Amy Muise is an Assistant Professor and York Research Chair in Relationships and
Sexuality at York University. She studies romantic relationships, sexuality, and
motivation.
Richard N. Lalonde is a Professor at York University. His research is at the intersection
of culture and intergroup relations, with a focus on issues such as acculturation, bicultural
identity and discrimination.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 3
Acknowledgments
This research was supported by a Small Institutional Grant via York University from the
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), a start-up grant
and a postdoctoral fellowship from the Fonds de Recherche Québécois sur la Société et la
Culture (FRQSC) awarded to Maya A. Yampolsky, as well as a SSHRC Insight grant and
Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant awarded to Amy Muise, and a SSHRC Insight
grant held by Richard Lalonde. The research was also supported by a SSHRC doctoral
fellowship and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship awarded to Alexandria West. The
authors would like to thank the team of research assistants for their dedication, passion
and teamwork: Justin Michel, Hamza Sibai, Gil Kim, Rebecca Adams, Victoria Ingram,
Hyunjin Richard Seung, Nathan MacAlpine, Dolly Mehta, Mahua Das, Ayesha Sikdar,
Kevin Philip Lee, Phyllis Mobbs, Amrita Chopra, Kelly Le, Amina Yousaf and Alyssa Di
Bartolomeo. The authors would also like to express their appreciation to the participants
for generously giving their time.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 4
Abstract
Despite the growing prevalence of intercultural romantic relationships—in which
partners identify with different racial, national or religious backgrounds—people in
intercultural relationships still face marginalization and disapproval from others.
Relationship marginalization sends a message to couples that they do not belong together,
and partners may feel that their cultural identity and their relationship are disconnected.
Two studies —one study of people in intercultural relationships and one of both members
of intercultural couples— showed that when people perceived greater relationship
marginalization, they were more likely to separate their couple identity from their cultural
identity or believe they had to choose between these identities, and they were less likely
to integrate these identities. Less integration and more separation between a person’s
couple and cultural identities was associated with lower relationship quality for both
partners. The findings suggest that marginalization can create challenges for the
maintenance and quality of intercultural relationships.
Keywords: Intercultural couples, identity integration, marginalization, relationship
quality
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 5
Intercultural relationships relationships in which partners identify with different
cultures or ethnicities (Livingston & Brown, 2017)— are integral to human history by
virtue of migration and intergroup contact (Kramsch & Uryu, 2012). These relationships
have been steadily increasing in Canada (4.6%; Statistics Canada, 2011) and the United
States (10.2%; Rico, Kreider & Anderson, 2018). Despite the growing prevalence and
visibility of intercultural relationships, prejudice and discrimination against intercultural
couples continues (Valentine, 2018), with people demonstrating explicit and implicit bias
(Skinner & Rae, 2019), and even disgust (Skinner & Hudac, 2017), towards intercultural
relationships. Marginalization of intercultural couples sends a message to partners in
these couples that they do not belong together, and may suggest that their couple identity
(e.g., “lover,” “partner,” or “spouse”) and their cultural identity (e.g., Korean-American)
are irreconcilable and cannot be integrated. This fragmented identity experience may play
a role in the quality of the romantic relationship. The current research is the first to
investigate whether perceived marginalization is associated with how people in
intercultural relationships negotiate their couple and cultural identities as well as how a
person’s identity negotiation is associated with both partners’ relationship quality.
Marginalization of Intercultural Relationships
Relationship marginalization involves actual or perceived social disapproval of a
relationship from family, friends, and society (Lehmiller & Agnew, 2006). Despite their
growing presence, intercultural couples are still a minority who are stigmatized for
violating the strong cultural norm of endogamy (e.g., Gaines & Agnew, 2003; Gaines,
Clark & Afful, 2015; Moran, 2004). Norm violation tends to be met with social
disapproval (Bell & Hastings, 2015; Lehmiller & Agnew, 2006) as well as prejudice and
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 6
discrimination (Killian, 2013; Lewandowski & Jackson, 2001). The marginalization of
intercultural couples has a long history. Racial hierarchies embedded in colonization and
slavery constructed Whites as superior and non-Whites as inferior, thereby justifying the
subordination, exploitation and enslavement of racialized minorities (Hall, 1995). Current
marginalization of intercultural relationships is rooted in these essentialist beliefs that
racial separation is the natural order of social organization, including mate selection
(Killian, 2013). In the first half of the 20th century in America, intercultural relationships
were marginalized through institutional measures such as laws that made such unions
illegal and subject to persecution (Fang, Sidanius & Pratto, 1998). It was not until 1967
that the Loving v. Virginia case won interracial couples the right to marry (Wardle, 1998).
Social shifts like the civil rights movement and the legalization of interracial relationships
have yielded more favorable explicit attitudes towards these couples (Killian, 2013;
Uskul, Lalonde, & Konanur, 2011). However, intercultural couples may still face
disapproval and marginalization from society and close others. Recent experimental
studies find that monocultural Americans express explicit and implicit bias against
interracial couples (Skinner & Rae, 2019), and implicitly react with disgust towards
interracial couples, which in turn leads to implicit dehumanization (Skinner & Hudac,
2017).
Marginalization experiences can heavily impact relationship quality and
longevity. Support for a relationship from one’s social network has been shown to predict
greater relationship well-being (Blair & Holmberg, 2008) and quality (Sprecher &
Felmlee, 1992). Disapproval of interracial, same-sex or age-gap relationships by society
and close others has been associated with lower relationship investment (Lehmiller &
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 7
Agnew, 2006). In another study of Black and White interracial couples, parental
disapproval of the relationship was associated with discomfort, awkwardness, and anxiety
for both partners in the relationship (Bell & Hastings, 2015). We have yet to understand,
however, how such relationship marginalization is potentially associated with how
partners integrate their cultural and couple identities.
Marginalization can exacerbate inter-identity conflict, and make people feel
divided (Benet-Martinez & Haritatos, 2005; Yampolsky & Amiot, 2016). To illustrate,
consider a fictitious couple, Noah, who identifies as Jewish, and his partner Karuna, who
is West Indian. Noah’s parents have expressed that they would not accept the relationship
and are distressed that Noah is partnered with an “outsider.” In response, Noah has
concealed his relationship with Karuna from his family. Noah identifies as Karuna’s
partner when they are together, but he experiences the disapproval of his intercultural
relationship as a psychological barrier to reconciling his relationship with Karuna and his
Jewish identity. When Noah is with his parents, his Jewish identity is active, but he
suppresses his identity as Karuna’s partner. Although Karuna understands Noah’s desire
to avoid tensions with his family given their disapproval, Karuna experiences Noah’s
reticence to open up about his Jewish side, or to introduce her to his family as a choice
that distances Karuna from this fundamental part of his existence, his cultural identity,
and she feels rejected. Karuna also fears that their future together is uncertain if Noah
cannot share all of himself with her in their partnership. In our example couple, Noah has
been made to feel that the self-descriptions “I am Jewish” and “I am Karuna’s partner”
are mutually exclusive and divided. The current research proposes that this fragmented
and conflicted identity experience may not be isolated to one person in the couple and
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 8
may also carry over to one’s partner in the couple. Since one partner does not have access
to all of the important aspects of their partner, they may feel that they are being kept at a
distance, which could hinder their relationship satisfaction and desire to invest in and
maintain the relationship.
Couple and cultural identity integration in intercultural couples
Our social identities are core facets of who we are. They are how we define
ourselves and are inextricably connected to our relationships with others. Cultural
identity refers to the sense that one is a member of their cultural group (Amiot, de la
Sablonnière, Terry & Smith, 2007), and feels connected to the values and norms
associated with their cultural group(s) (Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997; Schwartz et al.,
2007). Couple identity refers to the sense of “we-ness” that develops in a relationship, a
shared interpersonal space where both partners construct and experience their connection
to each other and define themselves by their belonging to the relationship (Fergus &
Reid, 2001; Reid et al., 2006). It is a cognitive interdependence involving the perception
that “myself” and “my partner” overlap (Alea, Singer & Labunko, 2015), as well as the
experience of one’s social role as a partner (e.g., husband, wife, spouse; Aron, Aron &
Norman, 2001; Aron, Paris & Aron, 1995). Interdependence in a relationship is
associated with greater marital satisfaction (Aron, Aron & Smollan, 1992), and greater
couple identity clarity has been associated with greater relationship commitment (Emery
et al., 2020). As individuals in intercultural couples become closer, however, they are
inevitably confronted by the differences in their cultural worldviews, along with the
relationship marginalization of their non-normative pairing (Karis & Killian, 2011). They
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 9
are thus faced with negotiating the potential discrepancies between their cultural
identities and their couple identities.
When a social identity is devalued, there is a greater likelihood for individuals to
disidentify with the devalued identity (Branscombe et al., 1999). Perceived
marginalization of one’s relationship may put partners in the position of having to choose
between their cultural and couple identities, thereby threatening the relationship
satisfaction that is associated with a strong couple identity. Past research has shown that
when individuals can connect their multiple identities, they experience greater well-
being, but when their identities are disconnected, they experience lower well-being
(Yampolsky, Amiot & de la Sablonnière, 2016). In the context of romantic relationships,
partners’ ability to integrate their couple and cultural identities may be particularly
relevant for relationship quality.
According to the Cognitive-Developmental Model of Social Identity Integration
(CDSMII; Amiot et al., 2007), there are several ways that people can integrate or
reconcile multiple social identities1: integration, compartmentalization and
categorization. Integration is qualified by having multiple, connected identities that form
a cohesive whole; one perceives a common ground between identities, and the differences
between identities are seen as advantageous and complementary. Additionally, a
superordinate identity can bridge the different identities under a shared umbrella. In the
context of intercultural couples, Killian’s (2013) exploratory qualitative work showed
1 In our current research, we employ three of the four configurations since the
anticipatory categorization configuration examines the anticipation of developing a new
social identity, while the current study focuses on people who already have these
identities.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 10
that many couples tend to identify with being human or with a common social identity,
such as religion, which can serve as a bridge between their ethnic backgrounds and the
formation of their couple. Furthermore, Seshadri and Knudson-Martin (2013) showed
that many couples focused on common points between each partner’s cultural
backgrounds as a means to unite their cultural and couple identities across social
divisions. Identity integration tends to be associated with positive outcomes across
cultural and general social identity domains, including well-being (Yampolsky et al.,
2016), increased tolerance towards dissimilar others (Huff, Lee & Hong, 2017), and the
creation of a common ingroup identity over time (Amiot, Terry & McKimmie, 2012).
Compartmentalization is characterized by having multiple identities that are kept
separate within the self-concept. One identifies with each identity in its respective context
(e.g., couple identity), while suppressing the other identity (e.g., cultural identity). In
compartmentalization, one identity is not just more salient than the other while in its
context, but the other identity is being actively suppressed. The differences between
identities are seen as clashing and irreconcilable. Prior work on intercultural couples
(Killian, 2013) found that some couples perceive contradiction between their intercultural
couple and their own cultural/racialized background. Compartmentalizing cultural
identities is associated with lower well-being (Yampolsky et al., 2016).
Another approach to managing multiple identities is to prioritize one identity. This
categorization approach, has one predominant identity with others becoming less central
to the self-concept. In the current research, we distinguish between categorization to
one’s cultural group (culture categorization), where one identifies predominantly with
one’s culture and excludes the couple identity from the self-concept, and categorization to
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 11
one’s relationship (couple categorization), where one identifies predominantly with one’s
couple, and excludes their cultural identity from the self-concept. Previous work on
intercultural couples found that some interracial couples formed their couple identities by
explicitly removing the focus on cultural differences in the couple (Killian, 2013).
Findings about the consequences of categorization are ambiguous (e.g., Yampolsky et al.,
2013), and so examining categorization within the context of the marginalization
experience of intercultural couples was exploratory in nature.
The current research is the first to directly investigate identification processes in
intercultural couples in the context of marginalization, which acts as an internalized
barrier to partners integrating their cultural and couple identities. Previous work has
shown that the experience of racism directly predicts greater compartmentalization of
one’s cultural identities, and indirectly predicts lower integration of these identities
(Yampolsky & Amiot, 2016). We therefore expected that marginalization of the
intercultural couple would predict greater compartmentalization of one’s couple and
cultural identities and predict lower integration of these identities.
Identity configurations and relationship quality
To establish the importance of identification in the context of intercultural
couples, the current studies also focused on how the identity configurations (integration,
compartmentalization, categorization) were associated with relationship quality,
specifically relationship investment (the devotion of one’s own personal and
psychological resources to the relationship), commitment (the psychological attachment
to the relationship and the intention to remain with the partner) and satisfaction (the
experience of positive affect and attraction with the relationship) (Rusbult, 1980;
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 12
Sternberg, 1986). We know that at the individual-level, more integration is associated
with greater personal well-being, and compartmentalization is associated with lower well-
being (Yampolsky, Amiot & de la Sablonnière, 2016). We expected that the
configuration of one’s cultural and couple identities would also be associated with their
relationship quality. Keeping one’s identities separate and context bound may have the
effect of minimizing one’s degree of couple investment by excluding the relationship
from other key parts of their lives. Since people in close relationships often influence
each other’s attitudes, cognitions, and behaviors (Kenny, Kashy & Cook, 2006; Rusbult
& Van Lange, 2008), a divided identity experience within the self can potentially extend
to one’s partner, where the partner feels divided from the whole self of their significant
other. On the other hand, by integrating a relationship with one’s cultural identity,
partners are effectively connecting these important pieces of their lives. The work
involved in integrating one’s identities in the context of the couple is an investment of
one’s own psychological resources to one’s self-definition as a partner.
The Current Studies
Across two studies, we examined how perceived marginalization of one’s
intercultural relationship predicts both the person’s own cultural and couple identity
configuration (Studies 1 and 2), as well as their partner’s cultural and couple identity
configuration (Study 2). We also investigated how a person’s identity configurations
predict their own relationship investment, commitment and satisfaction (Studies 1 and 2)
as well as their partner’s relationship quality (Study 2). We predicted that greater
marginalization would be associated with lower integration, and greater
compartmentalization. We expected integration to be associated with greater relationship
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 13
investment, commitment and satisfaction, and compartmentalization to be associated with
lower relationship investment, commitment and satisfaction. In Study 1, we recruited
people in intercultural relationships to test these associations at the individual level. In
Study 2, we extended the findings by recruiting intercultural couples2 to test how one’s
perception of marginalization was associated with a person’s own identity configuration
and relationship quality (actor effect) as well as their partner’s identity configuration and
relationship quality (partner effect; see Figures 1 and 2). We also tested the
generalizability of the findings across relationship duration and bicultural status (for more
information see the online supplementary materials).
Figure 1: Conceptual model of both actor and partner effects of perceived marginalization
to couple and cultural identity configurations.
Figure 2: Conceptual model of both actor and partner effects of couple and cultural
identity configurations to relationship quality.
2 It should be noted that both studies were part of larger surveys examining multiple
variables; in the present research we are reporting the measures that are relevant to the
current questions.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 14
Study 1
Participants
The sample consisted of 242 participants (104 women, 131 men, 7 other, Mage =
37.16, SDage = 9.99). Participants were recruited via Prolific, a crowdsourcing platform
for research. According to participants’ self-reported ethnicity, the sample consisted of
individuals who were White (70.4%), Black (3.8%), Latinx (9.6%), Native (0.01%),
Middle Eastern (0.01%), South Asian (2.9%), East Asian (5.8%), Southeast Asian
(0.01%), and Mixed (4.2%). Couples’ reported relationship statuses included casual
dating (0.5%), long-term dating (2.5%), engaged (3.2%), common law (5.5%), and
married (91.5%). The average duration of the relationship was 10 years (M = 10.00 years,
SD = 7.97 years).
Measures3
Descriptive statistics for the following measures can be found in Table 1.
Perceived relationship marginalization. The extent to which participants
perceived social disapproval and exclusion towards their intercultural relationship from
their family, friends, and society was measured using the Relationship Marginalization
3 The measures for both studies are included in the online supplement document
accompanying this article.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 15
Scale (Lehmiller & Agnew, 2006), consisting of 6 items (α = .76; e.g, My friends
approve of my relationship” (reverse coded)) rated on a 9-point Likert scale ranging from
1 (Not true of my relationship at all) to 9 (very true of my relationship).
Couple and cultural identity configurations. The configuration of one’s couple
and cultural identities was assessed using four vignettes, one for each configuration:
Categorization to the relationship (R), Categorization to their own culture (C),
Compartmentalization of the couple and cultural identities, and Integration of couple and
cultural identities. These configuration vignettes were based on the CDSMII model
(Amiot, de la Sablonnière, Terry & Smith, 2007). Each vignette provided a brief and
illustrative representation of its configuration. Participants indicated the extent to which
each of the four configurations represented their experience (1: not at all to 7: exactly).
Relationship investment, commitment and satisfaction. The Investment Model
Scale (Rusbult, Martz & Agnew, 1998) assessed relationship investment (5 items, α =
.78; e.g. “I have put a great deal into our relationship that I would lose if the relationship
were to end.”) and commitment (3 of the 7 original items were selected for brevity, α =
.94; e.g. “I want our relationship to last for a very long time.”) from 0 (do not agree at
all) to 8 (agree completely). Satisfaction was assessed with the three-item subscale (α =
.97; e.g. “How satisfied are you with your relationship?”) from the Perceived
Relationship Quality Components Inventory (Fletcher, Simpson & Thomas, 2000) on a
scale from 1 (not at all) to 7 (extremely).
Results and discussion
Participants reported relatively low levels of relationship marginalization in this
sample, and integration was the most highly endorsed of the identity configurations (see
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 16
Table 1). In line with our predictions, people who perceived greater relationship
marginalization from others reported lower integration of their couple and cultural
identities. In contrast, people who perceived greater marginalization reported greater
compartmentalization as well as greater couple and culture categorization (see Table 1).
Regression analyses were run with all four configurations simultaneously entered
to investigate how each identity configuration predicted investment, commitment and
satisfaction, respectively, once controlling for the shared variance between the
configurations (see Table 2). As predicted, these analyses showed that integration was
significantly associated with greater investment, commitment and satisfaction, whereas
culture categorization (i.e., identified predominantly with their culture) was associated
with lower commitment and satisfaction.
The results from Study 1 suggest that individuals who feel more marginalized are
more likely to feel divided and disconnected at the identity level, whether through
separating their identities or feeling forced to choose between them. The ability to
integrate one’s couple and cultural identities is associated with greater relationship
quality, while categorizationand to a certain extent compartmentalizationare
associated with lower relationship quality.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 17
Table 1
Study 1: Descriptives and correlations for couple and cultural identity configurations, relationship
marginalization, investment, commitment and satisfaction.
M
SD
1
2
4
5
6
7
1. Integration 5.11 1.43
-
2. Compartmentalization 2.16 1.42
-.49**
-
3. Couple Categorization 2.95 1.81
-.16*
.31**
4. Culture Categorization 2.26 1.34
-.27**
.45**
-
5. Relationship Marginalization 2.22 1.17
-.23**
.26**
.20**
-
6. Investment 6.76 1.57
.20**
-.08
-.15*
-.12
-
7. Commitment 8.21 1.43
.32**
-.23**
-.24**
-.38**
.47**
-
8. Satisfaction 5.78 1.28
.35**
-.22**
-.27**
-.38**
.41**
.75**
Note: N=240, *p < .05, **p < 0.01 level.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 18
Table 2
Study 1: Regression findings for couple and cultural identity configurations to relationship investment, commitment and
satisfaction.
Investment Commitment Satisfaction
B Std Error [95% CI] B Std Error [95% CI] B Std Error
[95% CI]
Integration
.22** .08 [.060, .377]
.27*** .07 [.125
,
.420]
.28*** .06 [.161, .409]
Compartmentalization
.07 .09 [-.105
,
.255]
-.06 .08
[
-.242
,
.092]
-.02 .07 [-.151
,
.129]
Couple categorization
.04 .06 [-.080
,
.152]
.07 .05
[
-.029
,
.186]
.10* .04 [.014,
.194]
Culture categorization
-.15 .08 [-.321
,
.009]
-.17* .07
[
-.328
,
-.022
]
-.19** .06 [-.327
,
-.070]
Adjusted R
2 .04* .13*** .16***
Notes: N=240. *p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001. CI = confidence interval.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 19
Study 2
In Study 2, we extend Study 1 by recruiting both members of intercultural couples
to investigate the links between marginalization, the couple and cultural identity
configurations and both partners’ relationship quality, given the mutual, interdependent
influence of partners. We predicted that a person’s perception of marginalization would
predict lower integration and greater compartmentalization for themselves (actor effect)
and would also predict lower integration and greater compartmentalization for their
partner (partner effect). Moreover, we predicted that a person’s integration would predict
greater relationship quality for both themselves and their partner, whereas
compartmentalization would predict lower relationship quality.
Method
Participants
Two different samples from separate online studies on intercultural couples were
combined to increase statistical power4. Two hundred and fifty-eight couples (N = 516;
248 men, 261 women, 7 unspecified; Mage = 31.65, SDage = 9.12) currently in a romantic
relationship participated in this study. The cultural composition of participants was
diverse. Their self-reported ethnicity was as follows: White (56%), Black (6%), Latinx
(7%), Native (0.01%), Middle Eastern (3%), South Asian (8%), East Asian (8%),
Southeast Asian (4%), and Mixed (7%). Couples’ reported relationship statuses included
4 One sample (n=204) recruited couples from the broader community via convenience
sampling, snowballing and community outreach. Flyers advertising the study were placed
at local parks, community centers, university campuses, and at other popular spots in the
city of Toronto. The other sample recruited couples using Prolific (n=312). The inclusion
criteria and the key measures were the same, except that the community sample only
included heterosexual couples while the Prolific sample was open to couples of all sexual
orientations. If one partner in a couple filled out the questionnaire, but the other did not,
their data was excluded from the analyses.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 20
casual dating (2%), committed relationship (66.7%), engaged (4.9%), cohabiting (8.8%),
and married/common law (16.7%).
Measures
The same measures from Study 1 for couple and cultural identity configurations,
perceived relationship marginalization, and relationship investment and commitment
were used for Study 2. For relationship satisfaction, the community sample used the
satisfaction subscale from the Investment Model Scale (Rusbult et al., 1998), while the
Prolific sample used the satisfaction items from the Perceived Relationship Quality
Components (Fletcher et al., 2000). Though two different scales were used to assess
satisfaction, the items overlapped in content (e.g., Investment Model Scale: “I am happy
with my relationship” and PRQC: “How happy are you with your relationship”). In order
to analyze satisfaction in a way that was equivalent across samples, the items from these
two satisfaction measures were standardized and the z-scores were combined for analysis
(see Webster, Laurenceau, Smith, Mahaffey, Bryan, & Brunell, 2015 for an example of
standardization of measures between samples).
Results and discussion
In order to account for the interdependent nature of the data collected from both
partners in the intercultural couples in this study, we used Actor-Partner Interdependence
Models (APIM) to test our hypotheses. Descriptive statistics for the measures are
presented in Table 3. As in Study 1, perceived relationship marginalization was relatively
low. Integration was the most highly endorsed identity configuration. Correlations
between actor and partner variables are presented in Table 4.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 21
Table 3
Study 2: Descriptives for couple and cultural identity
configurations, relationship marginalization, investment,
commitment and satisfaction.
M
SD
Integration
5.31
1.55
Compartmentalization
1.79
1.24
Couple categorization
2.89
1.76
Culture categorization
2.17
1.36
Marginalization
2.05
1.20
Investment
6.87
1.48
Commitment
8.55
1.01
Satisfaction
.00
1.00
Prolific subsample (n = 308)
6.10
1.10
Community subsample (n = 204)
7.87
1.21
Note: N=510. The satisfaction score was created by standardizing
the two measures and the z-scores were combined for analysis.
The descriptives for the subsamples are provided. The Prolific
subsample was administered the Perceived Relationship Quality
Components Inventory (1 to 7 scale), and the community
subsample was administered the Investment Model Scale (0 to 8
scale)
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 22
Table 4
Study 2: Within-person correlations between couple and cultural identity configurations, relationship marginalization, investment,
commitment and satisfaction.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
1. Integration .17** -.07 -.05 -.03 -.10
*
.14
**
.10
*
.11
*
2. Compartmentalization -.33
**
.20** .07 .12
**
.12
**
-.07 -.07 -.09
*
3. Couple categorization -.24
**
.26
**
.08 .05 .10
*
-.05 -.02 .03
4. Culture categorization -.17
**
.36
**
.20
**
.19** .02 -.07 -.06 -.15
**
5. Marginalization -.19
**
.22
**
.12
**
.09 .20** -.20
*
-.06 -.12
**
6. Investment .17
**
-.01 -.03 -.12
**
-.12
**
.40** .22
**
.14
**
7. Commitment .16
**
-.11
*
-.01 -.16
**
-.25
**
.45
**
.22** .24
**
8. Satisfaction .23
**
-.15
**
.02 -.30
**
-.25
**
.35
**
.55
**
.47**
Note: N=510. Correlation coefficients along the diagonal (in bold) are between actors and partners on the same variable, which indicate the degree
of similarity between their reports. Correlation coefficients above the diagonal are between the actor and partner variables, which indicate how the
actor and partner reports are related. Correlations below the diagonal are between each of the actor variables. *p < .05; **p < .01.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 23
Perceived marginalization to couple and cultural identity configurations
Four APIM analyses were conducted to test the associations between one’s own
and one’s partner’s marginalization experiences with each of the four couple-cultural
identity configurations (see Table 5). First, consistent with our hypotheses and the results
from Study 1, people who perceived more marginalization reported lower identity
integration. We also found that people who perceived more marginalization reported
more categorization towards their couple identity, and towards their cultural identity. In
addition, when people perceived greater relationship marginalization, their partner also
reported marginally higher identity compartmentalization and couple categorization,
suggesting that the more a person perceived marginalization toward their relationship, the
more their partner kept their identities separate or identified solely with the couple.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 24
Table 5
Study 2: APIM results for relationship marginalization to actor and partner relationship couple-cultural identity configurations.
Integration
Compartmentalization
Couple Categorization
Culture Categorization
b (SE)
[95% CI]
p
b (SE)
[95% CI]
p
b (SE)
[95% CI]
p
b (SE)
[95% CI]
p
Marginalization
Actor
-.21* (.06)
[-.33, -.10]
< .001
.21* (.05)
[.12, .30]
<.001
.17* (.07)
[.04, .30]
.01
.10 (.05)
[-.004, .20]
.06
Partner
-.08 (.06)
[-.20, .03]
.13
.08 (.05)
[-.01, .17]
.07
.11(.07)
[-.02, .24]
.10
-.007 (.05)
[-.11, .09]
.90
Note. *These coefficients remained statistically significant after applying the multiple testing correction using the Benjamin-Hochberg procedure
(McDonald, 2014).
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 25
Couple and cultural identity configurations with relationship investment,
commitment and satisfaction
As depicted in Table 6, a person’s identity configuration was associated with both
their own and their partner’s relationship quality. Specifically, when people integrated
their identities, they reported more investment, commitment, and satisfaction, and their
partners reported more investment (and marginally more commitment). In contrast, when
people compartmentalized their identities, they reported less commitment and
satisfaction, and their partner reported marginally less investment. When people
categorized towards their cultural identity, they reported lower investment, commitment,
and satisfaction, and their partner also reported lower satisfaction.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 26
Table 6
Study 2: APIM results for couple and cultural identity configurations to actor and partner rel
ationship investment, commitment and
satisfaction.
Investment
Commitment
Satisfaction
b (SE)
[95% CI]
p
b (SE)
[95% CI]
p
b (SE)
[95% CI]
p
Integration
Actor
Partner
.14 (.04)*
[.06, .22]
.11 (.04)*
[.03, .19]
.001
.009
.10 (.03)*
[.04, .15]
.05 (.03)
[-.008, .10]
.001
.09
.14 (.03)*
[.09, .20]
.04 (.03)
[-.01, .09]
<.001
.12
Compartmentalization
Actor
Partner
.01 (.05)
[-.09, .12]
-.09 (.05)
[-.19, .01]
.78
.08
-.08 (.04)
[-.15, -.01]
-.04 (.04)
[-.11, .03]
.03
.25
-.12 (.03)*
[-.18, -.05]
-.05 (.03)
[-.12, .02]
.001
.16
Couple Categorization
Actor
Partner
-.02 (.04)
[-.09, .05]
-.04 (.04)
[-.11, .03]
.57
.26
-.004 (.03)
[-.05, .05]
-.008 (.03)
[-.06, .04]
.87
.77
.01 (.02)
[-.04, .06]
.02 (.02)
[-.03, .06]
.62
.53
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 27
Culture Categorization
Actor
Partner
-.11 (.05)*
[-.21, -.02]
-.06 (.05)
[-.15, .04]
.02
.22
-.11 (.03)*
[-.18, -.05]
-.02 (.03)
[-.08, .04]
.001
.51
-.21 (.03)*
[-.27, -.15]
-.07 (.03)
[-13, -.01]
<.001
.02
Note. *These coefficients remained statistically significant after applying the multiple testing correction using the Benjamin-Hochberg procedure
(McDonald, 2014). The satisfaction score was created by standardizing the two measures and the z
-scores were combined for analysis.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 28
General Discussion
Social marginalization of intercultural relationships can create an unwelcoming
environment for intercultural couples, which they may internalize in the form of feeling
divided between their cultural identity and their couple identity. The present research
investigated how perceived relationship marginalization is associated with couple and
cultural identity configurations. Across both studies, perceived relationship
marginalization was relatively low, and individuals who reported lower perceived
marginalization also reported greater integration between their couple and cultural
identities; this suggests that in the absence of marginalization, many intercultural couples
are able to connect these core parts of themselves. In contrast, those reporting greater
perceived relationship marginalization were more likely to compartmentalize their
cultural and couple identities; one’s own perceived marginalization was also associated
though marginally—with their partner reporting greater compartmentalization. Overall,
participants’ bicultural status and relationship length did not moderate these results (see
online supplementary materials). These findings suggest that when people experience a
social context of disapproval, their ability to connect their cultural identities with their
couple identity may be inhibited, and instead they keep these key parts of themselves
separate. This is consistent with past work showing that experiencing racism is associated
with compartmentalizing one’s multiple cultural identities (Yampolsky & Amiot, 2016).
In addition, the current findings showed that perceived marginalization was
associated with both identifying predominantly with one’s relationship and identifying
predominantly with one’s culture; in Study 2 we also found that perceived
marginalization was associated, albeit weakly, with a partner solely identifying with the
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 29
couple. It is possible that social disapproval creates pressure to choose between key parts
of oneself as a show of loyalty (e.g., Rockquemore & Brunsma, 2002) to either their
cultural group or their relationship partner. There may also be a rejection-identification
process at work (Branscombe, Schmitt, & Harvey, 1999) in which marginalization
towards one’s relationship is experienced as rejection from one’s cultural group, and fuels
a protective identification with one’s relationship. It is also possible, however, that
identifying predominantly with the relationship gives rise to greater perception of
marginalization, which would be more consistent with an identification-attribution model
(Gonzalez-Backen et al., 2018). The direction of these links can be tested in future
studies.
Most research on identifying with more than one culture has prioritized the
examination of high vs. low integration, given that integration is an adaptive identity
strategy (e.g., Nguyen & Benet-Martinez, 2013). Here we show that the marginalization
experience is not simply associated with lower identity integration, but that it is also
associated with people feeling like they need to choose between their identities or to keep
them separate. The latter are less adaptive identity experiences. Each of these different
identity configurations is its own process with a distinct set of characteristics,
mechanisms, and social influences (West, Zhang, Yampolsky & Sasaki, 2017). It is
therefore essential to understand how negative social forces contribute to less adaptive
identity strategies. In addition to examining the range of identity configuration processes
individually, by recruiting both partners in intercultural relationships in Study 2, we
revealed that identity configurations are relevant at the relational level as well. That is,
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 30
perceived marginalization is associated with both partner’s identities and a person’s
identity configuration is associated with both partner’s relationship quality.
Identity integration was the most commonly reported identity strategy across both
studies, which may be due to our sample reporting lower levels of marginalization.
Overall, the findings suggest that integrating one’s couple and cultural identities is
associated with greater relationship quality for both partners, whereas
compartmentalization and categorization to one’s culture were associated with lower
relationship quality for both partners. It is possible that if an individual is keeping their
cultural identity separate from their relationship identity, their partner may feel rejected
or excluded from a core aspect of their partner’s life. Future research examining this
possibility could inform how one partner’s identity configuration is associated with the
partner’s relationship quality. Interestingly, identifying predominantly with one’s couple
over one’s culture was associated with greater relationship quality in Study 1, but was
unrelated to relationship quality in Study 2. While identifying predominantly with one’s
couple may prioritize the couple and therefore enable one to experience greater
relationship quality, it may prove difficult and ambivalent since disidentifying with one’s
own cultural group, and the possibility of cutting ties with close others from one’s
cultural group, may come at a significant cost to individual well-being (e.g., Smith &
Silva, 2011). Future work can test the potential mediating role of perceived social
pressure and divided loyalties.
Limitations and future directions
The current studies are correlational and cannot confirm the causal direction or
appropriately test whether identity configurations are a mechanism linking
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 31
marginalization to relationship quality (Pek & Hoyle, 2016). However, these findings
indicate that identity integration is meaningful for the success and happiness of
intercultural couples and may be one process through which marginalization is associated
with relationship quality. Future longitudinal and experimental studies can investigate the
identity configurations as a potential mediator between relationship marginalization and
relationship quality.
This research focused on intercultural couples, but the identity configurations may
also be of consequence to couples who identify with different marginalized social
categories aside from culture or racialized groups, such as class or sexual orientation.
These findings may also apply to couples in which partners are navigating important
social identities with their relationship identity, such as politically conservative and
liberal identities. Future research could examine whether social identity configuration
patterns emerge consistently in couples from different social groups more broadly.
There are also limitations to the current studies that should be addressed in future
work. The samples primarily represented cis-gendered and heterosexual individuals, and
so future samples will endeavor to be more representative of gender and sexual minorities
as we examine these identity experiences. In order to continue building a more global
psychology of intercultural couples, future research will need to focus on the identity
experiences of intercultural couples in non-Western contexts, which may have different
norms and histories around intercultural romance. The measure of marginalization, while
reliable and robust, is not elaborate in terms of the range of marginalization experiences
that the couples experience. Future work needs to dig deeper into all the facets of
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 32
relationship marginalization of intercultural couples, ranging from disapproval to explicit
and implicit racism.
Conclusion
In sum, the current set of studies examines the context of marginalization facing
intercultural couples as a factor that is associated with partners’ ability to connect their
relationship identity with their cultural identity. Across two studies, perceived
relationship marginalization was associated with less adaptive identity configuration
strategies, and when people reported less integration and more compartmentalization
between their couple and cultural identities, both partners in the relationship reported
lower relationship quality. Social identities are the parts of a person that represent their
connection to their loved ones and groups. For intercultural couples, how partners
integrate the cultural and romantic aspects of the self provides insight into the satisfaction
and maintenance of intercultural relationships, and the current research suggests that
perceived marginalization creates challenges for people in intercultural relationships to
integrate their identities and maintain their relationships over time.
Marginalization of intercultural couples, identity integration, relationship quality 33
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