The purpose of this study was to review the research that has been done regarding interracial couples in family therapy to gain a better understanding on issues they face and insights that have been gained through the process of clinical practice. This study focused on heterosexual interracial couples with one of the partners self-identified as Asian. Interracial couples are couples who come from different racial backgrounds. Current research on interracial Asian couples consists of common issues these couples are facing, including marital satisfaction, parenting, acculturation, and culture-related stressors.
Studies also cover some specific topics on interracial couples, such as coping mechanisms for stressors in same-sex interracial couples and intimate partner violence in heterosexual interracial couples. Since there is a lack of research on same-sex interracial couples, especially couples where one of the partners self-identifies as Asian, or Asian American, this study will be focusing on heterosexual Asian interracial couples.
In addition, there is research discussing how effective the therapy models are on solving problems for interracial couples.
Further research might focus on clinical interventions in addressing issues same-sex interracial couples encounter, such as differences in parenting styles. Keywords: Interracial Couples, Asian, Couples Therapy Interracial Couples in Family Therapy with One Partner Identified as Asian There are more and more immigrants flowing into the United States every year, including Latin Americans, Europeans, Africans, Australians, Asians, etc. As the immigrant population grows, there is a higher chance of individuals becoming involved in interracial, interethnic, or intercultural relationships. Interracial/interethnic/intercultural couples face not only the common issues prevalent in couples therapy but also unique relational problems due to the differences in their racial/ethnic/cultural backgrounds.
There are various terminologies being used in the literature to describe couples with different racial or cultural backgrounds. For instance, “interracial couple,” which is the most common one, “interethnic couple,” “intercultural couple,” and “multi-heritage couple.”
Although some studies use these terminologies interchangeably, they are actually different. “Race” is based on one’s physical and biological characteristics, while “ethnicity” is defined by one’s cultural background, including nationality, language, and so on (Leslie & Young, 2015). Therefore, in this paper, interracial couple refers to partners with more than one racial background, such as Black-White couples or Asian-Pacific Islander couples. Couples from different ethnic groups are considered to be interethnic couples. For example, Hispanic-Jewish couples or Han Chinese-Arab couples would be considered interethnic couples. For the purpose of this paper, I decided to use the term “interracial couple” because most of the research I found focuses on race difference rather than ethnicity. As a result, in my opinion, the term “interracial couple” describes the subjects of my study the best. In order to understand issues interracial/intercultural couples encounter and learn what clinical models will be beneficial in family therapy, this study reviewed the research that has been done on interracial/intercultural couples. The study specifically focuses on heterosexual interracial couples with one of the partners self-identified as Asian, Han Chinese, Han Taiwanese, or Asian American, to be more precise. Brief Literature Review and Research Results It is said that couples with different heritages, backgrounds, characteristics, and belief systems are more likely to divorce (Blount & Young, 2015). Although interracial couples tend to have more struggles, challenges, and misunderstandings regarding their racial/cultural/background differences, there are ways that therapists may be able to help. Unique Problems Interracial Couples Experience According to Leslie & Young (2015), interracial couples often come into therapy with the same presenting problems as “common couple problems,” including arguments or differences in parenting styles.
However, these ‘common couple problems’ often play out differently because of the fact that the couple is interracial. As you dive into their presenting problems, the race difference often comes into play. Leslie & Young (2015) pointed out seven main issues that are unique to interracial couples: current social context, social support, racial privilege, racialized histories, racial identity, microaggressions, and communication. Zaker & Boostanipoor (2016) stated that the definition of “family” is culture-oriented. The conflicts are rooted in major differences between cultures, which often fall into the categories of relationships, individualism/collectivism, masculine/feminine, problematic behaviors, and so on. Strengths of Interracial Couples Relationships Even though interracial couples have different perspectives on parenting, they could develop well-rounded parenting styles together. They may also develop a stronger emotional bond to defend the external pressures they receive. Moreover, studies found that interracial couples are more resilient and are able to accommodate themselves to their partners’ needs (Blount & Young, 2015).
Interventions Leslie & Young (2015) stated that it is highly recommended to use narrative therapy as an intervention for interracial couples. The narrative therapy model allows interracial couples to talk about their cultural stories, which makes the couples realize how cultural messages contribute to their values and beliefs (Kim, Prouty, & Roberson, 2012). Although Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) mainly focuses on affect, cognition, and behavior, it is not commonly used for interracial couples. However, it may help clients understand their relational behavior patterns (Leslie & Young, 2015). Yu (2017) also mentioned that it is crucial to be aware of the cultural influences on behaviors and thoughts when the clients are interracial couples. When counseling interracial couples with Asian origins, therapists need to pay attention to three primary aspects—how Asians view marital relationships, the insights of intercultural couples in the United States, and the conflicts they may have in different parenting styles. The study suggested that Solution-Focused Therapy and Strength-Based Therapy are beneficial to interracial couples with Asian ethnicity. Blount & Young (2015) recommended using the genogram as a tool during the assessment and treatment process. As the genogram illustrates personal backgrounds, such as ethnicity, religion, and family values, it can facilitate an understanding between the partners about their family origin and how it plays a role in their presenting problems. It is said that using circular questions is a technique that can reduce unequal power between the partners.
The main goals of the therapy models which work better for interracial couples are usually related to enhancing awareness regarding the other partner’s experiences, perceptions, and realities (Killian, 2013). The Visible/Invisible Grid (see Figure 1) is also a great tool to address the similarities and differences—no matter if they are visible or invisible—within interracial couples. During the discussion of the similarities and differences, therapists have to pay attention to clients’ emotional states and make sure it is safe for them to be vulnerable (Nguyen, D’Aniello, & Hayes, 2016). Figure 1. Visible/Invisible Grid According to Seshadri & Knudson-Martin (2013), there are four main strategies that help interracial couples to handle their racial and cultural differences, which include a “We” stance, framing differences, emotional maintenance, and positioning in relation to societal and family context. It has been proven that love, satisfaction (dyadic adjustment), and the couple’s cultural identity correlated with the couple’s commitments in interracial/interethnic relationships, and therefore predicted the relationship outcome (Zhong & Malhi, 2014). In addition, Dainton (2015) asserted that positive maintenance communication behaviors are predictors of marital satisfaction and commitment in all couples.
Therefore, interracial couples can enhance their marital satisfaction and commitment by implementing seven maintenance activities: giving assurances, being positive, being open, having social networks, sharing tasks, engaging positive conflict management, and giving advice. On the other hand, negative maintenance behaviors usually give rise to unstable relationships, which includes jealousy induction, avoidance, spying, infidelity, destructive conflict, and power imbalance. Considering Han Chinese/Taiwanese people as a whole, Wang (1994) claimed that behavioral, structural, and brief therapy models work well with Han Chinese clients. When working with the Han Chinese/Taiwanese population, it is important to take into consideration that there is still a social stigma on mental illness, and going to therapy has an implication of having a mental illness. From my personal experience and perspective, I disagree with some aspects mentioned in the research, especially not recommending using the “date night” technique. However, this variance can be dependent on place of origin, which was brought up in the study.
Implications for Therapy I would like to emphasize the unique problems that interracial couples may experience, particularly couples with one person identified as Han Chinese/Taiwanese, some basic information that is important to know when working with the Han Chinese/Taiwanese population, and what therapeutic interventions work the best for Han Chinese/Taiwanese clients. However, there are not many studies specifically focused on interracial/interethnic/intercultural couples with one Han Chinese/Taiwanese partner. Asian, as a race, includes a variety of ethnic groups—Han Chinese/Taiwanese, Asian Indians, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, and so on. As a Taiwanese who considers Han population as an ethnicity and wants to work in therapy with people of Han Chinese/Taiwanese descent, I would like to focus on people with Han Chinese/Taiwanese heritage. Therefore, future research needs to be done on this topic based on clients/couples of Han Chinese/Taiwanese ethnicity. Similarly, it will be beneficial to conduct research in the future on therapeutic intervention models which work better on interethnic couples with one Han Chinese/Taiwanese partner. Current studies discussed useful therapy models for interracial couples and those for Han Chinese/Taiwanese people.
Additionally, there is little research available on same-sex interracial couples, especially in the Han Chinese/Taiwanese population. The LGBTQ community has always been stigmatized in Chinese/Taiwanese society, and still is. However, people in Taiwan are going to vote for a referendum to incorporate same-sex marriage into existing laws. This shows that it has become a hot topic in Taiwan, Asia, and to the entire world. Also, I think more and more people in Taiwan have become aware of the rights of the LGBTQ population and the issues they face. I believe more research has to be done on this topic in order to help the Han Chinese/Taiwanese LGBTQ population with their issues. Personal Responses/Reactions Although my partner is also Asian (Vietnamese-Chinese), he was born and grew up in the United States. He speaks English and some Vietnamese at home but not Mandarin. I was born and raised in Taiwan, and grew up speaking Mandarin and Taiwanese. As I am currently in an interethnic/intercultural relationship, I found there are some issues that I have never experienced in same-ethnic relationships. For instance, in terms of the language barrier, it is sometimes hard for me to convey what I actually want to express in English.
In terms of cultural differences, since my partner grew up in the United States, he has some perceptions and values that are similar to Americans, which include how he views the relationship and how he thinks about money. From my personal experience, I wonder what kinds of issues interracial/interethnic/intercultural couples experience, what areas I should be aware of in therapy, and how I will be able to help. I resonate with most of the dos and don’ts in therapy mentioned in Wang’s (1994) study. I think one of the biggest problems I encountered in therapy was that it was hard for me to articulate or even determine my feelings, the reason for therapy, and/or the presenting problems. However, as a therapist practicing in the United States, some aspects of therapy may not be applicable to Han Chinese/Taiwanese Americans. Being ethnically a Han Chinese/Taiwanese, I have to be aware of my own biases, which include not assuming all Han Chinese/Taiwanese clients have the same experiences and backgrounds as me. I have to be mindful of the cultural history I learned—my “reality”—particularly when working with clients from the People’s Republic of China (China).
Additionally, when working with people from China, it may be hard for me if they consider Taiwan as a part of China because I am a strong advocate of “Taiwan is a country.” If this knowledge causes me to change my attitude toward the client, I may violate the rule of non-maleficence. Although I may have biases, I also have strengths in working with the Han Chinese/Taiwanese population. I have a better understanding of the Han Chinese/Taiwanese culture and I know how to speak Mandarin. According to Wang (1994), this means it should be easier for me than other therapists to build therapeutic relationships with Han Chinese/Taiwanese clients.