Interracial and Interfaith Marriage: Triangle Traps?

Triangle Hell: Diane Farr’s piece “Bringing Home The Wrong Race” (the title alone speaks volumes) in the New York Times Sunday is a telling tale of a journey between worlds fueled by love. Ms. Farr, actress, author and caucasian, describes her courtship with Seung Chung, who is of Korean descent. I was intrigued by their united approach to Ms. Farr’s first “introduction” to Mr. Chung’s parents given that Mr. Chung revealed that his parents were adamant about their son marrying someone of Korean descent. Rather than letting that challenge create fissures, it bound them together in common cause. Apparently that first meeting lead to a future replete in children and close relationships with in-laws.

Family No No’s: However, more compelling than this “happy ending” of what could have been a road to heartbreak was Ms. Farr’s conversations with her peers regarding their families’ attitudes toward interracial and interfaith marriage. No matter the race, religion or political bent (her friends’ families were primarily of the liberal persuasion), adult children reported admonishment and even threats by parents if they chose a partner from a group parents marked as taboo.  Ms. Farr noted that many families were several generations “American,” the melting pot of the world,  yet still held strong beliefs regarding marital choices. For a variety of reasons, whether related to historic rivalries and wars between countries of origin, or tough experiences growing up in neighborhoods where racial clashes, or economic discrepancies lead to ugly encounters, seemingly fair-minded folk revealed some pretty deep-seated biases that were flung at maturing offspring.

Poisonous Triangles In The Making: As I read along, I thought, what a perfect triangle trap for couples. In a previous post I described the dangers of triangulation, where a third issue, person, or passion becomes a divisive force in The Coupledom. Side stepping such traps is a cornerstone to a healthy relationship but takes some clever maneuvering and an alert Coupledom. An interracial or interfaith alliance for life, if the families of origin register open disapproval or insinuate feelings of superiority, can provide just the wedge to cause erosion in The Coupledom. We see it all the time. Families even of the same race and religion may compete for the “better grandparent” medal of honor, or greatest holiday traditions, or superior something or other. And it is the very wise Coupledom who unites around what can often be almost laughable biases, archaic belief systems, and character flaws of family members.

Can Grandchildren Save The Day? Any belief system from family of origin that becomes fractious in The Coupledom needs deconstructing and questioning, whether it be religious, racial, philosophical or pragmatic. Inheriting a prejudice and striving to overcome it in the early days of courtship or after vows are taken, when it becomes clear that poisons of prejudice are being injected into marital veins, is critical. Can grandchildren influence and change old biases? Actually, I think so. I have seen grandparents, whom I never thought would accept an alien culture, embrace their mixed race grandchildren with unrestrained adoration, even developing friendships with the “in-laws.” It is a joy to witness and speaks to the flexibility of the human heart. But I wouldn’t wait for the grandchildren to unite the families. It may be too late for the scarring that a triangulated relationship can inflict. Couples who are facing attitudes similar to those of Ms. Farr and Mr. Cheung need careful thought applied to how to keep their bond and yet deal fairly and intelligently with their parents and potential in-laws.

The Changing World Of Love: We see it everywhere. In the malls, on T.V. sitcoms, talk shows, everywhere we go: folks whose skin tones are different are marrying each other like crazy. Just remember to take a page out of Avoiding Triangle Traps when you do it. Carry The Coupledom with dignity wherever you go.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W. L.C.S.W. 2011

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