University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: Relational dialectics in intercultural couples’ relationships (Cools)

Start date: Dec 19, 2011 12:00 PM

End date: Dec 19, 2011 03:00 PM

Location: Seminaarinmäki, Seminarium, S 212

Carine CoolsLic.Ph. Carine Cools defends her doctoral dissertation in speech communication “Relational Dialectics in Intercultural Couples‘ Relationships”. Opponent Adjunct Professor, Ph.D. Fred Dervin (University of Turku) and custos Professor Maarit Valo (University of Jyväskylä).


The main purpose of this study is to describe and to understand the intercultural couples’ relationships in Finland from the relational-dialectics perspective by Baxter & Montgomery (1996).  Relational dialectics supports the idea that tensions (relational contradictions) are a fundamental feature of a relationship, and are thus distinct from conflict or problems.

Following the interpretive research tradition, in this qualitative study, data were collected from 18 heterosexual intercultural couples (36 persons), utilizing the multi-method approach.  The multi-method approach in this study includes theme interviews (5 couples), concept map interviews (six couples) and e-mail interviews (seven couples). The data were analyzed following an inductive content analysis approach. 

The intercultural couples in this study experienced internal and external dialectics. Internal dialectics were specifically related to intercultural adaptation, e.g. need of support, uncertainty about the future, and identity confusion issues. Externally, the couples encountered challenges of inclusion and exclusion regarding, e.g. family support, access to a social network, which are facilitated through disclosure, which is at times problematic regarding the host community’s language. 

The effects of intercultural couples’ cultural background on their relationship concerned  continual negotiations, that constitute their lives -internally and externally- and entail repeated decision-making and compromising about friends, religion, traditions and celebrations, and their acceptance in the larger social network, the upbringing and education of their children, values and gender issues, and adaptation.  

The common thread surfacing in the couples’ accounts of how their different cultural backgrounds are reflected in their relationships is unquestionably the continual re-negotiation between the two partners themselves and between the couples and their social networks. In a sense these define their intercultural relationship; all their moves are negotiated moves.
Intercultural relational dialectical forces present in the intercultural couples’ relationships include continual re-negotiation, cultural identity & belonging, increased sensitivity to differences and similarities, social power, social support, and uncertainty. 

external dialectics, intercultural couples, intercultural dialectics, intercultural relational forces, intercultural relationships, internal dialectics, relational dialectics

Further information:

Carine Cools, puh. 040 805 4245,

The dissertation is published in the series Jyväskylä Studies in Humanities no 171, 282 p., Jyväskylä 2011, ISSN: 1459-4323, ISBN: 978-951-39-4573-2. Inquiries: University Library, Publishing Unit, tel. 040 805 3825,

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