York professor’s new book explores intercultural couples

Cross-cultural relationships, once assumed to be inherently problematic, have increased in both numbers and social acceptance in recent years, leading to a growing awareness of how little we really know about them, says a York University professor who co-edited a new book on the subject.

Intercultural Couples: Exploring Diversity in Intimate Relationships, released yesterday by publishing house Routledge, is co-edited and authored in part by Kyle Killian (right), a professor in the School of Nursing in York’s Faculty of Health.

"In the past, these couples were often targets of social hostility and lack of acceptance," Killian says. "But that trend is on the wane and what we’re finding now is that some of the research on intercultural couples historically had been quite negative and therefore required an update."

The book addresses gaps in current academic thinking through 12 chapters that tackle issues such as bilingual couples, interfaith relationships, struggles in couple formations, different methods of approaching solutions and the use of the Internet to meet partners from diverse backgrounds.

Studying relationships where one partner is from North America and another is from abroad is important now, particularly in Canada, as populations become increasingly diverse, says Killian.

The latest census figures from Statistics Canada show that mixed unions are forming at unprecedented rates. There were 289,420 mixed-race couples, married and common law, in 2006, which is 33 per cent more than in 2001.

"In terms of who’s out there to meet and marry, one in five Canadians are immigrants and one in six Canadians are visible minorities, so it’s much more likely now that a relationship is going to be a cross-cultural situation," says Killian.

And technology is making the phenomenon even more common, although Killian urges caution. The chapter "Electronic Attachments", co-written by Killian and York political science Professor Anna Agathangelou, explores the common misperception of the Internet as a liberating medium for romantic relationships, where bias about looks, ethnicity or gender can be transcended.

"We take that notion to task because cyberspace is fertile ground for fantasy," explains Killian. "And marital trade Web sites promise wish fulfillment for Western males searching for spouses they hope will be far more traditional than their Western counterparts.

"We say that we’re not really sure people can transcend their social location because power relations are embedded everywhere, including in the monetary transactions taking place through these marital trade Web sites," says Killian.

Intercultural Couples: Exploring Diversity in Intimate Relationships is co-edited by Terri A. Karis, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and Kyle Killian.