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Healthy Marriages, Relationships and Families: Interventions, Research and Policy Course

Asian American Couples and Families

Week __


Promoting Child Welfare: Training Professionals to Support Healthy Marriages, Relationships and Families Project.

Project Team:

Keith Alford, principal investigator Tel: 315- 443-5112 Email: [email protected] Nancy Mudrick, co-principal investigator Tel: 315-443-5564 Email: [email protected] Sharon Alestalo, project manager Peg Miller Mona Mittal Robert Moreno Jonathan Sandberg Carrie Jefferson Smith Alan Taylor

Project Mission: To develop curricula and provide training for students and professionals that enhance their ability to facilitate healthy marriages, relationships and families in the child welfare population, with the end goal of promoting and improving the well-being of children.

Project funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. Oct. 2003 ­ Sept. 2008

Syracuse University College of Human Ecology Sims Hall, Suite 440 Syracuse, NY 13244

© 2008, Syracuse University, College of Human Ecology. All rights reserved.


Course Objectives Covered:

Learn and apply assessment tools, skills, and practices appropriate to the target population for couples, children and families as a whole in order to discern challenges and supports to family health, well-being and formation. Demonstrate the ability to apply knowledge of the best practices to assessing, choosing and adapting to target population marriage and relationship enrichment, education and skill building programs. Demonstrate an understanding of the continuum from traditional to acculturated values, norms, beliefs and behaviors of major ethnic groups in the provision of child welfare services. Demonstrate an understanding of the impact of oppression, racism and prejudice on the formation, development and status of families and couples.


It is important to understand the culture of a particular group of people that you are working with and to develop effective skills for working with them. It is equally important not to use your knowledge to stereotype or oppress people based on these collective characteristics and behaviors gleaned from research. This work is based on patterns. All patterns have exceptions. Treat people as individuals and with dignity and respect. (Know your professional code of ethics.) (Payne et. Al,



Asian Continent: Countries include Afghanistan; Armenia ;Azerbaijan ;Bahrain; Bangladesh; Bhutan; Brunei; Burma; Cambodia ; China; Georgia; India; Indonesia; Iran; Iraq; Israel; Japan; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Kuwait; Kyrgyzstan; Laos ;Lebanon; Malaysia; Maldives; Mongolia; Nepal ;North Korea; Oman ;Pakistan; Philippines; Qatar; Russia; Saudi Arabia; Singapore; South Korea; lSri Lanka; Syria; Taiwan Tajikistan; Thailand; Turkey; Turkmenistan; United Arab Emirates; Uzbekistan; Vietnam; Yemen;


Many Countries and Regions in Asia. For Example:

South East Asia or Southeastern Asia

is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India and north of Australia. South East Asia consists of two geographic regions: the Asian mainland, and island arcs and archipelagoes to the east and southeast. The mainland section consists of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The dominant religion is Buddhism, followed by Christianity. The maritime section consists of Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. The dominant religion is Islam, followed by Christianity.


Other Regions

Far East

The countries and regions of eastern and southeast Asia, especially China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Mongolia.

The Indian Subcontinent

A large subsection of the Asian continent. The countries include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives.


U.S. Census Bureau

"Asian" refers to those having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent


Asian Americans ­ Population Statistics

Asian Americans make up 4.4% of the total U.S. population according to the 2000 U.S. census.

Approximately 12 million Asian Americans in U.S.

Fastest growing major racial/ethnic group

66% of all Asian Americans live in just 5 states

California, New York, Hawaii, Texas & Illinois

(ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)


(U.S. Census Bureau, 2006)

Asian Americans

This population cannot be reduced to a single culture, many differences exist. Asian American is the term most commonly used to describe this population. Includes 43 different ethnic groups 28 Asian groups and 15 Pacific Islander groups.

It is important to look beyond broad categorizations and learn about the specific countries of origin and cultural variables of the particular population being served.



Variables that Impact Your Understanding of Asian Americans

Country of Origin and Language Migration History

60% of Asian Americans are immigrants. (U.S. Census 2000)

Population growth rate Religion Education level Occupation and income Degree of acculturation

(ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)

Many family problems are linked to immigration related issues, residential location and degree of acculturation. A significant number of immigrants are highly educated professionals underemployed in the U.S.


MARRIAGE STATISTICS from National Healthy Marriage Resource Center

Although about 75 percent of Asian Americans marry someone of the same ethnic group, about 25 percent marry an Asian American of a different ethnic group than their own or a non-Asian. This rate of intermarriage is 3-4 times higher than for other Americans (about 7%).

(, 2006)


Interracial Marriages among Asian Americans

Of the Asian Americans who marry outside their ethnic group:

About 15 percent of Asian American men and 19 percent of Asian American women who intermarry are married to Whites. About 10 percent of men and 6 percent of women are married to Asian Americans of a different ethnic group than their own.

(, 2006)

Program Implications: If 1 in 4 couples are interracial, services must address the special needs of this large group. For example, the cultural values and behaviors of origin my not survive through subsequent generations creating more extended family conflict.


In Asian countries, marriage and divorce trends are rapidly changing and being influenced by:

Rapid economic growth, urbanization and changing cultural norms.

Ex: Career advancement and wealth carry a greater emphasis now.

Enhanced choice for Asian women through educational & employment opportunities. Loosening of social control over marriage including family and community influence. Divorce laws are becoming more lenient. Growing influence of Western culture including "individualism" and "romantic love".

(Huang, 2005)


Divorce Statistics

Number of divorced Asian Americans more than doubled between 1996 and 2002. It was 4.3% in 2000. (U.S. Census Data 2002)

Divorce rate remains lower than other US populations but growing.

(Asian Pacific Healthy Marriage Network at 2006)


Family Statistics

Asian Americans have 3.2 members per family: 2nd highest average family size found in both the 1990 Census and 2000 Census. (Population Reference Bureau)

(Asian Pacific Healthy Marriage Network at 2006)


When Intervening in the Asian American Community, one should be mindful of:

The growing population of Asian Americans in U.S. with tandem impact on economics. The "Model Minority" Myth. Domestic Violence. Immigration related issues. Linguistic and Cultural Barriers.

(Asian Pacific Healthy Marriage Network at 2006)


Impact of Asian Americans

Median Household Income in the United States, 2000,

80,000 70,000 60,000 50,000 40,000 30,000 20,000 10,000 0 68,100 61,900 55,740 55,400 50,065 45,000 42,500 42,010 35,000 31,800 30,000

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SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Supplementary Survey PUMS Data Set PUMS

(Asian Pacific Healthy Marriage Network at 2006)



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"Model Minority" Myth. Asian Pacific Americans are perceived as a successful minority without problems yet....

Asian American girls age 15 ­ 24 have the second highest suicide rates of all ethnic groups. (National Asian Women's Health Organization) Korean Americans have highest rate of selfemployment amongst all ethnic groups. (2000 U.S. Census). Underneath that positive American concept is

Couples working long hours together. Creating marital strain. Neglect of children. (National Korean American

Service & Education Consortium, 1996)

(Asian Pacific Healthy Marriage Network at 2006)


Domestic Violence ­ Abuse (National Healthy Marriage Resource Center at Rates , 2006)

· Although Asian American marriages are less likely to end in divorce than marriages in the general U.S. population, several studies have estimated that domestic violence among Asian Americans occurs at least as often, if not more often.


For example, one study found that 61 percent of Japanese American women in Los Angeles experienced some form of spousal abuse during their lifetime compared to 22-31 percent of the U.S. population. However, studies of Chinese and Chinese Americans find a lower rate of domestic violence.



One study that focused specifically on divorce among Korean immigrant women found that the most common reason for divorce was the ex-husband's abuse of spouse or children.


Domestic Violence ­Obstacles to Leaving Abusive Relationships

Asian Americans may face more obstacles to leaving abusive relationships than other Americans do. Language barriers or fear of involvement with immigration officials or other legal agencies discourage many from seeking help. Traditional cultural beliefs may discourage women from reporting violence or encourage them to tolerate it.

These beliefs may put pressure on women to maintain harmony and remain devoted to family at all costs. These beliefs also may encourage both men and women to believe that abuse is a normal and acceptable part of relationships.

(National Healthy Marriage Resource Center at , 2006)


Immigration and First Generation Issues

Increasing inter-generational conflicts due to erosion of parental authority and blurring of roles resulting from children acting as intermediaries to the larger society. Children's language acculturation has a negative impact on communication and cohesion for immigrant families. Culture clash between the "old ways" and the new that creates conflict. Discrimination and oppression.

(Ishii-Kuntz, 2004)


Linguistic Barriers

Many Asian Americans use their native language with their spouse. Hence marital services provided only in English is a problem. (1990 U.S. Census) Asian Americans come from many different countries. Unlike Latino Americans, they do not have the unifying element of language..

There are at least 32 primary languages spoken among Asian Americans, and often many dialects within each group.

(Asian Pacific Healthy Marriage Network at 2006)


Korean Proverb

"A word can redeem huge debt"

This proverb teaches that communication is powerful.


Some Common Characteristics of Asian American Marriages

Marriage involves the union of two families not just the couple. "Collectivistic" marriages. High level of interdependence and reciprocity in kinship relations. Traditional gender ideology surrounding their familial roles.

(Ishii-Kuntz, 2004)

CAUTION: With so many differences among Asian American groups, not to mention differences between couples and individuals, it's risky to make broad comparisons and generalizations. However, some research has explored the question of differences between Asian American couples and non-Asian American couples. This research notes some possible general differences, but much more research is needed to draw strong conclusions. ·Example of Interdependence: Filial piety, or respect for parents, is a Confucian value that influences many, but not all, Asian cultures. It includes duty, obligation, the importance of the family name, and service and sacrifice to elders. This commitment to one's family can affect choices about whom to marry, when to marry, and whether to stay married. .( National Healthy Marriage Resource Center,, 2006) ·Marital Roles. Many Asian American couples, whether they are immigrants, second generation, or interracial, struggle to balance Asian and American cultural norms about the appropriate roles for husbands and wives.( National Healthy Marriage Resource Center,, 2006)


In India there is no greater event in a family than a wedding.

Essential for virtually everyone. Demarks the developmental transition to adulthood. India has a long tradition of arranged marriages and is a critical responsibility for parents and other relatives. Marriage alliances are often about economics, social alignments and reproduction. Traditions and rites vary by region, religion, ethnicity and rural/urban locations.

(Heitzman and Worden, 1995)


Some Common Characteristics of Asian American Family Values

The family unit is more important than the individual, independence and autonomy. The individual is not an independent, self-sufficient person, rather he or she is a product of all the generations of his or her family.

An individual's actions reflects on the entire family. Thus there is a great emphasis on obligation and shame.

(ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)


Common Characteristics cont.

Asian values regarding the family are reinforced by rituals and customs such as ancestor worship, family celebrations, funeral rites and genealogy records.

(ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)


Common Characteristics Cont:

Roles are clearly defined with a strong emphasis on interdependence and peaceful relationships with family and others.

The husband's role is of authority and leadership. He is the provider, protector and disciplinarian. The wife's role is homemaker and child bearer. She tends to be dominated by the males in her family including her husband, father, father-in-law and son.

(ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)


Husband and Wife Dynamics

Husbands and wives do not typically show many physical or verbal expressions of love. Other adult mediators or confidants usually handle difficulties that do arise between a couple making divorce uncommon. The dominant relationship in a family is more likely to be the parent-child dyad rather than the husband-wife dyad.

(ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)


Father, Mother and Children

The roles of Father and Mother are to be complementary, not symmetrical.

Many times women have strong emotional attachments to their children, especially sons, rather than husband.

Families demand filial piety, respect and obedience from their children.

There is an expectation that parents will be cared for in their old age. Sons tend to be favored, but cooperation and sharing among siblings is expected.

Other extended family members often raise the children. (ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes

January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)


Gender Differences and Promoting Marriage Education example

Hmong men do not communicate with their spouses face-to-face and up close.

Thus they do not see the advantages and the benefits of building communication skills between themselves and their spouses. Hmong men may consider attending a marriage education program as an open declaration of a problematic marriage. They feel they will lose face in attending these programs.

The men need to see the outcome of the program as achieving a fun, expressive and unconditionally loving relationship with their spouse, family members and other people in their life. (ORR Lessons Learned, 2007)

Tip: When some of the men have successfully completed a program, ask them to contact other men and confirm how the program helped them and their families.


Common Family Circumstances:

Traditional Family

Family members were born and raised in Asian countries, holding strong beliefs in traditional family, practice traditional rituals and customs.

"Cultural Conflict" Family

Family has American born children, conflict between the acculturated child and traditional parents or grandparents, intergenerational conflicts.

(ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)


Common Family Circumstances:

Bicultural Family

The middle or upper middle class family has grown up in a major city, exposed to urbanization and Western influences, and is bilingual and bicultural.

Ex: Family discussions are allowed between parents and children.

Americanized Family

Both parents and children are born in the U.S. and do not maintain ethnic identities, more individualistic and egalitarian (ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes

January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)


Common Family Circumstances:

Interracial Family

May be able to integrate both cultures, or May have conflicting values, religious beliefs, communication style, childrearing practices or in-law problems.

(ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)

See Internet article Asian American Marriage Split by an Invisible Barrier By Milly Seo found at on Nov. 3, 2005.


Contrasting Asian & Western Cultural Values

Asian Culture

Collectivistic Duty & Obligation Hierarchical Deference & Restraint Shame Based Condemnation

American Culture

Individualism Rights & Privilege Egalitarian Self-assertion & self-expressive Guilt Based Condemnation.

(ACF Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans ppt)

·Collectivism vs. Individualism. Many Asian Americans value commitment to the needs of the group over individual needs and selfdevelopment. For example, they tend to value obedience, self-control, and family interests over the typical American values of independence, self-expression, and individual interests. Asian Americans may be more likely than other Americans to make personal sacrifices that foster harmony and promote the well-being of a relationship. Such behavior may increase the stability of Asian American marriages. However, these behaviors are not as prevalent as they used to be.( National Healthy Marriage Resource Center,, 2006)


Inherent bias when relying on Western theory for working with people from other cultures.

Dynamics of couple relationships in Family Systems Theory (pursuer-distance cycle of marital conflict) and Attachment Theory (interaction of preoccupied and dismissive partners) are in part Western ways of thinking and Western ways of interrelatedness. In Japan there is less emphasis on the importance of the exclusive spousal relationship, and less need for the parents to find time alone to rekindle romance, intimate feelings and to resolve conflicts by openly discussing differences.

Rothbaum,F., Rosen, K., Ujiie, T. and Uchida, N. (2002). Family systems theory, attachment theory, and culture. Family Process. 41:3 p. 328 ­ 350.


Multi-cultural Perspective ­ Examining your biases

Cross-cultural research concludes that the dynamics of parent-child relationships in Family Systems Theory (closed or enmeshed) and Attachment Theory (mother's preoccupied attachment or child's ambivalent attachment) and are in part Western ways of thinking and Western ways of interrelatedness. Evidence from Japan suggests that extremely close mother-child ties are perceived as adaptive and are common.

(Rothbaum, et al. 2002)


Cultural Resilience

Social capital: Resources that a person can access through his or her relationship with other people.

For Asian Americans the interdependent nature of family allows for more entrepreneurial success. Greater links to immigrant community resources through family.


(Huang, 2005 and Asian Pacific Healthy Marriage Network at 2006)

Cultural Barriers

Shame is a value particular to the Asian Pacific American Community. It is of profound importance and deeply rooted in the Asian culture.

Keeps marital/familial problems and domestic abuse hidden or underreported. (National Korean

American Service & Education Consortium, 1996)

Divorce stigma and taboo of non-marital births in Asian tradition can explain relatively low divorce rate and non-marital birth rate (15.6% in 1999). (2000 U.S. Census)

­ socio-economic statistics, such as domestic violence and youth suicide rates reveal serious marriage and familial problems.

ASIAN SHAME is the concern for social reputation in relationship to community's opinion. It is a reaction to actual or perceived criticism, contempt or ridicule by others. VS. WESTERN GUILT values reflect a concern with the conscience of the inner person. A recognition of and personal reaction to "sin".


Recommended Cultural Adaptations of Western marriage and relationship education programs:

Asians are often more motivated to attend parenting seminars than marital seminars given the greater focus on parent-child relationships than couple relationships.

Start a program by talking about how to raise happy, successful children, and then transition to telling them the most effective way to raise happy and healthy children is to work on a healthy couple relationship.

(Huang, 2005)


Asian Culture Belief: There is Honor in Learning

Prefer "education" to "therapy"

Reframe counseling as an experiential learning course to help develop emotional intelligence, people management and leadership skills. By helping them to perceive counseling as learning, it can be perceived as honorable.

(Huang, 2005)


Use Honoring, Non-shaming Concepts such as Emotional Intelligence and Share Research Findings

Talk about the importance of understanding feelings instead of suppressing them, and how understanding their loved one's inner emotional world is bringing them meaningful connections.

When asking about feelings, it is helpful to give choices, at least initially. "People in your situation might feel sad, anxious, exhausted or overwhelmed. Is this similar to how you feel? Tell me more."

Many will have an appreciation for the empirical research and theory as there is honor in learning.

Topics such as building friendships and managing conflict in a respectful, face-saving manner can all be found in research by notable experts such as Gottman. (Huang, 2005)

·Communication Styles. Many Asians do not put the same emphasis on verbal communication in their marriage as do native-born Americans. Some Asian cultures discourage the expression of feelings, especially very strong positive or negative emotions such as anger and joy. Also, some Asian cultures, such as the Chinese culture, value harmony so much that couples choose to avoid bringing up issues that cause conflict. (National Healthy Marriage Information Center, 2006)


Other Tips and Topics

Enhance rapport and feelings of respect by learning culturally relevant greetings and even use the language of origin in your greetings. Use culturally appropriate illustrations. Metaphors are an often used tool for communicating.

Example of an illustration, grounded in an historical event/story of the culture, that illustrates suppression of feelings vs. effectively expressing them. "One Chinese emperor who built walls to block floods failed miserably, while another emperor who dug many tunnels to channel away the flood was successful."

(Huang, 2005)

Example of a metaphor: When discussing love and boundary issues, use POST-IT notes to explain "healthy love is like Post-It notes ­ a little sticky but not too sticky. You can use it over and over again and it lasts a long time."


Tips Continued

Affirm how much love already exists in the Asian family. Carefully explore the belief that "to love is to choose for you."

Example case: "An international student studying in the US whose grandmother was dying. Her family purposely did not tell her about her grandmother until she finished her final exams. By that time, her beloved grandmother passed away and she was not offered a choice to decide for herself what she preferred to do."

(Huang, 2005)

Love is to Choose for you - Example case: "An international student studying in the US whose grandmother was dying. Her family purposely did not tell her about her grandmother until she finished her final exams. By that time, her beloved grandmother passed away and she was not offered a choice to decide for herself what she preferred to do."


Tips Continued

Stress the importance of maintaining healthy boundaries. Harmony is highly valued in Asian culture. Reframe teaching marriage education skills as a path to higher levels of harmony.

(Huang, 2005)


Tips Continued

Recruit volunteers and interns who have the same background and language as your target population from local colleges and universities.

Train them to provide the marriage education program in the native language of those being served.

Seek to hold programs in comfortable, casual surroundings within the neighborhood the participants live.

Settings representative of authority will make many immigrant and refugee couples/families uncomfortable.

(ORR Lessons Learned, 2007)


Reach out to Teens to Recruit

In the summertime, most teens are more at risk due to the down time.

Sign them up for healthy dating courses.

At the end, call the parents and invite them to attend a parenting course for themselves and include healthy relationship/marriage materials.

(ORR Lessons Learned, 2007)


Overcome Indifference

Many refugees feel that marriage education is not relevant to their immediate needs.

Include lessons on

Specific effects of immigration and pre-immigration stress on the family system, Parenting in a new culture, American laws and taxes (Earned Income Tax Credit), and Adjustment to the American social systems.

Include healthy marriage activities into other programs, such as arrival orientations.

(ORR Lessons Learned, 2007)


Guest Speaker

It is highly recommended that a guest speaker of Asian descent be included in the presentation to ensure authenticity of the presentation. It would be helpful to find an individual/or couple who can speak from personal or professional experience regarding values, couple relationships and marriage as well as marriage customs.


Required Readings

Huang, W. (2005). An Asian perspective on relationship and marriage education. Family Process, 44 (2), 161-173


Suggested Readings

Costigan, C.L., Dokis, D.P. and Sum T.F. (2004), Marital relationships among immigrant Chinese couples. Vision 2004: What is the Future of Marriage. Minneapolis, MN: National Council on Family Relations. 41 - 44. Ishii-Kuntz, M. (2004), Racial and ethnic diversity in marriages: Asian American perspective. Vision 2004: What is the future of marriage. Minneapolis, MN: National Council on Family Relations. Pp.36-40. Lee, M.Y. and Mjelde-Mossey, L. (2004), Cultural dissonance among generation: A solution-focused approach with East Asian elders and their families. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 30 (4): 497 ­ 513. Rothbaum,F., Rosen, K., Ujiie, T. and Uchida, N. (2002). Family systems theory, attachment theory, and culture. Family Process. 41:3 p. 328 ­ 350.


Works Cited

· Administration for Children and Families' Region VI 2006 Technical Assistance Institutes, January, 2006 Alphra Sham ­ Asian Americans Power Point. Asian Pacific Healthy Marriage Network, 2006, at Retrieved November 4, 2006. Heitzman, J. and Worden,R.L. (Eds.) India: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1995. Retrieved July 3, 2008 from Huang, W. (2005). An Asian perspective on relationship and marriage education. Family Process, 44 (2), 161-173. Ishii-Kuntz, M. (2004). Racial and ethnic diversity in marriages: Asian American perspective. Vision 2004: What is the future of marriage. Minneapolis, MN: National Council on Family Relations. 36-40. National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, 2006, at Retrieved November 4, 2006. · ·

· ·



Works Cited

· · · U.S. Census Bureau (May 2003). The Asian and Pacific Islander Population in the United States: March 2002. U.S. Census Bureau, 2006, at Retrieved November 4, 2006. US DHHS. (2007) Office of Refugee Resettlement Lessons Learned. Retrieved February 2, 2007, from the Administration for Children and Families website: http://



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