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More fear of adultery in enforced and arranged marriages

01 February 2011

The greater the influence of parents in choosing their children’s partner, the more the children will ‘guard’ their mate. Guarding one’s partner is less common in western society than in Muslim cultures, for example, or in India and China. These are among the findings of research carried out by University of Groningen Professor of Evolutionary Social Psychology Bram Buunk, which are to appear in the leading journal Personal Relationships later this week.

Guarding your mate is a biological phenomenon. Many birds keep a very close eye on their partner. In fact the males of some species of swallows are known to follow their mates when they leave the nest up to a hundred times a day. Similar behaviour has also been documented in primates and insects. In much the same way, humans try to protect their offspring by guarding their partner. Men want to prevent other men from impregnating their women, and women want to ensure that their men will stay around to help raise the children.

Aggression, veil, stalking

Guarding one’s partner can lead to stalking, aggression towards the partner or aggression among men or women if they see each other as rivals. Being forced to wear a veil or stay at home can be seen as examples of men guarding ‘their’ women. Buunk investigated the tendency towards guarding a partner among a group of 80 students from 30 countries across the world.

Although it is widely known that there are vast global differences in the extent to which people guard their partners, no satisfactory explanation has yet been found. Buunk: ‘It used to be thought that guarding one’s partner was more common in collectivist cultures than in individualistic cultures. We found no hard evidence to support this. However, the influence of parents in the choice of partner (which is obviously great in the case of arranged marriages), and the obligation to marry someone approved by the parents of the partners, seems to be the decisive factor. We were surprised by the strength of this link.’

Buunk goes on to explain that people who have a partner chosen for them can never be sure whether that partner will remain faithful, whereas people who marry for love are less afraid that their partner will stray. People who choose their own partner will therefore feel less need to guard them. The fear of sanctions for adultery (such as being cast out) can also affect the degree to which someone guards their partner, according to Buunk. This has less impact in western cultures than in Muslim cultures, for example, or in India and China.

Not dependent on culture

Buunk demonstrates that to a certain degree, this phenomenon is not dependent on culture. A survey of 242 young Argentinians shows that even within a culture, the extent to which someone guards their partner is more directly related to the influence that the parents have in choosing a mate. Those with high regard for the role of their parents in choosing their partner are more inclined to guard him or her. Buunk: ‘Our research has not come up with a definitive explanation for mate guarding. But the fact that we identified this link within a single culture has persuaded us that the influence of parents in choosing a partner is crucially important.’

More information

Abraham P. Buunk and Alejandro Castro Solano, ‘Mate guarding and parental influence on mate choice’. In: Personal Relationships , 0 (2011)

Last modified:15 September 2022 2.22 p.m.
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