Jessi Streib, an assistant professor of sociology at Duke University, has written a book titled The power of the Past: Understanding Cross-class marriages. As a therapist who specializes in working with couples on their relationships, I have found this book to be a very interesting study on attraction and conflict in relationships and how differences in where we come from can impact us as adults.
What Mr. Streib found in his research is that that “inter-class’ couples often struggle around issues that were shaped by how they grew up, and most especially the socio-economic classes that they come from. In other words, if you come from a stable, middle-class environment you will have different feelings about money than a partner who grew up poor and feeling insecure about it. Makes a lot of sense, it’s just that no one has actually studied it quite like this before.
Mr. Streib’s book profiles many different couples who agreed to be interviewed, but not identified by name. They talked candidly about how everything from their views of how to spend leisure time, to parenting and the handling of money have often clashed due to the way these things were both viewed and dealt with in the environments in which they grew up. In a matter of speaking, this is really about value differences, which is something that comes up often in couples counseling.
The good news is that these can be worked with if the couple is committed to the marriage, works on improving their communication, and if both are willing to negotiate and work towards a middle ground. It’s also useful to note that opposites do attract because we are drawn (often unconsciously) to people who compliment us and have certain strengths or character traits that make up for something they feel is missing in their life.
Mr. Streib emphasizes an interesting point about how the divide between the haves and have not’s may influence all of this in coming years. The way he sees it, children will not be confronted with this as much because they will not have the same opportunity to meet, marry and fall in love with people of different classes. It’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure I agree that this will happen. As the world continues to change, diversify and shrink, anything is possible when it comes to attraction and love.
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