Personal preferences, values, and attitudes are largely conditioned by the social and cultural environment in which people live. This idea embedded in a number of social psychology theories can be applied to the sphere of human relationships as well. It is valid to assume that the manner and outcomes of spousal, parent-child, and other types of family interactions, as well as choices individuals make in relation to in their immediate circle, are somewhat prompted by the dominant culture, social norms, and conventional values. Due to a great interest to the topic in contemporary literature, in the present paper, the works of different authors who investigate family relationship issues in the social context will be evaluated.
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Idealization of a nuclear family and its promotion as a means for protection against the dangers of the outside world were part of the mainstream ideology in the United States. Even today, the family structure often becomes a central element of narration in many broadcasted films and TV programs which usually represent family members in an archetypal manner (Alexander & Hansen, n.d.). For instance, by examining family relationships in American animated movies, Boxer revealed that almost in every picture, fathers are endowed with some mythological, superhero qualities (Alexander & Hansen, n.d.). It will be appropriate to consider that regular exposure to such films that exploit gender or social archetypes and conventional imageries may likely leave a mark on a child’s perception of social reality, behavioral expectations, and even incline him or her towards idealization of a particular figure or relationship concept.
The idealization of spouses and romantic connections as such poses a significant problem in the present-day world because it interferes with the ability to manage family conflicts and maintain sound relationships. Marano (2010) considers that the situation is even more aggravated by the consumer culture that emphasizes the importance of self-fulfilment and satisfaction, and also stresses the unlimited possibilities of choice. Just like replacing an outdated device, people may constantly choose new mates who would meet their emotional needs more efficiently than the previous ones. Although practical and convenient, such position interferes with a person’s commitment to meaningful long-term relationships. With the widespread democratization of social values, having more than one mate throughout the lifespan becomes socially acceptable. However, the number of divorces in the United States goes off-scale. Thus, a reasonable question arises: why do people who cannot maintain healthy relationship get married? And if they do, why cannot they preserve their families?
Public attitude towards reproduction choices is another potentially negative influence of the dominant family-oriented culture that thrived in the country in the last century. Kingston (2009) observes that many individuals and couples who make a deliberate decision not to have kids are often criticized for such a negligence of the conventional family value system. It is also interesting to note that an image of a childless male usually provokes less negative associations than an idea about a childless female. Kingston (2009) suggests that negative perceptions are supported by behavioral norms embedded in the socially constructed system of gender stratification in which women are prescribed to be mothers, wives, nurturers, and domestic workers.
Overall, it is possible to say that the reason for negative attitude towards child-free people, for development of unrealistic expectations in spouses and other relatives to each other, as well as idealization of romantic and family relationships, has its roots in the cultural legacy, and especially the concept of the nuclear family that constituted the core of the American national identity for a very long time. It is impossible to dispel all relationship and reproduction-related stereotypes overnight. Nevertheless, individuals and the society as a whole still can make efforts to get rid of the negative influences of obsolete values by raising public awareness of present stereotypes and improving the quality of information transmitted through media.
Alexander, A., & Hansen, J. (n.d.). Do media reflect contemporary family relationships?. Psychology of Well-Being, 77-91.
Kingston, A. (2009, July 24). The case against having kinds. Maclean’s.
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Marano, H. E. (2010, March 1). The expectations trap: Why we’re conditioned to blame our partners for our unhappiness. Psychology Today.