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Paris, J. Guzder, J. (1989). The Poisoned Nest: Dynamic Aspects of Exogamous Marriage. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 17(3):493-500.

(1989). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 17(3):493-500

The Poisoned Nest: Dynamic Aspects of Exogamous Marriage

J. Paris, M.D. and J. Guzder, M.D.

Marriage is exogamous or endogamous depending on whether the choice of spouse is made outside or inside one's own ethnic group. Each has its advantages. Exogamy (often called intermarriage) creates new alliances which are of value in an adverse environment; endogamy reinforces intragroup ties and maintains a distinct way of life (Cerroni-Long, 1984). Pluralistic societies with a high rate of social change create tensions around intermarriage. On the one hand, minorities can increase their status through exogamy, but they risk sacrificing their cultural heritage in doing so.

These issues have been significant in the history of immigrant groups in North America, particularly those whose religious and cultural identity differs from the norms of the larger society. The value of autonomous marital choice is associated with North American belief in individualism, and this conflicts with the need of immigrant groups to maintain social cohesion.

There are many social motives for intermarriage (Cerroni-Long, 1984), and it is not necessarily opposed by parents. Although exogamous marriages are often successful, they carry a risk of breakdown even higher than that for marriage generally (Cretser and Leon, 1982; Heer, 1980). Exogamous marriages may suffer from the effect of divergent cultures, as well as a lack of buffering through extended family and community. The marriage is exogamous for both partners, and in spite of ethnic differences, exogamous couples tend to show psychological similarity (Ahren et al., 1981).

However, unconscious reasons for the relative fragility of exogamous marriage have not been adequately considered in the literature. In any marriage, as shown by Dicks (1967), there is both an attempt to repair troubled family relationships and a repetition of family conflict.

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