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Mixed marriages are more likely to succeed if the partners are able to bridge their differences. Nevertheless, this process doesn’t necessarily promote cultural integration. This is the conclusion of a study by Leen Sterckx on young Dutch people of Turkish and Moroccan background who enter into mixed marriages. Sterckx will defend her PhD at the University of Amsterdam on Tuesday, 7 October.

Leen Sterckx

Most Dutch citizens with Turkish and Moroccan roots tend to seek marriage partners within their own cultural circles. Sterckx focused on individuals that break with this pattern. She interviewed 28 mixed couples in an attempt to identify the most effective strategy for a successful mixed marriage.

Mixed couples bridge differences

In contemporary Dutch society, mixed couples are mainly confronted with the differences between Dutch natives and 'non-Western' ethnic minorities, and the contrast between Muslim and non-Muslim. 'Mixed marriages are more likely to succeed if the partners can convince both themselves, each other and their respective environments that these differences can be bridged', Sterckx suggests. 'The partners achieve this by identifying similarities and compensating for the differences. This is most clearly exemplified in cases where the male or female partner of a Muslim has converted to Islam. Differences between the two partners can also be bridged by emphasising their distance from typical Dutch culture. Various non-Turkish and non-Moroccan partners included in the study were children of mixed marriages. They indicated that their appearance and education left them with a sense of not being “100% per cent Dutch”, and thus more similar to their partners.'

Island love

Sterckx's research showed that negative responses from friends and family tend to decrease as differences between the two partners become less prominent. This, however, doesn’t mean the process automatically promotes cultural integration. While it may create a greater sense of communality within the relationship, it emphasises differences with the outside world. A Dutch woman married to a Turkish man refers to her relationship as an 'island love'. 'We need to keep ferrying back and forth from the little island we settled on to our own “mainland”. We tend to encounter many more problems and differences every time we have visitors.'

From family networks to a network of friends

Many couples also benefit from a new social network - not connected to the network in which they grew up - which is open to and supportive of their mixed marriage. In many cases, this results in a shift away from the own family network towards a new network of friends. 


L. Sterckx: Trouwen met een vreemdeling. Afstand en nabijheid in de relaties van 'Turken' en 'Marokkanen' in een gemengd huwelijk. Supervisors: Prof. J.C. Rath and Prof. M.L.J.C. Schrover (LU).

Time and place  

The PhD defence ceremony will take place on Tuesday, 7 October at 10:00.

Location: Agnietenkapel, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 229-231, Amsterdam.