Modern and Traditional Models of Relationships in Spain

Interest in love studies has been on the rise among Spanish researchers in recent decades. Scholars explored the general processes of love relationships and culturally specific aspects of Spanish cultural models of love (Karandashev, 2019, 2022). Let us look at the modern and traditional models of relationships in Spain, considering the examples of Spanish couples and Moroccan immigrants’ couples.

The recent article “Love, Relationships, and Couple Happiness: A Cross-Cultural Comparison Among Spanish Couples and Moroccan Couples in Southern Spain” by Encarnación Soriano-Ayala, Verónica C. Cala, Manuel Soriano Ferrer, and Herenia García-Serrán recently reported the study of multicultural models of love in Southern Spain (Soriano-Ayala et al., 2021).

Modernized Spanish Culture and Relationships in Spain

The authors show that love relationships are sociocultural constructions, and the differences in cultural models of relationships in Western and Arab countries play their roles. Moroccan immigration comes from Arab society. It is Spain’s largest foreign cultural group that brings with it the Arab culture of relationships. Due to this large immigration, people in Spanish society observe the coexistence of two models of relationships: modernized Spanish and traditional Moroccan cultures.

Modernized Spanish culture has changed along with the country’s social and economic changes. There is less religious influence and more open public discussion to support freedom of choice in relationships. Attitudes towards relationships and love have become more liberal, flexible, and open to diversity. Spanish men and women tend to have a greater number of partners, with a shorter relationship duration and less predisposition to marriage. The more fluid forms of love govern these patterns of relationships. Despite such modernization of relationships in Spain, “familism” is quite distinctive to Spanish culture. Some estimates indicate that Spain is the most family-centered country in the European Union. Nevertheless, only one-third of the Spanish stated that their family had a strong influence on them. This fact can reflect the loss of the importance of the family as an institution among the Spanish.

Traditional Arab Islamic Culture and Relationships in Spain

Traditional Islamic societies have remained largely conservative in these regards. In their cultures, religion defines many of the normative prescriptions for love relationships. Although Arab Islamic societies have traditionally valued eroticism, pleasurable sexuality, and love, they considered them separate from marital relationships. In the matter of marriage, their views were opposite, with the restriction on freedom of choice and sex being focused on its reproductive function and the maintenance of social roles and status. Moroccan immigrants tend to have more stable and lasting relationships in which marriage plays an important role. Moroccan couples residing in Spain have the highest marriage rates. Marriages continue to serve a social status that immigrant Islamic communities highly value. According to some estimates, more than 90% of the Moroccans stated that their family had had a strong influence on them.

How Happy Are Spanish Couples and Moroccan Immigrant Couples in a Relationship?

Based on their analysis of earlier research, the authors identified some sociocultural differences in how happy couples feel in their relationships. They claimed that:

“The enormous changes in affective-emotional relationships in Europe and the United States have been accompanied by decreased marital happiness and satisfaction within the couple, particularly among groups with low socio-educational levels and minority ethnic groups. These groups experienced the lowest satisfaction.” “Conversely, family, sexual and matrimonial forms in Arab countries have experienced transformations in affective relationships that are tempered by the role of religion, thus maintaining greater stability in family, marital and gender structures, although younger generations are beginning to demonstrate changes in that stability.”

Soriano-Ayala et al., 2021

So, from these two excerpts, we see two main tendencies, which are difficult to judge in terms of good or bad. In the first case, it is about relationship satisfaction, while in the second case, it is about marital stability—two incomparable parameters of relationships.

Acculturation in Relationships

A main question for this study is, “What happens to couples from non-western countries, such as Morocco, when they migrate to Western countries, such as Spain?”

The authors reviewed a few studies that examined post-migratory changes in couple relationships when they migrated from traditional to modernized cultures. Those studies showed that couples continue to maintain their own cultural norms while adopting the new cultural norms of the society from which they migrated. They gradually develop a hybrid cultural model of relationships. Some immigrants acculturate to a new cultural model of love sooner than others.

The change in the affective and relational models of couples shifts the immigrants’ attitudes in favor of the romantic model of love, towards more freedom of choice and less dependency on family ties.

Couple Relationships in Morocco

In Morocco, such basic cultural values as honor, religion, traditional gender roles, and family stability significantly influence couple relationships. However, the gradual transformations in Moroccan society, such as the modernization of interpersonal relationships, continue.

Among those are legislative measures such as the “Moudawana” family code, which allowed divorce, set a minimum legal age for marriage, and started to punish sexual harassment.

A liberal romantic understanding emerged that recognizes marriage as a choice and the fruit of love. This new cultural value admits new forms of intimacy.

All these mixtures of modern norms and practices with traditional ones evolve into ambivalent and contradictory modern models of relationships. Some people experience a liberalization of their lifestyles linked to modernized sexual and social patterns. The other people tend to preserve their traditional Arab Islamic norms and practices, which are linked with puritanism and conservatism in gender and sexual relationships. Scholars also consider controversial interpretations of these changes (see for review, Soriano-Ayala et al., 2021).

Some speak of a Moroccan sexual and democratic revolution due to Western ethnocentrism. They explain the changes that occur as the result of progressive steps forward for the family, romanticism, and intimacy. Many scholars, however, focus on more traditional and folk ways of life, which give rise to rigid stereotypes about sentimental relationships in Arab and Muslim couples.

How Are the Relationships in the Couples of Spaniards and Moroccan Immigrants in Spain?

A recent survey study showed that Spaniards perceive their relationships as less stable. The relationships are influenced by a variety of factors. However, they reported spending a greater amount of time with their partners than Moroccan couples. The relational patterns of Spaniards reinforce the new, discontinuous forms of couple relationships. Those patterns are consistent with a weakening of interpersonal connections in Western societies (Soriano-Ayala et al., 2021).

Spanish women tend to highly value love in their lives. They consider intimacy especially important and rate their happiness in couple relationships highly. The Spanish women felt happier and more satisfied. However, the Moroccan women did not feel this way. Moroccan women tend to be in favor of romantic love. They give high priority to commitment, intimacy, and passion. However, someone may doubt the validity of such self-reports from Spanish and Moroccan women considering the other findings described above.

The results of a recent survey study found that the Moroccans in Spain are more influenced by religion and family. Despite the migration to different societies, they consider religion a very important factor of socialization for the Moroccan communities. They tend to maintain more stability in relationships (Soriano-Ayala et al., 2021).

For Moroccan men and women, the maintenance of social relations and communities, such as family or religious practice, is of high importance. These social values displace the importance they place on couple relationships. Couple relationships for Muslim women are based more on socio-economic materiality than on intangible sentimentality, such as love and couple relationships. Even among immigrants, love does not occupy the vital role in their lives that is culturally attributed to it. They would rather establish strong emotional bonds with other women. The stereotype of the submissive woman may not be quite adequate.

Gender-unequal stereotypical roles are considered

the “feminine mystique” and represent women as “emotional beings who are responsible for giving and expressing love to men”

(Soriano-Ayala et al., 2021, p.82)

In summary,

“The Spanish love style appears as a transitional style between the romantic model of the twentieth century and new neo-liberal forms linked to love, sexual poly-consumption and female empowerment.” “The love model presented by the Moroccan people corresponds to the traditional forms of love. In immigrant couples, the liberalisation of love that is taking place in large Moroccan cities is not observed to any significant extent”

(Soriano-Ayala et al., 2021, p. 84).