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Why it's hard for foreigners who marry a Swede

Published tisdag 22 augusti kl 09.15
Couples therapist: We even make noises from our countries which mean different things
(6:26 min)
Candace Crenshaw learned fluent Swedish but still found the cultural barriers too much.
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Candace Crenshaw learned fluent Swedish but still found the cultural barriers too much. Credit: Richard Orange / Sveriges Radio
Stockholm-based therapist Beth Rogerson specialises in culturally mixed couples.
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Stockholm-based therapist Beth Rogerson specialises in culturally mixed couples. Credit: Richard Orange / Sveriges Radio

This time of year is particular busy for Beth Rogerson, a Stockholm therapist who specialises in helping couples from different cultures.

Couples are returning from the summer determined to rescue their marriages. But with marriages between a Swede and a foreigner much more likely to end in divorce than those between two Swedes, it takes work.

“It’s so  difficult," she says. "When you fall in love and you choose to move to a different country, love really conquers all. It’s true. But then all that hard stuff happens and the love sort of goes backwards.”

According to a study by Martin Dribe, Professor of Economic History at Lund University, marriages or unions between a Swede and a foreigner are between a quarter and two-and-a-half times more likely to break up that those between two Swedes.

The chance of break-up increases the larger the cultural difference between Sweden and the foreign spouses country of origin, based on the categories in the World Values Survey.

Sweden is an outlier in terms of values – both one of the most secular countries in the world, and one of the ones which most prizes "self expression values.

This means the culture gap is more likely to be significant when foreigners marry a Swede than it is if they marry someone from a country like Italy,  which sits more or less in the middle of the values chart. 

Dribe divided the countries into four groups, based on their values.  

The group of countries whose inhabitants have the best chance of successfully marrying a Swede includes the other Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, the UK and France. 

People from the group including the other English-speaking countries, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, tend to have more difficulties.

Then comes the group including Asian countries such as China and Japan.

According to Dribe's study, the highest divorce rate was found among couples where a Swedish woman marries a man from the fourth group, which includes India, most Arab countries, many African countries and some South American countries, but also Turkey and Poland.

The divorce risk for these couples was two and a half times higher than couples where both partners are Swedish.

Candace Crenshaw, a New Yorker who still lives in Stockholm after separating from her Swedish husband, argues that Swedes' high level  of English makes it easy to overlook the cultural difficulties. 

"When you get with a Swede you think 'oh this is going to be easy' because they know English, and I can take my time to learn Swedish and once I learn Swedish everything is going to fine.

"But really, there are different, deeply embedded cultural norms that cannot be overlooked, and you really need to know those."

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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