Understanding Relationships Cross-Culturally

At eHarmony, we have a dedicated team of psychologists who study romantic relationships to determine what creates a compatible couple. In preparation for our Spanish-language site that recently launched (www.eharmony.com/espanol), we conducted a new marriage research project, comparing couples in the US and several Spanish-speaking countries to better understand what aspects are most important to happy relationships across cultures.

We surveyed English-speaking married couples in the United States, and Spanish-speaking married couples in 4 countries: Mexico, Spain, Colombia, and Argentina. Overall, we found a lot of similarities and a few differences in what factors and values go into happy marriages.


We asked couples about their ideals regarding intimacy, involving how close and emotionally open they would like to be with their romantic partner. For example, are you interested in sharing every moment and every detail with your partner, or do you prefer to have a good amount of  quality “me” time and keep some things to yourself?

Having a partner who shares your ideals about intimacy is important to relationship satisfaction. Across cultures, couples who shared similar ideal levels of intimacy were happier in their relationships than couples who were dissimilar in their intimacy ideals. When you and your partner agree about how much you would like to share with one another, you are both happier about the relationship. This similarity was found to be more important among Spanish-speaking couples than in English-speaking couples.

Interestingly, there were differences between how intimacy affected men and women. Women were the most affected by their spouse’s intimacy levels — when their spouse highly valued intimacy, women reported more relationship satisfaction. For men, having a more intimate spouse was also important to relationship satisfaction, but the effect was not as strong.


We also asked couples about their desire for romance in a relationship, which included an interest in keeping romance alive in the relationship, and doing special things for their partner. These are the little things that you or your partner can do to maintain the spark in your relationship.

In both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking couples, having a partner who shares similar values about romance was found to be very important in a relationship. This was true for both men and women, but actually impacts women’s relationship satisfaction more than it does for men. So even though sharing similar ideas on how romantic you should be in a relationship affects both people in the relationship, it seems that women value that similarity more.

Equality in Relationships

We were also interested in roles and responsibilities in a relationship, and whether these couples held more traditional or egalitarian views. Do they believe one should be a bread-winner and decision-maker and the other the keeper of the home, or should they be equally responsible for everything?

Among both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking couples, men and women who held more egalitarian views had happier relationships. Additionally, having a partner who is more egalitarian is important, especially for women. Across cultures, we found that Spanish-speaking men benefited from having an egalitarian spouse, whereas English-speaking men were unaffected by their partner’s views on relationship equality.


Ambition involves having high goals and being motivated to achieve new successes.

Across cultures, we found that having a more ambitious spouse was associated with relationship satisfaction, especially for women. When your spouse is more goal-oriented, you feel better about your relationship. We also found cross-cultural differences in the importance of similarity in ambition. English-speaking couples who were more similar in ambition levels reported greater relationship satisfaction. However, this wasn’t the case with Spanish-speaking couples. Having a similarly ambitious partner didn’t promote a more satisfying relationship in Spanish-speaking couples.

Overall, understanding what is important to you in a relationship may be more meaningful than you might initially think. Regardless of where you live or what language you speak, finding the right person is a multifaceted process. Be mindful of what is most important to you in a partner, and consider how your prospective partners fit your relationship ideals. Not only will you be happier, but your future partner will be too.

If this article gave you the confidence to find your match, try eharmony today!

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