The Iranian family system is a united, closed, and orderly one; it is kept together by a sense of obligation and mutual trust, as well as vested family interests. In contrast to Western families, and specifically American families, Iranian families place emphasis on extended family and financial, emotional, and social security, whereas American families emphasize financial, and to a lesser degree, emotional security. This is not to say that all American families place emphasis on these things, but the typical Anglo-Saxon family exhibits these tendencies. Due to these differences, there is a marked difference in family dynamics across cultures.
Marriage in American society is more or less a decision made by two individuals, often with a great emphasis on emotional support, love, and financial prospects. The key difference between the American and Iranian concepts of marriage is the role the families of each individual plays. In American culture, it is minimal and relegated to opinions and approval, yet largely overruled by the decisions of the husband and bride to be. In Iranian culture, marriage is a bond between two whole families, and it manifests itself as such. More traditional families may opt for the khastegari, or arranged marriage, while more liberal families often are relegated to indirect approval and disapproval. The fundamental notion of marriage being a unification of two tribes does not disappear between the two ends of psychological family disposition; rather, more liberalized and individualistic families resort to controlling the newlyweds indirectly.
Manifestations of the cultural chasm between the concepts of marriage play out on several different levels. Iranian women have a weaker role in deciding for themselves compared to American women, and decisions are often considered in their financial and social consequences. The importance of social status in Iranian culture cannot be overlooked, and with it, perceptions of and social norms regarding class. In larger, poorer families, there is usually a stronger bond given that there is less dysfunctionality; while upper-middle class families often place more respect on individual action and consequence. While women can marry up the ladder, it is not to the same degree as their ability to do so in Western cultures, due to the importance of image and social standing. Men largely do not marry up the socioeconomic ladder, and it is seen to a degree as shameful for a man to make less money than his wife.
American family systems differ- not only do women marry up (and to an extent men) the socioeconomic ladder, more women and men marry individuals of less socioeconomic standing than them. In Iran, dysfunctionality in a family has less effects on family unity and decision making than in American dysfunctional families, which are often chaotic and estranged. And because the Western concept of marriage is based on individual perceptions and decisions, emotional support, and love (and financial compatibility), divorces and antisocial behavior such as cheating often occur along similar lines. For example, a couple lacking in emotional intimacy may seek an outlet through having affairs. Iranian families are not immune to this outcome, either. However, due to the family involvement in Iranian marriages, problems are often sorted within families and divorces bear heavy influence from other families.
Child-rearing also has different conceptions. Iranian families place the responsibility on women, but as more Iranian women get high-status jobs, child-rearing is often relegated to grandmothers, aunts, and cousins. Conversely, due to the work-orientation of American culture and the lower prevalence of stay-at-home mothers, child-care is more often divided between parents or relegated to daycare centers and creches. This means that the source of socialization for the child differs across cultures- American children find it in school and daycare centers, which are more societal sources, while Iranian children are more socialized on a familial level. This results in the appearance of more "maturity" and respect in Iranian children compared to their American counterparts. In dysfunctional families, there is a higher prevalence for an Iranian child to adopt the dysfunctionality of his or her family due to exposure and socialization within the family, while American children can modify or learn values from society on a more pronounced level. This bears consequences for intergenerational dysfunctionality in problem families.
What happens often when Iranians marry out of their culture are misunderstandings based on these differing concepts of family. Hypothetically, if an Iranian is not accustomed to Western culture and marries a Western woman, the family is less inclined to approve of her and the Iranian male is more inclined to side with his family. This is mitigated by acclimation to Western culture and time spent in the host country, as the Iranian is re-socialized and learns new norms and mores. This also holds somewhat true when Iranian families move to America; there is a possibility that new norms from the outside affect the operation of family dynamics on the inside and result in more misunderstandings and friction. Furthermore, if the Iranian couple is separated from their extended family and forms a nuclear family in the new country, there is a greater chance that there will be misunderstandings between the parents and the children, as well as between the nuclear and extended family.
It is important to point out the benefits and drawbacks of the Iranian family system. Iranian families rely on one another and maintain strength in unity and inter-family consultation. This often results in high success rates for Iranian family businesses and higher levels of education; the family pays for their children to attend school and affords them a more comfortable lifestyle with more opportunities. However, the child's life has a greater degree of influence from his or her family, and this influence can target marriage decisions, personal conduct, career choices, and individual identity. Divorces are lower in Iranian families due to the nature of Iranian marriages and families, but this can also result in dysfunctional couples staying together when it may be better for them to separate. There is also a greater chance for the permeation of dysfunctionality in Iranian families, as family obligations and ties prevent the seeking of proper treatment for maladaptive behaviors and thinking, and secret keeping within the family prevents the expression of issues and concerns that can lead to opportunities in mitigating them.
All in all, the differences between the two cultures in understandings of the family and marriage systems as well as child-rearing practices bear consequences for husbands, wives, children, and extended family. Neither system is inherently better than the other; they are manifestations of and adaptations to their respective cultures. However, as globalization permeates Western culture over time, Iran's family concepts may face transformation.