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HOW MAINTAINING CLOSE FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS BENEFITS ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS AND HEALTH

An Interview with Belinda Campos

After reading about the benefits of the cultural value of familism in romantic relationships, one may be left with a number of questions regarding the topic. In this interview, we go right to the source. Belinda Campos is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Campos is also a faculty member in the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC) in the School of Medicine. In addition, she also holds an affiliation appointment in the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior in the School of Social Ecology. Read on to learn more about Dr. Campos and navigating relationships with familism.

How did you first become interested in psychology?

Like many future psychologists, I’ve always been fascinated by people. Also, like many who start off as psychology majors, I thought I wanted to learn to understand people so I could help them clinically. But my undergraduate years changed that. In my first clinically-oriented class, I saw that I wasn’t well suited for clinical work. More importantly, in my social psychology and research methods classes, I was exposed to a way of understanding how people think, feel and behave in the course of their normal, everyday, lives and to systematic, logical, scientific ways of studying those processes. I knew right away I was well suited for that. Solving puzzles about people – what a great way to spend your work life!

Psychology can be very interdisciplinary in nature; perhaps particularly for you as an Associate Professor in Chicano/Latino studies and affiliated with the School of Medicine and School of Social Ecology. How has your position in multiple departments informed your research agenda and/or teaching approach, if at all?

Yes, the study of how people think, feel and behave – psychological science – is relevant everywhere and, for that reason alone, it behooves us to be interdisciplinary. But also psychology’s roots and ambitions touch other disciplines. Psychology has roots in philosophy, common questions with sociology and anthropology, and important applied relevance to medicine, law and business. We are, and should be, everywhere. In the case of my appointment in Chicano/Latino Studies, what a wonderful opportunity to ground my psychology work among experts with an in-depth understanding of the specific experiences of U.S. Latinos; this is so good for my understanding of this group of people who are so understudied in psychology. I’m not sure if my associations in multiple departments make me more interdisciplinary or reflect my own interdisciplinary intellectual tendencies. In any case, pursuing interdisciplinary opportunities brings a breadth and depth to my work that shapes both my research and teaching.

One of your recent articles indicates the idea that familism, a cultural value for close family relationships, is associated with higher partner support and closeness in romantic relationships among Latinos. Strong family obligations could possibly interfere with partner commitments in romantic relationships. How do you think people, in general, balance family responsibilities and their partners’ needs?

Yes, that’s one of my favorite recent articles! It highlights that being socialized into interdependence – having practice and being comfortable with including others as part of the self – through familism can have benefits for future romantic relationship because there is already practice and comfort with emotionally positive interdependence. While I have no doubt that some of us carry family obligations that are beyond our ability to carry without becoming overwhelmed, on average family obligations are good for us. They teach us how to show up strong in our relationships and not mind so much with the preferences of the self do not prevail (e.g., engaging in a partner’s favorite activity; having a partner’s favorite food for dinner; giving up a weekend when a partner’s folks are visiting; helping a partner babysit siblings or nieces and nephews). So I think that familism might actually help people balance out family responsibilities with partner needs. As long as our families’ needs don’t exceed our capacity to cope with meeting our obligations to them, and, as long as our partners work with us to balance our family responsibilities with our relationship needs, I think familism makes these difficult processes easier rather than harder. But certainly partners need to work together to figure out the right balance for them and their lives.

Do certain people possess personality traits and other qualities that make them better at balancing family and partnered relationships?

Well, I have yet to see a study where emotional stability, impulse control, and a willingness to listen with care are bad for relationships, but there is no empirical reason to think there is any magic trait or quality.

With relationships, the magic is in how people fit together and engage together in finding the right balance for them. How do these traits and qualities influence health?

The research is clear – relationships, especially high quality relationships are strongly linked to health. But there is still a lot of work to be done to understand the role of culture in these processes. At this time, we know a lot about one cultural context – independent, upper middle class European Americans. We very much need people to dedicate their careers to filling in the gap on understanding everyone else. Until then, this question can only have incomplete answers.

As communication technology and social media continues to expand, do you think these interrelated associations between relationships, culture, and health will be affected by this shift to virtual communication?

Oh, that’s interesting. I really don’t know. But I’m old enough to worry that the shift away from face to face interaction is not good for people. So much of human communication relies on nonverbal behavior that provides honest signals to others about our intentions and goals (because nonverbal behavior is so hard to control) and a lot of that behavior occurs without conscious thought. I think we lose a lot when we don’t have access to the full spectrum of this rich, ancient system of communication.

What advice would you give someone with high familism trying to start or maintain new romantic relationships in this age of handheld technology and social media?

Probably the same as I’d give to anyone else outside of the social media context. Know what your values are and aim for someone who respects your values and wants to work with you to figure out a good balance. Familism has often been seen as a negative and many Latinos have unfortunately internalized that sense of cultural inferiority. But remember that familism has positives! As my work shows, it might even be advantageous for relationships. ☺ One more thing. If you are high in familism, watch out for folks who mistake interdependence for co-dependence. It’s my personal experience that this is a red flag for potential mismatch and indicates a rough road to understanding each other’s priorities.

Any new projects on the horizon that you can share with us?

Oh, so many! It’s an exciting time to study culture, relationships and health. A few: my students and I are studying how familism is linked with social support, how familism unfolds in people who are bicultural, how personality interacts with culture, and how cultural factors influence physiology (e.g. heart, stress-response).

Look out for these works-in-progress. Thank you, Dr. Campos!

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