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The Social Context of Marital Happiness in Urban Indian Couples: Interplay of Intimacy and Conflict


  • Shaifali Sandhya, PhD, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Core Faculty, The Adler School of Professional Psychology.

  • This research was conducted as part of the author’s doctoral dissertation at The University of Chicago and funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Committee on South Asian Studies, and graduate fellowships from the Committee on Human Development (1997–2002).

  • The author thanks Nancy Stein, PhD, Froma Walsh, PhD, and the late Thomas Trabasso, PhD, for their encouragement and support. The author also thanks Drs. Bertram Cohler, Richard Taub, Edward Laumann, Marvin Zonis, and Vivian Skolnick for their comments and feedback during the preparation of the manuscript. Finally, the author is grateful to the couples for volunteering their time and insight towards this study.

Address correspondence to Shaifali Sandhya, PhD, Core Faculty, Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, The Adler School of Professional Psychology, 65 East Wacker Place, Chicago, Illinois 60610; E-mail:


This research examines the happiness of 182 married, urban Hindu husbands and wives. Prior research emphasizes that the processes mediating well-being diverge across cultures with personal desires not impacting the happiness of non-Western couples. However, with globalization as self needs become important, barometers of happiness such as intimacy and conflict in a relationship assume a critical role in the quality and longevity of marriage, even for non-Western marriages in a contemporary India. Participants were 91 Indian couples, married an average of 11 years, from three socioeconomic classes, three family structures, and arranged and love marriages. Results reveal that happy couples, compared with unhappy couples, reported agreement, empathy, validation, support, and fulfilled expectations. Couples’ experience and expression of intimacy, affected by social context, also predicted enhanced levels of happiness in marriage while conflict had a negative effect on marital happiness. This research suggests how personal desires may be transforming cultural practices.