Newlywed Customs

The transition to the married state is marked in many cultures by special treatment of newlyweds. A new bride and groom may be treated specially for just a few hours (e.g., through the wedding night) or for days, weeks, or longer. Further, newlywed customs tend to come as a package, so that if newlyweds are treated as special in one way, they are treated as special more generally. For instance, if the wedding night is considered special, then the couple are also likely to be sent on a honeymoon, excused from routine tasks for some period of time, and so on.

Newlywed customs are predictably related to other aspects of courtship and marriage. Thus it is uncommon to see newlyweds treated specially in societies where males and females choose their own spouses, where husbands and wives eat together, where special houses dedicated to male activities are absent, where males do not exhibit sexual aggression, and where wives do not tend to engage in extramarital sexual affairs. Newlywed customs are present where marriages are arranged by thirdly parties, where a husband and wife eat apart, where men's houses are present so that married males eat, sleep, and/or spend their leisure time away from home, where males are sexually aggressive, and where wives typically carry on extramarital affairs. Thus newlywed customs seem to represent a strategy for allowing a newly married couple some time alone under circumstances where they have had no opportunity to become comfortable with each other prior to their marriage and where, further, their married life will not be characterized by agreeable contact. In a worldwide sample of 62 cultures, 47% regard the wedding night as special and accommodate a newly married couple in other ways, while 53% do not regard the wedding night as special and do not make any other special arrangements on behalf of a new bride and groom (Broude & Greene, 1983).

The Middle East Rwala provide a newly married couple with a special tent on their first night together, or else they are left to themselves in a corner of the family tent (Musil, 1928). A Khalka Mongol couple live in their own tent in the camp of the new wife for up to a month (Vreeland, 1953). Among the Wogeo of New Guinea, it is inappropriate for a newly married couple to sleep together if they do not have a house of their own. Under such circumstances, the bride and groom will sleep in different beds, or the bride may sleep in a corner of the family sleeping room while the groom stays in the men's house. But the older family members will see to it that the couple are by themselves for a few hours during the day (Hogbin, 1970).

In 11% of a sample of 53 societies, a newly married couple are sent off on a honeymoon. A Somali couple receive a new house as a wedding gift and will live there during their marriage. It is expected that the bride and groom will remain in the house by themselves for a week after their wedding, devoting themselves to consummating their marriage (Lewis, 1962). Similarly Mexican Huichol newlyweds seclude themselves for 5 days. During this brief honeymoon, it is hoped that they will get to know each other. When bride takes food from groom, this means that she accepts the marriage (Zingg, 1938).

In 51% of the same 53 cultures, the newly married are excepted from participating in at least some of the responsibilities of normal married life. Among the Quiche of Guatemala, a young wife sits and watches for 2 days while members of her new family go about their daily tasks. The goal is to permit the girl to become accustomed to her new home (Bunzel, 1952). For an Orokaivan bride in New Guinea the transition to her new household is made easier by a similar time out. For as long as a month, instead of performing her routine chores the young wife sits on a platform in the village for a part of each day and receives gifts (Williams, 1930).

On occasion, a newly married couple are required to avoid each other for some period of time. In India, it is understood that a young bride and groom should not see too much of each other because "new love is delicate, and gets easily destroyed, unless nurtured with care" (Nanda, 1950). In China, a new groom is teased if he pays too much attention to his bride or wants to be with her for any length of time (Mace & Mace, 1959). Among the Kimam of New Guinea, a groom continues to sleep in the men's house for perhaps 2 weeks after he is married. Finally, his father comes and reminds him that he needs to begin to live with his bride. Then, the new husband goes off to his parent's house, where his bride is staying. After eating with his family, the man then spends the night with his wife (Serpenti, 1965).

In 15% of the 53 cultures, it is customary for a groom to stage a mock courtship after his marriage.

After the wedding ceremony, a Nigerian Hausa couple are provided with their own hut, where the bride stays with some of her female friends for a number of nights. Meanwhile, the new groom goes off with the men. When a week has passed, some friends of the husband try for a number of nights to force the groom to enter his bride's hut, but he runs away. At the end of another week, the groom finally goes into his wife's hut and sleeps there, but now the bride runs away. The new groom begins to send her gifts and eventually the two remain in the hut together. At this point, the marriage is said to have "taken" (Smith, 1954).

Sometimes, a newly married couple engage in a genuine courtship after marriage. In India, for example, it is said that love comes after marriage. As a result, a newly married couple court each other in private. One Indian woman recalled being allowed into her newly married aunt and uncle's rooms when she was a child and witnessing the couple flirting with and kissing each other and behaving rather foolishly (Mace & Mace, 1959).

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