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Migrating as a couple: changing marital dynamics and redefining priorities in the face of migratory challenges

Anna Goudet

Research framework: The challenges faced by immigrant families in Quebec are well documented, but we know little about their effects on couples, especially those that remain together. The scientific literature on conjugal dynamics in migration is often limited to the emancipatory potential of migration for women within their couples. Nevertheless, a part of the literature reveals how the family becomes a refuge from the structural inequalities experienced in migration, which does not occur without asymmetries between spouses.

Objectives: The aim of this article is to propose a new reading of the conjugal dynamics in migration based on the cases of highly qualified, bi-active couples through the perspective of money management and residential trade-offs between spouses.

Methodology: The empirical material comes from individual interviews of the “narratives of life places” type conducted with immigrants (n=25) of various origins in heterosexual couples, cohabiting and parenting, settled in the Montreal area and selected in the category of “qualified workers” by Quebec.

Results: Three ways of “making a couple” in migration emerge. They depend on the premigratory conjugal ideal, on the confrontation with migratory ordeals, and on the redefinition of the spouses’ priorities during settlement. The weight of migratory hardships varies according to couples, their resources, and their characteristics.

Conclusions: Our analyses show that migratory hardships redefine the notion of “success” of the migratory project for these couples, in which the priority given to family well-being is increased. Migration thus becomes a possible driver of inequality within couples, to the detriment of female partners.

Contribution: Better settlement conditions are needed if these spouses are to reconcile their ideal conceptions of the couple with their new reality.