Missing Dimension asks:
I am white, and I know my Chinese S.O. loves me, but he never says so. No affection, touching, except in the bedroom. No compliments. No flirting. He is 62, born in Hong Kong, and lived in Canada a little while. Mostly lived in NY. He can be highly critical. But I have controlled this to some extent. Is this normal for a highly educated Chinese American man? There seems to be a whole dimension of our relationship left out.
In Chinese culture, I’d say your man is nothing out of the ordinary.
You mentioned he loves you, but never says so, and never touches or shows affection. This is pretty typical in any Chinese family, including my husband’s family. Most Chinese never hear “I love you” from their parents, and never receive the outward, more physical affection many Westerners associate with love. In China, people express love more indirectly.
And when it comes to love between a couple, many Chinese would prefer to keep things in the bedroom. Love can be embarrassing, especially out in the more traditional countryside, where my husband will not even hold my hand (he doesn’t want the neighbors to talk about us, even though they all know we’re a married couple). Chances are, your S.O. never really learned how to be comfortable or have fun with something like flirting.
As for fewer compliments, it’s not surprising. China embraces the value of modesty, thanks to Confucius, and it means people praise less (except for, say, their leaders) and criticize more. Even when Chinese receive a compliment, they almost never say “thank you,” instead deflecting the praise by denying such a possibility (even when, in reality, they might believe it).
So, what should you do?
For starters, you have to realize your Chinese S.O. will never be another Western man. He may not flirt or touch you like the Western men you knew. He may not shower you with compliments or say “I love you.” But, remember — he does love you very much.
Still, you are a cross-cultural couple, and that doesn’t mean you can’t find a middle ground between both of your cultures. I think about my husband and I — over the years, he’s learned how to become a good hugger, how to express his love more verbally. At the same time, I’ve learned to read his love for me through what he does (and then I call him on it, saying “you were doing that because you love me,” and it invariably cracks my husband up, every time). I don’t know how long you have been together with him, but over time you both can learn to understand each other, and find that compromise.
Don’t be afraid to tell him if you want something — for example, more hugs or more kisses or even to tell you “I love you.” He may not be used to talking about this, so don’t be surprised if he’s caught off guard. But start the conversation anyhow. And then ask him if there’s something he’d like you to do — so that way you’re being responsive as well.
If you keep the communication going, hopefully you can recapture that “lost dimension” in your relationship — and perhaps discover new ones along the way. Good luck!
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.