3 Ideas for Reducing Arguments in Your Cross-cultural Relationship | Speaking of China

34 Responses

  1. R Zhao
    R Zhao November 3, 2014 at 9:20 am | | Reply

    Thanks for posting this. It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to in my relationship. I often wonder how much is cultural and how much is personal. There is a very thin line. I think Susan’s book “Good Chinese Wife” actually made me question this more and more.

    As for number one, how much of this is really cultural? I’ve heard that Chinese men (sorry, big generalization coming here) are often gentle but then have fiery tempers. This is certainly true for my husband. I have a bad temper, too, but I don’t think that has anything to do with being American. I think when it comes down to it, my husband and I can’t blame our temperaments too much on culture, though how we deal with conflict may be somewhat different due to the culture we grew up in. He is obviously more concerned with ‘saving face’ than I am.

    No. 2. . . I try to argue this point with my husband and m-i-l sometimes. Not to be whiney, but I want to be cut a little slack because I’m in China. I think they do try to take it easy on me, though sometimes I’m told “When in Rome. . . ” And the last point I definitely think is important for any couple or perhaps in any relationship.

  2. Constance - Foreign Sanctuary
    Constance - Foreign Sanctuary November 3, 2014 at 10:39 am | | Reply

    Jocelyn, the last picture in this post made me smile – John looks super pleased with the meat in front of him and your smiles says ‘I did it out of love’!!

    My husband and I have lived in Taiwan since the beginning of our relationship and I think that we enjoy the best of both worlds – for example, we enjoy Taiwanese food and Western food but we watch more English TV though. I have also learned from being together for so long that approaching a situation calmly and talking it though is better than having a big outburst of anger.

  3. robert
    robert November 3, 2014 at 10:45 am | | Reply

    Both me and my Chinese girlfriend get quiet when we’re upset. That’s a good match – the anger disappears and then we can talk. We never had a serious argument with yelling and red faces in the last 5 years, and that’s one reason I love her 🙂

    So I think culture plays a role, but maybe not as much. There are for sure enough emotional and expressive people here who have no problem speaking their mind – some of them I hear through the apartment walls, and if they’re not fighting then I really have no idea what they’re doing, because many of them sound like “I’m gonna throw plates soon!” 😉

    But I think how you handle conflict is something quite personal, shaped by many different things, and culture may be just a small part if it. When you have your conflicts, and which ones you pick, that seems to be more culture influenced. For example a difference I noticed is that people show anger or restraint in totally different situations than I would. I came across Chinese arguing in situations I would find quite embarrassing (for example, the heated open street argument with dozens of bystanders), and in other situations everyone kept their calm except me.

  4. Ri
    Ri November 3, 2014 at 8:30 pm | | Reply

    I can definitely relate to all three of those great pieces of advice.

    As for number three, you are amazing. I’m not a vegan, but I can imagine if I were, it would be incredibly difficult to have to deal with meatーespecially raw meat.

    YJ has been more sensitive about number 2 after watching “Massan” with me, though we both agree that Ellie’s sacrifices aren’t comparable as we have planes, the internet and other ways of staying closer to “home”. And international grocery stores with imported yummies. ^^

    As for the arguing, I suspect one of the reasons we don’t really argue much is down to to reasonsーregular exercise (for me at least it means I don’t get as easily irritated!) and YJ being a great peacekeeper, haha! I’m sure I try his patience a fair bit sometimes. 😉

  5. Lina
    Lina November 3, 2014 at 11:58 pm | | Reply

    luckily meat was never a problem for us because we are meat lovers. to avoid the argument I try to avoid his Mom – if she doesn’t show up in any context we simply don’t argue haha, because whenever she is mentioned she has some ‘brilliant’ idea that I will hate haha.
    really, we argue only on THOSE days and only if his mother is around because she spies on me – how much water I drink, how cold the drink is, how much sweet I eat… give me a break, I will bleed for few days and you want to make me even more uncomfortable?
    in other situations it’s really easy to compromise on a tiny things 🙂
    PS it always warms my heart to see how happy you two are together, you can just feel all that love and happiness coming from the pictures 🙂

  6. Joan
    Joan November 4, 2014 at 5:06 am | | Reply

    Thanks for posting such a special and succinct post with very practical advice! We’ve found ourselves in similar situations and it’s good to know how someone else works through the rubs in their marriage.

  7. Grace Buchele Mineta
    Grace Buchele Mineta November 4, 2014 at 8:29 am | | Reply

    Oh wow, I had no idea you are vegan. Impressive. Has that been stressful living with your in-laws (and not eating the food they serve?)

    I used to get nautious at the smell/taste of cooked fish. No idea why. I had been like that for as long as I remembered… but Ryosuke’s family eats tons of fish.
    It was really stressful when we were living with them.

    Now, for whatever reason, I can stomach the taste of fish much more (I even LIKE some types)… so it’s not as bad.
    I was wondering if China has some of the same rules for family + food.

  8. Nicki Chen
    Nicki Chen November 4, 2014 at 1:18 pm | | Reply

    A good post with some excellent advice based on your years of experience.

    I’m amazed that John accepted vegan meals for as long as he did. Judging from the example of my husband, Chinese men like their meat a lot.

    Eugene was a big, enthusiastic eater. When we were still dating, my parents invited him and his brother to dinner at our house. My mom served what for us was an ordinary meal: fried chicken, potatoes, vegetables, a salad, and dessert. But since my dad was a small eater who always ate just one piece of chicken, Eugene and his brother ate the same amount. Afterwards, they rushed home, boiled a pot of rice, fried a chicken and a half, and ate it all. For dessert (their second dessert), they put a half gallon of ice cream on the cutting board, cut it in half with a butcher knife, and ate the whole thing out of the carton.

    The moral of the story, as Eugene told it (over and over), was that a man has to have enough to eat.

    1. chinaelevatorstories
      chinaelevatorstories November 4, 2014 at 6:04 pm | | Reply

      My husband is the same. The first time we were in Austria he was always hungry because we don’t eat as many different dishes as they do in China. When we went for my birth, we made sure to serve a bigger variety of dishes.

    2. D-Maybe
      D-Maybe November 4, 2014 at 7:03 pm | | Reply

      @ Nicki & CES,

      Is either of your husbands of portly build? I notice that many Asians seem to have the ability to eat considerably more than white people and still maintain a svelte physique.

  9. CB
    CB November 4, 2014 at 7:12 pm | | Reply

    Also almost vegan (eat a little seafood but no dairy) and married to a Tibetan. I hear you. We speak mutual second languages (Chinese) and live in Korea… so try that on! But yes, I think you’ve got a lot of good points here. Intercultural is hard, but… my sweetie is worth it.

  10. Timo
    Timo November 5, 2014 at 3:42 am | | Reply

    I am surprised that you are a vegan and how you manage this in China! (didnt read all the comments yet).
    I mean in even in vegetarian dishes they put some meat so I wonder how it works 🙂

    A working relationship without fights just does not exist. My wife and I had our share of fights and over the years learned how to deal with them and learn from them, but from time to time there is always something.

    About that silence thing when being angry, ohhh, I really think it is an Asian thing or at least a very common Chinese. When my mother-in-law was with us for three months and there was a major fights between her and my wife they just stoped talking for a few days. Just great, two angry women not talking to each other and me in between in that tiny apartment, guess how great that felt!
    Another example is from another Chinese-Finish married couple. Once they had a very bad fight and she just stoped talking for a month with him. I really wonder how this can settle anything, in my humble opinion I believe a fight can only be resolved by communicating, so silence makes it even worse…

  11. Hilary
    Hilary November 5, 2014 at 1:09 pm | | Reply

    Great ideas and ones that I think would suit almost any marriage. 😀 I’m still questioning culture and personality in overcoming relationship hiccups. As someone else mentioned, culture can inform personality but regardless, I think every cultural group has every possible personality. And as you said, stress can push normally calm people over the edge! I think patience, knowing your partner, communication, and being open to compromise are really important.

    I think the biggest obstacle in multicultural couples is language. Not being able to fully share and express yourself can lead to building and eventually boiling over frustration, anger and misunderstanding.

    Someone talked about silence or bottling up feelings as an Asian thing. I feel this is partly learned and partly personality and is not necessarily related to cultural background.

    And on an unrelated note, a belated thank you for adding my blog to your blog list! I’m thrilled to be in such great company. 🙂

  12. Tracy Slater
    Tracy Slater November 5, 2014 at 6:18 pm | | Reply

    Great post, Jocelyn. And I love the pix. The shogun won’t let me post any of him publicly, but I think Japanese culture tends to be more private about photos than Chinese, maybe. In any case, just wanted to add that sometimes, paradoxically, speaking 2 different languages can really help. Then neither one of us can argue very heatedly… All the best to you and John!

  13. Bruce
    Bruce November 6, 2014 at 2:50 am | | Reply

    yes, most Chinese men don’t express much anger and they might avoid the problems ;however, don’t push them too far. They might really show you at the end.

  14. Oda Tobiassen
    Oda Tobiassen November 6, 2014 at 6:37 am | | Reply

    Great post! Thank you so much for writing this! This just confirms that I was not the only one not realizing why my man didn’t enjoy living in the UK! haha. He might have not enjoyd also because I was in Norway, and he was there alone, experiencing this new culture and food all alone! But whenever I came to visit and I suggested we’d go out for dinner, he would only want to eat Chinese food, while I was forcing him to eat western food as he had to “explore” the new culture, and food.. Well, one day he just stopped me said “U know what? I don’t like this new culture, I miss home, I miss my mum’s cooking” haha, cute, and very unexpected from a guy like him.. It made me realize why he was getting all grumpy and quiet often though. As of the arguing, I’m like you – I just say it. Thats what I learnt while growing up, while he learnt to just be quiet and not “lose face” -.- Now that we have talked about all of this, I’ve stopped with the arguing and he’s the one that have started with answering me if I become grumpy. haha. Although we don’t argue as much as we did when he first came to the UK. I guess it is all about talking to each other figuring it out, why your better half is not in a good mood, and talk it out. 🙂

  15. Marie
    Marie November 8, 2014 at 5:46 am | | Reply

    Being from 2 different cultural backgrounds definitely triggers more arguments but over time I noticed that serious arguments with my husband mostly stemmed from miscommunication due to the fact that neither of us are native English speakers. I found that out the hard way when I used the word “Karma”…

    The best decision for us was to pick a location where neither of us are from. This way, we sort of supported each other through this change and shared frustrations/excitements.

    Aside from the meat, chinese cooking isn’t too bad for a vegan so that’s somewhat lucky! Imagine if you had married a Frenchman!

  16. jd
    jd November 22, 2014 at 10:57 am | | Reply

    thanks Jocelyn for the post. I had something similar happened to me too.

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