Weathering Cross-Cultural Love in China

This is another classic post from four years ago, when John and I hit some turbulence in our relationship. Stress, personal issues and cultural differences all exploded together just as the weather began to change. Maybe you’ve been there too?

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In December, a sudden change of weather can really throw you off guard. One day it’s 16 degrees C, and the next day the temperature dives down to 6 degrees C — or less. Of course, the weatherman has a scientific explanation — it’s because of that cold front from the North or something else. Explanation or not, you’re left with the chilling reality that winter is here. And, you wonder when exactly did Autumn make its surreptitious departure?

Like the weather, relationships have their own rapid fluctuations — as I have discovered in this month. In only a few minutes, your congenial conversation might end with the thundering echo of a slamming door, just as ours did a few weeks ago, when John and I were sitting on the bed after eating dinner. I bolted down the street to my yoga class, hoping the asanas would help to cloud over the events of the evening. But in the end my eyes let out a deluge of tears. And, to my surprise, when I came out of the gym, there was John sitting on the steps, ready to clear the skies with an apologetic embrace.

This wasn’t the only inclement moment this month. Frankly, not a week has gone by without some petty quarrel — and it has brought me into a strange fog of anxiety and depression.

I should have seen it coming. We’ve both been burdened with a potentially explosive combination of ingredients: John with his thesis and test preparation; me with applying for John’s green card and my work. Throw into that your standard communication gaps between men and women plus cultural misunderstandings, and you’ve got a volatile combination that even the sturdiest chemistry lab hood couldn’t protect you from.

Ironically, I least expected cultural differences to get in the way of my relationship with John. When you’re in love with someone from another culture, when you treat them as your equal, it’s easy to forget that you learned different ways to respond to problems, and different ways to communicate. What I’ve learned is, I can lose my temper if John doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say — and John, on the other hand, can stonewall me, at a time when I most need him to talk.

The other weekend, John and I had lunch with Anya, one of his psychology classmates, and it turned into a “couples counselling session” after we admitted our recent domestic disputes. Anya pointed out the truth we missed — that John and I complemented each other. I am a sanguine, emotional girl who speaks her mind, and John is more placid and reticent, hiding behind his ubiquitous smile at times. There was nothing wrong with us. If anything, we were short of understanding because of our stress.

“You’re lucky to have each other.” Anya smiled so brightly from across the table that, suddenly, the fog of distress dissolved around us.

It may be winter, but I know one thing — John and I will weather this relationship.

Have you ever hit turbulent times in your relationship? How did you resolve things?

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9 thoughts on “Weathering Cross-Cultural Love in China

  • December 28, 2009 at 6:58 am
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    I think a little arguments or quarrels are just one of those things which we cannot get rid of in our life. I personally think this is not a bad thing. I knew a few couple friends (known both husband and wife), who seem live with each other so well. However, their ‘news’ tend to be a big one which shocks me all the time. This is really sad. I rather have a little argument during my relationship not a big unsolvable problem at the end. So can I say that arguing is a way of communication between the couples? Maybe it is! At least it means they still care about each other.

    ‘俗话说得好,一个巴掌拍不响’。A healthy relationship is a two people thing if you agree. So I would like to share a few tricks about relationship here. We all have problems in our relationship, but how and when to discuss is the key. If I noticed that she is in a bad mood or she seems had a rough day, I’d rather work out myself by running or jogging around beach (quite similar to your approach, yoga is really good) although there is something in my chest that really needs to get out. Figures cross that she is not always in a bad mood. If she is, well…………I really have to change my girlfriend then……..lol.

    You know what, hug or cuddle is an amazing gift from god. It works well in my relationships so far. To fit into the topic and the nature of Jocelyn’s website, I have to say most of Chinese men lack of this exercise which is almost essential if your girlfriend or wife from western countries. Again lads, I am not saying ‘all of us’.

    Oh by the way, Jocelyn, the picture of yours is lovely. I really mean it.

    Reply
    • December 30, 2009 at 3:54 pm
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      Dear J,

      Thanks so much for your comment! You’re right that sometimes arguments are a part of communication between couples — an inevitable one, for certain.

      When I wrote this article, I think John and I hadn’t yet figured out how best to deal with an argument when it erupts. Your suggestion is an excellent one, and I know there are a lot of other healthy ways to manage. It can definitely get tough when one party (in our case, my husband) stonewalls you, and then the communication shuts down. I was always the kind of person who wanted to hash things out right away, and having this cloud of uncertainty above made it all the more difficult to wait for resolution…but on the other hand, that’s because I could often use a little more of something we like to call “patience”. 😉

      Hugs, cuddling…any soothing physical touch can really overcome a lot, it’s so true and I’m glad you mention it! I know now, a lot of times I’ve learned to end an argument by tickling John or him tickling me, with the result that we’re just embracing and laughing on the floor together. John does tell me, again and again, how much he has learned from me about good hugs and good kisses. 😉

      Reply
  • December 30, 2009 at 4:48 am
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    Hey Jocelyn,
    Another interesting post!
    I think arguments and turbulence will occur in any relationship, intercultural or not… of course cultural differences can add an extra dimension to the tension.
    My husband and I had a little argument yesterday regarding the execution of a British citizen in China, you are probably aware of the case. We often have complete opposite opinions on political issues and China’s attitude towards human rights, democracy, and so on… I tend to avoid these subjects because I know they are very sensitive to him and no matter what he will always defend his country. He can be very stubborn, and very annoyed by the fact that the West will only listen to Chinese people when they criticize their country (his words, not mine).
    I was wondering: how do these sensitive issues (Tibet, Urumqi, China’s “great firewall”, freedom of speech, human rights and so on and on…) affect your husband? Do you often have discussions about it? Or do you -like me- tend to avoid them (also on this blog maybe?)? And if you have different views, do they influence your communication?
    Difficult questions, I know, but maybe something to think about for another post…
    Hope your well, and looking forward to your “ask the yangxifu”-section. Well, this could be a question for her 🙂 All the best! Ellen

    Reply
    • January 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm
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      Hi Ellen,

      Thanks so much for the comment! Good questions…and, I’ll tell you what — I’ll be answering them for my “ask the yangxifu” section this Friday.

      All the best to you too! And happy new year! 😉

      Reply
  • December 30, 2009 at 7:37 am
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    ps hope “you are” well…sorry my spelling sucks!

    Reply
  • January 4, 2010 at 12:47 pm
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    Jocelyn,

    I really identified with your article. My husband is from Guatemala. I think in the beginning we definitely under-estimated the cultural differences we had. We both assumed that there weren’t THAT many differences since his latino culture has become so Americanized and vice versa. We were definitely wrong. One thing you wrote really clicked with me. It’s more about how different cultures react differently to certain situations. We forget how we’re hardwired and often times we both find ourselves expecting to act exactly the way we would. But alas, with some time, effort and lots of loves we can overcome. The language barrier still rears its ugly head every so often, but now we just ignore it, talk about something else and then later come back to it when we’ve come up with the correct words to express ourselves.

    It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones with this challenge. But at the end of the day I’m sure you can agree that our lives are so much more rich and exciting because of the difference in cultures. Now, if only my spanish were as good as his english!

    Happy New Year

    Reply
    • January 6, 2010 at 8:12 pm
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      Dear Melissa,

      Thanks so much for sharing! How interesting that your husband is from Guatemala — I had no idea. The arguments can be so much harder when you’re not from the same culture, but you’re right…at the end of the day, you have such a rich experience that you’d never want anything else.

      Wishing you a happy new year as well!

      Reply
  • January 6, 2010 at 3:04 pm
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    Thanks for keeping it real! InterCultural Relationships are not the easiest. Lots of attention is needed. Chinese aversion to displays & expressions of love,and affection take some getting used to. RichFromTampa

    Reply
  • Pingback:Yin-Yang: On Love, Fighting and Finding Harmony in a Chinese-Western Marriage | Speaking of China

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