Ask the Yangxifu: British Woman with Chinese Husband Lonely in Marriage

The silhouette of a woman sitting on a stool, crying
A British woman, living with her Chinese husband in his isolated village, feels as if she's missing some emotional support and more. (photo by Glenda Otero)

Hainangirl asks:

Im from england and im 25 i have been married for about a year and a half to a chinese guy who is a year older than me.  I love him very very much and i trust him with all my heart but i can sometimes feel so frustrated with the way he shows his love. I know its a culture difference and his upbringing as he is from a very small village , and has lived a bit of a sheltered life.  Like i read in some of your articles about sex and love i had to teach him. the lack of eduction is also an issue when making big decisions or planning for the future.  I hate to feel like im unsatisfied with him but sometimes i need reassurance and comfort.  I have found the biggest problem can be him recognising my feelings.  He doesnt speak english but im fluent in chinese and i make it very clear how i feel and i try not to critise him as i dont want to affect his confidence.  It probably sounds so horrible that im moaning about him. We are very happy together and he compliments me perfectly but sometimes i feel uneasy.  I am alone in china and not only am I committing my life to him, but also his family and this island and if you have ever been here you will know that the people here are not used to foreigners and you feel a bit like an alien.  I feel i need more emotional support and comfort and reassurance about our future and our plans for a family.  How do i get that??? i also wants to know that he is happy with me, he very rarely talks about how he feels and this can sometimes make me insecure?  do you have any suggestions that could open him up a little.

Your husband reminds me of John, who once confessed that he wasn’t even aware of his own feelings, let alone how to express them. Oh, the arguments we’ve had! I considered him clueless, and even callous to my own cauldron of emotions; he thought I was too emotional and too out of control.

Clashing over the years became our own personal wake-up call that something wasn’t right, and we started talking. While I realized I had to learn a little emotional management, he learned he needed to be more responsive to my feelings and provide that emotional support.

I don’t necessarily recommend the “argument method” to get your husband to open up and realize what he’s missing. For example, you might do it with a good emotional Western movie (such as Steel Magnolias, where the characters lose it — emotionally speaking — many, many times in the course of the film), subtitled in Chinese. Doesn’t have to be a chick flick, but it should show people letting their feelings show. You might use something like this to start a conversation about yourself and your own emotional needs. He should know you come from a different culture, that you weren’t brought up the same way, and you have some different expectations in your relationship.

My Chinese husband always likes to say his job is to solve my problems — maybe your husband feels the same way? So ask him to “work” for you, so to speak. Tell him you have these problems and you need his help to find solutions — not just with the emotional support, but even your worries for the future (anything on your mind, really). If he loves you and really cares, he’ll want to make sure you’re happy in your marriage.

Speaking of happiness, I have to wonder if living with your Chinese husband’s family in his small village on an isolated island is the kind of “happily ever after” you really want. I love my husband, and love his family — heck, I’m spending the majority of this summer living with them at the family home, while my husband works on research in Shanghai. But I could never manage doing this full time. My Chinese mother-in-law might stuff me with three delectable meals a day, but I’m starved for hugs, kisses and the company of friends who really understand me, with whom I can just be Jocelyn (instead of the bizarre foreigner in the village). That’s why, as much as my in-laws don’t want me to leave, I still have planned trips to Hangzhou, Shanghai and beyond to visit my friends and husband.

You’ve compromised a lot in this marriage, perhaps even too much for your own good in the case of where you live. It’s no wonder you’re feeling so misunderstood.

Have you ever considered moving to a larger city — or working something out where you can take planned trips outside to the big city? I’m sure your Chinese husband would understand. After all, most Chinese feel very lonely when they leave their own hometowns, and long to connect with their own laoxiang (people from their hometown) when they’re outside. Tell him you need to connect with your own laoxiang too.

What do you think? What advice do you have for Hainangirl?


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26 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: British Woman with Chinese Husband Lonely in Marriage”

  1. if u and him love each other and trust each other ,just tell him what you need,no need to Avoid the Problems.

    Learn something from the Local women 😉

  2. Sad, but I think it is a “clash” of culture thing. It is true that generally, Chinese men do not openly express their feelings and this can cause misunderstanding and unhappiness in a WW/AM relationship. Chinese culture considers a man who is overtly emotional or sentimental as unbecoming. It is often seen as not macho by Chinese men. But that does not mean a Chinese man does not love his wife just because he does not express his love or feelings overtly. In the milieu of a small town or village in China, I think the “problem” gets compounded for a Chinese man in the situation to openly show or express his love. Fortunately, I believe things are beginning to change as China opens up and interactions between the Chinese people and foreigners increase. Culture is not stagnant thing and it does change. Here in Malaysia, Chinese men are more open in their relationship with the opposite sex and although Malaysian Chinese men are still “conservative”, when compared to the Western men, they are definitely more openly expressive in showing their love for their loved ones nowadays.

  3. wow, you gave up everything just to be with him, married him in his country and living with his family as well. Yet you yearned for more, a kinda of equality, where he would also reciprocate, regardless of culture and social tradition. these villagers have lived in primitive conditions and traditions for eons, i don’t think this change of him is likely to happen unless you can keep pushing him … he’ll either respond with anger or resort with an ultimatum for divorce. You could have gone for someone of your calibre but not lower than yours, someone asian but westernised in my opinion.

  4. Far be it for me to question the circumstances of your marriage, but did you consider how things would work when you were dating? I’m sure you must have discussed some of these issues before (where to live afterwards, what type of career to enter). Also, were your emotional needs met during the dating phase or were they plastered over by the sheer rush of the honeymoon stage?

    Consider moving him with you back to England, as you will probably have better earning power there (certainly enough to support him). Immersing him in that environment will better expose him to how you expect to be treated. Aside from that, places such as Hong Kong and Singapore where there is a good balance of modernity and tradition are good ideas as well.

  5. To Hainangirl: it sounds like you found a good match for you but you compromised on the living conditions. Living on an island is not easy, even less so in an already traditional culture. For the sake of your happiness, moving to a big city away from Hainan would probably be better. People on Hainan won’t change their mentality and life is too short to be trapped in a place like that, IMO. A sizeable city with a foreign community would definitely be a bonus.
    How does your husband feel about moving to somewhere metropolitan? Does he have family responsibilities he can’t leave?
    I hope you guys will turn things around and enjoy a happy life in a nice place. 🙂

  6. “He should know you come from a different culture, that you weren’t brought up the same way, and you have some different expectations in your relationship.”

    This and the aspect that I too feel you have compromised way too much for your marriage has me raising my eyebrow with countless questions for you.

    Biggest advice I can give you is as Jocelyn suggests. Get out and go to a big city where you can be you and not the alien. Where you can feel part of the crowd and not the outsider. I usually live in a fairly small distract in China where there are no foreigners living. So I get what you are saying and there are times I feel the exact same way you feel; even more so when I am in a relationship.

    Good luck, and just don’t loose you in all this!!!

  7. My Chinese husband really enjoyed the book Emotional Intelligence. I am not sure if there is a Chinese translation, but it might we worth looking into.

    I find my husband does not do a lot of the emotional stuff, but I am not such an emotional person so that is generally fine with me. I need my friends. And he is happy to give me the time and space to spend time with them. Not everything can be got from just one person, so you are going to need to find others you can connect with on the island.

  8. Wow, I really feel for you, Hainangirl. I know what you’re going through and advise to be upfront about your feelings now. If you aren’t now, then it’ll be harder to communicate later on. You can tell your husband that you and he will go about things differently based on your cultures, but it doesn’t mean you can’t work things out. I also advise you to get some outside interests that you enjoy and that can give you some of your own identity. It’s great to understand your husband’s culture, but you also need to be yourself. Is there an expat group in Hainan you could meet up with once a week? Do you have hobbies you can engage in and find friends in those circles? It’s really great you have the internet so you can stay connected to the outside world. It even makes me sane being in the middle of the US without any adults around during the day! Finally, I know how difficult it can be to speak the truth and reveal your inner feelings, but once you start doing it, it gets a lot easier. Good luck and please do keep us posted on how things go in Hainan.

  9. I would agree with the majority here — get out of Hainan. Even if you don’t move all the way back to your home country, a middle ground in a bigger city, even one not that far from Hainan (say, Nanning maybe, which is still small by Chinese standards but there ARE foreigners there) would be a good compromise for a start.

    Personally, I have been to Hainan and it is a great place but I couldn’t live there. I think you need to be someplace where you don’t feel as isolated. If you’re planning a family you also really need to make sure you’re both on the same page about what you want for your kids (that is, can you honestly see yourself raising children in this place? How about raising half-English children who might not look very Chinese?) before you have them. Things change a lot after you’re married and even more so once you start having kids. A place you might have loved when you were single and carefree, or even as a dating couple, can start to feel oppressive and isolated once reality sets in. My husband is from Yunnan and I absolutely adore the place — I lived there for 5 years and still dream about going back — but unfortunately we didn’t have a lot going for us there, certainly not the opportunities we have for our family in Beijing. So there’s a lot to consider here.

    As for the emotional issues, I honestly don’t know enough background to really say what is going on. I do think that there are plenty of Chinese guys out there who are capable of expressing their feelings, and even the guys who don’t say things overtly tend to show their love in other ways.

  10. Ahh.. I want to say ..first.. everyone is giving you good advice… however, I maybe the one person that really understands what you are going thru. I live in China with my Chinese husband and I am more alienated because I am Black American… (im sure everyone knows about me) and.. although the suggestions to move to a larger city and or move back to england are nice… they are just not really an viable option sometimes…. first… China isnt like america… if you move to another part of china and do not speak the local language you are treated like a foreigner in your own country… even if you are chinese… and it would be very hard to find a job… or even survive in some cases… as for moving him back to England…. do to his educational background and lack of english it would be very, very difficult for him…. and being a Chinese man providing for family is important… and he would fall into a depression… (experienced this in a former marriage) … so .. as a fellow… foreigner living in China… I suggest a couple of things…. one .. the feeling you have is because you are in a country were you have no family or close friends.. and you depend a lot on your husband to keep from loneliness… and missing home… I think if you travel a little around china together and make some friends with some other expats that live in China.. you can have some outlet for your feelings and loneliness. I also know how it is with Chinese men not expressing them selves… when I first married my husband never told me he loved me.. or kissed me often.. but after I continued every day to tell him… and kiss him good bye or good morning… he began to get use to it… and now he also expresses himself to me in this way… and sometimes when I forget . he will ask me why I didnt say ..”I love you, today” …. I also think you should consider not living with your in-laws… start saving for the purchase of a cheap home…. or rent an apartment… you need some time and space to take up some hobbies… I know how you feel because i have those feelings sometimes… I also gave up a lot to stay in China with my husband… but with making close expat friends.. and also close chinese female friends.. it makes life a little less lonely. Your always welcome to email me.. if you need to vent…..hehehe

  11. While Hainan will be China’s Hawaii in a few short years, it is still the pits of China in terms of culture and infrastructure. In fact, emperors used to exile their disgraced officials to Hainan as a form of punishment. And Madame Chiang Kai-shek never mentioned her Hainanese roots.

    Try hanging out in Haikou. There are a few expats teaching English there. But if you are in a small Hainanese village, it ain’t Mayberry or Cirenchester.

    Hang in there. Maybe “love conquers all?”

  12. I’m not convinced by the “get out of Hainan” suggestions, although I can’t tell which part of Hainan you’re in. Also, I would rate the majority of Chinese people in every town and city – even here in Beijing – as not being particularly used to foreigners. The advantage the big cities get you is a bit of refuge. I note Lifebehindthewall’s comment “and also close chinese female friends”. Reminds me of advice I was given by an older, long-term expat out in Taiyuan many years ago: “If you want to live in China long term, you’ve got to learn the language (you’ve got that part taken care of) and make good Chinese friends.” Very true. Expat friends are important because of the shared point of view and common understanding of your situation. Chinese friends are important because they bring you in from the cold, giving you something inside China but outside your family to grab a hold of. So I wouldn’t be in too big a rush to move.

    I would be in a big rush to follow Jocelyn’s advice and find a gentle way to start a discussion with your husband on these issues. Moving, even to Haikou or Sanya, may well be a result of these discussions, but you may well also wind up staying put. Either way, the discussion has to start long before any decision to stay or move could possibly be made.

    Finally, I hope I’m not the only one who finds Cautious’ comment really quite offensive. Marrying “unwesternised” is not in any way, shape or form “marrying down”. Surely a healthy marriage is one in which both partners have equal respect for each others’ languages and cultures?

  13. I also agree with Chris about the unwesternised thing… it was a little offensive… the sharing of cultures is what makes our kind of marriages interesting… I hope you take some of the good advice that was given to you here…. communication is paramount … talk to your husband and share your thoughts with him… my chinese isnt as good as it should but .. so I Chinglish my husband to death.. but i get my points across….hehehe… stick in there…and make some friends to combat that loneliness…

  14. You are stuck in a rut and you need a break, even just a short one. Make a suggestion to your husband that the two of you need to take a holiday, even if it is just a couple of days away from the family, away from the village and just spend some alone time together. First it will strengthen the bond you share and you can talk to him in a situation where he away from outside influences (family, friends and work) that may influence him.

    You also need to retain that connection with YOUR home. When my wife and I married I knew that even though she moved to the other side of the world she still had family and friends back home, so we made regular trips ever couple of years for her to reconnect with her roots. When we made the move to China it was the same for me so when the opportunity came to take a holiday in the US we did. Go back to England for a holiday and take your husband with you. Show him where you came from, show him the environment that made you the woman he loves and he will begin to appreciate the commitment you are willing to make for him and understand your feelings better.

  15. Jocelyn and others have already given a lot of good advice. I just would like to emphasize that this lonely issue should be solved before you think of having kids. I also agree that you have given up and compromised a lot to be with your husband. Even you speak fluent Chinese it doesn’t mean that you’re Chinese.

    I also guess that no matter where you are if the only thing a women does is being a wife, that isn’t enough for most of us. Try to connect with other foreigners on the area. There must be some in Haikou and Sanya. It’s also a good advice to get Chinese friends, because expats tend to move away sooner or later.

    Hope to hear from you soon hainangirl!

  16. From my experience, I’ve learned alot when I moved to different parts of the country. Hainangirl, you need to be calm and tell yourself that you will adapt and get used to this location. Find lots of things to do on your spare time and keep yourself occupied while searching for 2 to 3 good friends. Good friends means ethical, caring and honest people. Oh yeah ! I have another suggestion to give you. when you get a chance to talk to one of your good neigbors, tell them you would like to invite them to your home /apartment for lunch/dinner etc. Keep on creating /connecting to people around you. I know you will have lots of invitations soon if you keep on talking and inviting “good people” over. Of course, your husband has to be home also. Do you have any hobbies like gardening, cooking ,etc? Do not stay inside the home all the time. Do some cleaning up around the home and do some exercise. I KNOW THAT SOME MEN /WOMEN DON’T EXPRESS THEMSELVES ,but they can be taught to express their feelings. You have to trust me on this one. Whenever I talk to my wife, I tell her that you have to say in details or else I really don’t understand at all what she ‘s trying to say. Put it in my face seriously. I told her that MOST women like to change their minds so I don’t know what to say when the situation comes. I really want to comment on the sex about Chinese men but it’s no use if you don’t have communication in any relationship. Some Chinese men can be very sweet and cute at times. I do understand that women love to hear sweet talks and compliments all the time. I”m married to a woman who needs stimulating conversation. I’ve found out that women in general need refreshing and stimulating subjects to talk about all the time. Don’t feel bad that you have to teach your husband about sex. We are learning about each other bodies and others in a marriage gradually anyway. I don’t know about you but I have find ways to keep a very exciting and stimulating conversations with my wife. We actually understand each other more now . A woman doesn’t have think about sex in order to stimulate her intellectually. I’ve spoiled my wife too much in a way. Just keep on talking to your husband, he will open up with his feelings. People complaint that I’m too detailed in everything. Come on man, expressive people are detailed . Hainangirl, when I talk to my wife, I usually think of a statement or a line that will make her thinks already. When I talk to a person my voice is not at a constant level. I want to give her a challenge when we talk. See after yrs of communicating with my wife, finally she says I’m very unique from other men in any ways. She tickles me at times when she says ” you’re my lover, my best friend , my husband who I can pinch when I’m excited during a conversation ” That’s why everything will take time and I know you and your husband will find it in your hearts to pull thru this hard time. There is a Chinese saying ” bitter comes first , sweet comes later” . That means in life, we will always encounter problems/obstacles (bitter) at first and later we get wiser ;therefore, your life will be stable and better ( sweet). I would love to help you in anyway I can.


  17. To prove a point to you, life is always lonely. We as humans need attention all the time. To kill boredom, my wife and I had taken a short trip 2 weeks ago and the trip was wonderful. She had a blast! Hainangirl, you can take short trip with your husband too and do something that you enjoy doing . Friends call me a handyman or jack of all trades but I don’t look like one… just built a beautiful fountain out of stone ( 2 tons) for my wife. My point is that you need to do something that will bond you and your husband together. My best friend just took his gf for a fishing trip over the weekend and she was hooked for good. She loves it and becomes a fisherwomen 🙂 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! my wife still brags about pulling up 8 fish at one time. anyway, good luck 🙂 I know you can do it.

  18. You know once you get to know a few friends, things will be fine. Beside, your husband’s job is just temporary right?Let’s talk with your husband whether this is a permanent location or just for one or two yrs and move outta here. Sometimes, it’s not good to connect with your own town people either because of gossips . I truly believe in communication and understanding between husband and wife. Now you know why even little things you have to talk about . This is what happened when issues are not discussed in a marriage. It’s like a spinning snowball that gets bigger and bigger. I think a person should have 2 to 3 hobbies and your personality has to reach out or willing to blend in with the crowd. We must look at the bigger picture in life. I know 2 chinese business men and they don’t know how to read or educated at all. Their wives help them with all real estate and business transactions. This is a true story. I don’t get a raise or get paid by saying this. These couples are very successful and can retire by age 53. I understand it’s frustrating in every aspects in a marriage that a husband is not equally educated like the wife. It’s how you look at it. If you’re happy with him, who gives a damn what people think . Other people don’t pay for your bills and they won’t help you anyway even if they have money. That’s how I look at things. Poor people and rich people are both lonely,too. In my profession, I talk face to face with clients and don’t ever think rich people are not lonely. My clients tell me about their lives and kids etc and I hear them all. I think I should start a business and people just pay me to listen to their problems. Human beings like to talk about their problems. It’s like therapy for them to let it all out. The question is are you willing to face the trouble and have plan A & plan B just in case things don’t work with your jobs and families. “Why worry about things when we don’t know the future !” Lots of friends called me and they said they were lonely and bored. I asked ” do you and other friends have any hobbies and interests? they said “no, doing the same old thing”. Hobbies and interests don’t just happen right away . You need another person to show you and gradually get into it.

  19. Hello Hainangirl I suggest you can divorce with your Chinese husband. Becasue I think he don’t know how to love you. And you with him will not happy at all. So if don’t mind you can come to Shanghai. living here or find a new job change you life. Then maybe in the weekend we can meet and have coffee together. I speak very good English. I think I will bring the happy to you.I can take you to some fun place in Shanghai. I think you will be more happy and active. Waiting for your news. Thanks

  20. Yes there is an expat group in Hainan – we meet every Wednesday at Coffee World in Haikou around 4 PM. Please feel free to get in touch here or leave me a message on my blog. Hope things get better for you soon!

  21. Frank,
    You are funnier than me seriously. You think getting a divorce is like buying a bunch of vegatables. People have feelings between each other. She has nothing on you, HON! Are you sure you can deliver and not just talk? Now I understand why you can’t pick up White women . Anyway, good luck.

  22. Your husband even don’t speak English. I can image how large culture shock you will face. Hope u can cope it with your husband.

  23. Quote:
    My Chinese mother-in-law might stuff me with three delectable meals a day, but I’m starved for hugs, kisses and the company of friends who really understand me.

    Add one Point + : Lack of some interesting events, activities that can make us involved into the local communities too but failed always.

    I can feel this big difference. The Chinese people are not good at showing the feelings. Since my childhood as a traditional chinese girl, I never have a hug, kiss with my family members, even my mother who is just pushing me always to stay ahead from time to time and gives me some helps always . In the Huai Hai Road,SH, I was so curious how two strange foreigners just said hello, shaked the hands, then talked too much. They looked like the acquaintances. It could be happened in the local people.

    Another things is why chinese people are so not impolite? For example, I don’t like say good morning, good evening, say greetings, say thiank you always and so on.

    Another example, IN google+ hangout, When I join a talk, I am more passive and seldom show my feelings or talk back. That’s why I was thought as a rude one or an impolite person when I don’t say “it’s nice talk, I leave soon, goodbye.” Most times I want to leave, I go directly. I have no greetings to bother other’s chitchat/topic from my view of point, but it’s my mistake that others could misunderstand me too. I am counfused most time, but it’s hard to change the old habits. Old habits die hard. @mickjagger

  24. Well what can I say, Chinese men are emotionally dead. Alot of Chinese men I know they simply UNAWARE of the blatant emotional projections by other people around them.

    Chinese men (or chinese women for that matter) have ZERO understanding of psychology and feelings. In fact Chinese culture almost completely ignore emotions and psychological factors of human being. Chinese culture and upbringing on care about one thing and one thing only, MONEY… period!

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