Ask the Yangxifu: Concerned about Chinese Boyfriend with a Temper

Unhappy face
An American woman wonders why her once-gentle Chinese boyfriend, who came to the US for his Ph.D, is suddenly showing a temper. Jocelyn shares similar experiences with her Chinese husband, and offers some advice.

HoneymoonIsOver asks:

When I came back to the states from China I met my current Chinese boyfriend and that has been an adventure. [He’s here in the US getting his PhD in Pharmaceutics] Now that the “honeymoon” is over with my new bf I’m looking to your blog and others for advice and ideas on how to keep things positive in this new relationship…. I always perceived Chinese men to be extermely gentle, but I have found that me new bf has a bit of a temper [I guess due to the stress of school & lack of decent income]. I heard from another family member that sometimes Chinese men change after they get married and don’t treat their wives well. I am horrified at even hearing this, but now my curiosity has kicked in. Can you tell me what you think?”


When I read your letter, I had flashbacks to when John and I first came to the US together.

That was our “transition period,” before John was accepted into a psychology Ph.D program. I’ll never forget that time — for the stress, arguments and lost tempers on both sides. Like your man, John was always a gentle, calm, happy-go-lucky kind of guy. But transplanting him to the US was like putting him in a pressure cooker. He had difficulty finding work — and when he did find it, faced discrimination and challenges from management. He failed to get in during his first year of applications, and, during the second year, got his acceptance letter at the last minute. He also had to retake the GREs twice, and do the TOEFL. And, of course, he faced people critiquing his English, and felt a constant need to refine and improve his pronunciation.

When I asked John about that time in our lives, he always tells me the same thing: I was demoralized. And it’s easy to see why. He felt lost in the US during that transitional period, wondering if he would ever be able to get into school and finally achieve his own goals and dreams. He also could not meaningfully contribute to our household income (which, for many men, can be difficult to deal with, even in this age of equality among the sexes). And he shouldered the burden of living life in a foreign language.

Even now, in a Ph.D program, he’s under pressure. It’s different pressure in some ways, but, believe me, sometimes we’re back in that pressure cooker all over again, and the stress/anxiety of getting a degree in a foreign country can sometimes turn an otherwise unflappable Chinese guy into the opposite.

So, for you, this isn’t a matter of temperament, but rather stress.

So, I’d say it’s perfectly normal for your Chinese boyfriend — as a Ph.D student abroad — to lose his temper, at least sometimes, even if he’s a gentle sort of guy. Remember, graduate school in the US is genuinely challenging. This is different from graduate school in China, where, once a student gets past the qualifying exam, he or she can look forward to two or three years of just drifting through their classes. Not so here. Add to that the fact he’s doing it in a foreign language. It’s no wonder, then, that he’ll be frustrated and need an outlet. Unfortunately, sometimes that outlet is you.

As for Chinese men not treating their wives well after marriage, that’s just a stereotype. Sure, China has its share of men who treat their wives badly. But you shouldn’t worry that marriage will somehow turn your gentle, loving man into something otherwise — or that his being stressed out is a sign of worse things to come.

If anything, he needs your support now more than ever. Often, just showing you care — from helping him navigate US grad school to cooking him his favorite Chinese comfort foods — will diffuse some of that stress, and help bring back the gentle man you fell in love with.

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.

10 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Concerned about Chinese Boyfriend with a Temper”

  1. HoneymoonIsOver didn’t tell what kind of temper her bf really has so hard to comment on that. It’s ok to lose temper sometimes when you’re stressed as Jocelyn said. I just wanted to remind that there’s is an other kind of temper too. My ex-boyfriend is Chinese, but have been living in Europe since childhood. He had a really bad temper way too often and blamed me for that. But surely that was just him and nothing to do with race.

    What you think is acceptable behaviour when under lot of stress and what is just treating one’s wife/girlfriend badly?

  2. Absolutely, living in a foreign country can test you in a lot of ways. My husband and I know that from first-hand experience. Just as Jocelyn describes, he and I used each other as an outlet many times and tested our relationship in the process. But thank God we always stayed together and supported each other through the good and the bad.

    HIO, I hope your BF settles in to life in the US and gets back to his normal self. Best of luck to you both!

  3. Having a temper is rather human – having an unreasonable temperment that persist is not. when we are stressed, we are not exercising our normal view on lifes and environment, hence frustrations appear. Not sure what to make of the letter???

  4. Until his career life settles down he will be like this… for Chinese more than any other nationality it is a matter of face even when they are in America. The fact that they have to take lower pay than their wife, the fact that they cannot control the situation like before.. the fact that everything is new and they have to learn the way Americans do it and the fact that you know more than he does on basically everything because it is your country… gives a major blow to your self-esteem and confidence. As was mentioned above.. you have to be supportive… and see it from his view… in China he fit, and had face and respect.. in america… respect is not as easily received. We know this.. because we are American but for them.. it is literally a whole new world.
    Be patient with him, and also sit down and talk to him.. let him know you understand what he is going thru and that he is not any less of a man to you .. as he was before… let him know he is still your knight in shining armor…. Let him know he is still important to you… and you will see the temper flaring calm down a little… but understand his pressure.. However, Being the strong Black woman I am… I would make sure he understands that you are not his punching back…and he needs to remember that if he gets out of hand.. you can take him out .. by any means necessary….(smile)

  5. LOL please, unless you’re an eejit don’t stay in a potentially abusive partnership…
    a violent male is a violent male.

    It is absolutely irrelevant if he is Chinese or not.

  6. I totally agree with y’all that violence is intolerable. but, there isn’t a single person on the planet that can go through life without angrily or violently expressing themselves at some point. Even the calmest, coolest guys have their moments.

    Difference lies in how often this happens. If its a chronic issue then definitely leave the guy. but if its once in a blue moon (like facing financial issues + he’s stressed + you’re stressed) then look for a sincere apology from him. See how willing he is to be sorry. Nobody’s perfect but I think everyone has a responsibility to recognize their own mistakes 🙂

    1. @European Girl, thanks for the comment. Good question — how bad is his temper? That can make a difference in your response.

      @melanie, great to see you again! Sounds like you had a very similar experience. Living in the US can be really tough for your Chinese spouse (especially a Chinese husband).

      @Tiffany, thanks for your thoughts. It’s true if tempers flare up too much, that can mean problems.

      @Jo, thanks for weighing in. I have to smile at your advice…very down to earth and no-nonsense. 🙂

      @Lalaaa, I appreciate the comment. Not sure if HoneymoonIsOver is referring to violence in her man, though some people (she refers to) hint at it as a post-marital issue.

      @Chris, thanks for adding your voice to the discussion. Good points all around!

  7. Sorry if the comment is a year too late. You might also want to think about his personality in general. If he is usually kind and gentle to everyone, he might also blow up in front of you because he feels more comfortable? Of course this is all related to stress and there might be certain issues bothering him.

    May be they were bothering him before (like settling and graduate school in US), but he was focussing on woo-ing you. Now that he is comfortable with you he can express his emotions more openly. My boyfriend has a similar personality. However due to stress on family and career front, he sort of morphed into this angry young man. In the beginning I was annoyed and thought he was simply being mean to me because he wasnt interested or because he was showing his true colors. But he told me its just that I am too close. And its true because when he has a bad temper, no one but I actually see him vent.

    That said, be emphatic, but done become his punching bag. Tell him you understand, and you support him, but that sometimes he should consider how much he hurts you with his temper. I think it takes time and communication to go through tricky phases like this. But then again, it is what will make your relationship stronger and more likely to survive the stresses of marriage and kids.

  8. Hello, I unintentionally came across this question that you asked. I am an American woman that married a highly educated Chinese man. Early on in our dating, he was adorable. He would leave notes on my car and my bedroom window for me to find.
    We did marry, my family was crazy about him too. Together we had one beautiful son, that is now very successful. About 17 years ago my husband and I divorced.
    Truth be known, I am the one that finally divorced him due to his one-time affair with a nurse, and his temper that left me in tears and shambles frequently.
    Other than his temper, life was a fairy tale for me. Now, I have moved back to the town where I grew up, he still lives in the home we built and he will not speak to me. He will not even accept my phone number in the event that our son might need something. Our son does not speak to me either. It is a long and complicated story, but out son, has always been loving and extremely obedient especially to his dad.
    I feel my ex has influenced our son to not talk to me because I have fallen on hard times financially, and money means more to my ex than anything. There is much more I could tell you, but all I can say is, I hope all goes well for you. Love conquers all. usually. My best to you.

  9. I met my boyfriend in Beijing two years ago. I returned two months to live in China to know him better and he wasn’t very good to me all the time, so when I left I continue talking to him and of course later he said he was sorry and he will change.
    We both had a very difficult time to get him his visa to come to Mexico, he left work, family and friends and he came to marry me and start a new life here.
    BUT, he forgot to treat me well. He became a devil in his third day here, he yelled to me all the time even for demanding me things he wanted me to buy for him because of his lack of money, he broke things in my house looking me into the eyes to show me how angry he was with and because of me, he blamed me for everything and even he got angry very quickly for silly things, to him, I was the one making him angry, he never felt he wasn’t able to control himself. He started to call me pig, bitch and saying I was a stupid person, he said he was going to look for another girl and he will get her in my house & in my bed because he didn’t want me anymore. He tried all ways an abusive and violent man does to have a woman feeling the under person he wants to control.
    Luckily for me, even he terrified me & he was in possession of my house, I was not sure of him so I didn’t stay there with him since the beginning arguing my mother’s house was nearest to my work, so everyday I was safe, but I’m sure I’d have ended in the domestic violence statistics numbers.
    Also, when I met him, I’ve been single & working enough time to be sure I wanted a man besides me, but I really didn’t need if he wasn’t worthy so he didn’t succeed on damaging my self stem even I was very sad about the end of the fairy tale.
    He stills here after 7 weeks now, we are just waiting for his transit visa of Canada to have him return to China. He wants to go and I want him to go.
    I know we’re both sad because of our broken dreams of a life together, but his pride is too big to step back a little and I’m sure I’ll be better alone than being everyday trying to please him to avoid his bad temper minute of the day.
    Reading your comments, I understood all this wasn’t easy for him and how he decided to make me his punching bag, but that is not a justification for the violent man he became with me. I waited to get his visa to have him go back safely and in the best manner to his country instead of calling the police on his very abusive episodes, because I did have that option, but as one comment said” a violent man is a violent man. Because of the situation, I was able to see his true colors, so I want to think I will not regret this decision, instead of getting my head down and becoming the kind, supportive, submissive & fragile woman he will always could control.

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