Ask the Yangxifu: How can Western women and Chinese men get along – as a couple?

Tony asks:

I’m a guy from China, really enjoy your blog, but am curious how you and your husband get along. Your from the US, he from China, so the culture and food are very different. I see few couples like yours, and don’t think I could ever marry a foreign woman because of the differences.  How you can stay together well?


Thanks for the question, Tony.

I can’t speak for every couple like ours. But I will say this — understanding has really kept my Chinese husband and I together (we’ve been married since 2004).

Before we met each other, we already understood our respective cultures. I spoke Chinese, and was curious about all things China, from Tai Chi and Taoism to traditional Chinese medicine. John had studied Western culture and literature as a college English major. We were both willing to learn more — from language to culture — and willing to try and experience new ways of living.

But this alone won’t make a lasting couple. For example, I’ve known — and dated — Chinese men with similar backgrounds, who couldn’t understand me the way John could.

One reason we understand each other well is we value the same things. I started falling for John when he told me how hard he fought against the plague of stone factories in his countryside village. And I loved him even more when he said his dream was to start a “humanistic care center” (his words) in China, someday. His dreamy idealism — matched with a handsome face — still makes me swoon, even today. And these values and characteristics know no borders or nationalities; they can be universal.

Another thing that keeps us together is communication. That can be tough when you’re coming from different cultures, and at least one of you must communicate — at any time — in a second language. I have always been a communicative person, and I believe that talking things through is important when a conflict arises. That was odd for John, because he came from a family background where many things never were said, especially when it comes to feelings/emotions. Over the years, we’ve learned how to communicate with each other — John has learned how to speak out his feelings, and I’ve learned how to say more with less, and read each other, which I think many couples experience.

Humor helps to keep any couple together, especially couples like us. John and I have our own humor, based on a secret language and shared experiences that we have. Sometimes, all it takes is one word to make us erupt in laughter — even though no one else knows what we mean. And other times, we’re just silly. For example, we have a habit of chasing each other to the car, or back home. We always explode in giggles over it, as if we were elementary school children playing during recess. I think it’s our way of sharing the excitement we have of being such a close couple.

We’re also willing to compromise or simply forgive, when understanding seems to fail us. For example, I remember how I had a hard time accepting that John hated many of the Western foods I loved. In the end, I have learned to accept a predominantly Asian diet, because these are the foods we enjoy together. Anyhow, I can always have my own Western comfort foods during lunch, or as an occasional reward.

I think communication, humor compromise/forgiveness are the most important things for any cross-cultural couple, especially a Western woman with a Chinese man. Because, you will have disagreements and misunderstandings (I think about my eggplant rant, early on my relationship with John) — and barriers (language/culture) make it that much harder to work everything out. There have been times when I erupted in rage over something John did or said, or when John stonewalled me for something I did or said. But, over the years, we’ve been able to forgive, move forward and, quite often, have a good laugh over it.

And, yes, also finally agree on how to eat eggplant. 😉


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.

17 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: How can Western women and Chinese men get along – as a couple?”

  1. That’s a great response Jocelyn.

    I had to smile at the question because it is very typically Chinese “the food is so different!”

    The food is small stuff. Different holidays, different education, even different languages that’s all small stuff that can be overcome.

    Tony, I think you’ll find that for most international marriages, whether they’re Chinese/American or Turkish/French or Korean/Brazilian or any combination, the main thing is that you and your partner have the same set of core values and similar outlooks on life. Despite my husband being Chinese and my being American, we find the same things important in life and we approach our lives and how we relate to each other and to the world in similar ways. Despite coming from different cultures he and I, as humans, are very alike.

    I wouldn’t get too caught up on all of the differences. Of course there are many, and many aspects of culture are certainly deeply ingrained, but I think that if you give them a chance you’ll find that there are many women of many nationalities who you have more in common with than you think.

  2. Ok now not only do I envy Jocelyn more than I already did but I am more curious because i want to be in your position, I am a major fan of chinese people, not only have I dedicated myself to them i have started learning the language, taking interest in their culture, eating their food, and i have started to make sure there is not one thing i dont do to grab their attention, how did you do it, and what would u suggest to me, please desperately need your help Jocelyn i want a fantastic hubby like you have been blessed with one and i want a fantastic job, all in CHINA !!!

  3. My parents told me this regarding how couples live.


    Or ask yourself do you see the same thing as your partner. Which pretty much is what does he/she values.

  4. Even if marriage can be something of a business proposal, living together is a very different challenge to intercultural communication than doing business negotiations or the like.
    So, given that all couples can have their problems, it’s not surprising that this is a popular concern..

    I like looking at it from a different perspective, though: One of the main problems couples experience seems to be that, not least in the thrill of a romance’s beginning, everything seems to work out so easily, one never notices the small things. Exactly those kinds of small things, such as what you talk about and how, that are more obvious challenges when the couple is from different cultural backgrounds.
    Is it really easier, more likely that a couple stays together, when both never have to think about their cultures, their upbringing, blissfully assuming that it’s the same, and therefore not going to be any problem?

    Of course, that does not mean that there wouldn’t be differences and that both will have to learn to deal with their significant other’s idiosyncracies. The situation still reminds me of that regarding culture vs. individual in general, though: the difference between people is much greater than that between cultures.
    If you lack in self-awareness and understanding for your partner, it can hurt your relationship regardless; if the two partners want totally different things, it probably won’t be a good relationship, either.
    On the other hand, going into a relationship knowing that there will be misunderstandings and working to really get to know and accept each other, making each other happy and, not least, wanting to work through difficulties – sounds like a good foundation to me, whatever the language, whatever the culture.

  5. Hi Tony,
    Jocelyn’s answer in regards to communication is, I think, very important. Being a man from the US and my wife from China, we communicate about everything. Due to language, at times, it takes us longer to communicate but we need to do this (but really think this is more of a woman/man issues, rather than culture).
    The other key ingredient is I had lived in China for 5 years before meeting my wife, and then her family, thus I knew a good amount of the Chinese culture, the language, and allowed me to understand more of what my wife is thinking and why.
    Communications and understanding are important, but my wife is more independant than other Chinese woman (which was/is of extreme importance to me…needed to know she could take care of herself and wasn’t permanently in need of her parents or future husband’s constant care) meaning she has lived away from her family, is able to take care of herself (cook for herself, clean for herself), and her thinking is more open because she has been exposed to and is more keen to listen to other people’s ideas and accept them.
    Bottom line in my view is that every person is different, whether they are Chinese, American, African, etc. ,. and communication and understanding will help.

    1. @Jessica, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I like the way you put that: “The food is small stuff.” What a thoughtful comment.

      @maria, thanks for posting. You know, you too can find a wonderful man — don’t think it’s only me. Just be patient. There is someone for you, out there.

      @Friend, thanks for weighing in. 同聲共氣 — what a poetic way of expressing what I said in so many more words.

      @Gerald, thanks for putting in your thoughts. As always, you never fail to cover a perspective that I missed completely. What you say about the difference between people being greater than the difference between cultures is so true.

      @RC, thanks for joining the conversation — and sharing your perspective on the importance of communication. I also appreciate your example of how your wife might be different from what some might expect out of a Chinese woman. Indeed, every person is different.

  6. i think finding a true partner can not be related to nationality. in any country , there are different cultures . but many people are adapting it.

  7. I love chinese men I have just started dating one recently though I must admit it is very challenging sometimes. Hense me finding your page trying to research stuff lol

  8. Ahhh.. I get this question all the time… and Jocelyn you answered it very well… I just want to add… that every relationship is give and take… you both have to give a little and you both take a little… it is not a matter of if you are American or Chinese.. or in my case Black American and he is Chinese.. our differences might seem even greater.. but.. it is not the outsides that have to match but the insides…. as long has you have the same goals in life and you want the same things… it doesnt matter what the outside looks like… My husband and I want to have a good relationship… we want to communicate with each other… yes we have disagreements.. but we take the time to listen to each other… that is important in every relationship… as for food, and holidays and lauguages… if you are open minded enough to want to have this relationship.. then you will be openminded on most everything else…. Some Chinese guys asked my husband if he liked western food… he said.. not really.. but if she can eat chinese I can eat western sometimes….. compromise is the key.
    .-= Jo Gan´s last blog ..Please Just Stop Staring … =-.

  9. well i sure hope that the communication thing can be worked at too! i speak very little mandarin and my guy speak better english than me but still very basic. we like eachother, let’s see if words are really that important in the language of love. ; )

    speaking of words, Jocelyn, what is that chinese saying you said about lovers being a thousand li apart? I haven’t been able to find it anywhere in english or chinese!

    Best regards, keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Vyara!

      That Chinese saying, in entirety, is: 有缘千里能相会,无缘对面不相逢 [yǒuyuánqiānlǐnéngxiānghuì,wúyuánduìmiànbùxiāngféng], which means “If they are destined to be together, the two will meet across a thousand li; without destiny, they will not meet though face to face.”

  10. Communications and understanding is important, even for the little things! For example, Sometimes my husband and I will eat some different foods during the same meal because there are some textures in the Asian diet that I just don’t enjoy. Overall everything we do is a compromise , and we always respect differences and celebrate the similarities!

  11. Hello! I want to share my story with you. I hope it can help me in somehow.
    I’m a student from Costa Rica (Central America), and I had the opportunity to participate in an exchange program to NY. This was for one year (2009-2010) and I can tell you it’s been the best in my life until now, I made one of my dreams come true.
    I worked in green house as a trainee, with others people in the same situation and from many different countries. I always say to myself that maybe I watched too many Disney’s movies about girls that “wanted more than a provincial life” and made it. Opened my mind and made my a very dreamy person.
    Well, the thing is that I’d always dream on having a boyfriend of different nationality, to allow me to see places and have adventures, haha, and also enrich the DNA of our babies in a future together.
    To start with my story, I most say that I fell in love with one of my mates… He’s from China. The time we spent together was amazing, he was my second boyfriend but I really didn’t know what was love before him. A few time after we started dating we moved together, and it was wonderful. We always thought of getting married and have kids.
    But there was one concern: we would have to go back home eventually. We really didn’t want to think about it, and avoid the topic for some time. Then when we saw the time to go home was coming the stress and presure grew and the problems started. There was a lot of tension and we fought very often, and he started to drink and smoke. (I forgot one detail: his visa expired before mine but he overstayed, to be with me).
    I know that couples aren’t perfect and that they fight sometimes, but for him, couples shouldn’t fight. So this was very bad for him.
    I haven’t finish school yet, so I always told him I was going to come back home, but wasn’t going to brake up with him. On the contrary, I just wanted to have my career to open more oppotunities for both of us.
    Sometimes I had to have a lot of patience because he didn’t express his feelings and thoughts.
    Summarizing. Other points that affected us were:
    1. He wanted to marry me but I didn’t, because I didn’t want to marry in a rush, I just didn’t think that was the way. And don’t get me wrong, I really wanted to but I hold myself for that reason.
    2. I didn’t bring him with me to CR. Actually we planned to do it and we were so excited! But I live with my parents, and after talking with my scared mother, she told me that my father wasn’t going to allow me to bring to my house.
    3. I didn’t stayed with him. I thought we could hold a long distance ralationship while I could get the means to bring him to my country. I thought he was sad about the idea but that he agreed. He never said anything.
    I came back to Costa Rica one month and one week ago. For my surprise (not a nice one) he didn’t want to talk with me by skype, or phone. He barely spoke with me the first days. Then he changed, he started drinking a lot, and didn’t pick up the phone anymore. He wrote me an email telling me that he started a new life and that he has a girlfriend now, which is one of the new trainees from China. And that he will go back to his country on this fall.
    So that’s my story, and here I am with my broken bleeding heart, loving him still.
    I wish I can understand why he changed like that so fast, and I wish I could be with him again…
    Thank you for giving me the chance to express myself.

    1. Dear Pam,

      So sorry you had such a heartwrenching experience with a Chinese guy. I read this and couldn’t shake one feeling. It’s possible he felt, after not being able to come with you to Costa Rica, that it is folly to go after a woman from another country, when this factor will make things so much more difficult. I have no doubt that he truly loved you. But a lot of Chinese — men and women — will make decisions about who to marry and spend the rest of their lives with for very practical reasons. Sometimes, a guy will just bury his love, which might seem strange to you.

      All I can say is that I’ve been there, I’ve had heartbreak twice with two Chinese men that I loved deeply, from the bottom of my heart. I thought I’d never find someone better than them. And then I met John. So, sometimes there is someone even better for you just around the corner, if you can hang in there.

  12. It is nice to know that someone really understands. Sometimes I feel I have the strenght to move on but sometimes I feel lost, and just want to have a time machine to go back in time.
    And as you said, it’s strange (or more than that) how he could so easily bury his love for me. Why can’t I do the same, haha?
    Thank you so much for your words, they really mean a lot to me. You inspire me to keep walking. And maybe someday I’ll accomplish my dream to go to China 🙂
    Greetings from Costa Rica!


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