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Peter lived for nearly a half-decade in China, including two as a Peace Corps volunteer, and is the author of Socrates in Sichuan: Chinese Students Search for Truth, Justice and the (Chinese) Way. It is the intention of his blog to foster the sort of intercultural understanding necessary for long term relationships.
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If You Want a Successful Relationship with an Asian Woman, Don’t Do This    

By Peter V
954 Views | 27 Comments | 9/28/2018 12:26:33 PM

How to maintain your long term relationship with your Asian woman

It is hardly surprising that the skills and abilities which allow one to excel at one undertaking can be a positive hindrance to success at another.  The risk taking of the firefighter ill serves the estate planner, whose actions must abound in caution; the loquaciousness of your average salesman would probably get your average librarian fired.  I have recently gained first-hand experience of this truth. The desire to produce fluid, flawless prose which was my goal as an academic would paralyze me in my present position as psychiatric crisis worker, where reports must be filed immediately leaving time for only the most tangential concern towards the niceties as grammar and style.



But what seems strange, even counterintuitive, is when the skills essential for success in one arena not only are of no use but become an actual obstruction to success in an almost identical area.  Yet this is a situation I have found myself in in my relationship with Yong.  A key strategy that characterized my interaction with western women turns out to be worse than useless in relating to Asian women.  But it’s not only me.  The research on intercultural relationships demonstrates that in at least one area Asian females are fundamentally different than their western counterparts. And if you want to have a successful long-term relationship with an Asian woman, you’ll have to not only understand this difference but have a strategy to deal with it effectively.



As American men come of age, we learn relatively early on that opening up and sharing our emotions is a non-negotiable demand of your typical American female. In the same manner, we are taught to inquire into and listen to her concerns, expectations, and experiences. This was not always the case.  For a long time, a different ideal of the American male dominated: the strong, silent type—a man of deeds more than words, a man whose moral gravitas and physical prowess allowed him to get away without saying much.  The post-World War II generation stayed true to this form insofar as they fought the good fight, came home to work jobs that fed their family and felt that this was enough.  Emotional engagement was a skill most of them had neither the time nor inclination to indulge in.



Then came the 1960s, which overthrew American values in many ways, including this. A new paradigm emerged: the sensitive male. Since that time, American popular culture from Phil Donahue to Dr. Phil has encouraged males to let it all out, express their emotions, and reveal their true selves if they wished to have a healthy relationship with their partners. Ultimately, it became as expected that the American male would possess the aforementioned traits as it was that he have a penis.



China changes all that.



In their article, “Communication in Intercultural Marriages: Managing Cultural Differences and Conflicts,” Tiffany Till and Gina Barker interviewed dozens of Asian/Western intercultural couples.  They found that the raw, unfiltered emotional exchange that Western women crave was not a priority for the Asian women. Indeed, “none of the Asian wives mentioned a lack of or need for self-disclosure.”



Why the difference? The explanation lies in the difference between low vs. high context cultures. I’ve talked about this concept at length elsewhere. In short, a low context culture (most Western cultures) relies on explicit communication, where required information is spelled out and defined. By contrast, in a high-context culture (most Asian cultures) non-verbal cues play a significant role, and a message cannot be understood without a good deal of background information.



In the West, we communicate with our partner mainly by explicitly asking them what is going on and by openly informing them what is happening with us. Indeed, the biggest complaint women have in a Western relationship is that the males do not communicate, by which they mean that the men do not explicitly state how they are feeling and do not ask the women to explicitly declare how they are feeling. As the quote above from the researchers demonstrates, Asian women neither expect nor desire this sort of communication.



Instead, Asian women are operating by the rules of a low context culture, where communication relies on an implicit understanding between the parties. As the authors put it, “Asians did not feel the need to verbalize their emotions; instead, they wanted their spouses to perceive their needs and desires when expressed nonverbally.” What this means is that rather than inquiring into the problem, we Western men are expected to have already understood what the problem is and to be on our way to resolving it.



If this sounds difficult, well, welcome to the world of intercultural relationships. I recall my own painful learning curve with Yong in this area began one afternoon when we were going shopping. All seemed well as we pulled into the parking lot but had obviously deteriorated by the time we had reached the entrance. My explicit pleas to be informed of what transgression I had committed fell on deaf ears, and despite stopping the car and refusing to drive home until I was informed, no explanation was forthcoming (in my experience, you cannot out-stubborn an Asian woman).  It was not until sometime later that I learned why Yong was upset.



So what are we to do when confronted with these conflicting communication styles?



First, don’t expect to resolve this issue by having your partner simply start communicating in the Western manner. It may seem easier for her to verbalize the emotion than for you to intuit it, but really it’s not. She’s been playing by the low context rules for her whole life just as you have been playing by the high context rules, and a real solution will require compromise.  She will have to be coached into slowly being more open and you will have to develop the capacity to intuit a situation.



Two traits I have found helpful in this latter task are cultural knowledge and mindfulness. First you are going to have to know something about the culture if you want to understand how a member of that culture is responding. In the situation I described, Yong was upset that I had cursed out a disabled driver in front of me in the parking lot for making some stupid movie. Knowing that Asian women detest few things more than an outburst of anger would have gone a long way towards helping me interpret her anger. Mindfulness seems to be another important virtue to promulgate: being aware of a situation and how your partner is reacting. Noticing the moment Yong got upset would have helped me relate that reaction to whatever was occurring at the time and have some clue about the reason for her sour state. Granted this is important in all relationships but is especially so in an intercultural one.



Realize that cultural competency will not happen overnight, but it is something you can develop in. And you do get points for trying. In any case, however maddening sometimes this intercultural dance can be, ultimately I would not have it any other way.


Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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(Showing 1 to 10 of 27) 1 2 3 More...
#2018-09-28 12:25:23 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

This is a really valuable lesson for Western men to learn, both generally, but also specifically in relation to sudden outbursts of anger. I have always been prone to getting loudly and expressively with myself when I make a mistake of some kind. A good example is when I am working on my computer, and do something that causes me to lose the work I have recently completed such as forgetting to save it and suffering a computer stoppage. 

I used to be childishly out of control when such things hapened, literally shouting at myself at the top of my voice, frequently in expletives that no one should have to listen to. I have gotten a handle on it now to where I do not actually shout at myself loudly, but I still in extreme cases will reprimand myself in a voice  raised above normal.

My Chinese wife will always here it and will then always rush to where I am in panic, thinking that some drastic emergency must be taking place. This is because in her world there is no reason, nor any excuse, for having even a minor public outburst, and public includes when I am alone in my home office and out of hearing of anyone but her.

If you really are out in public and you have such an outburst, whether at yourself or at someone else, then your Chinese wife, and likely other Asians as well, is going to think you have behaved boorishly, and thereby brought shame upon her for every marrying such dispicable lout.

Recovery time in those cases can be lengthy, and punishment severe. 

Another great blog Peter. Have a beer on Barry. I'll add it to his tab.(beer) 

#2018-09-28 16:46:03 by melcyan @melcyan

"in a high-context culture (most Asian cultures) non-verbal cues play a significant role, and a message cannot be understood without a good deal of background information."

In my experience, this is very true. Context and body language rule. This works well for us at home but in public, when we are surrounded by other English only speakers it is very easy for words to be misinterpreted.

I can get away with making gentle fun of my partner when we are alone.

I can get away with making gentle fun of my partner when we are with her family.

Making gentle fun of my partner in front of my family is barely acceptable.

Making gentle fun of my partner in front of English only speaking friends is not acceptable.

The more you move from a context-rich to a language-rich environment the greater the danger of a misunderstanding.

Thank you for a great blog, Peter.  You have introduced a classic line "you cannot out-stubborn an Asian woman" - absolutely brilliant!

#2018-09-29 23:55:45 by oldghost @oldghost

As an English teacher I cannot help (sorry) but remark on your use of conjunctions starting a sentence! ;(:D - 4 longish sentences in succession: But Yet But And! But (deliberate 'but') that's ok, horses for courses, it may just be your style. (You may notice I overuse parentheses)

#2018-09-30 09:33:52 by sunrise68 @sunrise68

" In short, a low context culture (most Western cultures) relies on explicit communication", "She’s been playing by the low context rules for her whole life just as you have been playing by the high context rules"---I am confused, which part represents low context culture?

#2018-09-30 23:22:27 by oldghost @oldghost

@sunrise I understand your confusion.  The Author has confused the two!

In short, a low context culture (most Western cultures) relies on explicit communication

I think low context is a confusing paraphrasing of explicit, and high context of implicit/tacit

tacit  (or unspoken) is a much better expression - and with you, I feel the author may have mistakenly confused the two ... Low context should require explicit communication, high context is tacit communication.  

#2018-10-01 08:41:45 by melcyan @melcyan

@sunrise68

You did very well to pick up that mistake. My dyslexic brain automatically adjusted to read it the way it was intended.

@oldghost

John and I have both given examples to illustrate what Peter is talking about. Could you give an example from your experience? Maybe others would also be willing to offer examples too. The greater the number of examples the greater the value of this blog.

#2018-10-01 20:41:48 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

The terms "low context" and "high context" have been used in the literature for decades, starting with Edward Hall's classic "Beyond Culture" and continuing today with ,for example, Milton Bennett's classic "Basic Concepts in Intercutlural Communication." I didn't make them up. Use google if you don't believe me.  When writing about an exisiting field of research, you don't just get to disregard terms because you feel like it, or make up new terms.

However, I did flip the terms in the following:  
"She’s been playing by the low context rules for her whole life just as you have been playing by the high context rules." It should have read: " She’s been playing by the high context rules for her whole life just as you have been playing by the low context rules."

A high-context culture relies on implicit communication and nonverbal cues. In high-context communication, a message cannot be understood without a great deal of background information. Asian, African, Arab, central European and Latin American cultures are generally considered to be high-context cultures. A low-context culture relies on explicit communication. In low-context communication, more of the information in a message is spelled out and defined. Cultures with western European roots, such as the United States and Australia, are generally considered to be low-context cultures.

An example from my life:When we are going out to eat with friends and my Chinese wife says, "X is a good restaruant." This is not merely saying that "X"  is a good restaurant but there are many good restaurants as well that would be equally good. If I were to say, "well, Y is a good restaurant too" and she would agree, the explicit meaning in a low context culture would be there are two good restaurants and either is fine. Instead, she is in fact telling me with that phrase "X is a good restaurant" that she wants to go to "X." The phrase "X is a good restaurant" has a layer of implicit meaning in a high context culture like China where it would be considered rude to say you want to go to a certain restaurant as if you were determining the choice for everyone. But implicitly with that phrase, she is making her meaning known. She would really like to go to X.

#2018-10-01 21:31:35 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

To complete the example, in a low context Western culture, the woman is more likely to directly communicate her wish by saying, "I would like to go to restaurant x," while high context Asian cultures are more likely to indirectly communicate their desire to go to the restaurtant, as illustrated in the previous example, with a phrase like "x is a good restaurant."

#2018-10-01 23:03:05 by oldghost @oldghost

It's not just women, by the way, it applies to the male too.  Introspection, psychology, observation of body language,explicit expression of thought are much more a part of the Western culture.  From a ferocious feminist Irish wife to a fiercely stubborn Asian wife did not fundamentally change the arguments but it certainly did change their duration and word count.

Cross-cultural social situations are clearly much more sensitive both to language and manner.  Non-verbal cues are much less used in the Asian cultures I think - body language is much more evident in the West.  The only visual clues of disapproval I recall would be the fish-eye, or pursed lip! (sweat).  In private situations I agree expectations are often unspoken, and of course 'yes' is not necessarily YES given it might express the reluctance to say NO.  Much is left unsaid indeed.

#2018-10-02 13:12:47 by melcyan @melcyan

@oldghost "Non-verbal cues are much less used in the Asian cultures I think - body language is much more evident in the West."

My experience is different from yours. Without body language and context I would struggle to read my partner's words alone.

 

I have only ever had one Asian partner. I can read her much better than any Western partner that I have had and she reads me better than I have ever been read before. For my Chinese woman, body language cannot be separated from context and context rules for my Chinese woman. We tend to read each other's actions much more than our words.

 

Her body language is very subtle but it can still hit like a ton of bricks. When she thinks she has done everything she can to make something clear to me and has failed, I get this going through the motions and a feeling of distance from her body language. However, I cannot describe how her body language has changed and another Western observer like my son cannot detect any change at all.

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