Dear Ms. Wai – When Should I Insist on My Culture?

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Dear Ms. Wai,

I’ve been dating a Chinese man for more than a year, and things seems to be heading towards marriage. I’ve been reading this website, and some others, and have read many posts about potential problems we might have later as a married couple, especially if we have kids.

We live in China now and don’t have plans to leave but who knows what will happen later. But my question is, what is my role as the Western woman? I’m living in a different culture and want to respect my husband and his family, but at what point is enough is enough? How far do I go along with things until I insist on my culture? And if I disagree with a tradition or culture, how can I do it in a manner that doesn’t seem like I’m insulting his heritage?

These are tough questions at the heart of WWAM relationships that every women must answer for themselves. Chinese culture is quite strong — that is, it is reinforced both within the family and within society at large. I think many women get into bad situations solely because all the Chinese people around them treat something they see as preposterous as normal. Things like parents-in-law not only living with them, but barging into their bedroom in the morning and picking up their dirty underwear and washing it. Or being pressured to have a child immediately after marrying even if the woman wants to wait a while.

So it’s really up to you to draw the line where you see it. Just because you are marrying a man from, and living in, another culture doesn’t mean you must abandon all you know and believe. A marriage is a two-way agreement and your boyfriend,and his family need to understand that.

Constant communication is a must in any relationship, but especially a WWAM relationship.

For instance, how does your boyfriend treat Western holidays? Does he let you do all the stuff and when you ask him to join you he just shrugs and says it’s your tradition, so he stays out of it? Or does he plunge in, and help with things and is willing to try new things? The first example is a boyfriend who might be less willing to listen to you and your ideas.

Have you had any cultural disagreements? Maybe you know his parents and they have some issues or thoughts you disagree with? What did your husband do in those cases? Did he stand up for you and your ideas or did he insist you listen to him and his family because “it’s the Chinese way?” This can help you see how he might react later in life when problems get bigger.

And before you get married you can sit him down and discuss some future events, such as having kids or thoughts about moving to your country someday, and clearly state your feelings. Not that everything can be known and discussed beforehand, but getting some big things clear (Will the in-laws move in with you? Where will the kids be raised?) will help a lot later down the line.

But as problems crop up you’ll need to decide for yourself. Some women are willing to change their physical appearance to please their husband’s family; some are not. Some women are willing to follow old Chinese traditions with childbearing; some women aren’t. Some women will insist their children follow their religion, and some don’t.

Just don’t get so absorbed into Chinese culture you think your own thoughts and feelings aren’t valid. Trust your gut and when you are asked to do something you feel very uncomfortable with, listen to yourself and fight for what you want, even if it feels like everyone is against you. You have given up a lot to live in a different culture but you don’t need to give up everything. Your boyfriend, and his family, need to acknowledge that marrying a foreigner has both advantages and disadvantages and they have to accept that life with you will be different than with a Chinese wife.

Do you have a questions about dating for Ms. Wai? Contact her at

Ms Wai

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