Preconceptions or assumptions of husband/wife roles is an issue even in mono cultural marriages because we are all shaped by the individual families we were raised in. In cross cultural marriages, those role perceptions are even more diverse. Esepecially the joining of two people from such a vastly different culture as Western and Chinese. Let me quickly highlight a few (please remember, as always in my blog posts about cross cultural issues, there’s no right and wrong, just different!):
1) Chinese culture views the wife as marrying into the husband’s family and are obligated to xiao shun (filial piety) the husband’s parents. It is not uncommon for the wife to move into a home with the husband’s family. Western culture defines family as the nuclear unit, once man and wife marry they form their individual family. (Just a sub note, Christian subculture in the West seems to me have deemed this nuclear unit model as the designated Biblical model, which is untrue, and is a subject for another post. I recommend Rodney Clapp’s book “Families at the Crossroads” for a more detailed examination of the topic.)
2) Chinese culture takes a pragmatic approach to marriage – seeing it as a unit of society of which people belong to in order to better chances for economic prosperity and increase social standing. Westerners place a higher emphasis on romance and the pleasure of companionship in marriage.
3) The specific household division of chores (who brings in the cash, who does housework, who raise children, etc.) has morphed so much and is so varied in modern China (also between Taiwanese traditional culture and China’s communist influences) that it’s hard to find a clear distinction between Western and Chinese culture. Although, the cultural assumptions attached to spousal role definitions clearly impact a cross cultural marriage.
So what did it mean for J to be the American husband to his Chinese wife and vice versa? The short answer: we had no idea. And like all other young married couples, we stumbled along and slowly figured out what worked for us. And the result is to be expected: we came up with our own unconventional definitions of husband/wife roles. And therin lies another gem of being a cross cultural couple, we get to come up with our own ideas and chalk it up to our unique position. We decided to go to seminary together (which was quite unheard of, we were the rare couple at Fuller attending at the same time), and because of being equally educated, we were able to serve in ministry, work, and share our housework and child rearing responsibilities almost equally. This defied the models of both of our original families, but no one seems to question it, and I believe it is because we have made the unconventional decision to marry in the first place.
to be continued: dealing with culture shock in marriage