Your Family and My Family: When Holding On To Your Family Can Damage Your Marriage
Being the youngest child and only daughter in my family is truly a privilege. Growing up, I was spoiled by my parents and older brother, and that helped me develop a confidence I grew to find is usually more prevalent in the baby of the family. Needless to say, my family is tight knit, but there is one test to the glue of a family’s bonds that most people would not like to acknowledge: marriage.
I’ve heard couples say “Nothing will change after we get married”, but I don’t believe that. Everything changes after a marriage.
Marriage brings 2 families together, but when it’s a union between a couple who both have strong bonds with their families, there could be problems with the amount of quality time each family gets. In traditional Chinese culture, once the daughter is married, she “belongs” to the husband’s family.
There is a Chinese saying that goes 嫁出去的女儿，泼出去的水. The literal translation is “A married daughter is like water that is cast out”.
I hate that saying. It is hurtful and dismissive and I am extremely glad Chinese culture has evolved to largely ignore it. However, other cultural traditions remain. Such as the daughter not being able to spend the first day of Chinese New Year with her family after marriage. She returns home with the husband on the second day.
In modern marriages, that is a cause for strife. Many daughters who are beloved by their parents would fight to return home for the all important reunion dinner, just as others would fight to have Christmas dinner with their family.
Other festivities that could cause a crack in married life are Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, especially for couples who live far away from their parents. Who gets which celebration? It all requires careful negotiation, a lot of compromise and hopefully no slammed doors and yelling.
As my toe was gradually dipped deeper in matrimony, negotiations about which festivities we each would get to spend with our parents began, first in jest, and then in all seriousness. The negotiations were lighthearted to start with but then I would start getting worked up about the greatly reduced time I get to spend with my family for Chinese New Year. Upon introspection, I realised I needed to change the way I thought about “family” or risk damaging my relationship before we even put the rings on.
In Mandarin, home = 家
Once you’re married, you have 3 homes:
I’ve always disliked the term “Wife’s Home” because that is my home! It is where I grew up. It is where my family is. The cabinets are still filled with my books, the shelves are still littered with my pictures through all stages of my life and some of my childhood toys are still in my room.
But I came to realise that while I felt this strongly about MY family, MY home, MY parents, imagine how my partner feels? A marriage is not just a union between 2 people, it is also a union between 2 families. When you say “I do”, you are not just opening your heart to your partner, you are accepting his or her family into your life too. You must adopt them into your life with open arms (or at least an open mind) or risk driving your relationship to the ground.
I believe the best way to avoid conflict and keep the peace is to respect and love your partner enough to pick your battles. It is never easy to have to give up a special celebration with your mother, so that your husband can spend time with your mother-in-law. But bear in mind that your sacrifice will bring joy to the person you love.
Compromises can always be made and a couple should always try to be fair, but holding on to YOUR family and YOUR way of life is a surefire way to drive your partner away because he or she will keep hearing “Your family does not matter, only mine does.”
The only way forward is love, respect and compromise. And as difficult as that is for this baby of the family to accept that I might not be able to spend all major festivities with my parents like I used to, I take solace in the knowledge that my willingness to compromise brings joy to my partner, and that in turn brings joy to my relationship.
And if he gets this Mother’s Day, I get the one next year. *wink wink*