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Need help with marriage


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I have been married for a little over one year now and I fear that my marriage is headed for divorce - something I would like to avoid unless absolutely necessary.

Some pertinent background information:

I am currently a student and my wife is unemployed. She had been working for many years and was laid off about 6 months into our marriage. We decided that she could take a break from working for a while, but, at this point anyway (over six months after leaving her job), I am unsure whether she will return to work. We are being supported financially on the aid I receive from school as well as a small salary I receive working part-time. We have one daughter (from my wife's previous marriage) who is 13 years old. She lives with us most of the time, with the exception of 1 or 2 days most weekends, when she is with her biological father. She is a really good kid and a joy to have around.

There are some cultural issues as well. I am Caucasian and my wife is Korean (though she was raised in the US from the age of 13). She is somewhat Americanized, but still Korean in terms of her views on marriage and friendships; that is, "saving face" is exceptionally important to her with regards to her family and friends, and the image we project (mainly financial) to others in our peer group (both family and friends in the Korean American community) is also very important.

Because we are living on a budget, I already have one strike against me as far as many of her friends are concerned. My wife tells me that the disparaging remarks made by her friends (and parts of her family) are a show of concern for her, rather than criticism of me. We also cannot afford to purchase a house, which is also viewed negatively by the Korean American community. Again, my wife would say that the remarks made by others about our renting are made out of concern, for owning a home is an investment in the future. Again, perhaps some of this is cultural since the male should be the provider in Korean marriages.

Although I don't like the remarks made by her friends (and sometimes by her family), I tolerate it. The remarks will continue and there is little I can do about how others view me. What concerns me more is the importance that my wife places on these comments. I fear that my wife will never be happy with our present station in life, even if things improve dramatically in the future (which I think they will), as there will always be someone with more than we have. I just do not buy into the whole mentality of "he who owns more things, wins", which seems very prevalent in the Korean American community. To me, these issues have a lot to do with our happiness in life.

After spending time with her friends (especially when I am not with her), she often comes home feeling inadequate and, due to our present financial situation, fearful about our future. More often than not, our “conversations” become heated and much yelling ensues. Actually, I am not a “screamer” and so typically she does the screaming and I become withdrawn and very quiet. I feel that there is little I can say to appease her at these times and so I don’t even try. I just let her unload on me and hope that we can talk more calmly later on.

But, in all fairness, my wife has some valid concerns. I have kept some financial matters hidden from her and she has gotten furious after finding out later on. In fact, I have a tendency to be a very private person and I often do not share things with her (no infidelity). At times I hide things that are of little consequence to our marriage, not because I don’t want to tell her but rather because it is just not all that important or I do not wish to burden her (stress about an upcoming exam, for example).

But I also hide things that I probably should not (or, in a few cases, definitely should not) keep from her. Why? I assume that a part of this is due to my upbringing and the fact that I learned early on that bad news = a beating (physical and verbal). So, if I’ve got bad financial news, my first impulse is to keep it to myself. I’ve explained this to my wife but she doesn’t buy all the psycho-babble and thinks that this is nonsense. But there is another reason and that is that I’ve learned in my marriage that confessing bad news = my wife flying into a rage. We’ve talked openly about her anger, and she has promised to work on it and has gotten a little better, but more often than not, anger and yelling (or the cold shoulder) results while/after discussing difficult news. So, I’ve learned that it’s better to omit things.

Again, I’ve tried to explain this to my wife and tried to give her a model to follow (being very supportive and encouraging when things are not going well in her life), but she thinks that it’s strange to be so supportive and “sugary sweet”. It feels uncomfortable to her and, I think, she feels it only results in feeling sorry for oneself (not an attractive trait, especially for a male). I had hoped that she could be more supportive and to work together on a solution to any of our problems, but this has not happened.

I am currently in individual therapy trying to work on my own issues, some of which are interrelated to my habit of hiding things from my wife. But she doesn’t believe that I will ever change and, to be honest, the more she gets angry, screams, and ignores me, the more difficult it is for me to want to share bad news with her. I feel that I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I don’t want to continue keeping things from her and so I’ve begun revealing difficult news to her as things come up, but it’s been difficult for me to endure the yelling and slights from my wife. Furthermore, since her friends and family usually take her side and believe that her behavior is justified, I am swimming upstream when it comes to trying to enact change in our communication style, as she uses their support as justification for not making changes.

I don’t know what to do at this point. I do not wish for our marriage to end and I am willing to put in whatever work it takes to make our marriage work. But I sometimes feel that the entire focus is not on the (very gradual) changes I am trying to make, instead the focus is only on the mistakes I’ve made in the past (in keeping things from her) or mistakes I continue to make in the present – and this, I believe, completely defines who I am in her mind.

We went to couples therapy very briefly (2 sessions) in the past but I don’t think that my wife will go back. Culturally, therapy is a tough sell within the Asians community and, besides, my wife was offended by some of the things the therapist told her about her behavior. Lastly, my wife believes (and perhaps she’s right) that the problem lies entirely with me (with the exception of her anger issues, which she will admit to at times), and so I feel pressure to make great strides, and soon.

Does anyone have any advice? I am very sorry about the long post.

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Hi there,

I haven't been in your situation but I just wanted to offer you some support. It sounds like you & your wife are in a really tough situation.

I am also married to someone with some different cultural background and have found the adjustment difficult. I have come to accept that I will probably never be ideal in my husband's family's eyes and have resolved to just be myself.

It is important for you to study so that you can get where you're going, your wife should support you in this. My husband is a full-time student & I admit that I sometimes get frustrated because I can't buy myself new clothes, or buy what many women would consider basic female needs like moisturiser:p but the thing is I have to put my family first and feeding ourselves and keeping a roof over our heads is more important than the other stuff.

We have also had financial difficulties and there have been instances when my husband has not been honest with me about things and it has hurt me to discover suddenly that we owe someone a great deal of money. I know he kept these things from me to spare me some worry, but in the end my worry was double what it would have been. To help with our financial issues my husband & I sat down together and worked out our budget. It was good because it allowed me to see where our money needed to be going and I know how much is left over each week for little luxuries, so I don't get upset about what I don't have anymore, because I know where our money is going and I would rather be on top of our budget than have stuff. So maybe you could try including your wife in the finances a bit - that way you are not bearing the burden alone and maybe she will understand better why you can't just go out and buy a house:)

I wish I had more to add that might help. In my opinion your wife really needs to take a look at herself & stop blaming you for everything. At the same time though, I don't know if you can expect her to change the way she is because she will not change unless she thinks she has a problem. You are very good for putting up with the remarks that her friends & family make, but maybe you should start letting them know that you don't appreciate those remarks. I think that you are under a lot of pressure & it is unfair. It is no longer the days where the man is the bread winner and the woman is the stay-at-home mother - these old ideals are restrictive to both sexes.

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Guest ASchwartz

Hi Mickey and Maxie,

Interfaith and intercultural marriages are very difficult. Now, that does not mean that I am opposed because I am not. In fact, I have an interfaith marriage and we have been married for 40 years (yes, to the same person:D).

I am fully aware about the issue of shame in the Asian community with regard to anything that even remotely resembles therapy or mental health.

Anyway, you seem to be aware that secrecy in a marriage can doom the marriage to failure. It is important that you learn, through your individual therapy, to trust your spouse and be open. Hiding things will make any spouse furiously angry and it destroys any sense of trust.

Koreans, as with most Asian peoples, are extremely supportive of education. I find it difficult to believe that her family would be opposed to your going to school in order to build your future together. Are you sure you are getting accurate facts? Is your wife in agreement with you about school and building the future? Did you decide that together.

South Korea is a modern industrial society where women work. Why does she not want to work anymore?

Yes, there are cultural differences but there is a lot drew you to each other. It sounds as though the two of you need to talk, talk and talk.

What do others think??


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