I have already addressed one of the big reasons I am in a loveless marriage – a lack of physical intimacy. I feel that is the biggest reason, but there are several others. Akin to the living-like-a-monk situation I am in is the almost-complete-lack-of-communication predicament.
I have tried diligently to communicate with Shu Mei, with very little reciprocation on her part. On the surface, one might deduce that it is the difference in native tongues that makes it difficult for Shu Mei to talk to me. (Some days go by with no more than a couple of words and/or cavewoman-like grunts thrown my way.) However, I have seen Shu Mei talking to other English speakers for hours on end. Certainly, there are words she doesn’t know and cultural issues she is not familiar with, but that should give her even more reason to communicate. It doesn’t. For some reason, Shu Mei has decided to give up talking to me. When I ask her why she doesn’t want to talk to me, she just grunts and pretends like I am not talking to her.
For her, there is always an option of not answering my questions. Often, when I ask her a question, she chooses to just ignore that I ever said anything. I’m not talking about some pointed question that is flung her way as a way to criticize her, although I have done a few of those to my shame, but non-confrontational questions, like, “How was your day?” or “Did you hear about the news?” or “What should we do for dinner?”
Another problem in our relationship is the ambiguity of roles. A couple of years ago, I managed to get Shu Mei to read a church book about marriage with me, hoping it would help us get closer. The book was set up as a manual, discussing many aspects of a successful relationship.
It was quite a fiasco, trying to get her to sit down and read it with me each night. She always seemed to have something else to do. Again, you’d think the language barrier would have been the problem, but it must be noted that her book was in Chinese, while mine was in English. When we did finally get together, we took turns reading a page at a time, in our native tongue. Eventually, Shu Mei resisted reading it altogether. As I recall, we only made it through 7 lessons.
In the 7th lesson in the marriage manual it talked about the importance of playing one’s role in a marriage. It said that a husband has certain responsibilities that are exclusively his and a wife has certain responsibilities that are exclusively hers. I found it interesting that the manual avoided the notion that the man is the head of the household. That is something which had been pounded in my head from birth by the Mormon community I was raised in. Now I can understand why some Mormon men seek divorce. They cannot adapt when their wife chooses to not allow them to be the head of their household. I’m still trying to adapt to this reality.
The current marriage manual put out by the LDS church, the one we were reading, made no mention of a head of household, but did address the idea of different roles. It talked about the importance of a mother as the nurturer in the family, the one to turn to for emotional support, whereas the father is the sustainer, the breadwinner if you will.
Shu Mei has great difficulty with playing the role of the nurturer. It isn’t in her character. I thought it was, before we got married, but it isn’t. The way she treats our sons, Billy and Tyley, is more like a drill instructor at boot camp than a loving mother at home. One would think that the cause of this abrasive demeanor is a result of how Shu Mei was raised by her parents. However, her parents raised her in a typically Chinese way, having little to no interaction with her whatsoever.
From what Shu Mei has told me (mostly before we got married, back when she actually communicated with me), her mother speaks to her now more than she ever did through Shu Mei’s childhood. Her father, on the other hand, still doesn’t speak to her directly. He goes through Shu Mei’s mother. It isn’t that Shu Mei’s father hates her. On the contrary, I think he loves her very much. That is simply his way. He has always been emotionally distant from everyone around him. Consequently, he probably doesn’t know any different because he has locked his heart against seeing things that are different. One might call this stubbornness and I feel that one would be right. I honestly feel that is where Shu Mei’s stubbornness comes from. That and her miserly attitude to money-spending are traits shared by both Shu Mei and her father.
With regards to things picked up from Shu Mei’s mother, I see little. Yes, her mother is not affectionate physically, with hugs and kisses and such, but she does demonstrate a stable caring attitude. This is in direct contrast to Shu Mei’s frequent emotional flare-ups at Billy and Tyley. Currently, most of her wrath is directed at Billy. She has admitted to losing patience with him on numerous occasions, which is disappointing to me because Billy isn’t a problematic boy. He does demonstrate some apprehension toward sharing his toys with Tyley from time to time, but that is normal for a 3 year-old. Usually in those instances all that is needed is a reminder for Billy to consider others’ feelings and he changes his behavior.
It is a rare occasion that Billy needs any sort of punishment, but one wouldn’t get that impression from talking to Shu Mei about him. She says that he is so bad at times that she doesn’t know how to handle him. “Just love him,” I say to her, “As a caring and considerate mother should.” I am thinking of my own mother when I give Shu Mei that advice. My mother never passed up an opportunity to take the positive road and encourage me to succeed. Shu Mei must have not had that kind of experience with her own mother, as she often comes across rather harsh and overbearing when she is dealing with Billy. When I try to bring it to her attention, no matter how subtle I am, she becomes extremely defensive and then verbally assaults me with every harebrained accusation in the book.
Oh yes, my marital problems are huge. I frequently pray for help. It must not be in God’s plan for me to have it easy with this part of my life. Luckily, it is only a “part” of my life and I receive much-needed joy from other parts. I am presently of the belief that almost nobody changes. I can honestly say that I have never met someone that made a great change in his or her life. I’ve read about people making huge alterations in their life’s course, but I’ve never actually met one. To me, people are basically like boats without a rudder. Someone gave them a shove from the shoreline and now they’re just plodding along without any means of steering their own course. I do believe they have the potential to steer themselves, but they just don’t.
Consequently, the best advice I can think of for a couple wishing to make their relationship a success is this: Accept your partner for who he or she is. Don’t expect big changes to take place in the future. There will be small changes, depending upon the currents of the time, but there is no way of telling if those will be favorable or not. You just have to accept whatever may come. Otherwise you will end up loathing one another and grow apart. Now, that isn’t always a bad thing, as is the case with my first marriage, but it can be, as would be the case of my second marriage if we were to go that route.
You see, I have stayed committed to this marriage, even from before day one. I did everything in my power to prepare myself for this marriage beforehand. I was ready mentally, physically, and, most importantly, spiritually. With all of this preparation, I still have had numerous problems. There is no doubt in my mind that without this preparation, and the experiences attached to it, I would have annulled my marriage on the third day into it, when Shu Mei first said she wanted a divorce. I would never have made it to the other five times that first year when she either left me for a period of time or threatened to leave me. Nor would I have lasted through the second year with her, when she twice tried to leave me. And I definitely wouldn’t have made the necessary concessions it took to endure the third and fourth years of living in a horridly loveless marriage.
I don’t know if my marriage to Shu Mei can ever be a success. It seems that we’ve nearly fallen into a state of acceptance that things aren’t good and may stay that way forever. We don’t speak, except when it is absolutely necessary. When we do speak, it is never about our relationship. It is always about things of a plutonic nature.
Simply put, I have been closer to all my roommates of the past than I am to my own wife. It is a very sad situation, but I feel I must endure it for the sake of the boys. I would do everything I can to help them be all that they can be. I think my divorce from my first wife harmed my son Cameron, and I wish it could have been different. I’ll do my best to ensure that this time things go better. Still, that isn’t only up to me. If Shu Mei continues to want out, she will eventually get her way.