Relationships between Thais and Western partners: an evergreen topic! In this Counseling Corner series, we look below the surface to devote ourselves to the most important issues that can await those who enter such relationships.
Part 5: Relatives
‘If you marry an Asian woman, you also marry her family!’ You’ve certainly heard this saying before. As a matter of fact, relatives are one of the biggest challenges for Thai-Western couples, even if both are not aware of it right away or underestimate it at the beginning.
Most Asians consider themselves an integral part of a greater community, their family, their villages, their country. And one of the first lessons they learn in their lives is that they have to honor their roots - of which their parents are the closest. Even if their family didn’t provide them with the most basic goods like love, emotional stability or education, they would rather blame the circumstances than complain about their parents, and they will do their best to ‘pay them back’ for having been raised by these people and do (almost) whatever they can to help them to improve their lives.
I can share no statistics with you to back up my assertion but one of the main causes of breakups between Thais and Westerners is the incessant pressure put on the woman to obtain ever greater financial support from her husband or boyfriend. A Thai mother will often ask her daughter ‘is he kind to you?’ instead of asking her ‘does he love you?’. Unlike in Western countries, however, kindness of a husband has rather financial than emotional implications in Asia. In a way, the family will also expect the Westerner to express this form of ‘kindness’ towards themselves, as wealthy family members are supposed to support poorer relatives - especially when they are farmers, fighting to make ends meet as is often the case in Thailand’s poor Northeast (Isaan).
In Western countries, however, relatives and friends can also impose emotional pressure on the couple: accepting the Thai wife for who she is - and was - is very rare in Western society which tends to look down on relationships involving a partner who comes from a developing country. And in the context outlined before, would it ever be possible to honestly decline that in a certain way, she is indeed a ‘bought bride’? Some couples try to avoid anyone potentially looking down on them by isolating themselves, and some Western partners decide to avoid taking their girlfriend or wife to their home country at all out of concern that their partner would hardly be socially acceptable. As a result, they are travelling frequently and accept a very complicated lifestyle.
From a therapist’s viewpoint, I bemoan seeing how couples often deal with the pressures they feel from their respective partner’s relatives and friends. If unresolved, both will always feel bad about the image they have in their partner’s families and relatives’ eyes, and it can feel to them as though their relationship has a weak spot that prevents them from enjoying their bond to its full extent.