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Chinese Wife's Advantage
Why Chinese Wives are Superior?

A lot of people wonder how Chinese wives have such wonderful marriages. They wonder what these wives do to produce so many doting husband and 50th wedding anniversary celebrations, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things that my husband is never allowed to do:

attend a sleepover
have a play-date (with other women)
complain about not having play-dates (especially with other women)
choose his own extra-curricular activities

I'm using the term "Chinese wife" loosely. I know some Korean, Irish and Latino wives who qualify too. Conversely, I know some wives of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese wives, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western wives" loosely. Western wives come in all varieties.

All the same, even when Western wives think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese wives. For example, my Western friends consider themselves strict when their husbands only watch one football game per week. That's easy. Restricting it to only the playoffs. Or the Super Bowl. Now that's tough.

When it comes to marriage, the Chinese seem to produce couples who display compliant husbands, lack of self-expression and humdrum conversations - or so the stereotype goes.

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to marriages. In one study of 50 Western American wives and 48 Chinese immigrant wives, almost 70% of the Western wives said either that "compatibility is essential for marriage" or that "wives need to please their husbands physically." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese wives felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese wives said that they believe their spouses can be "the best" partners and if marriages did not last, then husbands "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western husbands, Chinese husbands spend approximately 10 times as long every day helping their wives with the housework. By contrast, Western husbands are more likely to participate in their fantasy baseball league.

What Chinese wives understand is that marriage is not always fun. For marriages to get good you have to work, and husbands never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override the husband's preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the wife because the husband will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western couples tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a husband starts to excel at something—whether it's cuddling, housework or talking about his feelings—he gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the wife to get the husband to work even more.

Chinese wives can get away with things that Western wives can't. Once when I was newlywed—maybe more than once—I reminded him that I "didn't believe in divorce -- murder maybe, but not divorce"; and "if I ever catch you cheating on me, I'll use the cleaver". When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. The fact is that Chinese wives can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese wives can say to their husbands, "Hey —lose some weight because I don't want to be a widow when I'm old." By contrast, Western wives have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their husbands still end up with heart attacks and negative self-image.

Chinese wives can order their husbands to stick with them through thick and thin, through sickness and in health. Western wives can only ask their husbands to try their best. Chinese wives can say, "You need to do more. I want you to spend more time with the kids." I've thought long and hard about how Chinese wives can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western marital mind-sets.

First, I've noticed that Western wives are extremely anxious about their husband's self-esteem. They worry about how their husband will feel if their wives correct them, and they constantly try to reassure their husbands about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance in empathizing with their feelings. In other words, Western wives are concerned about their husband's psyches. Chinese wives aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

Chinese wives demand loving behavior because they believe they deserve it -- and that their husbands can just do it because "love is an act of the will". If her husband doesn't do it, the Chinese wife assumes it's because the husband didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard love performance is always to set the expectation -- not to make the husband "feel" like doing it or "love them more". The Chinese wife believes that her husband is in the marriage because she's the best thing he's got and thus will do whatever it takes to make it work.

Second, Chinese wives believe that their husbands owe them. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian values and the fact that the wife's family traditionally had to pay an exorbitant dowry up front to the husband's family. Anyway, the understanding is that marriage is payback time -- husbands must spend their lives repaying his Chinese wife by taking good care of her and making her proud.

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of husbands being permanently committed to their wives. My sister, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Husbands can choose whoever they want to be married to," she once said to me. "So it's the wife's responsibility to ensure that the husband doesn't change his mind." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western wife.

Third, Chinese wives believe that they know what is best for their family and therefore override her husband's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese husbands can't go out of town on business trips -- at least they can only stay in hotels where there's no "adult" channels available. It's also why no Chinese husband would ever dare say to his wife, "I got a intern at work. So I'll have to stay after work to show her the ropes from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. God help any husband who tries that one.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese wives don't care about their husbands. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their husbands. It's just an entirely different marriage model. The husband made the choice to marry her and thus needs to be accountable for his decision.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian wives as scheming, callous, over-driven people indifferent to their husbands' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their husbands and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent couples want to do what's best for their marriages. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western wives try to respect their husband's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese have the same goal, but not at the expense of the marriage. The best way to protect her marriage is to let husbands see clearly the consequences of straying from their vows, letting them see what their wives are capable of, and arming them with the listening skills, ability to "just cuddle", housework habits, inner love and commitment to do whatever it takes to treat their wives they way they want to be treated.

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Why Chinese Wives are Superior?