Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo the sentiments of In Real Life Malaysia.
If I could write a short letter to all Asian husbands and boyfriends, including mine, it would go like this:
Dear Malaysian Men,
You guys are actually, quite great. You’re hardworking, and you tolerate us women and our antics.
But there’s something that’s nagging us at the back of our minds. The thought is like the tide, we try pushing it away, but it always comes back: WHY DO YOU HATE TALKING ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS SO MUCH!?
Frustrated wives and girlfriends everywhere.
I don’t get it. My partner can spend the whole day talking about menial things like cars, tech, and movies. But the moment I try to bring up something remotely serious, he shuts down and gives one-word answers.
Here’s a “deep conversation” between me and my husband:
Husband: *Talks 20 minutes about the new iWatch that just launched*
Me: *Listens because I’m a good wife (or at least I try to be)*
Husband: *Stops talking because there’s nothing left to say*
Me: (seeing an opening): “So I was reading this Reddit thread where this girl posted a story. Her husband got mad at his mom for showing his baby pictures to her without his permission. But she feels that it’s not a big deal because it’s just pictures, and they’ve been married for 6 years. What do you think?”
Husband: “Hmm good question, let me think and come back to you.”
Me: “Why not now?”
Husband: “I need to think properly.”
Spoiler alert! He never comes back to me.
It’s one of the many ways in which he avoids “deep” conversation, and it’s highly frustrating.
To me, deep conversations are the essence of a relationship.
We cannot have a fulfilling relationship without sharing our hopes, fears, and joys with our partner.
I used to think, am I the only one going through this? Is my partner not opening up really a serious issue? Or am I just being too emotional and overthinking?
Turns out, there are plenty of other women who have their own share of struggles with uncommunicative partners.
“My husband has a tough time opening up to me. He hates talking face-to-face to resolve our issues. So whenever we argue or need to ‘talk it out’, I text him for him to speak more openly,” says Melissa.
Helen, meanwhile, says that her husband completely shuts off from conversations.
“When he’s extremely stressed at work or when he is having a hard time, he will not communicate that with me; instead he will isolate himself and be reserved or distant towards me.”
Sadly, a lot of men don’t realize how important communication is to a woman.
The truth is, being closed and reserved to your partner is an unhealthy trait, and it can affect the relationship in the long-run.
“When my husband doesn’t share things with me, I find myself rather not speaking about things that have been bothering me too. I don’t feel any reason to talk about it anymore. And everything gets swept under the rug,” says Melissa in resignation.
“Whenever we have an argument, or are just talking about an issue we are facing, he prefers to keep quiet and ‘not say anything’ rather than work that issue out,” says an exasperated Helen.
For Helen, the lack of communication has taken a toll on her self-esteem.
“I tend to blame myself for my husband being reserved. It makes me feel low and unworthy because of our reduced intimacy. Sometimes all I want is some tender, love and care but nope, due to him not communicating his needs and problems, it just pushes us apart.”
In the Defence of Asian Men
As Asians, we don’t verbalize our emotions easily. Our culture is more of a ‘do’ than ‘say’, focusing more on actions than on words.
This is even more so for men. Somewhere along the way, our society has made it so difficult for men to express their emotions. Labelling them as ‘weak’, ‘unmanly’, or ‘not macho’ if they are sensitive.
I asked men why they don’t open up about their feelings, and the answers were quite interesting.
“I’m scared that I’ll say something wrong, and my partner will get even more upset at me. Sometimes saying less is better.”
“Whatever I say will be used against me in the future. Women can really remember anything and everything you say. It’s scary.”
“I’m scared to open up and be vulnerable. Because that person can use it as a weapon to hurt my feelings.”
“Sometimes I’m just not thinking anything, and I don’t have to say long words for every single situation. Isn’t that what your girlfriends are for?”
In case you’re wondering, yes their answers were that short. Why are men like this?
So I found out more about my husband’s family background
In my attempt to understand why my husband was so reserved, I found out that his family background played a huge role.
I grew up in a highly expressive and loud family. We use a lot of words, in our arguments, in our celebrations, in our love.
For me, it’s considered normal family behaviour.
Meanwhile, my husband’s family is the polar opposite.
They’re a quiet bunch, and prefer to show their love through actions such as buying groceries or helping out in the household. Yelling at each other when you’re mad is a huge no.
For Helen, his family influence has played a huge role in her husband’s behaviour.
“He grew up constantly hiding emotions and hiding behind four walls as his parents were constantly fighting. Expressing emotions comes in the form of presents or gifts and that is the exact behaviour which he imitates in our relationship. But my needs and affection are completely different. Unfortunately, my husband only knows one way of showing affection.”
So what do we do?
It’s easy to point fingers at our partners and say ‘you’re wrong, and you should change.’
But when you’re in a relationship, the reality is much more complicated.
Relationships are about acknowledging each other’s flaws, including our own.
Just as men are reserved, women can also be deemed as too emotional.
This could easily have been an article about ‘Dear Asian Women, stop being too sensitive. Sincerely, Asian Men.’
“In a relationship, it’s always easy playing the blame game or the victim. I think we as women have to do some self-reflection. Have I somehow contributed to my partner’s behaviour towards me?” says Melissa.
Hellen also believes that it takes effort.
“On the positive side, I’m trying and putting extra effort to understand my partner better. We’ve been trying to work on an open communication policy, and regularly check if everything is okay and if we are on the right track together.”
As for me, I’m doing baby steps to slowly get my partner to open up to me.
I’ve also learnt to not measure his ‘love’ in words, but rather in the actions which he does for me.
Hopefully in time, together we can break this toxic male cycle of always having to be ‘strong’ and ‘unemotional’.
For more stories like this, read: 5 Unspoken Expectations in a Relationship That Nobody Told Me About — And How I Faced Them and I Turned Him Down Because of His Emotional Baggage — And I Don’t Regret It
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