We have previously been working through some of the unique and distinct challenges that Asian-American couples face in regards to preparing for weddings and marriage (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three).This blog has raised some of the issues that typically come out during pre-marital counseling sessions. The goal of this series has been to try and understand some of these cultural dynamics that may be vastly different from the many books that are out there on the subject of pre-marital counseling and marriage that may be written from a Western perspective. Some of these differences include dealing with parents, setting up appropriate wedding venues and services, transfer of authority between parents and spouses, guest lists for the wedding, and other potentially shame based challenges. This blog will now give some general and practical advice on how to resolve some of these tensions.
The first advice that I would give to the couple would be to prioritize what aspects of the wedding are negotiable and what are non-negotiable. In other words, the couple needs to carefully choose their battles in regards to their preferences when they discuss the wedding plans with their respective parents. This will especially be true when dealing with parents and in-laws who have differing cultural preferences from the typical Westernized Asian-American couple. The big question then to ask is “which issues or hills should a couple ‘die on’?”
The first important piece of advice that I would give is to not die on every hill. It simply is not worth it. When a couple cannot agree with older parents who may represent either a different cultural or even generational custom, they will find tremendous hardship and stress. The better attitude would be to have the following simple slogan: give and take. What this means is that the couple needs to figure out what are the most important non-negotiable parts of a wedding for them and which are not. Once this decision is made, then the parts that are not so significant can be given up to the favor of parents and older generational preferences. This advice can certainly be helpful across all cultures not just Asian ones.
For example, a discussion of who may perform the wedding may be an issue. The parents may favor their own pastor versus a pastor that the couple knows well. In this case, the couple can allow the different pastors to participate in different parts of the wedding ceremony. The parent’s pastor may do the homily or the benediction while the couple’s pastor may oversee the vows. The issue is more that the respective pastors be represented on behalf of each family. This is another aspect of the whole honor and shame dynamic. As long as this can occur, there should be peace and mutual agreement.
Another issue that often becomes difficult is the allowance of guests to be invited whom the couple may not even know. This often happens because these guests may actually be friends of the respective parents. In this case, the issue is both the Asian dynamics of collectivist inclusion and honor and shame. To not allow these friends of the parents to attend would shame the parents especially if the parents are well-known figures or they may serve as leaders in a church. So it is helpful to know that the mindset of the parents is that the bride and groom are extensions of the represented families and for this reason, the inclusion of these guests are considered necessary in order for harmony to be maintained. One extra benefit that may also encourage the couple is that many of these guests will be very generous to the couple often giving large amounts of cash as gifts as they honor the respective parents.
The final advice for the couple is to simply sit down in advance of the wedding and figure out what parts are negotiable to allow for the parent’s prerogative and what parts are non-negotiable for the couple. This will be very strategic for the benefit of everyone involved. Because of the tendency to “keep score” due to quantified aspects of the Asian culture, it would be to the advantage of the couple to give up lots of smaller parts of the wedding in order to retain the larger parts or personal preferences. Some of these smaller parts may include the flowers, the reception food, the cake, different formal ceremonies- i.e. bowing, the pastor adorning a formal robe as part of his attire, and different parts of the ceremony being spoken in the respective mother tongue. This can be used in exchange for who will marry the couple and how to format the actual wedding ceremony.
Remember, give and take, plan ahead, be strategic, and honor and respect the parents of each side. One last thought, that is advisable, is for the son or daughter of each family to deal with their own parents in the negotiating process rather than allowing the future son or daughter-in-law to do the talking. Each son or daughter probably knows their own parent better than the other and will have a better chance in convincing their own parents if necessary. This will also help ensure a better future relationship as things get started.
I hope this advice has been helpful to all who read. I pray that in this wedding season that this counsel will help lead to peaceful and enjoyable wedding ceremonies as well as to joyous and godly marriages.