Does Culture Always Divide?

Q: My wife is Chinese and refuses to be seen with my 7-year-old son by a previous marriage. This has driven a wedge between us, and I am considering a divorce. Do you think her attitude could be cultural? We went to counseling and the counselor told her that if she wanted to be married to me she would have to learn to compromise. I have been as good as I know how to her son and to her niece who came to live with us for a year. What do you think ?--Andrew, 57

Dr. Susan: Forming a happy, healthy stepfamily is always challenging. When you add the major complication of being from different cultures, it's not surprising you and your wife are having difficulties. Going to a counselor is a positive move, but plain old compromising may not be enough. Your wife needs to be open to being educated about stepfamily issues. It's quite likely that in her own family of origin, there was a stigma attached to being divorced and remarried. She may for some reason be embarrassed by being seen with your son, but you can't possibly guess her reasons unless she opens up to you. And that's often very hard for an Asian to learn to do, particularly one raised by native Chinese. The more typical Chinese attitude to emotional difficulties is to face them sideways, not directly. You need to be very gentle and non-confrontational with her to get her to tell you what's going on for her. In the final analysis, of course, you won't have much of a marriage if she continues to reject your child. You can't allow your son to be the scapegoat for whatever is bothering your wife, whether it's cultural or something else. Good luck.

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