In this post, I’d like to discuss some of the challenges related to the relational dynamics of the different families prior to marriage and the wedding ceremony. This will include “family matching,” approval of different vocations, and the transfer of authority from the father and mother to the husband and wife.
These issues might seem like “done deals” after months or even years of dating. But oftentimes in the course of an engagement, issues that were once hidden by one party suddenly come to the forefront, leading to even more wedding stress. Let us look at some of these potential minefields so we can analyze and defuse them.
One of the significant markers that is involved in family matching has to do with the level of where each family stands in terms of education, socio-economic status, and even if the family unit is intact or not. What this means is that often times, the parents of the marrying couple will examine the other family to see if there is a sense of equality in all of these variables or not. If they are not at equal levels or close to it, there is often disapproval for marriage.
This is unfortunate and perhaps even unreasonable at times, but this is the reality for a culture that is greatly based on a hierarchical strata due in large part to Confucian influence. Each family needs to be approximately at the same level in order to be considered compatible.
Hopefully, if the family members are committed followers of Christ, this can be overlooked. But in my experience, even some of the most committed, older Christian parents still hold on to these values. And I do believe that the intention for this is pure. The parents who hold to this simply want their “children” to have something better than what they themselves had when they were growing up. For in cases such as if either the groom or bride-to be comes from a divorced family, the fear that the dissenting parents may have is that this may be repeated in their children’s behavior. This may or may not be true, and it would be difficult to predict this with great accuracy consistently. Hopefully, with good pre-marital counseling, a good community and church for support, and a strong personal commitment to Christ from the couple, this will not be a problem.
Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles in Asian-American couples getting married has to do with the approval of different vocations. Here are some of the scenarios that may pose difficulty in getting approval from the parents for marriage: 1) if the woman makes more money than the man, then he is viewed as a poor provider; 2) if the woman has more education and a more “prestigious” job- i.e. lawyer, doctor, executive, and the man is maybe just a high school teacher; 3) if the woman is marrying a pastor or missionary. This last scenario by far is the biggest hurdle to overcome. I have seen more situations like this than I can count! The main concern from the Asian parents is that the man in particular would not be able to provide for the daughter/wife. And so the concern is that they will be poor all their lives and eat only at McDonald’s each night while living in a rundown rented single-bedroom apartment. Happiness is not valued as much as the social aspect of security here.
The solution to this challenge is simple: the husband needs to demonstrate a long-term, loving commitment to the wife and her family. This doesn’t necessarily mean only in financial terms (although that can’t hurt!). It means that the husband will assure the wife’s family that he will always work hard to provide for food and lodging, and that he is saving to prepare for a (growing) family in the future.
Whatever may be lacking financially can be compensated for by a strong commitment of love paid out in full by action. That is the proving ground that parents are looking for in future son-in-law. As long as the groom can communicate this assurance to the parents, this may prove to be the turning point towards marriage.
Transfer of Authority
The last challenge to overcome has to do with the transfer of authority from parents to the marrying couple. In my first blog, I explained how the practice of “leaving and cleaving” from Genesis 2:24 may be a little trickier in an Asian-American context because of the difference in viewing a “child” from a Western and an Eastern perspective. Specifically, I’d like to demonstrate how the implications of “leaving,” and more so “cleaving,” are worked out in an Asian-American context.
We know the teaching of Ephesians 6:1-2 which exhorts “children to obey their parents” and to “honor their father and mother.” While this is a transcultural command that begins in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:12) and certainly extends into the New Testament (Ephesians 6:1-2), the understanding and interpretation plays heavily in regards to the transfer of authority. The tension comes in that when a young woman gets married, technically and biblically, she is no longer under the authority of her father but now under the authority of her husband.
This idea is affirmed in passages like Ephesians 5:22 which calls “wives to be subject to their husbands as unto the Lord.” As this command is given, the authority of the father is no longer mentioned once this new union has formed through marriage. The problem arises now in that culturally, this may not be the understanding of the father especially in the expectation and practice of the relationship post-marriage. It may be that the father continues to expect complete submission as long as she lives. This may not be a problem if the husband and the father-in-law are in general agreement. But what if there are differing ideas and values that could lead to tension as well as a potential clash? This is where the clear transfer of authority is necessary in order to prevent this potential problem.
It would be important to mention here that this teaching of the transfer of authority is widely held throughout many different cultures and not limited only to Western culture. While this is true, it may be difficult for this to be practiced within an Asian cultural circumstance. This is where the hybrid idea of an “Asian-American” perspective may be valuable to embrace. For a more Westernized Asian-American, this concept would make total sense. But for an Asian of an older generation, this idea may be unheard of.
This idea of transferred authority not only affects the daughter in relationship to her husband and father but there is also a parallel that sons may face between their mothers and their wives. Again the issue comes down to authority. In this situation, the mother obviously was the caretaker of the son/husband for many years dating back to childhood. But when the son becomes of age to marry, there is now a dilemma that he must face in terms of allegiance.
When conflicted, should the son/husband side with his mother or with his wife? I believe that the clear answer is for his wife. This may prove difficult to do initially but it is the wisest thing to help preserve the peace in the marriage. In order to do this effectively, it will be necessary for the husband/son to explain this to his mother so that she would understand. He needs to affirm his love and thankfulness for the years of care but at the same time needs to let her know that he now needs to build up his own wife and live with her in an understanding and caring manner (1 Peter 3:7).
These challenges will be fairly typical in any courtship situation not only with couples but when whole families begin to interact with each other. Prayer, love, and perseverance are keys to helping make this process more bearable and ultimately resolvable. It may be the case that some Asian-American couples face none of these challenges at all. God bless you in that! And some couples may face all of these obstacles as well. God bless you in that as well as the Lord stretches you and grows you in and through this process.
My next blog will give final words of advice that will help your wedding plans stay on track. God bless you as the Lord grows you in His loving and merciful way!
Benjamin C. Shin has served in the ministry as a pastor, parachurch leader, and professor for more than 25 years. He is a graduate of UCLA, Talbot School of Theology, and Dallas Theological Seminary. He enjoys reading, music, sports (especially the UCLA Bruins), and spending time with people. His vision and passion include mentoring leaders, re-building churches, and teaching the Word of God. He is married to his bride, Jen and has 2 wonderful sons named Adam and Zachary. He currently serves as the Teaching Pastor at New Life Vision Church in Glendale, CA and as an Associate Professor of Christian Ministry & Leadership and Director of the Asian-American Ministry track for the Doctor of Ministry at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA. He is the co-author of Tapestry of Grace: Untangling the Cultural Complexities of Asian American Life and Ministry.