The goal of this series has been to try and understand some of these cultural dynamics that Asian Americans go through that may be overlooked in the many books on the subject of pre-marital counseling and marriage. For the final installment, I will now give some advice on how to resolve some of these tensions that we’ve discussed in the previous posts.
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’?” So first, do 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. 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.
In this vein, I would also advise the couple give up lots of smaller parts of the wedding in order to retain the larger parts and for personal preferences. Some of these smaller parts may include the flowers, the reception food, the cake, and different formal ceremonies, such as 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. This will be very strategic for the benefit of everyone involved because of the tendency to “keep score” in the quantified aspects of the Asian culture.
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.
It is helpful to know that in the mindset of the parents, the bride and groom are extensions of the represented families. 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.
One last piece of advice 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. Remember, give and take, plan ahead, be strategic, and honor and respect the parents of each side. I pray that in this wedding season that this counsel will help lead to peaceful and enjoyable wedding ceremonies as well as joyous and godly marriages.
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.