Teaching Thais New Ways
The following notes are based on an Email I sent to the Director following his interesting reader’s submission “Visit To England Part 3 – The First Month” on 8/7/2004.
My motivation in writing, was that he seems to be a decent guy, willing to share his experiences in his cross-cultural relationship with a Thai girl. Having similar experiences myself, in both personal and working relationships with Thais, I thought it might be useful to share some of my own ideas/experiences, and what sometimes works for me. So I sent an email. Since then both Stick and the Director suggested I submit it as a reader’s submission.
I believe these relationships can work, whatever the girls’ background, (although some relationships obviously have more chance of success than others). But there are some issues that arise in cross cultural relationships, which stem from fundamental differences in beliefs. These differences include a frequent western belief that people are (or should be) equal, and frequent Thai beliefs that people are not born equal, and that your current position in society is influenced by who you were in your previous life.
These are very different and opposing beliefs (but that’s another submission for someone), and it’s little surprise that if you take them as starting points you end up with whole different systems of values.
However, the key points I wrote about were how Thais often do not openly share their thoughts and feelings in the same way, and how it can be difficult to get them to change their ways and do new things.
Personally, I believe any decent relationship needs some degree of compromise on both sides. I also believe I have the ability to compromise almost 100% towards the Thai way of life, and can behave and fit in with their beliefs and “act like a Thai”. But I refuse to compromise my own beliefs 100%, and expect people to at least make an effort to meet somewhere in the middle. Even if realistically it’s much easier for me than a Thai partner to change my ways.
The Director said his Thai girl can be very quiet, even though he’d explained the need to talk in long-term relationships. So here are a few of my own suggestions to overcome this and maybe get Thais to change a little and do new things:
To get Thais to do something new, you usually have to explain why they must do things. Just telling them: "it’s important in long-term relationships is not enough". They'll probably just say yes; agree with you; then carry on as before.
It's too abstract, you have to go on and explain why in a way they can relate to. A couple of things I do to try get round this issue, and generally to get Thais to do new things are:
1) Always give them a reason why they must do something new. In fact try and give several different reasons why, and hope one sticks!
2) Keep repeating the reasons over a few days, weeks, etc why they needs to do something new. You don't have to state every reason every time, but things like: "Remember we talked about…. another reason why is….."
3) Show them examples. Thais can be very good at copying things, including behaviour. In this case, perhaps show her examples of other couples talking to each other, or you talking with your mother, or even in a movie.
It's important here to also show the effect. Let them see how happy it makes you or another person to talk about these things. If you've got some close friends, an understanding couple, or even your mum, you could ask them to help. Tell your mum or your friends you have trouble getting your Thai partner to talk and would they mind helping you set an example. It might sound a bit false, but it can work.
e.g. your friends deliberately talk about their own feelings to each other in front of them; then cuddle; show affection; and show the benefits in front of them.
We learnt this as kids and have seen it all our lives. Thais haven't. So in many ways, they need to see it and be "re-educated". We all learn by example.
BTW Your mum is a potentially excellent option. Mum's are usually wonderful and will do anything to help their kids. Plus Thais usually attach great importance to parents. Tell your mum the issue, and prime her to talk to you about your feelings in front of your girl. Talk to your mum in front of her about a problem, and get your mum to give advice, give you a cuddle, and to help. Then you say thanks it makes you feel better, etc. As well as setting an example, you also gain plus points in your girl’s eyes for a good relationship with your mum. Next time you talk about relationships, say "remember you saw me talking to my mum", "remember how happy it made me" etc Plus mum ends up happy she's helped her child too! A win all round!
4) Compare and contrast Thailand. Explain that you understand that in Thailand people don't show their feelings as much and talk about things as much. But in the UK people do. Stress that: neither one is a better way. They are just different. Thais like one way, English people another. By pointing out the differences, they start to realise that each country has their own set of "rules". People the world over have a desire to belong. Once people are aware there are differences they will start to do things to belong in their new environment, or whichever environment they are in.
5) Allow for regression. Even when you eventually teach Thais something new, they will often regress and go back to their old ways. This can be very frustrating, and apparently without reason. You just have to be patient and remind them again.
6) Tell them you want them to be happy. Tell them you care about them, and the reason you are doing this is for their benefit, because you care and want them to be happy. Happiness as well as "sanuk", are very important to Thais. Saying you want someone to be happy also demonstrates you care.
7) Tell them it makes you unhappy or feel sad when they don't talk. I'd recommend that you tell her something positive first though. Maybe say "you do a lot of things to make me happy, but…”, or "we have a good relationship, but I think it could be even better if…" i.e. be positive and say something good first, before you say any sort of criticism. e.g. “you make me really happy, but I feel a bit sad that usually you don't talk about…” It's important to say something good, before something which might be taken as negative, as Thais don't usually take criticism well; even what we term “constructive criticism”.
This can work pretty well. Thais can be very caring people, particularly towards their own circles of people. We all know they do things to save the face of others, or avoid unpleasant situations etc.
So by turning it around and saying you feel sad, they will want to find a way to avoid that. Making other people happy, as well as "sanuk" for other people they care about, are often as important to Thais as their own "sanuk" and happiness.
8) Talk to them about your own thoughts. Tell them things, again as an example, so that one day they might reciprocate. Ask for their help with your problems (Whether you need it or not). People like to feel wanted and needed, and by sharing your own problems, e.g. about work, other relationships etc, you are showing you value her opinion, as well as highlighting the need to talk.
Anyway, I hope some of these ideas may help. If things are genuine and they really care about you, hopefully at least some of the above should work.
Lastly, I'd just add a small warning. All the above may work. But remember Thais can often be good at saying what you want to hear. It's in their upbringing and nature. So even if they are talking about things, just remember they might just be doing it because they think you want them to. I've known people who tell me things, or even invent issues to talk about, just because they think it's important to me to discuss things, and make me happy!!!
These are just my own take on things, and what works for me, may not always work for others. Despite the stereotypes I see on this site, most of us are individuals. Even the Thais, who tend to live in a more “collective” rather than “individual” way, vary among themselves
Some very good points there!