e are constantly asked for the secret of our happy 28-year marriage. I suppose people are impressed because it has produced a pair of delightful and impressive offspring while preserving our own distinguished professional careers. Or maybe it's that the only visible toll is a bit of gray around my husband's temples and crows' feet around my eyes (nothing major, mind you!). My husband is always quick with his offer to share the secret for a cool million in small, unmarked bills. I just laugh off the implied compliment and deny there is a secret.
But when I was asked to write this article, I felt obliged to conduct a more honest appraisal of our marriage. Of course, there is a secret, three actually. But each is so painful to recall that I decided that nothing would induce me to share them.
In the end what gave me the nerve to share my experiences is the very human desire to unburden myself, coupled with the solemn and legally binding promise of an alias. I suspect similar secrets can be found at the heart of many other happy Asian American marriages. I share ours in the hope they may be of benefit to couples starting down that long, winding and sometimes boulder-strewn road that goes by the name of a happy marriage.
As a matter of fact, the secret can be boiled down to a single word: endure. Endure what? The three big crises that will probably rock every Asian American marriage.
Let me add some context. I am a third-generation Japanese American who grew up in Grapes of Wrath country. My husband is a first-generation Chinese American whose family immigrated from northeastern China when he was eight. We met in grad school and married a few years into our careers. We both work in a field that attracts few Asians. Until the past decade or so I came into professional contact with only a handful. That's one of the circumstances that brought us together. The other is my husband's magnetism. Not only is he a John Lone lookalike (according to the ladies, but I think he's better looking than any actor), he has a keen sense of humor that slyly conceals deep concern for others.
That magnetism helped precipitate our marriage's first crisis. It came in the fifth year of marriage, sashayed in, more like, in a pair of spikes and a knit dress. Having always been ahead of the curve, my husband beat the seven-year-itch by two. She was a hideous creature. I'm absolutely sure she was deep down. Unfortunately, she had an eye-popping wrapper. Shrink-wrapped would just about describe how her clothes looked on her. Her big fluffy hair made men think of only one thing. To make a long, ugly story short, my husband took to spending evenings at the office with her. I know he was at the office because I made a practice of calling him there like clockwork. I still don't want to imagine the shenanigans that must have taken place among the desks and file cabinets but it wasn't long before someone spotted them. Word reached me the next morning.
I have no illusions about what would have followed had the aftermath been different. To his credit my husband apologized immediately, made no excuses and let me know in no uncertain terms that, though he had no right to ask, he wanted me to stay.
In the end I accepted his apology and solemn promise not to stray in the future. But that would not have been enough had I not found my way to forgiving him. Without that sincere forgiveness in my heart, the marriage would have broken up sooner or later. Why did I forgive him? For my father's sake.
Let me explain. Growing up in a Japanese American family I saw firsthand the price America exacts from Asian men. It did its level best to keep my nisei father from fulfilling his potential as a dynamic, talented man with a rare knack for leadership. He should have been directing large-scale civil engineering projects. Instead he was kept down going over blueprints. Every time he asserted himself and showed his ability, his superiors clipped his wings. He had every right to be bitter. On rare occasions he did express bitterness. But he never let his disappointment and anger get in the way of showering my brother and me with unending warmth and affection. Nor did he let it get in the way of filling us up like helium balloons with our potential to soar.
As an immigrant my husband suffered similar obstacles. He worked twice as hard for half the opportunities and accolades. The knowledge that he would not be playing on a level playing field filled him with the drive to succeed. That ambition took its toll on his social life. When other boys were dating, he was studying or working. He had had few opportunities to sow his wild oats by the time we met. These are not arguments he ever made to justify his transgression. Had he done so, I would have been enraged. But I couldn't help but see his affair in that light. I concluded that I, of all people, should give him the benefit of the doubt.
It was the best decision I've ever made, and our marriage began reaping the benefits almost immediately.
At that time I was seven months pregnant with our second child. Two years earlier, after the birth of our son, I had taken a full year's leave of absence from work. My husband and I had agreed that that year of bonding gave our son a solid emotional foundation. We both felt that our second child deserved the same advantage. Yet I was torn. My career had just begun to recover from my year's absence and I wanted desperately not to be sidelined again. In retrospect, I can see that my husband's fling may have intensified my desire to keep my career on track.
That dilemma proved to be the second big crisis of our marriage. I could either return to work after the delivery and be forever racked with guilt toward my daughter or I could stay home for a year and resent my family for having kept me from a successful career. Especially coming on the heels of my husband's affair, either option may well have doomed our marriage.
This time my husband came to the rescue.