How to communicate effectively with your Thai partner
Say you found a girlfriend or prospective wife in Thailand. You live together and get to know each other. In almost all cases your English will be much better than hers which makes communication easier for you. Here is a checklist of things you should not assume:
1. Don’t assume your partner understands you just because she smiles at you as if she understands you.
Thais rarely if ever say that they don’t understand you. They will nod and smile even if they have no idea what you are saying.
Solution: Ask your partner what percentage she understands of what you are saying. Ask her if she understands 40 percent or 60 percent etc. You might be amazed to find out how much she has been missing.
Ask her what you can do so that she understands more. It might be that you speak too fast and need to slow down. It might be that you use difficult words which you need to replace with simpler ones. It might be that you have to eliminate the use of difficult tenses, like “It would have been better….”, or “If you would have gone to….”
2. When you talk to your partner, don’t assume that she interprets words or concepts in the same way you do.
When you say “I love you”, you might mean that you love her because she is attractive, pleasant, easygoing, helpful and feminine.
When she says “I love you”, she might mean that she loves you because you are a good provider, you are financially stable, and you help support her parents.
Solution: Have a little chat with her and play a definition game of some words and concepts that are important to you. Make it a fun game so that it does not come across as something serious.
This will help bridge communication issues. For example you could ask her to tell you all about family relationships in Thailand, and then you tell her about family relationships in your country and you compare the two.
Beware of a Thai woman who expects you to totally adapt to Thai culture and values. It will not work for you! There has to be compromise and adaptation on both sides.
3. Don’t assume that your partner will tell you what she really thinks.
Thais are used to keeping their thoughts and emotions hidden behind a smiling face. For you as a westerner communication means an honest and clear exchange of what is on your mind.
For your Thai partner communication means to make sure that there is no disharmony and she gets to save face at all times. Expressing her true feelings is not necessarily on her agenda.
Solution: Remind her repeatedly that you are really interested in hearing what she is thinking, what is on her mind, that her opinions count and that you value her input and ideas.
Make an effort to really listen to her. It will take time, but gradually she will open up and communicate more openly.
4. Don’t assume that she can relate to your way of thinking.
You as a westerner are more used to intellectual conversations and straight forward discussions. It is important to learn how your partner is thinking, and she needs to learn how you are thinking.
But if you try to have serious intellectual discussions with her, she will most likely just feel overwhelmed and frustrated because her mind does not work like that.
Solution: Keep the level of conversation on a more simple level. This is not to say that she is less intelligent, but remember that your ability to express yourself in your native language is much higher than her ability to do so in a foreign language.
And Thais live less ‘in their head’ compared to westerners who are more inclined to analyze, rationalize and dissect everything intellectually. It is better to fulfill your need to have intellectual conversations with fellow westerners.
5. Don’t assume that she is telling you the truth.
The Thai and the western way of relating to truth is very different. For the Thai woman, truth is secondary to saving face, avoiding unpleasant situations, and maintaining harmony.
For the western man, truth is a primary principle, even if it causes disharmony or arguments. You might catch your wife lying, but she might have just been trying to preserve harmony. She will not see holding back the truth as lying.
You might see a lie as as a moral defect, but the Thais don’t attach the same value to the truth as westerners do.
Solution: Talk to your Thai partner and explain the difference about the truth concepts in Thailand and the western world. She probably has no idea that the truth is so important to you.
Tell her that you would appreciate if she is truthful with you, even if it means that telling the truth brings about a difficult situation or challenging conversation. Tell her that it is easier for you to love her if you know that she doesn’t hold back the truth.
And you need to understand that in Thailand it is perfectly acceptable to not come out with the truth if that means that someone might lose face or it creates disharmony. So think twice before accusing her of lying.
These suggestions can go a long way in avoiding culture clash and misunderstanding. Cross-cultural relationships take time to nurture, and both partners need to learn a lot about each other’s ways of thinking and communicating. They will need to learn how to meet in the middle between two cultures.
Previous articles in the relationship series:
Relationships in Thailand Part 1
Relationships in Thailand Part 2
Relationships in Thailand Part 3
Relationships in Thailand Part 4
Relationships in Thailand Part 5
Relationships in Thailand Part 6
Relationships in Thailand Part 7
Relationships in Thailand Part 8
The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for well over a decade. His wife is Thai and they have created a successful cross cultural relationship. You can reach Shama at firstname.lastname@example.org