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Relationships, Communication and Rural Cambodia

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Sophea Sophea | 09:45 UK time, Monday, 10 October 2011

Thank you everybody for your comments; it is a beautiful thing to read. It has inspired me to continue writing although I am busy with my work. It was a nervous experience for me to start writing because I have never written a blog before.

Yes, I agree with Mairi that nonverbal communication is critically important for couples. The expression of feelings and emotions to your beloved one is a key element of a healthy relationship. There are many ways that feelings are expressed based on the culture of each country. In Cambodia, couples rarely express affection to each other through hugs or kisses and say romantic words to each other, especially in public. They just talk about general issues but never talk about feelings with each other or give each other a special gift on a special occasion like their wedding anniversary.

A while ago, I conducted training through my work with couples on "A Happy Family". I invited couples from poor rural villages to voluntarily join the training so that they could express their needs to each other and create an open environment for them to communicate their misunderstandings with each other. These couples came from poor families and remote areas. When you see their villages and homes, you could not image the poverty. Their houses are built from wood and bamboo with roof made from thatch or palm leave because it is easy to access. Their houses don't have electricity - they use traditional torches or kerosene for light at night. They main income is from farming and harvest the forest product. They earn just enough money for day to day living. Because of this poverty, they were so poor that these couples had to spend the majority of their time to fulfilling their basic needs of food and shelter and neglecting their relationship and communication with each other.


It was interesting to hear the points of view on the key desires in the relationships between the husbands and wives. Key desires from the husband groups included understanding husband's feelings, speaking nice words and right time and location and being overly confrontational or critical. Some men said that the nature of women spoke too much. They felt that their wives should wait until their husbands wake up to talk about their behavior instead of confronting them late at night or just after they had visiting their friends and had been drinking. The wives group on the other hand also wanted their husbands to speak more nicely to them. They thought their husbands should earn more money to support family expenses, help out more with the household chores and tell them when they go out because they are afraid of their security. However, the common needs for both groups were: politeness and helpfulness with domestic chores. Husbands and wives rarely speak to each other or used affectionate terms. For example, one participant said, "If I call my wife "bong sam lak" (dear), my neighbors will laugh at me". Also a recreation was not even a consideration.

To help these couples and their communication, I conducted sessions where the husbands and wives were separated to generate their thoughts and ideas without worrying about what their partner would say. They were then brought together and expressed these ideas with the group. Obviously, some issues were far too personal for them to talk about in public, but other points, like mentioned above could be talked about and the whole group thought about solutions to overcome these issues. The main point was that everyone learned they weren't alone with their problems and that good communication was the pillar to problem solving within their marriages; something so simple yet so difficult for these people.

This training session I did was developed for husbands and wives in rural Cambodia, but what about people in the city? What about the relationships with children? How is their communication affected by culture, by society, by media? The difference between the rich and poor in Cambodia is so unbelievable, but are our problems in relationships so different? What about the situation where two people get married from different cultures? Cambodia is a traditional culture, but we are now increasingly exposed to the rest of the world through television and the internet. How is all of this affecting Cambodian people, their relationships and their communication?

That all for now; more to come next week...



  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Sophea
    Good Job ! I enjoyed enough reading your latest article to read it again and again ! The workshop sound really interesting ....Personally If I invited to such a workshop I might do n't take part in it ..... the people who take part in those workshop are brave people who want to have happier family life:) It was so helpful .Waiting for your next entry . Hope it won't last too long ;)
    Special hugs and kiss for you and your toddler
    Pary from Iran

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Sophea,
    Good Job ! I enjoyed enough reading your latest article to read it again ! It was so helpful .I think people who took part in your workshop were brave people . For most people it 's so difficult to speak about such controversial issues , don't you think so ? Any way the results of them are surely good enough .
    Waiting for your next entry . don't be late girl !
    hugs and kisses to you and your todler
    Pary from Iran

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Sophea,

    Thanks for your interesting story, I am very curious about your workshop, how about the result afterward? Did you follow up the advantage of your workshop?... I hope you will update us sometimes about postive results of your work. I have been in Cambodia twice and I have very good feeling about Cambodian. Unfortunately, I know very little about Cambodian cultures. However, from your story, I can imagine that the behaviour between husbands and wifes in these rural villages has been persisted in generation to generation and you cannot change it in few days, and I hope more or less the participants will gradually improve their attitudes to their partners. To talk about couples from different cultures, I think it is another big issue and we cannot describe it in few lines. Communication is of course very important among them, but languages and other cultural differences are also a big deal in their lives. Thank you once again and look forward to your next entry.


  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Sophea! I'am just reading your last entry ,and i find your study about relationshep between couples by asking them their opinions is very interesting especially when it base on rural areas where the culture and customes have a major affect on people.
    But; i think that the modern style of life starts changing every thing in our life , and creeting a real marriage between cultures and civilizations via diffrent sort of media.
    Then,people must give their life a sense of humor and emotion instead of spending all their time runing bihind money or fighting life's probleme.

  • Comment number 5.

    You did good job. I am new in bbc and i am going to write my blog soon.

  • Comment number 6.

    I am getting strung up while commenting on your blog as it will be my first footnote.I esteem the way you are raising the essential subject of debate.
    I would like to express my view and i also support to nonverbal communication among couples.Instead of being body conscious we need to be sole conscious.Vibrations coming out from a pure and strong sole will commence nonverbal interaction.
    Meditation is profitable!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Dear Sophea,

    I´m very impressed by the work in your workshop! And I realized by reading your words, that the communication problems between men and women in a relationship are the same all over the world. I live in Germany and fortunately earn my own money, so I can say, I´m an independent woman. That means, we don`t have to think and argue a lot about finances and other things. But it does`t make it much easier to have a really happy relationship. And I think a lot of men aren`used to speak about their problems and feelings, but for women this is an absolutely important thing!
    You are doing a good job!!


  • Comment number 8.

    Hi everyone.
    Your post was very interesting because I have perceived the same problem here in my country on rural and poor towns. I have some relatives on those place and my parents had grown in a situation like you describe. It has been always difficult for them to express their feelings, to us and even between them. My brothers and me don't have the same problem I think its because the environment we have grown up. (we live since we were children on a urban city with access to electricity, TV, movies, books) that showed us how other people behave, how it's ok showing your feelings, crying, huggin, kissing even if our parents weren't so sweet with us.

    The job your doing is very important. Communication between a couple is basic in a family. Good luck.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hello Sophea,
    the countries are so different and yet so similar! The Czech republic is not poor country (although a lot of inhabitants think so) but the problems with communication are almost the same. Yes, women sometimes speak too much and men too little. And it very often leads to divorce, unfortunately. We should improve our gender-understanding worldwide.
    Have a nice day,

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi all,

    I am enjoying reading your blogs and dialogues about communication in couples. I am fron India where people perform arrange marriages and communication is a very big problem here. I am not yet married but i saw my parents they are not so good in communication with each other but they manage because in India divorce is not a point.

    I musy say communication is not only important for couples but for other relations like friendship etc. Because today we all are so busy in earning money that we forgot about communication.

    India is a cultural country and people never express their feeling about each other in public.

  • Comment number 11.

    thank you .this is afantastic story about the relationship between couples.so we should make strong relation tobe happy in our life........

  • Comment number 12.

    Hi Sophea:
    I appreciate your time spending for the blog and, especially your work that is contributing to the social development of Cambodian rural. Busy people like you do value some little free time with family and the Pchum Ben (the Festival of the Ancestors) did give you a meaningful break.
    Anyway, I was really intrigued by your judgement from your personal and
    professional experience attributing the issue of the relationship between Cambodian rural couples to the economic perspective (your post on 1 Oct.) Due to poverty, couples did not have time to talk sweetly with each other. But some of your descriptions in your post on 10 Oct. are, to me, very much related to culture; it has been the ways Cambodians/Khmers behave towards their spouses. Did you try to look at the issue from the cultural perspective? I could have been very interesting! I hope you can tell the world more about your findings related to cultural factors that influence husband-wife relationship...V.K

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi Sophea,
    Thanks for the article, it was very interesting cause talking about feelings is not easy at all specially front of strangers.I really enjoy your entry and hope to read ur next as soon as possible.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thanks Sophea for the post “Relationships, Communication and Rural Combodia”. Your first blog has inspired me to read more and I read the third one. That one has pushed me back to read the second one I mean this one.

    Definitely all of your posts have power to read the whole story and get the information as well the writing style.

    When I have started reading about the people of rural area of Combodia, suddenly I have started thinking that I am reading about my countries rural area as both are almost same. Here houses and basic look of the family are almost same. Men are busy with the farming work while women are keeping themselves busy with household works and take caring of their children. Their demand is also not too high, just as much as need to survive.

    Communication between husbands and wives are also limited with their basic needs like foods finance. Nonverbal communication can hardly see specially in public place. They have fear if someone hear that they are talking about feelings. It isn’t possible for them to visit doctor when they are sick rather than just depending on general treatment or the grace of religious person.

    However, the situation has been changing. Now they use cell phone, watch T.V. Sending their children to school, even abroad for higher study. Using scientific method in agriculture sector and earning much more than they have earned. Gap between urban and rural are decreasing day by day. Govt. is also try to decentralize everything though it slow. Worker are working abroad and earning foreign currency.

    Lastly I want to say now-a-days people are aware about their right and they can sacrifice for that.

    Looking forward to your next post…


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