Relationships, Communication and Rural Cambodia
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...