Whether a couple is considering having children or is already trying to juggle a family, it helps to remember the basics of a good relationship and healthy marriage. We talked with two Beijing families about life, love and how they maintain their bonds.
The Maigan Family
French native Denis Maigan and Chilean Ximena Vasquez are both lawyers and have been working in Beijing for the past seven years. They met in Paris while studying at university and started dating in 1992. They’ve been happily married for 11 years. The couple has an 8-year-old son, named Gabriel, and a 3-year-old daughter, Ines.
The Ho Family
Brazilian Marina Sieh Ho was excited to be single in New York City, but upon her arrival she met American Charles Ho on a blind date and her plans of singledom evaporated. The two started dating in 1995 and have been married for over eight years. Charles runs a small manufacturing company and also represents a Brazilian investment fund. They moved to the capital last year with their two daughters, 6-year-old Sophia and 3-year-old Allegra.
The Maigan couple says their relationship is based on compromise, respect, communication, patience and trust. Being able to rely on each other during Denis’ adjustment to his new job in Beijing was especially important. Though the Maigan family initially moved here for Ximena’s work, they’ve now chosen to stay to benefit Denis’ career.
Shared morals are equally as important as shared values. Before getting hitched, Marina and Charles were given a Pre-Cana by the Catholic Church. This pre-marital consultation assesses the compatibility of a couple based on their views on money, friendship, family and conflict resolution. Regardless of a couple’s religious affiliations, having a third-party assess your strengths and weaknesses can be a great way of evaluating a romantic relationship and determining whether or not it has lasting power. The Hos passed their assessment with flying colors – their answers matched almost 100 percent. For couples not affiliated with a specific religion or church, a session with a marriage counselor can help get you on the same page before you take the next step.
Becoming Parents Together
Becoming a parent is a different experience for everyone, and can sometimes be taxing on a relationship. These parents have discovered that the addition of children helped them grow as individuals and strengthened their relationship with their spouse.
The Maigans didn’t recall a dramatic shift in their relationship, but they do feel that their marriage is stronger due to the shared responsibility. Denis felt that the shift from being someone’s child to being someone’s parent changed him for the better. And while it’s hard for the couple to recall their lives before they had children, the Maigans find the love between them remains. Ximena reminds parents-to-be that all children are different, adding, "They don’t come with an instruction manual."
If a couple is facing difficulties before starting a family, then the arrival of kids is almost guaranteed to lead to more woes. "Kids – while they’re joyful – can bring a lot of stress to the relationship, especially in the beginning. It’s important to have good communication and a good foundation [beforehand]," Marina advises. Although their girls sometimes lead the couple to disagree, they still remain a unifying part of their relationship. Indeed, Marina and Charles’ shared values have been reaffirmed by having children.
Timing is also an important factor when considering whether or not to have children. Conception may be more difficult in later years, and being psychologically prepared for kids is critical. Parenthood necessarily reduces the amount of time a couple has to spend alone together, so couples should take advantage of their time together before they start a family, whether that means backpacking through Europe or dining and dating in New York, as Charles and Marina did back when they first met. Charles says it’s about "finding your balance – how much fun you want to have and then still having the energy and vigor to take care of kids."
Charles admits that the adjustment to parenthood took some time. He noticed that his wife developed a bond sooner and "instantly transformed" into a mother. Besides changing a diaper here and there, he didn’t feel an immediate responsibility to be a father. As Charles eventually grew into the role of Dad, he came to enjoy his newfound sense of belonging and purpose. "It’s quite an experience to see your partner as a parent – the dimension that I didn’t see before we had children. Watching Charles grow into his role as a father has been pretty neat," Marina observes.
Maintaining a Lasting Relationship
Sharing common interests gives a couple common ground, but respecting each other’s space is crucial to the relationship too. The Maigans find that giving each other alone time is just as important as having family time. Raised in a Chilean family, Ximena was accustomed to always having company, be it friends or family. Upon meeting Denis, a naturally independent person, she learned to respect his alone time and give him space when he needed it. In return, Denis watches the kids so Ximena can have time off.
The Hos’ secret to staying together for so many years is commitment and persistence. Because it’s easy for couples to grow apart, it’s vital to make the effort to stay together. Initially, Marina was concerned about maintaining a long-distance relationship with Charles but it made them realize how much they wanted to be together. Making that choice was a conscious decision for the Hos and they continue to make that choice to remain committed.
Table for Two
Their families may have doubled in size, but these couples still set aside quality time for two. Whenever possible, the Maigans dine in Beijing sans children. Leaving their children in the capable hands of their ayi allowed them to enjoy a weekend in Hong Kong. Families without ayis can arrange to share the load with another couple. They can watch your children for a weekend, and in return you can watch theirs.
Despite having less time for each other, the Hos find that their one-on-one time is "more precious," valuing quality over quantity. In addition to weekly date nights, the couple plans a romantic getaway every year.
The Maigans enjoy life in Beijing, stating that it’s great for the kids. While they don’t have much time for Chinese class, their children speak Chinese as their third language and their daughter attends a local Chinese school.
Meanwhile, the Ho children are also avid learners of Mandarin – communicating with their father solely in Chinese. Immersion is an important part of adjusting to life in China, but the Hos have also learned an invaluable lesson since moving abroad and selling their house in the US. "Moving is stressful, but it helps us realize what’s important," Charles says. "Family is not really about your house and your things. It’s about being together."
"My spouse has taught me to be open-minded – to see the possibility in things, instead of the impossibility" – Marina Sieh Ho
"I think the secret to being in successful relationships is to understand your emotions. It will help you move past your insecurities" – Charles Ho
"Being together is not the addition of two individuals. It’s creating something together" – Denis Maigan
"You need to preserve the other person. And at the same time, give them their space" – Ximena Vasquez