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Carolyn Hax: Bilingual wife won’t agree to speak English among friends

(Nick Galifianakis/Illustration for The Washington Post)
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Hi, Carolyn: I married for the second time a little over a year ago. My second wife was born in China and has been in the United States for about six years. Before we were married, everything seemed great. Now a number of issues are starting to reveal themselves.

Her primary language is Chinese, but she also speaks English very well. When we are alone, she speaks to me in English, but any time her 22-year-old daughter, who speaks English very well, or friends are around, she speaks almost solely in Chinese. The friends also speak both languages. She does not make an effort to include me in the conversations, and when I bring up the topic, she tells me it is a personal discussion and I don’t need to know.

My mother visited recently. My mom felt as if this behavior was rude, and I agree. Mom even politely said something, but she was essentially ignored. What do I do?

— A Stranger in My Own Home

A Stranger in My Own Home: You take it or leave it.

If you want sympathy, then I have that. (Two bilingual husbands!)

If you want validation, I have that, too, mostly: I think you’re asking a lot for her to switch exclusively to a second language with a daughter — too deep a bond — and if there’s a friend gathering in your kitchen you’re not actively part of, and you trust your wife not to belittle you, then be glad they talk comfortably. Those exceptions aside, though, I agree that routinely holding conversations that exclude others in the home/marriage is standoffish and rude. (If you don’t trust her, yikes.)

However, you’ve discussed this. You made your case to be included. She is unmoved.

So that rules out some options. A wife who agrees with you, apologizes and invites you into her conversations? No. A wife who disagrees but for the sake of harmony makes an extra effort to speak English around you? No. A marriage that won’t suffer damage from a standoff? Haven’t seen that unicorn yet.

By my count, here’s what you have left: 1. Embrace the marriage you have, where you accept a fair amount of separation between your together times. You’d have to want that, of course, but plenty of couples thrive on those terms, remarriages especially. 2. Pull the plug. Sometimes you date a facade, marry the truth and divorce your mistake.

That’s what you have in the take-or-leave aisle. But consider this option, too, in the get-over-yourself aisle:

3. Learn to speak her language.

If you think it’s on her to do all the extra work to communicate with you and make you feel welcome, then I might just take my sympathy and go home.

Dear Carolyn: How can you “politely” tell people who make snarky comments about changing jobs that you don’t appreciate their opinions? I have had a rocky few years with my career, and I find that some people are very judgmental about my situation without knowing the reasons for the changes. I also don’t think I owe anyone explanations for my situation.

— Changing Jobs

Changing Jobs: “New joke, please. I’m tired.” A calm line drawn straight to the point is a gift, even when it’s a variant of, “Shut your pie-hole.” That’s because anyone of good faith will want to know it’s a sore spot, so they can leave it alone.

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