Year-end reviews secret to Vietnam-American couple's marital bliss

By Pham Nga   March 29, 2024 | 04:00 am PT
William Gregg and My Linh have gone from getting annoyed at each other’s bad habits to realizing they are a perfect match by conducting annual marital performance reviews.

In 2019, Linh, originally from the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, moved to the U.S. with her new husband William.

Before tying the knot, the couple had discussed and agreed upon guidelines for how their married life should be.

However, their share of differences – from culture to lifestyle – still shocked the newlyweds.

"He left his clothes all over the house after coming home from work," Linh said, recalling how enraged she would get at her messy husband, who refused to change despite her repeated reminders.

"I constantly had to pick up after him," she said.

When she first came to the U.S., Linh was pursuing a degree at school. After coming home from school, she had to take care of all the household chores.

"He [William] might do the dishes and laundry on his days off, but he never helped me out in the kitchen or cooked anything for me," she said.

Living in a foreign country with no family and friends around, Linh felt not only annoyed, but also an intense sense of loneliness, and she began wallowing in self-pity.

The couple and their child on a beach trip in 2023. Photo courtesy of Linh and William

The couple and their child on a beach trip in 2023. Photo courtesy of Linh and William

William was not happy, either. He had to ask his wife not to wear pajamas out in public, and to keep her distance when queuing at supermarkets. He also couldn’t stand her habit of trying to talk with cashiers when they were busy with other customers.

"I was embarrassed when people looked at us," said William. "I kept telling her but she refused to adjust."

He encouraged Linh to learn how to drive and get a license, but she was not willing because she was afraid of accidents. He found it hard to tolerate the smell her used makeup pads diffused into the room when she tossed them in an open trash can. And what the American husband feared most was that his wife always screamed when she got angry, without concern for what the neighbors might think of their fighting.

They loved each other, but that love could not help them get over their flaws. Linh was so resentful and hopeless that she told her husband she wanted to return to Vietnam alone not long after she moved to the U.S., much to William’s dismay and disapproval.

"I thought he no longer loved me," said Linh. "That hurt, and made me cry every night."

However, instead of venting her frustration, Linh remained silent. William felt bad, but he didn’t know how he should manage the situation without understanding why his wife was so unhappy. The couple were stuck at an impasse.

The American man eventually broke the ice, and asked Linh to tell him everything that was on her mind.

"I am your husband, not your brain," he told Linh. "I am a doctor, not a psychiatrist. Even if I were, I would not be able to understand my wife."

The couple then agreed on an annual marital review. Every year-end since then, both William and Linh make time to sit down together and write out everything that upsets them about their partner.

Reading the list his wife made, William responded by both explaining himself and agreeing to change. He said it wasn’t that he was unwilling to help Linh in the kitchen, but rather he wanted to let her cook whatever she liked, considering she had just arrived in the U.S. and might not yet be familiar with the flavors of American dishes. He also promised to keep her company or prepare meals for her on his days off. He apologized for his untidiness and promised to change this habit as well.

As for Linh’s insistence on returning home, William explained that departing from the U.S. so shortly after she arrived would make it hard for Linh to familiarize herself with the country again after coming back. He did not want Linh to return to Vietnam without him either.

"I was so busy that I could not go with her," William said. "But if Linh had flown back home alone, her and her family’s reputation would have been harmed since outsiders might have assumed she had been abandoned by me."

Understanding and affirming what was on her husband’s mind, Linh opened up and promised to change the things she did that bugged him. Together, the couple then went to buy a lidded trash can for Linh and a laundry basket for William. They started cooking together, preparing meals that included both Vietnamese and American dishes.

"When both of us learned from the review and changed, we felt more satisfied with our relationship and understood each other better," Linh said. "We decided to make it our yearly routine."

Thanks to the year-end review, the couple has become more aligned on how to tackle everyday challenges together during their second year of marriage. Sometimes their ideas still clash, but now they know how to work together to resolve their problems.

When William wanted Linh to have their meals ready on the table before he arrived at home from work so they could finish eating and cleaning early in order to get to bed on time, Linh resisted because she wanted her husband to have freshly cooked meals. So they came to a mutual agreement: William would text Linh when he started heading home from the hospital, so she could prepare the meal for her husband in time.

Linh also told William to throw all his used toothpicks in the trash, otherwise she had no idea whether they were new or not. They also came to the mutual understanding that when they went to bed, if one person put down their phone, the other would have to do the same.

These mutual understandings made the couple realize they still really wanted to spend their lives together two years after getting married. They then decided to become parents. When their child was born, the only thing left that Linh wanted William to change was his habit of wearing shoes in the house, as the home should be clean for the baby.

William caring for Linh and their newborn baby at the hospital in mid-2023. Photo courtesy of Linh and William

William caring for Linh and their newborn baby at the hospital in mid-2023. Photo courtesy of Linh and William

As for William, he still felt bothered by Linh’s penchant for giving his mother gifts and money.

"That habit was the only thing we failed to be on the same page about even after being married for two years," Linh said, attributing the discord to the differences between Eastern and Western cultures.

Since relocating to the U.S., Linh has always sent gifts and money to her mother-in-law Veronica Gregg on every holiday, including Christmas and International Women’s Day. However, from her husband’s point of view, Linh’s actions could make his mother sad if she thought the couple were afraid she couldn’t take care of herself.

"Mom will find a way to return the gifts back to us," William told his wife. "What you have done is bothering her."

But Linh kept giving gifts to her mother-in-law to express her gratitude.

Then, one day when Veronica visited to spend time with the newborn, Linh asked her whether the gift-giving bothered her. The mother-in-law admitted that she had initially been hesitant to receive the gifts. But it was Linh’s text messages that touched her and encouraged her to accept them with pride.

"Mom, please don’t be hesitant," read one of the messages Linh sent Veronica. "You have raised my husband for 18 years, and he would not be who he is without you."

Now in William’s eyes, his wife is perfect.

He is content that she always tries her best every day to adapt and achieve her goals both personally and professionally. Linh has gotten a driver’s license and is now familiar with American culture, though she is still shy whenever she meets strangers. She no longer complains and has learned to take deep breaths to calm herself down whenever she gets angry.

And William, who now always listens and is willing to change for the benefit of the couple’s happiness, is someone Linh considers "almost flawless."

These days, instead of waiting until the year-end review, Linh and William freely express their concerns to each other whenever they have issues.

"The most important thing for married couples is mutual understanding," Linh said. "Therefore, if you want to cultivate and maintain happiness, you must regularly sit down, communicate, and try to change for each other."

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