Our Traditional Non-Traditional Marriage

by N

My husband S and I would like to pride ourselves on preserving tradition… somewhat. We always ensure our home is all decked out and ready for major festivals. During the Chinese New Year season, red adorns the outside of our home, with chun lian to bring in great luck for the year. During Hari Raya, we put up dazzling lights you can see from miles away. But in many ways, people would say we are odd and do not fit into the confines of what they think a marriage should look like.

For starters, S and I are a year apart. We got married really young. In fact, he was still in university. I have no issue supporting the costs of living such as the mortgage, bills and other expenses. S has also been great, working part-time to contribute to the household bills and does not mind not living up to his “manly responsibility” of being the main breadwinner of the family until he completes his education. We had discussed this prior to the solemnization and all was good between us. But we soon learnt that although this marriage is technically our bond, the whole society had somehow decided that they had a stake in it as well.

Enter the pre-marital counselling session. Our counsellor seemed pretty nice at first until she found out about our little financial situation. She seemed genuinely horrified that I was going to handle the household finances. After a few moments, she composed herself and came up with a “solution” to our “problem”. I would simply take whatever S rakes in from part-time jobs and use that, and only that, to feed our little family of two. Of course we (okay, largely I) fought over this. Apparently it is simply unheard of for the wife to be doing the husband’s job of feeding the family! To allow that to happen is akin to him coming home and telling me I folded the clothes wrong and he should fold them instead! (I’m not kidding. Actual example used during the session).

There have also been so many instances where people were genuinely shocked by how liberal we both are.

“Your husband lets you go out with your guy friend?”

“Does your husband know you’re out late?”
“Yeah I texted to let him know”
“But you need his permission!”

No matter how un-traditional we may come across, we still do try to keep some traditions intact from both our families. For Hari Raya, we honour my family’s traditions by visiting relatives with my parents. S comes from a Christian family so we would get together with them on Chinese New Year and also for Christmas dinners to ensure we continue his family’s traditions. And this is where it gets complicated.

We soon found out that the Malay/Muslim community as a whole held contradictory views on the celebration of festivals. It is encouraged, and even celebrated, when people of other ethnicities join in on our celebrations and take efforts to wear a baju kurung or greet others. But when a Chinese-Muslim and his wife decorate their house for Chinese New Year and have Christmas dinner with his parents, it is a cause of concern. From concerns about halal cutlery to ensuring we don’t get duped into going to church, there were a myriad of questions that had us giggling like 15-year-old girls. But still, we continue to embrace and honour the different traditions we’ve grown accustomed to.

To us, a marriage is not just a union between two individuals but also a marriage of cultures and customs. It is very clear to both S and I that the moment he recited the shahadah, nothing changed except his status as a Muslim. We are also steadfast to the belief that marriage does not mean one person drops their background and identity to mould into the other’s family. For us, the moment our nikah was official was the moment we started building our family’s traditions and culture. Traditions that are uniquely ours. Our case might be a little bit different but as I tell all my friends; all marriages are comprised of two individuals from two very different households. No matter what, a marriage requires accepting the individuals wholly. There will always have to be discussions on what traditions, customs or norms should stay, leave, or be replaced. All families are, after all, just a unique blend of cultures and traditions that have been customised according to the couple’s preferences.

So yes, we are the weird household that may confuse neighbours with the changing décor according to the change in festive seasons. We celebrate Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Christmas with our families. We do not conform to the traditional idea of a Chinese or a Malay family but we would not have it any other way.


N likes to think of herself as a free spirit, in her very own limited way. After being married for 2 years, she tried her best to enjoy her own individual activities. This includes spending time with her cat and watching Netflix all day long.


Illustration by Wan Xiang Lee.