My wife is Filipina and one of the hallmark traits of Filipinos is that they can be a little matigas ang ulo, a Tagalog expression meaning “stubborn”.
Filipinos definitely resist change and are rather set in their ways and rooted in their mentality that, more often than not, is at odds with the Western ways and this may create a lot of friction in a mixed-race marriage between a Westerner and a Filipina.
On top of that my Filipino wife and I, like all couples, have different personalities and different viewpoints about a bunch of matters and have different ways to handle problems and situations.
So there are plenty of areas in which we can’t see eye to eye and things I would definitely like her to change.
People resist change
I have read a lot of books and blogs about how to get other people to change and I have tried different methods but I have come to the conclusion that the reality is that people can hardly be changed and not only because my wife comes from a culture that is particularly reluctant to making any changes: a lot of other people I interact with including my Italian relatives and friends or people I work with resist change.
For example my mother is no longer able to work and lives on a meager old age pension and yet she doesn’t want to sell her big house by the sea that is a big money pit and is eating away at what little money she is receiving from the government.
My employer is losing clients and money but he is not willing to change anything about the way he runs his business and is not open to any suggestions.
So it is not the case that my Filipino wife is stubborn and resists change while everyone else I interact with is ready to change: we live in a world in which pretty much everyone is reluctant to making changes.
And yet we only focus on how our spouse is not willing to change and get pissed off at them and we forget how everyone else around us has basically the same flaw.
I myself resist change
But, even more importantly, I have realized how I myself struggle to change and it took me years or even decades to part with some of the negative habits that I have eventually managed to conquer (like overeating for example) so how can I expect other people to change?
I myself struggle to do it and often come up with all sorts of excuses for why I am not changing.
So, after years characterized by many arguments and failed attempts to get my wife to part with her quote-unquote “destructive” Filipino habits I have made a honest self-examination to find out where I have been ineffective and to what extent I can realistically expect her to change and to what extent I must just accept and learn to appreciate the things that will probably never change.
I remind myself that in much the same way as there are things I want her to change there are things she wants me to change
One of the reasons why my wife resists my attempts to get her to change is probably because, for many years, I viewed myself as the responsible Westerner who has his priorities straight and my wife as a person who comes from a less developed environment so, from my point of view, the things she wanted me to change were minutia and peanuts while the things I wanted her to change were the big stuff.
This is probably true in some areas (like money management for example) but if I continue to operate from the idea that the things I want my wife to change are important while the things she wants me to change are insignificant we are going nowhere.
As long as I view the things she wants me to change as minutia peanuts and the things I want her to change as vital there is no chance.
So the first step I have made is removing this idea and accepting that we are even: she is not changing the things I am requesting her to change and I am not changing too a lot of things she wants me to change, period.
Why am I not changing the things my wife wants me to change?
Once I made this admission I started looking into the reasons why I am reluctant to changing the things she wants me to change because those must be the same underlying reasons that keep my wife from changing the habits I want her to change.
I have found out that there are three underlying reasons why I have never seriously worked on the things that my wife wants me to change:
- I have pretty much already mentioned one: I consider the things she wants me to change to be minor and unimportant so I dismiss them. So I have asked myself: “couldn’t it be the case that in much the same way as I dismiss the things that are important to her as minutia she also views the things I want her to change as unimportant?
- The way she goes about asking me to change: she doesn’t simply request me to change, rather sometimes she raises her voice like all women do.
Filipinos give a surface impression of being maamo or mild-tempered but they can get rather emotional.
When she raises her voice, no matter how right she is, I close my ears. Who is right or wrong flies out of the window, I just don’t want to hear her because I feel like she is attacking me and by attacking me she accomplishes nothing.
So it has to be the case that one of the reasons why she doesn’t change is the fact that she feels that I am attacking her.
Now, I struggle to see myself as one who attacks because I rarely lash out and lose my cool but by thinking a little harder what I have realized is that I attack nonetheless.
I perhaps do it in more gentle and subtle ways but I still attack, criticize and make her wrong.
Preaching, attacking and criticizing doesn’t work with me so how can it work with her?
- She doesn’t see the positive things I do and my positive intentions and only focuses on what I did wrong. And, again, this keeps me from wanting to hear anything she says about how I am wrong so nothing changes. By honestly examining my approach I have realized that I have also focused my attention way too much on the most irking aspects of her mentality and demanded change without really coming from a place of appreciation, at least for her positive intentions.
I Remind Myself How Hard it Was for me to Change the Bad Habits I Managed to Change
I have become more aware of how my being pissed off at her lack of willingness to change is directly proportional to my lack of awareness of how much I still need to change and how hard it was for me to change and how many times I failed over and over and over again.
It is true that I have made some major changes in my life but 99% of my weaknesses are still lingering and I have not even scratched the surface of real change.
I have made huge changes, sure, for example I have developed healthy habits and lost tons of weight but it took me 25 years to pull it off.
So by becoming more aware of my weaknesses and how hard it was for me to change I take a more compassionate and less demanding approach
Always Come From a Place of Appreciation
If I view my wife as fundamentally flawed there is no hope so I force myself to dwell each day on at least 3 things I appreciate about her, as many relationship experts suggest, and I am doing it seriously, I do it first thing in the morning without missing a day.
In much the same way as the rich is getting richer because he is building on top of what he already possesses I can only expect positive outcomes if I see positive traits and positive intentions in my wife and I see her as fundamentally well-meaning and good rather than fundamentally flawed.
So this is what I want to share today about the insights I have had about how to get my wife to change.
I am not trying to come up with some sort of ultimate guide on how to get your partner to change, as I am still in the process of figuring it out for myself and I haven’t accomplished a lot as far as getting my wife to actually change some of the things I want her to change, but I have made a lot of mindset shifts that are helping me to look into the underlying reasons why it is so hard to get my wife to change and to get my mind around the idea that there are things that might never change and things that my wife must not necessarily change for me to be at peace.