How to be a Better Listener

When I entered the relationship I am in I kind of naively assumed that I was a good communicator because I was highly educated, I could communicate with my wife in two languages and I was in the process of learning my wife’s native language.

Being able to communicate with my foreign wife in three languages certainly helps but good communication is a lot more than that.

The ability to switch from one language to another when talking to her helps me to convey what I am trying to tell her in an accurate manner but that is just the tip of the iceberg because the foundation of excellent communication is listening.

All relationship experts say that and they are absolutely right: few weeks after my wedding day my inability to give my wife presence of mind and listen to her started to creep in and snowball to the point that it became very corrosive.

Actually the fact that I could communicate with her in three languages only made things worse because I could not use the language barrier as an excuse.

Here are three common weaknesses that I have and that, I guess, a lot of people have:

Lack of presence:

One of my main weaknesses is the tendency to go into Fantasy Land when someone else is talking.
It does not just happen with my wife. It used to happen when I was in school: I used to do well in school but I wouldn’t listen to anything the teachers said, the only reason I did well is because I used to study a lot at home but that entailed working twice as much.

This weakness spilled over into other areas of my life including marriage.

Now, while in school I could afford to ignore what the teachers said and still manage to pass the exams, because I could study the textbooks, marriage doesn’t work that way: there is no textbook where I can study what my wife says to me and, therefore, I have to listen right then and there.

When I became aware that my lack of presence was the source of a lot of problems, and that my efforts to learn my wife’s native language counted for very little, I started working very seriously to conquer this weakness.

I began to force myself to listen not just within the household but in every situation.

I don’t go to school anymore but I attend meetings, seminars, courses and listen to audiobooks while driving.

So what I did to improve my ability to be fully present was repeating out loud what I just heard in each one of those situations.

For example if I listen to an audiobook while driving I take five minutes or so when I stop the car to repeat out loud the gist of what I heard while driving.

When I go to a meeting or a seminar I approach the speaker telling him two or three specific things I appreciated.

I practiced these things for about six months and I started noticing great improvements even within my marriage and my family life in general.

We interrupt:

Another major weakness I have is the tendency to think about what I am going to say next while someone else is talking, and again this doesn’t just happen within the household but also when I go to a meeting or a seminar: while listening to a speech I think about the speech I am going to give.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a book entitled “Communication Miracles for Couples” by Jonathan Robinson that says that when someone else is talking to us and we are focused on what we are going to say next it is as if we were saying something like: “What you have to say is so predictable and such a waste of time that it’s not worth my waiting a few seconds, and what I have to say is so important that, in order to not waste my precious time, I’m going to cut you off.” (Chapter 8).

This sentence hit me so hard that I felt a huge sense of shame and started working very seriously on my ability to honor and acknowledge what my wife, or other people for that matter, are saying.

We defend or justify:

Another weakness I have is the tendency to defend or justify rather than fully listen to and acknowledge what my wife is trying to tell me, and all the more so because, more often than not, my wife doesn’t just reveal to me her deepest feelings but rather she vents them on me (and Filipinas are rather emotional women).

The problem is that when someone is venting and the other is defending or justifying no one is really listening.

So I’ve learned that someone has to break this negative pattern where nobody is listening and I have developed the habit of fully listen to my wife when she becomes emotional. I don’t do it perfectly, sometimes I lose my cool but I am trying.

We minimize or dismiss what our partner says as emotional or outlandish:

Sometimes my problem is that I dismiss what my wife says as emotional or even outlandish.

My wife is Filipina and sometimes she comes up with suggestions and ideas that are rather emotional and far-fetched.

I once heard the phrase “try to turn frustration into fascination” and, within certain limits, I am now trying to get curious rather than dismiss even the most outlandish things she says.

Even if my wife comes up with viewpoints that sound way too emotional, crazy and outlandish like for example when she says things like “I am sick and tired of living in this country, I miss my home let’s move to the Philippines for good next week (even if she knows that we don’t have the resources to make this move in one week)” I try to give her attention and honor her viewpoint and her suggestion.

It has been said that intimacy is into me see and if the person I am in an intimate relationship with says something outlandish it is as if a part of me were saying that. So, for the sake of into me see it is much more effective to get curious and find out the underlying reason why she is saying that crazy thing and try to grasp where she is coming from.

By practicing this I have learned to listen with genuine attention even to other people who say even the most woo-woo and crazy things.

For example few days ago I listened to a guy who claims that only a selected race will be saved and that God created all other races just to destroy them at Armageddon no matter how hard they try or how well they behave.

This guy is saying things that my mind dismisses as crazy and very outlandish but, because I have learned to listen attentively to whatever my wife says even when she is driven by strong emotions and she says strange things, I am listening to this guy with respect and honoring what he says.

So, yes, being able to speak my wife’s native language counts for very little and, in order to become a better communicator, I have had to work very hard on my listening skills and, as a result, my marriage (as well as my communication with other people) has improved dramatically.

How to Communicate your Feelings to your Spouse

One of the things that have immensely helped me to improve my communication with my spouse is the ability to communicate my feelings, especially when I am disappointed, angry or upset.

  • Remove blame

What I have learned, by reading various books on communication, is that, even if my wife says or does something that hurts me, I have to remove any form of blame from my language.

Blame, even when justified, causes people to defend or even counterattack.

So, what I have learned is that it is way more effective to say something along the lines of “when you did this I felt…..”, “When you did this I interpreted as….”. This way I communicate how I felt and how I interpreted the situation and therefore I put the blame upon myself instead of blaming her and causing her to become defensive and retaliate.

  • Avoid saying always/never

What I have also learned is that I need to avoid saying things (or conveying that idea) like “you always ….” or “you never…” because, by doing that, I am questioning her as a person and I am implying that she is someone who always….or never…. and, therefore, I try to be specific.

For example, instead of saying “you never hug me when I come home” or “when I come home and you don’t hug me…“, I say “when I came home yesterday and you didn’t hug me I felt….”. This way I avoid accusing her that she always….or that she never….

  • Never question your partner as a person or the relationship itself

I also remind myself who she is as a person and that she is more than her behavior.

Somewhere along the line I decided to be in this relationship because, evidently, I fell in love with who she is as a person.

The problem is that many of us, when we are upset, tend to forget who our spouse is and the reason why we entered the relationship in the first place and question who our spouse is, her motives and the essence of the relationship, and I used to fall into this trap too.

So, what I have learned is to say something along the lines of “I know you love me” and then I go on communicating my needs or feelings in the following way “…I just want to tell you that when I came home yesterday (not you always/never) I felt (not you made me feel)…..” or something along the lines of “…I felt as if you….and I know this is not true because I know who you are“.

  • Use “and” instead of “but”

Another important thing I have learned by reading books on relationships is to replace “but” with “and”.

Why is this important?

If I say for example “I know you love me but when you….I felt…” I am kind of contradicting what I just said, namely “I know you love me”.

It is way more effective to say something like “I know you love me and ….” which kind of conveys the idea that “I know you love me and I would feel even more loved if….”.

Learning how to communicate my feelings and upsets and speak my truth in a way that creates bridges rather than walls has been a huge game changer for my relationship and I believe that if more people studied this kind of information and read books on relationships, and made an earnest effort to apply the suggestions contained in those books, there would be way less broken marriages.

Language Barriers in a Western-Filipino Couple

When I first met the Filipino woman who later became my wife she could barely speak my language. This was not a problem because I am fluent in English and, like many Filipino women, she is fluent in English too, and all the more so because she’s got a college degree.

I have been in this relationship for 20 years now and she is now fluent in Italian and I am fluent in Tagalog. But it took her around 10 years to really become fluent in Italian and it took me, more or less, the same amount of time to master Tagalog to the point of being able to communicate with her in a meaningful way.

I know plenty of Western-Filipino couples where the husband is Italian or from another non-English speaking country (I know French-Filipino couples, German-Filipino couples etc.).

In most cases the Western husband is a well-travelled individual who is fluent in English and few of them are also trying to learn Tagalog.

However I know few couples where the Western mate speaks neither English nor is he trying to learn Tagalog.

Now, what I have noticed is that most Filipinas, when they settle in a non-English speaking country, it really takes them a long while to master the local language.

Here in Italy most Filipinos never really learn the language properly and the kind of job they do (many are live-in domestic helpers) doesn’t offer them the chance to mingle with local people and practice the language. On top of all that I’ve also noticed that Filipinos don’t have a way with languages and grammar. Although my wife is Filipino and I am always surrounded by Filipinos, I have had to study Tagalog by myself because they don’t even know the structure of their own language, let alone being able to explain it to others (Italians are not any better under this aspect though).

So, apart from English, which they learned in the Philippines when they were kids, when they move to a foreign non-English speaking country, they struggle to learn the local language.

So, I guess that if a non-English speaking guy struggles with the English language, he’d probably better improve it before marrying a Filipina because being already in a relationship where he speaks nothing but Italian, French, German or any language that is different from English and she struggles with the language of her husband can lead to huge communication issues.

I know a couple that lives in my neighborhood and they have this communication gap and, sure enough, the relationship is barely coasting along. There might be other problems that I have no knowledge of but certainly the language barrier is a huge obstacle.

I know other couples in which the parents of the Filipino wife live with them and the Western husband is unable to understand what they talk about.

So, in those situations a lot of problems can arise and do actually arise.

Although my wife and I can communicate in English, Italian and Tagalog we still have misunderstandings from time to time and culture shock still requires a lot of effort on both parts.

So, in order not to end up like those couples that only have superficial communication and avoid all the problems that are a consequence of that, non-English speakers who wish to marry a Filipina had better carefully weigh how language barriers might impact their interracial relationship before committing.

How to Deal With an Emotional Filipina

The Philippines have a hot and humid tropical weather and quite a few people there seem to be a little hot tempered or, as they say in Tagalog, mainit ang ulo.

Emotionalism is one of the hallmark characteristics of Filipinos and….of women in general.

Many relationship experts have come to the consensus that the best way to deal with emotionally charged people and situations is by keeping one’s cool and by keeping on showing kindness so that strong emotions will slowly but surely melt away.

Like many concepts that relationship experts across the planet talk about, even this concept of treating with kindness a person who is treating you lousy is nothing new, in fact it is very old.

A passage from the New Testament reads “do not render evil for evil…but keep on conquering evil with the good”.

A similar concept can also be found in the words of Socrates “then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone“, providing further evidence that human psychology was designed in such a way that loving relationships (not just romantic relationships but all kind of human interactions) are only possible when one of the two partners breaks the pattern of anger by raising above it to the point of showering it with kindness in circumstances in which showing kindness is a very counterintuitive move.

It has been said that success comes from counterintuitive moves, we succeed in every aspect of life including intimate relationships by going against the grain, by going against what our psyche naturally wants to do.

What our psyche naturally wants to do when someone lashes out is to vent back but that kind of behavior only calls forth further anger.

The Philippines is one of those cultures where, generally speaking, people quickly overreact when provoked and there are drivers who carry a tubo or a knife in case someone cuts them off.

So a Filipina comes from that kind of environment where the degree of emotionality is a little higher than in other countries. Yet there are cross-cultural gems of wisdom, that can also be found in modern psychology and relationship coaching, that can make a world of difference.

Indeed success in anything in life comes from counterintuitive moves and one of the most effective counterintuitive moves is conquering evil (well, an angry spouse is not “evil” but the pattern of lashing out creates pretty lousy situations) by raising above it and becoming masters at showing kindness in an emotionally charged situation.

Indeed the One who created human psychology knew better and I can say from personal experience that this principle does indeed produce amazing things.

Never Make a “Padalus-dalos” Decision Based on a Temporary Emotion

The Tagalog word padalus-dalos means “hasty” or “thoughtless”, for example the expression padalus-dalos na pagsasalita refers to speaking thoughtlessly, like the stabs of a sword.

Padalus-dalos na pagsasalita happens when we say something while we are angry, hurt, upset, depressed and it happens a lot in a relationship with a Filipina.

Recently I’ve come across a nice post that pointed out how, because our decisions, about what to do or what to say in a specific situation, can have permanent effects, it is better to avoid making any padalus-dalos decisions when we are experiencing a temporary emotion like hurt, upset etc.

The picture below says everything about the terrible consequences that could result from saying or doing something while emotionally unstable..