Needs vs Wants: What the Coronavirus Crisis is Teaching Me

Italy is on complete lockdown for the first time in its history.

What this entails is that all bars, all restaurants, all fast-food restaurants and many other non-essential businesses are closed.

Even if you were willing to pay 100€ for a cup of espresso you won’t find any bar open and if you were willing to pay 1000€ for a pizza you won’t find any pizzeria open.

For the first time in decades I have been forced to bring my coffee thermos from home and give up my habit of going to a bar up to 3 or 4 times a day to order an espresso, because there is nowhere to go.

This situation is causing me to reflect a little bit on how much money I could actually have saved up if, when I was younger, I had adopted the habit of bringing my own coffee to work, instead of always going to a bar and splashing unnecessary money.

Going to a bar 3 or 4 times a day means (here in Italy) spending 3-4€ a day, which multiplied by 7 days per week, 30 days per month and 365 days per year means a lot of money, money that I have been unconsciously spending on non-essentials.

Had I conquered this habit 25 years ago, or, better yet, had I never started this habit, I would, by now, have a lot more money in the bank.

This Coronavirus thing is making it plainly obvious that consistently spending money on non-essentials is absolutely foolish and it also making it obvious that we don’t really need to go to a bar or a restaurant to be happy.

My wife and I are having an amazing time together despite the fact that we are unable to go anywhere for a date.

From now on I will always bring my coffee thermos to work and my wife and I are considering the possibility of cutting back rather drastically on our habit of eating out.

12 years from now I should be able to retire (provided that there will still be such thing as a pension check in Italy): if I really manage to ditch this bad habit of spending money on unnecessary cups of espresso for good I should be able to have good extra money in my bank account…..hopefully.

A passage of the New Testament written by Paul of Tarsus says that we should be content with having nourishment and clothing (and a house I guess)….it seems like he was right. There is a lot of stuff we don’t really need…

My coffee thermos is proving to be a very useful tool

Kung Papaano Matutong Magpakita ng Empatiya at Malasakit

Ang pamagat ng post na ito ay hindi “Kung Papaano Magkaroon ng Malasakit” dahil kung ang isa ay nagkukulang sa empatiya at malasakit malaking hadlang ito sa pagkakaroon ng mabuting pag-aasawa at relasyon sa iba sa pangkalahatang.

Ang pamagat ng post ay “Kung Papaano Magpakita ng Empatiya at Malasakit”.

Gaya ng sinabi ko maraming beses ako ay medyo mahiyain, reserbado at hindi masyadong mahilig sa maraming pakikisama at pakikihalubilo.

At medyo kulang pa ako sa kakayahang makinig sa iba, hindi dahil kulang ako sa interes kundi dahil talagang kahinaan ko ito mula noong bata pa ako.

Bilang resulta, bagaman mayroon akong malasakit at interes sa kapakinabangan ng aking kapwa, ang dating sa kanila ay na kulang ako sa malasakit.

At, syempre, ito ay naging ang isang problema na medyo malaki sa pakikitungo ko sa misis ko at, lalo na, sa extended family.

Kaya nagpasya ako na ayusin ang problemang ito at matuto kung papaano magpakita ng mas maraming personal na interes kapwa sa loob ng tahanan at sa labas.

Para maging posible ito nagsimula akong pilitin ang aking sarili na makinig sa lahat ng mga situwasyon kung saan ang aking isip ay nasa ibang dako kapag ang iba ay nagsasalita.

Halimbawa, dahil dumadalo ako sa mga pagpupulong at mga kombensyon kung saan may iba’t ibang mga pahayag pangmadla nagumpisa akong kumuha ng mga nota ng, at least, tatlong pangunahing mga punto sa bawat pahayag at pagkatapos ay lumalapit ako sa tagapagsalita para sabihin sa kanya kung ano ang espesipikong pinahalagahan ko sa kanyang pahayag, at least tatlong mga bagay.

Bukod dito pinilit ko rin ang sarili na pumunta sa mga malaking salu-salo ng mga Pinoy kung saan may maraming kwentuan at, sa halip na bale-walahin bilang walang saysay ang kwentuan, kahit kung minsan medyo mababaw ito, sinusubukan kong bigyang pansin sa, at least, tatlong mga bagay na sinasabi ng mga nagkukwentuan at isangkot ang aking sarili at least tatlong beses sa usapan.

At, dahil ginawa ko ito sa loob ng humigit-kumulang anim na buwan, nakita ko ang malaking pagsulong pati sa aking relasyon sa asawa ko at sa extended family ko.

Isang bagay na ginagawa ko ngayon ay na, kapag nagsasalita sa akin ang asawa ko, karaka-raka inuulit ko ang kanyang sinabi bilang feedback na interesado ako sa sinabi niya.

Syempre naman hindi ako perpekto at tiyak na kakailanganin ko maraming panahon para talagang magpakita ng malasakit.

Hindi sapat magkaroon ng malasakit, kailangang magpakita ito dahil, kung hindi, ang dating sa iba ay na hindi ako interesado.

Pero ang maganda ay na walang kahinaan na hindi pwedeng daigin, basta lang magkaroon ng taimtim na pagnanais na gawin ito.

Can Empathy be Learned?

As I said in my post about how a strong introvert can succeed in a relationship with an extrovert, I am a very strong introvert.

Sometimes this trait of my personality causes me to come across as uncaring, aloof and lacking empathy.

The truth is that I do care about the feelings of other people, and I do care a lot, but I have a hard time expressing my feelings so I come across as cold, uncaring and indifferent when in fact I am not and, deep inside, I am the exact opposite of that.

I have deep concern for people who suffer, even for animals for that matter, and I have a deep desire to help but I struggle to project those emotions outward.

My wife, on the other hand, because she comes from a culture that encourages reaching out to others and connecting with others, is much more capable of expressing fellow feeling and empathy.

So, when I became aware that feeling love and care deep inside while not being able to let people know what I feel and how much I feel and care doesn’t work in an intimate relationship, I decided to conquer this weakness by basically applying the same method that has helped me to conquer my inability to listen to others.

Few weeks ago I wrote a post about how I learned to listen more.

I used to suck a lot at listening to others but, when I became aware of how this weakness was eating away at my marriage, I trained myself to listen more by making a deliberate effort to practice paying attention when others speak in every situation.

For example, because I regularly attend meetings, lectures and conventions, I make it a practice to remember at least three points of each talk I listen to and then approach the speaker and give him feedback about what I liked in his presentation and try to be as specific as possible.

And when I go to a large Filipino social gathering, instead of shying away from kwentuan (a lot of people who chit-chat, usually about petty issues) and retreat myself into a corner, I try to sit close to the people who are engaging in kwentuan and try to pay attention to, at least, three points and make three comments before retreating myself in a corner.

By training myself to make a deliberate effort to listen and give feedback in every situation I am also making good progress under this aspect in my family life.

And it’s the same with empathy: by practice it can be learned, and, again, I am not talking about the empathy that I feel deep inside but rather the ability to come across as one who really cares.

So, what I started practicing, to come across as more empathetic in my marriage, is simply this: I make a deliberate effort to repeat out loud the gist of what my wife has just said whenever she is talking to me.

I am not perfect at this yet, it might take years to master this but I am glad that I decided to work on my old habits.

I really want my marriage to grow and thrive so I cannot afford to be stuck in old patterns.

I used to believe that a thriving marriage with a Filipina was all about learning about her language and culture and building rapport that way but, somewhere along the line, it dawned upon me that the key to an amazing marriage (and it doesn’t really matter if we are talking about an interracial one or a quote-unquote “normal” one) is a huge mindset shift and working on one’s psychology.

As human beings we share the same underlying psychology and empathy is one of those things that work cross-culturally.

Learning about my wife’s native culture and language without working on my mindset weaknesses was producing absolutely nothing, therefore I decided to spend much more time reading material on the psychology of healthy relationships and trying to apply those bits of information and I cut back a bit on my deep study of the Philippines and its culture which is, without a doubt, very useful but is definitely not the master key to a successful relationship.

How to Deal With Loneliness….When you are Married

One of my cherished moments of solitude


When I was single I was not particularly desperate about finding a spouse and I was definitely not in a hurry to marry someone.

And in fact I took my time and I only made this move at age 36 when it had become obvious, beyond any reasonable doubt, that I had passed the bloom of youth.

For many years I held back from even looking for a girlfriend and I faced a lot of peer pressure from friends and family members who were trying to encourage me to find one and who seemed to view my reluctance to settle down and build a family as foolishness.

But I was actually cherishing my solitude and all the freedom and the opportunities that it was offering me.

Well, I have been married for 17 years now and during the past years I have had the confirmation of what I always suspected, namely that those who get married are, more often than not, no less lonely than those who remain single.

And this is the case for a variety of reasons.

Husband and wife have conflicting interests

Husband and wife are not twins so there are things and interests you will never be able to fully share with your spouse and that your spouse might never relate to.

For example I have a passion for reading, for musing, contemplating and meditating, for being out in nature and this is a vast universe that constitutes a huge portion of who I am as a person that is completely foreign to my wife and definitely off her radars. She is the typical Filipina who prefers pakikisama or togetherness, partying and connecting with people to the above mentioned things.

So within me there is a vast landscape of passions, interests and deep reflections that I am not able to share at all with my wife.

Our deepest emotions cannot be shared

Also, during my most difficult times,  or even during my happiest highs, there are feelings, emotions and fears that are simply beyond the realm of communication, not just with my wife but with any other human being and, in fact, during my teen-age years I would spend long days shut away in my room unable to share my deepest emotions with others, not even with my parents, and things haven’t changed that much: to this very day I continue to face the deepest joys and fears in life, the ones that cannot be put into words and shared, all by myself.

Husband and wife are mostly immersed in their own thoughts

Another reason is because I have become aware that most of the time I spend in close proximity with my spouse my wife and I are, for the most part, immersed in our thoughts and even when together we are de-facto separated.

It is not easy to be fully present and give our partner undivided attention and electronic gadgets certainly don’t help.

If you are married you have to work more and have less time to socialize

Those who are married have little time, if any at all, for their old friends.
When I was single I had plenty of social interactions because I had a lot less responsibilities and I had to work a lot less.
Now I hardly have any time for my old friends, and I used to have many all over the world, because my priority is (obviously and rightly so) my family.
I don’t work that many hours but, because I am the head of the family, I might have to, should the need arise,  and, as a result, have very limited time to interact with my only friends that I have the chance to associate with on a regular basis, namely my family.

I know plenty of married people who work so hard that they barely spend few minutes a day with their spouse before they fall asleep, and my father was one of those for a part of his life.

The situation is obviously much worse for married people who do shift work and perhaps are in a situation where even their spouse has a similar job.


Married people who live in a developing country might be forced to work overseas away from their families

The situation is even worse for those who work overseas (as many Filipinos do) away from their families, and that is really the height of the loneliness that a married person can experience.
I know Filipinos who have been working abroad for more than five years and haven’t had the chance to get their families to live with them, they only see them through Skype.

We are fundamentally alone in this universe

I am not in any of the above mentioned extreme situations and I have enough time to be with my wife but, as hard as I try to give my wife full attention and presence and as hard as I try to be interested in the things she values, what I have discovered is that, at the deepest existential level, life is a first-person responsibility and not a family project.

A relationship with the Creator, if you believe in one, or, at least, an investigation into the nature of existence, why we are here and so on, these are personal endeavors.

You can certainly worship God and pray to him with your spouse or, if you don’t believe in God, you can read about, talk about and speculate about the meaning of life with your spouse but, ultimately, the buck has to stop with you and you have to face these deep existential aspects of life all by yourself.

Hell, even death is something that you’ll have to face alone, even if your wife and the entire extended family (and Filipinos have a very large family and social group) is next to you: they can encourage you and comfort you but they are not going to follow you.

You are alone as far as your health and your emotions are concerned

Taking care or your health is a personal endeavor, and in fact there are people who work out and eat healthy food while their wife doesn’t.

The emotions you feel are the result of how you use your body and what you focus on and not the result of how your spouse makes you feel.

Solitude is vital to enjoy a healthy relationship

Solitude is necessary to be productive, to write in a journal, to plan, to schedule, to read, to contemplate and to grow, speaking of which I must also say that living as a couple without carving out moments of solitude and reflection could actually endanger the relationship itself.

One of the reasons why my relationship has improved dramatically is precisely because I isolate myself on a daily basis and reflect on how to improve my marriage, write the challenges I have in my marriage down in a journal and put down in writing my insights about how to meet those challenges.

So, how can you deal with loneliness if you are married?

The reality is that you are alone, you came into this world alone and you are going to leave alone.

You’ll have to face the deepest existential issues all alone, you’ll have to cultivate an intimate relationship with the Creator (or with life, the universe or whatever you prefer) all alone.

You will be spending most of your couple time immersed in your thoughts and your spouse will do the same most of the time and you might actually be too busy working to even spend much time with your spouse, let alone with your old friends.

And you will need solitude to study the best strategies to improve your relationship.

So loneliness cannot be avoided even if you are in an intimate relationship and you will actually need plenty of quality time by yourself to become a solidly grounded human being who is in the best position to make the relationship grow.

 

 

How to Get Your Partner to Change

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.

 

My Addictive Wanderlust: When the Urge to Travel Becomes a Problem

Travelling alone in the Philippines

I am an Italian man who is married to a foreigner.

One of the reasons why 20 years ago I stumbled upon the foreign woman whom I eventually married is because I am well-travelled, I speak more than one language and therefore, when I first met my wife, I was able to communicate with her because she was new here in Italy and she couldn’t really speak my language.

Also, because of my travelling experiences, I was open to other cultures and I had plenty of experience in interacting with people from diverse backgrounds.

But, while my desire to explore other countries and cultures was the very thing that got me to get to know my wife and eventually marry her, this very desire became a huge stumbling block in my relationship.

WANDERLUST VS BASKING IN BEING

To make a long story short: I love travelling, or, more honestly, I actually crave it, so much so that before I got married I couldn’t stand the idea of letting a single year go by without visiting at least one foreign country and I couldn’t even stand the idea of letting one week go by without  going at least on some excursion even to a nearby medieval town, a lake, a forest or whatever (and we’ve got an abundance of amazing places to explore in my region).

My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t care at all about travelling and I mean at all.

I think that there are three underlying reasons why this is the case:

She left the Philippines at a very early age and became an OFW or Overseas Filipino Worker and, therefore, she associates the idea of travelling to other countries to the idea of migration and being severed from friends and relatives, while I was born in a first world country and I associate the idea of travelling to adventure and the possibility to broaden my horizons.

Another reason is that my wife comes from a culture that is very people oriented and family oriented while us Westerners are more goal oriented.

But a deeper reason is that she has an incredible ability to enjoy little and ordinary things and bask in those things without having to distract herself and necessarily go somewhere to feel fulfilled which is a skill I don’t have at all.


HOW AN ECCESSIVE CRAVING FOR ADVENTURE CAN RUIN A RELATIONSHIP

My wife’s concept of vacation is pure rest and nothing more.

I, on the other hand, have an almost neurotic and compulsive need and urge to go somewhere else.

Few days ago I made a post where I mentioned that my wife and I often go somewhere out of town for the sake of our relationship as a couple.

My idea of going somewhere to spend a weekend together is somewhere in Europe like Prague, Paris or even further away while her idea is somewhere as close as possible, even if this entails renting an apartment here in town or in a very close lake resort or anywhere else that entails moving as little as possible from home.

I have learned to compromise and, therefore, I now travel much less than I used to do in the past.

I was actually forced to compromise because the gap between me and my wife in this area was becoming a big problem in my relationship which took me years to fix.

I realized how serious this problem was after my first trip to the Philippines.

My first trip to the Philippines was my first opportunity ever to visit a tropical country.

Until then I had seen nothing but almost every single corner of Europe, I had never visited any other continent.

I had made amazing trips to the far North of Europe and other amazing places but I had never been to the tropics before or, as I said, I had never been anywhere else outside Europe.

So I was expecting to do a big deal of snorkeling and see plenty of coral reefs, explore jungles and remote waterfalls and do everything else that a European would expect to do in an exotic paradise but I pretty soon realized that my wife had no intention whatsoever to show me around and take me on a tour of her amazing country.
She wanted to do nothing but visit old friends and relatives.

So, because some Filipino friends of mine who live in Rome were in the Philippines on vacation in that period, I left my wife and went off on my own to meet with them.
I took a bus from the bus terminal in Cubao (Metro Manila) and headed North to the Ilocos Region where I met with my friends who took me to a lot of beaches in Pangasinan, to the Cordillera Mountains and to a bunch of other places.

It is not as if I hadn’t seen anything of the Philippines while with my wife: we had actually been to the One Hundred Islands (only for one day), Tagaytay and few other places. But I was eager to see more, as the Philippines offer much more than that.

The problem is that, few months  after my trip to the Philippines, I realized how selfish I had been and how I should have put my relationship ahead of my cravings for adventure.

Once I realized that my urge to travel all the time, not only in the Philippines but also here in Italy, was driving a serious wedge between me and my wife I began to seriously ask myself: “why do I have this urge to travel all the time”, “why can’t I just appreciate little ordinary things as my wife does?”.

AN ADDICTIVE WANDERLUST CAN BE A REAL NEUROSIS

I came to the conclusion that my urge to always experience something new or different was a real neurosis and that I had to become more grounded in being, not only for the sake of my relationship but also for the sake of having a more balanced mindset.

I once stumbled upon a book where I read that our relationship with the present moment defines our relationship with life itself and it became pretty obvious to me that my urge to always go somewhere else was closely tied to my underlying inability to bask in the present moment and enjoy the little things that are the bulk of an intimate relationship and of family life.

I understood that what makes a marriage great is not those ecstatic highs that I hoped to experience with my wife somewhere in Palawan or Boracay but rather the everyday ordinary little moments that my wife seemed to be happy with and that I was failing to fully enjoy.

NEVER STAKE YOUR LIFE ON THE PURSUIT OF ADVENTURE

Another reason why I am reconsidering my relationship with travelling is that I am 53 years old and I am facing old age and, maybe, disease in the future.

What would I do if I lost my eyesight or I got sick to the point of not being able to go anywhere anymore and being bedridden for life?

If travelling is so addictive for me this means that when that part my life is over my whole life will be over.

I can’t run this risk so I’d better learn from my beautiful wife how to be more grounded in the here and now and enjoy the amazing little things we experience every single day while they last and view those extatic highs that we from time to time experience when we travel somewhere as a bonus and nothing more.

REAL FULFILLMENT IS HERE AND NOW

Granted, travelling has enriched my life beyond measure and I also owe the fact that I have met my wife to my travelling experience.

Travelling is an incredible opportunity to broaden my perspectives and enjoy the beauty of life but so is reading, so is buying a microscope and staring at the magnificence of a cell or even staring in awe at my own hand or, as I said, enjoying the beauty of ordinary moments with my wife and my family.

I am seriously introspecting and trying to get to the root cause why for so many years I couldn’t be still and just bask in being without needing to distract myself and go somewhere else to see more or something different or new.

My wife is helping me a lot in this regard and I am very grateful that I have met this amazing woman who has taught me what it is like to put a relationship and the little yet amazing things that characterize it ahead of the flimsy highs that adventures offer.

Four Weaknesses I Had to Overcome to Become 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 four 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.

When a Relationship is Driven by Rules Rather than Love

I am in a relationship with a Filipina and this kind of relationship is the epitome of how conflicting rules and expectations that are not openly discussed before getting married can lead to serious problems.

The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says that “when the alien culture behaves contrary to their expectations some people become frustrated and antagonistic”.

In the Western world we have a set of expectations when it comes to family life, raising kids, budgeting and so forth that are radically different from those of the average Filipino.

Generally speaking a Westerner wants to get married to share his life with his wife and kids alone and independent from the extended family while, by and large, Filipinos want their parents to continue to live with them in the same house compound or even in the same apartment.

A Westerner may want to save up any extra money he has while his Filipina may want to send all the extra money to the Philippines to support her relatives.

And the list could go on for hours.

On top of that every human being has his or her personality and set of rules about what needs to happen for him or her to be happy.

For example, in order to feel a sense of connection with my wife, I need to spend a weekend together at least once a month and I need to go on a date once a week.

All of us have a set of requirements that our spouse has to meet to make us feel fulfilled but, more often than not, we get married not bothering too much about finding out what our rules and our spouse’s rules are and we assume that we will figure things out down the road somehow.

We sort of understand that there might be conflicting rules and expectations in the marriage but we are so blindly in love that we sweep the problem under the rug. This is at least what I did initially.

I didn’t precisely identify what my own rules and expectations were in all the major areas of life, nor did I really bother to go deep and carefully investigate what my wife’s expectations were in those areas. I only had very fuzzy ideas not a clear and detailed picture.

And, sure enough, I had not considered to what extent I was willing to flex some of my expectations, for example I hadn’t asked myself the question “what if my Filipino wife wants her mother to live with us? Will I be able to adjust to the Filipino kin-group culture?”.

Because I had failed to consider these things I found myself in a position where my wife’s expectations and mine were a lot different in many areas and that I was everything but ready to flex my rules.

The positive thing is that I eventually decided to learn more about how relationships work and I stumbled upon a principle that worked wonders for my relationship:

the principle is contained in a phrase that I heard in one of the many videos on relationships that I watched and the phrase was “do I want to be right or do I want to be in love?”.

I was absolutely convinced, and I still am, that many of my rules and expectations (especially when it comes to budgeting money) are right but I have discovered that, more often than not, one has to let go of most expectations and rules for the sake of being in a constant state of love.

I have come to the conclusion that, when a relationship is driven by expectations, needs and desires it suffers and that, if in order to feel good a lot of things need to happen, there are going to be conflicts on an ongoing basis, especially in a multiethnic marriage. The longer the list of requirements that our spouse needs to meet for us to be happy the greater the chance that our rules will be broken and, therefore, the more we are likely to suffer.

A Zen proverb says: “if you understand things are just as they are, if you don’t understand things are just as they are”.

I honestly struggle to understand some of my wife’s expectations and rules, especially the ones that are closely tied to her culture and background, but I have realized that, because things are just as they are and people are just as they are, the best and most rewarding way to go through an intimate relationship is by being driven by love rather than too many expectations and rules.

Does it mean to say that I passively cave in to all of my wife’s expectations and rules in order to maintain a peaceful atmosphere in which there is nothing but love, flowers, rainbows and butteflies?

Not at all. What I have discovered is that, by creating an environment where I am more loving than attached to my expectations and strict rules, my wife is more willing and more likely to meet me half way and we are more likely to find a loving compromise.

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.

How to Stop Arguing in a Relationship

Few days ago I wrote a post where I shared the idea that I have chosen to operate from to avoid arguments.

The idea is that my wife and I are on the same boat or the same (relation)ship so arguing with my (relation)ship mate can only cause the (relation)ship to sink even further.

Well, while this idea is nice on paper, there are times in which heated arguments do happen in my relationship and the ship metaphor flies out of the window.

Usually I am hardly the one who initiates the argument, as I am a rather peaceful person.

My wife comes from a culture where people are a little more mainit ang ulo or hot-tempered than the average Westerner so arguments do take place despite my best intentions.

LEAVE THE SCENE IF POSSIBLE

It has been said that it takes two people to have an argument so an easy way to avoid arguing would be removing myself from the situation and going somewhere else to wait for the storm to pass.

But, as it has also been nicely said, sometimes you cannot avoid the storm and you have to learn how to dance in the rain.

There are many circumstances in which I cannot simply leave the scene of the argument and I have to face my wife’s upset head on.

Because, as I said, Filipinos are very emotional they easily and quickly jump to wrong conclusions if I come across in a way that triggers their emotions so it happens quite often that I do or say things that are not inherently wrong or offensive but come across as such.

My natural tendency was to prove myself right and my wife wrong by defending and justifying so the argument would go on forever.

I have discovered two very effective ways to deal with my wife’s strong emotions and face her upset head on when there is no possibility to run away from it by going somewhere else.

JUST LISTEN WITHOUT DEFENDING OR JUSTIFYING

Arguments occur when she attacks and I defend or counterattack instead of just listening.

If I try to clarify what my wife said and immediately respond to her no one is listening and what we are doing is that we are arguing, even if I may have good intentions for trying to clarify.

I have noticed that if she attacks and I abstain from defending myself and making her wrong and just allow her to let off all of her steam I can aikido her lashing out.

The art of aikido is a martial art that consists of rendering the “opponent” harmless.

So by abstaining from responding I am creating an environment where the anger fizzles out instead of going on forever.

I just allow her to vent without interrupting. It doesn’t matter if I am right and she has completely misinterpreted my behavior. I just allow her to let off steam until she eventually stops. I don’t need to physically remove myself from the situation, I just kind of aikido her anger.

APOLOGIZE FOR THE IMPACT

However there are circumstances in which she won’t stop arguing until I have given her an answer.

In this case the best strategy is to apologize for the impact, not for what I did wrong, if I am convinced I was right, but rather for how I have come across to her. In Tagalog that would be “sori para sa dating sa iyo” (“I am sorry for COMING ACROSS that way”).

I must admit that sometimes that doesn’t work either because it sounds to her as a form of subtle blame, as if I were trying to say “it is not my fault, it is yours because I did or said the right thing but you misperceived it.

SOMETIMES ARGUMENTS OCCUR NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO

So, whenever my wife feels the urge to argue I try, if possible, to go somewhere else.

If this is not possible or practical, I try to aikido the argument by either trying to listen without interrupting or trying to let her know that I am sorry for my impact.

But there are times in which no one of these things work.

I cannot leave the scene because she wants to talk, I cannot just let her vent because she wants an answer and if I apologize for the impact she says that it was not just the impact but I did indeed say or do things with the wrong motive.

So what I have learned is that eliminating arguments for good is not possible in an intimate relationship.

The reality is that arguments do occur no matter what I try to do.

But what I can do is do the best I can to minimize them and, over the past five years, arguments have drastically diminished in my relationship.

I am aware of the fact that my wife comes from a culture where the average Filipino is more emotional than the average Westerner so I remind myself that she is doing what she knows how to do given the environment she grew up in.

I would love to be in a relationship in which there are no arguments and I would love to ditch arguments for good but this is not possible.

But I am happy because, by applying the methods I have mentioned in this post, I have been able to minimize arguments a lot and contribute to create an amazing environment in my love life.