Rules and Expectations vs Love in a Multi-ethnic Marriage

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 related 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.

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.

But, eventually, as I have said in some other post, I decided to know more about how relationships work and it dawned upon me that the only way a relationship, in which there are conflicting rules, can work is if we decide to sacrifice being right for the sake of being in love.

(I know I am getting a little bit repetitive with these concepts but repetition is the mother of skill. These ideas are easy to talk about but applying them day in and day out is a little harder, therefore I need to remind myself…and in the process share these ideas)

I was absolutely convinced, and I still am, that many of my rules and expectations (especially when it comes to budgeting money) are quote-unquote right, but 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 Soon is too Soon to Get Married?

(for some strange reason I moved this old post to the draft section so I am republishing it)

I remember talking to a young Filipina who was 20-21 years old and asking her if she was still going to school or working and she said “no, I work to support my husband and my child in the Philippines”.

I was rather taken aback that she was already married and she even had a child: I actually thought she was 16-18 years old, in fact she looked very young.

A lot of Filipinos get married and have children pretty soon in life. I know a lot of buntis or pregnant 18-25 year old Filipinas and a lot of very young Filipino couples who have kids before they even get adequate qualifications and a proper job.

I am not judging anybody, I just want to share my thoughts on the subject because I am an advocate of strategic thinking and moves.

I think one of the best strategic moves I have made in my life was my decision to take my time before getting married.

I got married at age 36 and I don’t regret at all waiting that long.

Few months ago I went through the Facebook profiles of some of the girls I was badly in love with when I was a teen-ager, and even in my early 20’s, and, by observing the stuff they post, I realized that the kind of person I am now, my top values and priorities, has absolutely nothing to do with what these women have become and marrying one of them 30 years ago or so would certainly have turned out to be a disaster.

What this tells me is that when I was too young my emotions were too wishy-washy and I was definitely not in the position to choose a person for life.

Also, I would have missed out on a lot of amazing trips around the world and adventures that have enriched my life beyond measure and that I could hardly have made had I chosen to get married (let alone having kids) in my early 20’s.

It is true that I still travel as a married person, and I have been to the Philippines a few times with my wife, and to a couple of more countries as well, but I used to travel abroad up to three times a year before getting married, while now it only happens once in a while. And, when I go to the Philippines with my wife she is more inclined to visit friends and relatives than to go on some adventure.

I would have also missed out on the opportunity to have a meaningful share in an international volunteer work that I did for years that has also added meaning to my life while now I have to work secularly a lot more.

I would also have missed out on the opportunity to come up with a crystal clear life purpose and find out what my life is about. Figuring it out years down the road when you work hard and have kids is tricky to do and exposes one to the danger that husband and wife who got married too soon discover a life purpose and adopt a set of values that are entirely different than that of their spouse, so I think it is better to be in a relationship with a person who has already found out who he or she is and what he or she wants out of life. When you are too young your core ideas and values are too fuzzy.

On top of that I am in an interracial marriage which requires long years of groping for a bridge and, therefore, requires a lot of emotional intelligence and maturity to cope with culture-shock and I am sure that in my early 20’s I was just not prepared for those challenges.

I think that waiting until I was 36 to get married has definitely been a wise move.

One of my pre-marital adventures: swimming in a cold lake near the Arctic Circle around age 30

Principles that Work Cross-culturally in any Intimate Relationship

One of my objectives in this blog is to share ideas and strategies that have immensely helped me to take my marriage to the next level.

I am in an interracial marriage and this kind of relationship is particularly tricky and so I have made it a point to learn as much as I possibly could about my wife’s native language and culture.

But, because once I mastered my wife’s language, I realized that being able to speak Tagalog had nothing to do with being an effective husband and communicator, I shifted gears and I decided to read books, blogs and spiritual material about the psychology of intimate relationships in order to learn about principles that work cross-culturally.

By reading books and blogs about relationships I have stumbled upon a couple of very powerful ideas.

One is the idea that there are three As that, if practiced consistently, our partner can really feel heard, communication becomes smooth and most problems can easily be fixed.

Another idea I have stumbled upon, by reading various books and blogs, is that there are four Rs that can kill a relationship.

The three As that Work Wonders in a Relationship

One of the books that have immensely helped me to really boost my love life is a book I stumbled upon a couple of years ago written by an American psychologist by the name of Jonathan Robinson.

The book is entitled “Communication Miracles for Couples”.

The book stresses the importance of giving our spouse 3 absolutely critical things: Acknowledgment, Appreciation and Acceptance.

There is an interesting passage in chapter one that says:

“Even if your partner is very upset, the key to get him to be able to hear you is to give him plenty of acknowledgment, appreciation, and acceptance. The three As are like deposits for your partner’s self-esteem bank account. When you give your mate the three As, his self-esteem bank “balance” temporarily goes up. As his bank balance goes up, he will naturally become more loving, more giving, and better able to listen. Therefore, when your partner is feeling stressed, the best thing you can do is make a “deposit” into his selfesteem bank account. Almost like magic, he will become more agreeable toward you. As he is better able to listen to you with love, you’ll feel better too. The destructive cycle will be over”.

The reason why our partner is often reluctant to listen to what we have to say is because we fail to acknowledge his or her experience and feelings and we say things that don’t take into any account how our partner feels.

I have made this mistake way too many times: on many occasions I have said or done things that have upset my wife (my wife comes from a culture that is characterized by high emotionalism and, in fact, one of the traits of Filipinos is balat sibuyas, meaning that their metaphorical “skin” is as thin as the sibuyas or onion and, therefore, it is very easy to get under their thin skin and upset them) and I have dismissed her upsets with such expressions as “come on”, “give me a break”, “you get upset too easily” or something along these lines.

The point that Dr. Robinson makes is that if our spouse is upset, instead of dismissing or minimizing her (or his) upset, we must fully honor and acknowledge her or his right to feel upset.

Dr. Robinson offers a very powerful communication tool called the “acknowledgment formula”:

It sounds like (or, It seems) you . . . Paraphrase in a sentence or two what your partner’s experience seems to be. That must feel . . . Guess as to how such an experience must feel. I’m sorry you feel . . . Guess as to what they’re feeling.

In addition to Acknowledgment, the book talks about two more As being Appreciation (meaning specific appreciation, as vague and generic appreciation has very little power) and Acceptance.

I am in an interracial marriage and my wife’s culture has a lot of things that are difficult to accept for a Westerner but if I want my marriage to thrive I cannot bash the environment that I myself have chosen to inhabit. The Filipino culture is what it is and the only way I can expect to enjoy a great relationship is by accepting my partner’s culture the way it is, flaws and all.

The 3A formula has proved to be a great game changer indeed for my marriage and it does indeed work cross-culturally.

The Four Rs that Kill a Relationship

Another concept that I have learned is that there are four Rs that can destroy a relationship. I have heard this idea while listening to a Tony Robbins’ video on YouTube.

The idea is that if our partner feels a little Resistance (a mild irritation) toward what we have said or done to him or her, we have to handle that Resistance as soon as possible.

If we don’t take immediate action, Resistance will build and turn into a more serious feeling, which is Resentment.

And if your spouse is a Filipina that can easily happen, because tampo (the tendency to get easily offended) is one of the hallmark traits of many Filipinos.

And when Resentment builds and snowballs, because we ignore it and fail to deal with it, it becomes Rejection, which is the stage when our partner has no feelings for us and husband and wife become roommates.

Rejection eventually leads to Repression and, at that point, it might be too late to take action.

Success in an Interracial Marriage is not simply about Learning your Spouse’s Language and about His/her Culture

I have invested a lot of time and energy to learn about the Filipino culture and the Tagalog language and these things really help.

But, because my wife and I are not merely an Italian and a Filipina but rather two human beings who share the same underlying psychology, learning Tagalog and reading the “Culture Shock Philippines” book is just the tip of the iceberg of a much more complex work that must necessarily entail studying the psychology of effective relationships and master principles that work cross-culturally in any relationship.

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 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.

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 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 any changes.

And yet we only focus on how our spouse is not willing to change and get upset 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 some of her 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 women often make an issue of what men view as “little things” 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 might be true in some areas, 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 “little” ones we are going nowhere.

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 like to do.


When she (or anyone else for that matter) 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 upset 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.

 

How to Stop Arguing in a Relationship

Few months 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.

What Women Want in a Man

The reason why I am addressing this topic is because I entered my relationship without having any clues about how relationships work and about how women think and what they really want.

I had to figure it out years down the road and this caused me a lot of unnecessary problems.

There is actually one thing I figured out before committing and that is that women are incredibly drawn to men who have plenty of options and don’t actually need a relationship to be happy.

I was that way at age 32, when I met the Filipina who 5 years later became my wife: getting married and setting up a family was the very last thing I wanted because my life was very very comfortable. I could afford to travel abroad up to three times a year, I was saving up for the future, I was engaged in a very rewarding international volunteer work and I had plenty of free time for my passions like hiking and a bunch of other things that were filling my life with a lot of pleasure.

So I was not really desperate about getting married, let alone having kids.

When I bumped into the woman whom I eventually married I basically told her that I liked her a lot but I didn’t want to give up my freedom.

What I started noticing was that the more I tried to push her away the more attractive I became which led me to draw my first conclusion about what women want in a man:

  • they want a man who is not needy and who has plenty of options

In other words they want a man whose life is much bigger than the relationship itself, a man who will not fall into the darkness of despair should his wife die or leave him, precisely because his life and life purpose are more than the relationship itself.

This was the first and only insight that I had about what women want in a man before even committing to my wife.

But apart from this early insight there a lot of things that I had to figure out by trial and error years down the road.

After only about one year of marriage, it became pretty obvious that I was not really meeting my wife’s needs.

I used to think that if I only could get my wife to give me a list of what she wanted then I would have given her everything she wanted on a silver platter.

I started to naively push my wife to spend long weekends together once in a while and I tried countless times, to no avail, to get her to use these opportunities to get clear about what we wanted from each other and I was suggesting to her to sit down and take pen and paper so that she would give me a list of what she really expected of me and I would do the same, such that we could get crystal clear about what we expected of each other.

This never happened (and never will).

  • I realized that women want their man to figure out what they want and they will never be the ones to give you a “grocery” list of the things they want so that you can effortlessly know what these things are and give them to her.

We did actually have plenty of long weekends together but I never managed during those weekends to get her to do what I thought was right, namely to get clear once and for all about what we both wanted and write it down on a “list”

So, after years of chasing my tail around in circles, the second conclusion I was able to draw about what women want in a man is that they want a man who has enough sensitivity to figure out for himself what they want and need. Directly asking them pushes them away.

Another insight that I have acquired is that for a woman

  • little things are more important than big ones

A little thing that drives my wife crazy, if I fail to do it, is that she wants me to always, and I mean always, close the lid of the toilet’s bowl no matter how early I wake up to go to work, how in a hurry I am because I have to rush to work and how many hours I need to work.

In my mind if I am making the huge sacrifice to get up early and support the family I can afford to neglect a little thing like closing the lid of the toilet’s bowl. Not so from the standpoint of my wife! The huge sacrifices I make for the family count for absolutely nothing if I fail to honor the little things that are important to her.

Another thing that, based on my experience, women want in a man is:

  • they want a man willing to give them emotional connection when they need it not when he is ready and they want a man who is willing to push aside even important things like necessary and urgent work

Last Friday night, for example, I received a very important WhatsApp message from a potential new client but, between 9 and 10 pm, I usually give my wife a massage. Well, she made it clear that in that moment the massage was more important than getting that new client…

  • Presence of mind: we got a new dog and my wife is trying hard to train this unruly dog and she needs me to watch if there is any cats around when we walk the dog but I forget and I forget and I forget and get distracted and she can’t stand it.
  • They want to be heard and they don’t want a man to give them solutions

and all the more so because my wife is Filipino.
She comes from a culture where men themselves don’t think in terms of solutions and are rather emotional so offering solutions to an emotional Filipina and trying to get her to think in rational terms when all she needs is emotional connection doesn’t work. It doesn’t work with a Filipina and I am assuming that it doesn’t work with women in general.

  • They don’t like when you measure what they blame on you against what they are doing wrong or in other words they hate it when you make them wrong in response to their lashing out.

They can make you wrong all day long but you are not supposed to mention a single thing they did wrong.

This is, more or less, the list of things that, based on my experience with a Filipino wife and on my personal judgement, women want in a man, or at least what my wife wants in a man, which, I assume, applies by extention to more or less all relationships.

I will create a part 2 of this post should I come up with more insights….

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.

Is Marriage the Solution to Loneliness?

One of my cherished moments of solitude


(I have slightly modified this old post)

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, and I mean at all.

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.

And….yes, 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 spouse 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 critical to enjoying 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, can marriage really fix your loneliness?

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 believe in) 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.