How to be a Better Listener

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of presence:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We interrupt:

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

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

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

We defend or justify:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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….

How to Avoid Arguing in a Relationship

When I feel the urge to argue I remind myself that my wife and I are on the same boat

When I use the English word relationship to talk about my marriage (I can do so in three languages but, because most material I have read on intimate relationships is in English, the English language is my language of choice when it comes to this particular domain of life) my focus goes on the last four letters that make up this word.

What is the wise thing to do if the (relation)ship is sinking? Is it finding fault with our (relation)ship mate? Will proving our (relation)ship mate wrong and ourselves right keep the (relation)ship from sinking?

The idea of being on the same boat (or on the same ship: I am in a relationship with a Filipina and she comes from a country where the kin-group culture is rather strong so I need a ‘larger vessel’ to also accomodate my wife’s extended family…) with my partner and the (relation)ship metaphor (I think I heard this metaphor from Tony Robbins) are powerful ways to remind myself, over and over again, that it doesn’t make any sense to argue about who is right and who is wrong in an intimate relationship.

I rather put my attention on what can be done to direct the (relation)ship to the beautiful destination we both want to get to, who did something wrong doesn’t matter as long as we both work in unison to correct our course.

I once heard a great illustration: the past is like the wake of a boat. The wake does not direct the boat, rather it’s the rudder, it’s the one who is at the helm.

Attacking our partner for what he or she did wrong is like staring at the trail that is left behind rather than controlling the rudder.

What our (relation)ship mate did wrong is nothing but a trail that is left behind: staring at it (by dwelling on it and arguing about it) is pointless and dangerous…

A Great Book on Relationships that all Couples Should Read

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 regularly read as many books as I can on how to have a thriving 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”.

What’s great about this book is the fact that, by applying the suggestions you find in the first few pages, you can immediately start noticing incredible changes in your relationship, even if your relationship has been suffering from the bad consequences of poor communication for a long time, which is the number one reason why many relationships fail.

As doctor Robinson says, most of us are more acquainted with how to fix a car than with how effective communication works and, sadly, very few people really invest serious time in learning how to communicate effectively with their spouse.

I used to be a very bad communicator and, as men generally do, I used to dole out advice to my wife without really understanding and acknowledging her feelings.

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 for my marriage and I recommend that everyone who is in an intimate relationship tries out practicing Appreciation, Acknowledgment and Acceptance and I think “Communication Miracles for Couples” by Dr. Robinson is a great resource to learn how to practice these 3 As.

COMMUNICATION MIRACLES FOR COUPLES BY JONATHAN ROBINSON (The following link is an affiliate link)

True vs Fake Morality

The Philippines is a very religious country
Materialism and wanton consumption are very widespread in the Philippines (along with many other not very religious things and practices)

The Philippines, my wife’s country, is one of those countries where there is a very high number of churches and religious denominations and yet such problems as alcohol abuse, corruption, violence and so on abound (just like in many other countries).

I used to be an atheist (during my teens) and yet my level of morality was probably higher than that of most religious people I used to interact with.

Now that I am no longer an atheist my level of morality is more or less the same as when I was an atheist.

I have never craved having casual sex or cheating on my spouse, getting drunk, I have never even considered the possibility to pay or accept a bribe.

Having become a believer almost hasn’t changed anything: most of the practices I used to avoid as an atheist I am still shunning and avoiding today and so my level of morality hasn’t changed much.

I think the main reason why most religious people who moralize a lot end up doing the exact opposite of what they condemn and moralize about is because they haven’t learned how to truly trascend and outgrow their quote-unquote sinful cravings.

I think that when the only reason why a person abstain from things like casual sex, alcohol abuse and so on is because a book says so or the Bible says so or their parents said so or because society says so what this person is really saying is “I would love to have casual sex or cheat on my spouse, get drunk, have drugs etc but I can’t“.

I recently heard a great illustration that explains this point rather nicely: if you are full of cravings and the only reason why you hold back from caving in to those cravings is because you can’t (because the Bible says so or your parents said so etc), but you actually would like to, this is like you are trying to dig a hole in the middle of the ocean.

The pressure of the water symbolizes your cravings and the hole represents your list of dos and donts. In much the same way as the pressure of the ocean is going to break your hole, the pressure of your cravings and desires is eventually going to get the better of your dos and donts.

That is why most Filipinos (in this blog I am talking about the Philippines but the same logic applies to everyone) officially believe that alcohol abuse is bad, corruption is wrong, violence, materialism, gossip and many other things that are pretty common in the Philippines are inappropriate but these very things are very deeply rooted in the Filipino culture.

So I believe that as long as the only reason why people try to resist their urges to do what’s quote-unquote “immoral” is because an external authority says so and they fail to understand why those things are bad and not inherently fulfilling, there is no way people can truly act moral.

There is actually an interesting passage in the Bible (which is the religious book most Filipinos believe in), but the same logic applies even if someone doesn’t believe the Bible or any other religious book, and this passage says something along the lines that the Creator teaches you to “benefit yourself” – Isaias 48:17.

Actually this concept could be appreciated and understood even if we left the Creator out of the picture and simply reasoned in strictly secular and rational terms.

The famous motivational speaker Tony Robbins talks about the idea of getting rid of such habits as heavy drinking, drugs and so on by learning to link more pleasure to having energy and vitality than to indulging in drinking, overeating etc.

So, regardless of whether one is religious or not the key to true morality is when we learn to dwell on the benefits of parting with negative and toxic habits thereby trascending and outgrowing them rather than simply trying to put up a hard fight to stay away from things that we, deep within, crave and, secretly, like doing simply because some external authority says so and, if you are a Christian, the only way you can accept and internalize what your Creator says is wrong is by understanding why this is the case and dwelling on the benefits of acting moral.

How to Endure Cultural Fatigue in a Multiethnic Marriage

My relationship with a Filipina has taught me that there exists a kind of fatigue that is heavier than physical and mental fatigue put together. It is actually a kind of fatigue that drains your physical, your mental and your emotional energy.

I think the expression cultural fatigue is more appropriate than culture shock as, the word shock kind of conveys the idea of a jolt, like and electric shock, something that lasts a few seconds and then you get over it (if you survive it). The word fatigue kind of conveys the idea of a prolonged strain and that is precisely what keeping score day in and day out between the cultural differences between two entirely different models of the world is: a prolonged strain, a very heavy fatigue that lasts for a very long time and it drains all your energy.

I like how the “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces describes this fatigue on pages 4 and 5: “cultural fatigue is the physical and emotional exhaustion (so there are two components to it: physical and, most importantly, emotional and the book, instead of using the term tiredness uses the really fitting term “exhaustion”) required for long-term survival (long-term survival entails that you don’t just experience an initial shock or jolt) in an alien culture. Living and working overseas (or being married to a Filipina, even in your own country) generally requires that one must suspend his automatic evaluations (for example we in the Western world automatically assume that once you get married you live your parents for good and form your own family unit, we also assume quite automatically that you first pay the rent and the bills and if you have money left then you buy a car and the list of “automatic evaluations” that a Westerner must suspend could go on forever)…and he must supply new interpretations to seemingly familiar behaviour (like getting married and forming a family of your own which seems familiar but the Westerners interpret it in a way and Filipinos in a radically different way) and that he must demand of himself constant alterations in the style and content of his activity (notice the expression constant alterations: this is an ongoing and a very prolonged effort, not just a “jolt”)”. The book goes on to say that “this process consumes an enormous amount of energy”.

I like the expression that a Westerner must suspend his automatic evaluations or, in other words, in order to thrive in this kind of relationship and to be able to withstand a very prolonged fatigue, a Westerner cannot be stuck in his automatic perceptions that are the result of his upbringing and exposure to the Western culture.

An interesting point that the “Culture Shock Philippines book” makes on page 7 is that the solution of the cultural conflict lies, in fact, in the arena of “perception” rather than in a locked battle between irreconcilable values. What this means, as the book says on page 6, is that Filipinos value pretty much the same things as the Westerners (family, honesty, sincerity and so on), it is not as if Westerners have a certain set of values while Filipinos have totally different values, as if Filipinos and Westerners belonged to a different species. This is certainly not how it is, we share the same humanity and the same core values. The values are the same, it is just that such values as family, sincerity etc are viewed and perceived from different viewpoints and this, of course, calls for an outstanding ability to suspend, as the book says, one’s automatic evaluations and be ready to experience constant alterations in the style and content of one’s activity.

My granpa was a farmer and in his life he experienced a great deal of physical fatigue but very little mental fatigue, I studied hard my whole life and experienced a lot of intellectual fatigue and (at least when a was a teenager) very little physical fatigue. Since I married a Filipina I’ve experienced cultural fatigue, a combination of both physical and intellectual (and, most of all, emotional) fatigue, something a lot heavier and trickier than any other form of fatigue, this is, in fact, the ultimate fatigue.