Posts in English, Tagalog and Italian About Interracial Marriage and About the Philippines and its Culture BLOG IN INGLESE, ITALIANO E TAGALOG SU MATRIMONIO MULTIETNICO E SULLE FILIPPINE E LA SUA CULTURA
Category: the Challenges of Being Married to a Filipina
What makes an intimate relationship truly intimate is the experience of deep connection and total vulnerability.
And so, in the context of this blog post, I will be using the word intimacy, not in the sense of sexual intimacy, which is without a doubt a powerful component of a deep connection, but in the broader sense of into me see or, in other words in the sense of an intimate relationship being an environment where husband and wife are fully vulnerable, transparent, honest and free to communicate their deepest fears, hurts, expectations and other emotions without any fears of being judged, blamed or hurt in any way.
Is it possible to achieve this level of into me see in a relationship with a Filipina?
Well, obviously each person is different, but, generally speaking, the Filipino culture has some aspects to it that may make the achievement of a high degree of into me see rather challenging.
The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces, that I often quote, says the following about face to face sincerity in the Filipino culture: “Filipinos have an entirely different expectation when it comes to face-to-face ‘sincerity’. In this situation, promises and pleasing half-truths are important tools to avoid wounding amor-propio, because smooth interpersonal relations always take precedence over other values”. And it goes on to say: “It is safe to say that a non-Filipino should take with a grain of salt what is promised in a face-to-face situation because Filipinos themselves always do. To establish the measure of sincerity, reiterate and obtain reconfirmation of the commitment several times, as well as act immediately to formalise and make irrevocable a verbal commitment. It is at this point that the person’s ‘sincerity’ is tested, because if he hedges or does not act straight away, the promise and the ‘yes’ have been granted just to please you”.
Why is that?
The book gives this answer: “The importance of amor-propio (self-esteem) is one reason, but equally important is the kin-group world of Filipinos. Rather than value individualism, each Filipino sees himself at the centre of a kin-group universe: parents, grandparents, children, uncles, aunts, cousins, second cousins, in-laws, compadres and comadres. In an open conflict, one wounds not just an individual but the whole kin group”.
How does this apply to an intimate relationship between a foreigner and a Filipina?
My analysis here is this:
A Filipina wife definitely loves her foreign husband and wants to please him, but she LOVES AND WANTS TO PLEASE HER EXTENDED FAMILY AS WELL.
She may be moving on the razor’s edge of TRYING TO MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY and this INEVITABLY ENTAILS THAT SHE ENDS UP SAYING ONE THING TO HER HUSBAND AND IT’S OPPOSITE TO HER RELATIVES in a number of circumstances.
So a Westerner who is married to a Filipina may conclude that into me see and total honesty, transparency and vulnerability fly out of the window in this kind of relationship.
I have come to the conclusion that, even if a foreigner is in a relationship with a Filipina who falls into the category of the one who seems to be dealing in half-promises and half-truths to please both the husband and the entire kin-group, deep intimacy, honesty and transparency can still be achieved in this kind of relationship.
But this requires hard work and radical openmindedness on the part of the husband.
The reason why a Filipina who is married to a foreigner may come across as one who is dealing in half-promises and truths, and, therefore, as one whom it is hard to build an into me see level of connection with, is because many foreigners who marry a Filipina do nothing or too little to go deep into the Filipino culture and, as a result, they “bash the environment that they themselves have chosen to inhabit”, as the “Culture Shock Philippines” book says.
When a Filipina, who comes from a culture where there is no such thing as an “independent agent” who gets married and forgets all about his or her family and where an individual is part of a vast universe of intricate interpersonal relationships, feels that her foreign husband is resisting her efforts to balance the marriage and her obligations toward her extended family, yes she may get to the point where she deals in half-truths and into me see flies out of the window.
A book I read a couple of years ago entitled “Communication Miracles for Couples” by Jonathan Robinson says that when we resort to blame intimacy disappears.
If a foreigner who is married to a Filipina attacks her kin-group culture and, for example, blames her for sending money to the Philippines or for other aspects of the Filipino culture that he finds it difficult to grasp, she will close her mind and the relationship will be characterized by a lot of half-truths that make transparency and intimacy impossible.
So the solution is estabilishing a level of trust where a Filipina feels that her foreign husband understands, accepts and appreciates where she is coming from.
Blaming, attacking and bashing your foreign spouse’s culture will never get you intimacy.
It took me years of deep study and committment to create this level of trust and, what my experience teaches me, is that, yes, it is possible to create real into me see with a Filipina and get her to get past her cultural conditioning and create an environment where intimacy is not just a bedroom thing but it spills over into every aspect of the relationship, but it takes effort and openmindedness on the part of the foreign husband to get to that point.
If you marry a Filipina changes are that, in addition to being your wife, she is also her siblings’ ate or older sister.
As I have already mentioned in my blog, when you marry a Filipina you basically (and actually literally) marry the entire family and, therefore, it is very important to understand the role your Filipina plays in the larger context of the intricate family relationships that are very strong in the Philippines and even among Filipinos abroad.
The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says the following about the role of the ate: “Sisters play a very important role in Philippine families, especially older sisters. An older sister is called Ate by her siblings. Ate is responsible for the younger children and she may bathe, dress and feed them. This is necessary in large families where the mother cannot look after all the children. Older children are taught early that it is their duty to help take care of younger brothers and sisters. This provides them with training and experience in housewifely and motherly duties. The oldest girl assumes this role as soon as the second or third child comes along and not necessarily when she reaches a certain age. It is not uncommon to see a small child carrying a younger brother or sister who is more than half her size”.
My wife was 10 years old when her father died and her mother moved to Saudi Arabia to work and she basically was the one who raised her younger brother.
Like my mother-in-law, many Filipinos move abroad and are forced to leave their children in the Philippines and often the ate takes up the role of the mother.
And even among Filipinos abroad who have managed to petition their children the ate often plays a major role because, more often than not, both parents work full-time, and even much more than full-time, and they have very limited time and energy to raise their children.
Here in Italy many Filipinos work live-in, meaning that they sleep in the house of their employers and, sometimes, there are employers who are not mabait (kind) enough to provide accomodation for the whole family of their Pinoy katulong (domestic helper).
I know a Filipino couple who had to rent an apartment for their children. The couple used to live in the house of their employer, as they were live-in katulong, while the kids used to live in another apartment and, sure enough, their older daughter raised her younger sister.
The special relationship between the ate and her siblings doesn’t end when the siblings grow up: my wife, for example, went to great lengths to look for an employer for my bayaw (my wife’s brother) and get him here and to this very day she gives him all the practical help he needs.
So, yes, a Westerner who wants to marry a Filipina has to take into account that the husband is not the only one a Filipina takes care of.
Many Filipinas have a lot of responsibilities toward a lot of people: they may have to pay back their utang na loob (debt of gratitude) to their old parents, and maybe to their uncles and other relatives as well, and they may have their younger siblings who show up every now and then when they need help (even if they are 40 or 50 years old…)
So, if you are thinking about marrying a Filipina, you’d better open your mind.
As I have abundantly mentioned in my blog, one of the keys to an amazing intimate relationship in general, and with a Filipina in particular, is letting go of resistance and practicing acceptance.
If you erect barriers and shields and behave like what the “Culture Shock Philippines” calls the Westerner who is “bashing the environment he himself has chosen to inhabit” your relationship won’t go very far.
Because another major key to an amazing relationship is appreciation you need to learn to view the Filipino kin-group culture as an asset rather than a threat to your intimacy with your Filipina.
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.
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….
The book says something along the lines of ‘a Westerner doesn’t hold back from telling it “as it is” if a CAUSE or a higher goal is at stake. For example a Western boss will likely not think twice before scolding a secretary for arriving late at work and even if she cries he will keep scolding her because the cause of punctuality is more important than her feelings and if she gets hurt so be it’.
Filipinos prefer keeping SMOOTH INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS and, more often than not, would rather sacrifice a cause than hurt somebody.
How does this knowledge affect your intimate relationship with a Filipina?
Often you have to put a “smooth relationship” with both her and her family above other goals and values.
For example, it might happen that your Filipina spouse will try to please both you and her extended family, even if this entails saying one thing to you and it’s opposite to her family, because SMOOTH INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS always take precedence, and I have seen it happening countless times.
So when your Filipina seems to be dealing with you in half-truths, as Filipinos often do, the question “are Westerners more sincere than Filipinos?” should be replaced with “how is she trying to move on the razor’s edge of trying to be both loyal to me and to her family or to other fellow Filipinos?”
Another thing to remember when the question “are Westerners more sincere than Filipinos?” arises in your mind is that probably us Westerners tend to be more straightforward in one to one relationships but in my country, as well as in most Western countries, politicians, business people, advertisers, car dealers and many others deal not just in half-truths but rather in plain lies.
Here in Italy politicians promise new jobs (like a former prime minister who promised 1,000,000 new jobs in few years), new infrastructures, better social welfare and lower taxes (which is a very tall order to fill, as social welfare is supported by tax payers) and many other things but once they secure for themselves their 12,000 € a month wage or above, all those promises turn out to be propaganda at most.
When you buy a second hand car here in Italy, car dealers or former owners sometimes lie on the actual mileage and some pass off cars with many miles as slightly used and mechanics sometimes do more repairs than what the car actually needs and if you don’t have some diskarte and have limited knowledge of how a car works, they will most likely cheat you (a mechanic tried to charge me 90€ to change two LPG filters that barely cost 10€ each).
So here in Italy, as well as in much of the Western world, people often deal in outright lies but often Westerners who interact with Filipinos get mad at their perceived lack of sincerity and so did I for many years.
Also the Tagalog language has a rather limited vocabulary to talk about such diverse concepts as “sincerity”, “faithfulness” and “loyalty” and, as I have pointed out in my article on the word tapat https://buildingfilipinowesternbridges.wordpress.com/2019/04/02/faithful-or-loyal-tapat-or-tapat/, they only have one word to talk about people who are merely “faithful” and those who are actually “loyal” (or people who show up as sincere without necessarily being truly loyal) and not just “faithful” and, therefore, the distinction between those diverse concepts is difficult to highlight in Tagalog.
So, sometimes, for the sake of being “faithful” (tapat) to everyone Filipinos may sacrifice being “loyal” (also tapat) to a higher cause. But that also happens in the West, it is just that we can be very good at saying things in somebody’s face in the name of loyalty to a higher cause like punctuality and so on but we are also very good at forgetting all about other higher causes (and even one to one sincerity for that matter) when money and self-interest are at stake.
So, are Westerners more sincere than Filipinos?
I have come to the conclusion that us Westerners, and particularly us Italians, have little to teach to Filipinos when it comes to sincerity.
My wife is Filipina and she comes from a culture that is all about pakikisama, a Tagalog term for togetherness.
I, on the other end, need, cherish and actually crave plenty of solitude and prefer associating with few selected individuals to having a lot of friends and going to large social gatherings.
I love solo hikes and I also love sitting alone on park benches or simply being shut away in my room to read for hours on end. And I love going to a cafeteria or a restaurant with maximum one or two very close friends and engage in deep conversation.
The Filipino culture is, on the other hand, all about large social gatherings, music, dancing and karaoke, chit-chatting and sharing.
The Filipino idea of togetherness fosters a spirit of bayanihan, a spirit of communal cooperation and help which is such that the whole community helps when of its member needs practical help.
So how can I, a very strong introvert, sit well with a Filipina who comes from a culture that is strongly oriented toward connecting with a lot of people?
Well, not only have I discovered that an introvert man can sit well with a woman who comes from a culture that encourages much togetherness but I have also found out that an extrovert person actually needs an introvert partner and that an introvert and an extrovert complement each other rather nicely.
Here are some reasons why I think an introvert like me can thrive in a relationship with an extrovert and make it work rather well.
Introverts are not hermits, they just prefer few and high quality relationships to many shallow ones
The Filipino idea of togetherness has a lot of great aspects to it, like the spirit of bayanihan that I have just mentioned.
On the other hand, because Filipinos definitely prefer large social gatherings to socializing with one or two people at a time, relationships tend to be rather shallow.
In my life I have always had very few friends but those people have been my friends for decades.
I have always preferred fixing misunderstandings and working on improving my relationships with those few people to running away from them when things don’t work out
There are people who seem to have plenty of options because they have plenty of shallow relationships with a lot of people so they always have someone else to turn to when they get upset with a particular person.
I prefer to maintain my relationships with the people whom I care about and make them grow to turning to other people when things don’t work out and this personality trait has stood me in good stead in my marriage.
I have been through a lot of misunderstandings and conflicts in my relationship (like all those who are in a marriage) but I have entered this relationship with the idea that there is no plan B. My wife is my best friend and the relationship has to work and I am committed to raising the quality of it every single day.
And, because I have very few friends outside the relationship, I can focus on my marriage without too many distractions from a lot of people who claim my time and attention.
Introversion Breeds Peace Within and Without
Because I need and cherish solitude I can easily leave the scene of a heated discussion without suffering too much because I can be just as fulfilled while alone as when I am interacting with my wife (or with any other person).
Also, choosing to deliberately isolate myself on a regular basis, by carving out moments in which I write in a journal, gives me the opportunity to reflect on what’s working and what’s not working in my relationship and come up with solutions I couldn’t come up with if I were always socializing.
Contemplation and inner work breed more self-control and peace of mind in general and create an internal environment that can hardly coexist with conflict.
An Introvert Gives Space
Because an introvert needs space he is also more likely to give space and giving space is vital in an intimate relationship.
I need a lot of space and I am willing to give my wife space, to the point that I am willing to allow her to spend even one or two months in the Philippines while I stay here (and this has already happened three times since we got married).
An Introvert is Rich Internally and Therefore is Less Clingy
A strong introvert doesn’t enter a relationship because he is desperate about finding a spouse.
As I have already mentioned, during my moments of solitude I can be just as fulfilled as when I interact with people, or, more accurately, I feel even more fulfilled.
I fully enjoyed my almost four decades of singleness (I got married at age 36) so I was not really clinging to the idea of finding a marriage mate, I could perfectly function alone.
And, because one of the hallmark traits of a thriving marriage is giving, those who don’t enter a relationship because they badly need companionship have more to give, or, at least, have less to take.
The Downside of Being too much of an Introvert
So, being an introvert has, without a doubt, stood me in great stead as far as my marriage is concerned.
Yet I must admit that sometimes I push my need to be alone too far and my being too much of an introvert borders on selfishness.
Not only does my wife connect with a lot of people to just socialize with them: in so doing she actually helps a lot of people in many practical ways, which is something that I definitely need to work on and that I am learning from my Filipino wife.
So I think that an introvert and an extrovert can definitely learn from each other and not view each other as incompatibile.
I am the most introverted person you can imagine, I am, in fact, the peak of introversion while my wife comes from a culture that is the polar opposite of it and yet we manage to function rather well.
My experience shows that a relationship between an hyper-introvert and an extrovert is possible and if I can be in a relationship with an extrovert everyone else who is in a similar position can.
So, yes, a strong introvert can perfectly be in a relationship with an extrovert and my experience is the evident demonstration that this is definitely the case.
(Even this post is part of my “spring cleaning” through which I am re-organizing my blog posts)
I am writing this article from the perspective of a Westerner who is married to a Filipina but I think that the core principles that I am outlining here apply to more or less all interracial marriages.
BE THE ONE TO DO THE FIRST MOVE TO ADJUST TO YOUR PARTNER’S CULTURE
The mistake that many Westerners who marry women belonging to another race make is assuming that, because their partner is the “immigrant”, she should adjust to the husband’s culture.
I used to assume that with my Filipino wife.
It may appear that, because Filipinos are so well-travelled (my wife for example worked in several Asian countries and in the USA before she came to Italy), they should easily and readily be able to broaden their perspective and embrace other cultures.
What I’ve realized is that, although they have moved their BODIES to a different country, their HEARTS and MINDS STILL LIVE IN THE PHILIPPINES.
They spend their free time chatting with their friends and relatives in the Philippines through Skype or Facebook and associating with the Filipino community in the country where they work and rarely do they widen out and make friends with the people of the host country.
Before I married my wife I travelled abroad less than my wife did, but, like most Westerners, I travelled moved by a spirit of adventure and a burning desire to EXPLORE OTHER CULTURES.
So, I’ve come to the conclusion that, although my wife is the “immigrant” here in Italy, I, as her Western husband, am in a better position to open up to other cultures because I have a background that is made up of years of travelling for the purpose of expanding my mental and cultural horizons while many Filipinos only move their bodies to another country but, emotionally speaking, they never really leave the Philippines.
LEARN YOUR SPOUSE’S NATIVE LANGUAGE
I went to great lengths to learn Tagalog, my wife’s native language, and here are some of the huge advantages that making this move has given me:
By marrying a Filipina I married (almost literally), the entire kin group. Therefore I have regular interactions with them. Even if my Filipina’s extended family members are fluent in English my effort to learn Tagalog is positively viewed by them as an effort on my part to go the extra mile to build rapport with them
Another reason is because 90% of my social intercourses take place with Filipinos only, and all the more so because I live in a big Western city where there is a huge population of Pinoy immigrants. Filipinos hardly widen out and have social interactions with local people (at least here in Rome). So, being able to speak my wife’s language well helps me to make the most of my social interactions with her fellow Filipinos.
Another reason is this: I have noticed that, unlike Westerners, who only like to gossip about other people when those people are not around, Filipinos like to whisper even in the presence of the person they are gossiping about, so if I can’t understand what they say I find myself in the awkward situation where I am not sure if they are talking about me or about somebody else. Because I understand their language well I avoid these situations.
Knowing my wife’s native language stands me in good stead when I visit her country as a tourist. I remember carrying way to much hand luggage when checking in at the Manila International Airport known as NAIA and I got away with it because I talked to the officer in Tagalog and he just smiled and let me go. Because I speak Tagalog I was able to walk the streets of my wife’s village alone and even take buses alone to go to other towns pretending that I was a mestizo (a Filipino who has Western origins) so that nobody would rob me or hold me up.
CHOOSE TO BE IN LOVE RATHER THAN RIGHT
In all intimate relationships choosing to be at peace rather than right is something that can drastically reduce conflict.
A relationship with a Filipina, and I assume with other women who come from developing countries, is full of situations in which a Western partner may feel justified to consider himself quote-unquote “right”.
My experience has taught me that if I want to fix all the infinite series of situations in which I am entitled to feel right I’d better choose another partner.
With a woman who comes from a country where people run their lives in ways that are “less efficient” than the Western ways the Western partner needs to view most of the situations that need to be “fixed” with a grain of salt and choose a more easygoing approach.
Being too rigid and too righteous hardly works with Filipinos and I guess the same applies to other races.
And, paradoxically, I’ve noticed that the less I put pressure on my wife to do the “right” thing, the more I am likely to get her to cooperate and meet me half-way.
ACCEPT YOUR PARTNER’S DIFFERENT WAYS
Many relationship experts talk about this idea of “acceptance” and they say that one of the major keys to a thriving relationship is accepting your partner the way he or she is.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you sit back and don’t try to do anything to improve dysfunctional situations that may arise in your relationship.
One who is in a relationship must obviously try to do what is humanly possible to take the relationship to a higher level, to make it grow, or better yet thrive.
However there are aspects of your partner’s culture, habits, values and so on that might never change and this is certainly true in a multicultural intimate relationship.
Certain ethnic groups, such as Filipinos, are so set in their ways and their values that trying to get them to change their core values about what constitutes a family and the role of the extended family, for example, can create a lot of friction and frustration and can get their Western spouses to “bash the environment that they themselves have to inhabit” (as the “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces, that I keep quoting in my blog, says).
Now this expression “bashing the environment that they themselves have chosen to inhabit” is very interesting because it points to the core dysfunction of many interracial intimate relationships (and of other kinds of relationships for that matter).
Bashing the environment that you have chosen to inhabit amounts to resisting reality.
The reality is that you knew that your future spouse was a foreigner, you knew that he or she had very different core values, but you decided to go ahead anyways and marry that person and now you are resisting that reality.
What causes much of our suffering is when we resist reality.
I remember hearing a nice illustration about poor conductors and superconductors: if current passes through a wire that has high resistance heat is generated and the wire melts. If, on the other hand, current passes through a superconductor that has zero resistance no heat is generated and the wire doesn’t get damaged. What damages the wire is not the current, rather it is its resistance.
Similarly what causes many Westerners to get mad at their Filipino, or otherwise foreign, spouse is not the fact that he or she is culturally different, rather is their resistance to their partner’s different reality.
REPLACE FRUSTRATION WITH CURIOSITY
Culture shock can eat away at your happiness and, ultimately, your relationship, if you, as the “Culture Shock Philippines” book says, EXPECT the other to accept and understand “the most basic things you act upon and you are comforted by”, if you, in other words, expect your wife to relinquish the cultural traits she has been acting upon, up until now, and she is familiar and comfortable with, to suit the Western model of marriage you are comfortable with.
It comes down to being a giver vs a taker in the relationship.
ACCEPTING people and their culture THE WAY THEY ARE is vital.
But for a relationship with a person who belongs to another race to THRIVE you need much more than just STOP RESISTING her culture.
You need to LEARN TO CELEBRATE THE DIFFERENCES AS EXCITING AND INTERESTING, in other words to not just SHIFT FROM FRUSTRATION TO ACCEPTANCE BUT FROM FRUSTRATION TO CURIOSITY. If you stop RESISTING her culture your relationship may “FUNCTION” but if you want it to “THRIVE” you have to go way beyond mere (and perhaps reluctant) ACCEPTANCE.
It has been said that “WHEN YOU CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK AT THINGS, THE THINGS YOU LOOK AT CHANGE”.
Your relationship with your foreign spouse will not CHANGE WHEN SHE CHANGES and parts with her culture, it will CHANGE WHEN YOU CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK AT IT.
Your relationship is not the way it is, it is the way you think, the way you PROCESS the reality you experience.
How did I shift from frustration to childlike curiosity? By deciding to TURN THE VERY THINGS THAT USED TO CAUSE FRUSTRATION INTO AN OPPORTUNITY TO STRETCH THE BOUNDARIES OF THE “LITTLE ME” WHO WANTED SOMEBODY ELSE TO FIT INTO “THE MOST BASIC THINGS I WAS COMFORTED BY” and I started asking myself new questions such as: “what’s great about the kin-group culture?”, “what can I learn from it?”, “how can I turn the challenges of dealing with my foreign in-laws into a great opportunity to raise the level of my emotional intelligence, become a better communicator?”, “how can I learn to view this situation as an incredible opportunity to get better at building rapport, learn to give my wife space, learn to yield?”.
An intimate relationship with a Filipina is NOT THE WAY IT IS, IT IS THE WAY YOU ARE.
We see our reality, including our relationships through a filter and the filter is HOW WE DECIDE TO PROCESS OUR REALITY.
By asking myself new questions and by shifting from frustration to curiosity everything changed and it changed fast, no more “groping for a bridge”.
DISPLAY THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TOWARD THE EXTENDED FAMILY
Many people who come from developing countries have a very strong relationship with the extended family which we don’t have in the Western world.
I spent the past ten years living with my wife’s extended family (which is one of the few here in Rome that is not so big).
In dealing with my Filipino in-laws I found myself in the situation described in the “Culture Shock Philippines” book: “what choices do I have….when the queasy feeling of uselessly groping for a bridge begins to make me tremble and I find myself utterly sealed away…. what do I do?”.
I found out that the answer to the question is: YES I DO HAVE A CHOICE and the choice is to shift my thoughts about the kin-group culture.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, a famous psychologist, in his book “The Power of Intention” said something that I find very useful:
“What you feel is wrong or missing in these relationships is an indication that something is amiss within you, because broadly speaking, anything you see in anyone else is a reflection of some aspect of you—otherwise you wouldn’t be bothered by it, because you wouldn’t notice it in the first place…… If your inner speech centers on what’s annoying about them, that’s what you’ll notice. As much as you’re inclined to blame them for your annoyance, it’s yours, and it’s coming from your thoughts. If you make a decision to put your inner attention, your life energy, on something quite different, your relationship will change. In your thoughts, where your family relationships exist, you’ll no longer be annoyed, angry, hurt…………………Being authentic and peaceful with your relatives is only a thought away”- from Wayne Dyer’s “The Power of Intention” chapter 9: “It is my Intention to: be Authentic and Peaceful with all of my Relatives”
Since “Being authentic and peaceful with your relatives is only a thought away” I asked myself: “what taught can I dwell upon to improve my relationship with my Filipino wife’s extended family?”
And the idea that I decided to adopt and operate from is: instead of just accepting the kin-group as an inevitable price to pay to have a Filipino wife, I made an effort to learn to appreciate the differences between the Western concept of family and the Filipino one as exciting and interesting.
I keep dwelling on the idea that here in Italy many elderly people often die alone and forgotten while the Filipino in-laws culture or extended family culture is such that this kind of scenario is highly unlikely.
So, by dwelling on this kind of thoughts, I made the mental shift that was necessary to embrace my wife’s kin-group culture.
Being in an interracial marriage is very challenging but many Westerners make it more challenging by “bashing the environment they themselves have chosen to inhabit” when their foreign wife doesn’t adjust to their ways.
I have decided to try a different approach:
Instead of assuming that because my wife is the immigrant in my country she is the one who should adjust I have made the first step to be the one to fully inject myself into her culture.
Yet, I have discovered that simply being intellectually curious about her culture is far from being enough so I have made an earnest effort to learn how to love and appreciate, or at least accept, the ways of her culture that are inimical to the ways I am comfortable with.
I think that, after 20 years, I have come to grips with what it takes to make an interracial marriage work and I am now enjoying the fruit of my labor.
An interracial marriage can be tricky but it can definitely function if the Western partner is willing to work really hard to let go of much of his mental barriers and stretch the boundaries of his cultural comfort zone.
(I am re-writing and updating some of my old posts)
One of the things that someone who wishes to marry a Filipina needs to know is the difference between the stereotype image of the submissive Filipino wife and the reality of the Filipino husband who plays the macho but ends up being put under his wife’s dress or under the saya.
The stereotype image of the submissive Maria Clara and the modern Filipina
Maria Clara De Los Santos is the leading lady and fiance of the leading character Crisostomo Ibarra in the novel Noli Me Tángere, written by the Filipino National Hero Dr. José Rizal.
While Crisostomo Ibarra was studying in Europe, Maria Clara was sent to a convent school, where she received rigid education under the Catholic religion.
This character has become the ideal image to describe a traditional woman in the Filipino culture, a woman who is shy, demure, conservative, one who never speaks out and who is supposed to be an obedient and respectful daughter, a good wife and mother.
However, my experience tells me that if you marry a Filipina, chances are that you will share your life with a woman who has very little to do with the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara.
I’ve been in a relationship with a Filipina for 20 years, I’ve been to the Philippines a few times and I have daily contacts with the Filipino community of Rome and I’ve never really come across a Filipina who corresponds to the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara.
Many of my wife’s female relatives are teachers, engineers, college professors while, often, their husbands barely work and mostly do menial jobs like driving tricycles or magsasaka (farmer).
One of my wife’s cousins teaches in a school in the Sierra Madre Mountains and her husband’s “job” is to take her there with his motorbike and, when the lesson is over, take her back home.
Most Filipinas who live in Rome were the first ones to arrive here and few years later they petitioned their husbands who, more often than not, earn even less than their wives, provided that they find a job.
Most Filipino food stalls or grocery stores, as well as Filipino restaurants or catering services, here in Rome are run by Filipino women
The largest multiethnic food market in Rome: most Filipino stalls are run by women
The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces talks about “the Filipina’s remarkable skill as an entrepreneur. Almost every Filipino wife is involved in some business ‘on the side’—whether it be a small store, a kiosk selling drinks and snacks, selling paintings through friends and contacts, a cake shop or perhaps accepting orders at home, etc.—and what’s more, doing very well at it. Many big businesses are run by Filipino women. Filipinas figure prominently in the business world. To give some examples: the Philippine Women’s University was founded by a Filipina the Filipina’s remarkable skill as an entrepreneur. Almost every Filipino wife is involved in some business ‘on the side’—whether it be a small store, a kiosk selling drinks and snacks, selling paintings through friends and contacts, a cake shop or perhaps accepting orders at home, etc.—and what’s more, doing very well at it. Many big businesses are run by Filipino women. Filipinas figure prominently in the business world. To give some examples: the Philippine Women’s University was founded by a Filipina and is still run efficiently by Filipinas; one of Makati’s biggest and most popular department stores is owned and managed by a Filipina; the two biggest bookshop chains are owned and were built up by two Filipina sisters”
So, as it turns out, quite often Filipino women have more “power” than men and, definitely, have very little to do with the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara and, actually, the Philippines has already experienced having two female presidents (Cory Aquino and Gloria Arroyo) while here in my country this is still taboo.
My wife left the Philippines in her early 20’s and learned very early in life what it is like to be self-sufficient thereby developing a very strong character, while in my early 20’s I was still relying on my father for support and I live in a country where, sometimes, even in their 30’s and 40’s men still live with their parents as the cost of living is too high.
Under the Saya
So, far from being women who are shy, demure and submissive, many Filipino women are actually in a financial and psychological position to put men ander da saya, including Western men.
“Ander da saya” is the Filipinized term for “under the saya” or under a woman’s dress. Many Filipino men are in subjection to their wives.
Filipino men like to play the macho.
They act like machos when they drink, drive or get involved in suntukan and awayan (fights).
Yet, speaking of the role of the husband in a Filipino family the “Culture Shock Philippines” book says: “every Filipino husband strives to give an impression of, for fear of being called ‘under the saya’—henpecked. This threat is real because Filipino wives are very dominant and, though they may appear quiet and submissive before others, are very skilful in manipulating their husbands to get what they want. Because the wife runs the household, she considers it her territory and the husband does not have much say in household issues. He gives his opinion only when consulted”
An interesting play on words for these men who play the macho when they drink or drive (or drink and drive) but get constantly henpecked by their wives is machunurin, a combination of “macho” and masunurin (submissive).
Men in the Philippines also call themselves tigasin or strong when, in fact they often end up being tiga-saing (a play on words for taga-saing, the one who cooks rice), tiga-salok ng tubig (one who gets water), tiga-luto (the one who cooks) etc.
Being aware of the huge difference between the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara and the actual modern-day Filipina is something that one who wishes to marry a Filipina definitely needs.
Many modern Filipinas have a rather strong personality, they certainly have no inferiority complex toward men and know how to get what they want.
So, be prepared, don’t expect a shy Filipino woman, rather get ready to deal with the exact opposite and look for ways to avoid being put under the saya.
My wife is Filipina and Filipino people have a lot of interactions with foreigners.
Millions of Filipinos live and work overseas and many Filipinas marry Western guys.
Why OFW should know the structure of their own language
I think one of the reasons why OFW struggle with the local language is because they don’t know the basic structure of their own language, or at least the structure of the English grammar, if they prefer to communicate in English, as many Filipinos do and as my wife does.
For example my wife has been working in Italy for 20 years. She is very fluent in Italian and knows a lot of words but she just cannot write a letter, an email or, sometimes, even a text message in Italian without making big mistakes. And it is more or less the same with most Filipino immigrants whom I know.
Whenever my wife or any other Filipino whom I know need to fill out a form in Italian or write something they ask me for help.
I have only spent few months in the Philippines but I can write in Tagalog and if I lived in the Philippines I wouldn’t need any help to fill out forms, write letters or do anything else that entails having a “formal” grasp of the language. I am not perfect but I can manage.
I am not trying to brag, I am just trying to make a point.
The reason why I have learned Tagalog relatively quickly and the reason why I can speak, read and write in this language is because I know the structure of my own language.
One who knows the structure of his/her own language can more easily learn another language to the point of being able not only to speak it but also to write in it, and one who lives overseas needs, as I’ve said, to be able to fill out forms, write resumes and so on, otherwise he or she will always be relying upon local people for help.
A Filipina married to a Western guy can become her husband’s native language teacher if she knows the structure of her own language
One of my favourite topics in this blog is the Tagalog language and its grammar.
The reason why I am taking this topic very seriously is because communication is the key to a happy marriage and, as we all know, most relationship problems stem from poor communication.
Communication in a multiethnic marriage, like mine, is even more difficult. The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says that native English speakers (or other Westerners who are fluent in English) who interact with Filipinos, who are, in many cases, rather fluent in English, can find themselves in the odd position of “speaking the same language while not being able to communicate at all”.
Westerners who want to have a thriving long-term relationship with Filipinos can’t rely too heavily on the fact that many Filipinos are fluent in English.
To really penetrate the Filipino culture and deeply understand the mentality a Westerner who wants to marry a Filipina or do business in the Philippines or have any other kind of long-term relationship with Filipinos needs to learn Tagalog (in my opinion at least).
The problem is that when I decided to learn Tagalog all that my wife was able to do was teach me a bunch of words but I needed more than that. I needed to understand the structure of the language and, neither my wife nor any of her friends was in the position to really help me because, although they can speak the language they suck at teaching it because they themselves don’t know the structure of their language.
And it is pretty much the same here in Italy: most people here can speak Italian but they have a very poor knowledge of the structure of the language and so they can’t teach their own language to others.
I know Filipino immigrants who have been working in my country for over 30 years and they still can’t write a complete sentence in Italian without making mistakes and I know mixed Filipino-Western couples where the Western husband is neither trying to learn Tagalog nor is his wife actively trying to teach him or even able to do so.
This explains why I think Filipinos who want to live overseas or marry a foreigner would be in a better position to communicate effectively in a foreign environment if they first learned the nuts and the bolts of the basic structure of their own language.
(I have slightly modified my previous post entitled “The Misleading Western Veneer of the Philippines” and I have replaced it with this updated version)
Many foreign visitors who set foot for the first time on the archipelago easily and quickly jump to the conclusion that the Philippines is a Western country because of its palpable Western veneer.
Yet this Western veneer can be rather misleading.
The reason why I am using the expression “misleading” with regard to the Western veneer of the Philippines is because, basically, when I first met my wife I had a vague idea that the Philippines was an ex Spanish and US colony and that Filipinos are usually fluent in English, and so I kind of fell into the trap of assuming that I wouldn’t have to work really hard at building rapport with my wife’s culture precisely because I thought that the Philippines was essentially a Western country or, at least, a country that was heavily influenced by its former Western colonizers.
Yet, before long (and I mean less than three months into the marriage) I started noticing that my wife was akin to us Westerners only on the surface and I started noticing a bunch of things that set the Filipino community very far apart from the West.
For example, as I have already mentioned in one of my posts, I noticed that both my wife and her friends and relatives would hardly associate with local people and that 99,9% of my social life was only taking place within the context of Filipino social gatherings.
My old friends hardly existed for my wife and I had to really insist to get her to spend an evening with my former friends. This isn’t just my wife’s mentality but rather a very widespread trait of the Filipino community here in Rome: they basically form a very closed sort of “enclave” and they almost only socialize with other Filipinos. The gap between the Western veneer of the Philippines and the actual reality became more evident to me the first time I set foot in the Philippines.
When I got out of the N.A.I.A. airport I found myself almost immediately on the Roxas Boulevard (which is very close to the airport) and because it was 11 pm the boulevard was full of neon lights. A view of the Makati City Skyline from the EDSA Avenue (the “Western veneer” of the Philippines)I had visited quite a few cities that have some American style skyscrapers and neon lights before but nothing like what I saw in Manila in terms of the amount of neon lights and skyscrapers and the size of the shopping malls. A typical house compound in San Ildefonso Bulacan where relatives live in close proximity (the reality behind the “veneer”) So my very first impression of Manila by night, with it’s buildings entirely covered with neon lights, those massive fast-food restaurants, malls and skyscrapers (and the contrast between these things and the various Spanish-style Christian churches that I was noticing along the way) plus the huge karatula, most of which written in English, was that I had really landed in a Western country.
But when I arrived in San Ildefonso, Bulacan (my wife’s town) an entirely different reality revealed itself.
For example I noticed that my wife’s house compound was structured in such a way that the entire extended family lived in very close proximity and, as I walked along the M. Valte Road, I observed that, more or less, all compounds were structured in a similar way.
So I became aware that Filipinos have a concept of what constitutes a family that is miles away from the Western idea of family.
When I was in my mid-twenties my parents were eager to get rid of me and wanted me to find work and my own house as soon as possible, while in the Philippines parents expect their married sons and daughters to build their house in the family compound and never leave.
My brother lives 50 km away from me and we only see each other four or five times a year while my wife and her brother call each other every single day. Although my mother is invalid she prefers paying a katulong to getting a bigger house where my wife and I could live close to her and give her some assistance while my wife’s mother lives with us.
So, yes, the Filipino concept of what constitutes a family is one of those areas in which the contrast between the Western veneer of the Philippines and its actual mentality is quite striking.
So, if you are contemplating the idea of marrying a Filipina, don’t assume that you are going to marry a Western woman.
If you assume that you will pretty soon discover the truthfulness of what the “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says: “The Western visitor (or anyone who has long term relationships with Filipinos) may find he is speaking the same language but not communicating at all. With a sinking feeling he realises he is not in America or England or Canada, but in an entirely different world. Feeling betrayed, the Westerner retreats into his own shell”.
To avoid finding yourself in the position described by the above mentioned book you need to operate from the premise that the various trappings of the Western world that abound in the Philippines only constitute a veneer and underneath this coating there is a culture that has a radically different concept of what constitutes a family.But the kin-group culture is just one of the many aspects that set the Filipino society very far apart from the Western model of the world.
In past articles I have touched on other areas in which the Filipino culture is a vast universe, underneath the “Western coating”, that a Western husband of a Filipina needs to explore with huge amounts of radical openmindedness if he wants to avoid finding himself in the position of “speaking the same language while not being able to communicate at all”.