Principles that Work Cross-culturally in any Intimate Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three As that Work Wonders in a Relationship

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

The book is entitled “Communication Miracles for Couples”.

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

There is an interesting passage in chapter one that says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Four Rs that Kill a Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Avoid Jumping From one Relationship to Another

    Many immigrants in my country end up broke and mired in debt because of their mindset, similarly people who move to another relationship without changing their mindset don’t solve any of their problems

    When I entered my relationship with a Filipina one of the very first things I did, to become acquainted with her culture, was watching Filipino movies.

    One of the first ones I watched is entitled “All My Life”.

    The lyrics of the theme song of this famous Filipino movie say something along the lines of “I’ll never forget how you brought the sun to shine in my life…there was an empty space in my heart”.

    These are not just the lyrics of a song, this is actually how most people who wish to be in a relationship or wish to be in a better one think.

    A lot of people in our society, not just in the Philippines, believe that on a sunny day the ideal partner will show up and “bring the sun to shine” in their hearts, there where there is an “empty space” to fill, as the song goes.

    I believe that this is a myth and that entering a relationship or moving from one relationship to another doesn’t quite bring the sun to shine in an empty heart.

    It has been said many times and in many ways that one of the hallmark characteristics of a healthy relationship is giving, so if one has an “empty space” to fill the solution is inner work not someone else who will do it for us.

    I believe that if our current partner is not causing the “sun to shine” in our heart the solution is not another partner, rather it is fixing our own crap and no one can do it for us unless we do it.

    Unless one is in a relationship with a partner who has become abusive, violent, irresponsible, extremely lazy or otherwise unbearable to the point that there is no way to continue the relationship, moving from one relationship to another is not the answer in my modest opinion.

    I think the condition of many Filipino immigrants in my country is an interesting metaphor to illustrate this point.

    In much the same way as many people move from one relationship to another, Filipinos who live in Italy have moved from one country to another looking for greener grass.

    The problem is that while some have indeed fixed their financial problems most are just as broke as if they would be if they had never left the Philippines. Why?

    Because of the bahala-na approach to life (or “casual” approach to life), which is part of the “Pinoy mentality” that often doesn’t change when Filipinos move to another country.

    For example, one of the reasons why Filipino people leave their country and move here is because here in Italy health care is free. The problem is that despite having access to free medical care most Filipinos keep drinking way too much alcohol, eating way too often at KFC, Mc Donald’s, most exercise very little if they exercise at all and, as a result of this mindset, they are just as ill as if they lived in a country that has no free health care (my wife is Filipina and I love Filipino people flaws and all, I am just trying to make a point here).

    So my point is that wherever we go we bring us with us. Unless we shift our mentality no place, situation or person will ever fix our problems.

    A famous motivational speaker said that “it is not the blowing of the wind, rather it’s the setting of the sail” that determines where we wind up in life.

    It is true that, just as there are people who cannot help but flee from dangerous and abusive relationships, there are also people who cannot help but flee from countries that are plagued by war, extremely difficult economical situations, persecution and so on.

    The problem is when one runs away from a difficult situation that is the result of a messed up mindset and expects to find the solution to his or her problems by moving to another environment without changing anything about his or her mentality

    Many Filipinos, as soon as they move to my country have kids before they even find adequate work, many buy a fancy car and the latest electronic gadgets and give very little thought to cultivating smart financial habits and, as a result of this bahala-na approach, many end up having spent years or even decades in this country without having changed anything about their situation.

    The same principle applies to relationships: if we have an “empty space” in our heart we need to fix it by doing the hard work that is necessary to change our mindset and if we do our homework in this area chances are that “the sun” will start to shine in our heart of its own accord and it is highly likely that by doing so we will not need to rely on someone else and change partner to fill the “empty space in our heart” but rather we will be able to make our present relationship work.

    If we do nothing to improve ourselves and expect a new partner to fix us we will keep chasing “the same person only in a different body” as Dr. Wayne Dyer wisely said and the empty space in our heart” will remain empty.

    The bottom line is: it is way better in my opinion to work on our mindset and fix our weaknesses, thereby making our present relationship work, than run away from the relationship in search of the elusive goal of finding the perfect match who can make the sun shine in an empty heart.