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.

Ang “Himig ng Katahimikan”-Bahagi 2

Ayon sa isang sinaunang Zen (kung hindi ako nagkakamali) na salawikain “ang katahimikan sa pagitan ng mga nota ang siyang bumubuo ng musika”.

Sa katulad na paraan ang kaunting panahon para sa sarili sa isang tahimik na dako ang siyang bumubuo ng isang magandang relasyon dahil nagbibigay ito ng pagkakataon para abutin ang panloob na kapayaan na napakahalaga sa isang romantikong relasyon….

Nasumpungan ko itong lumang videong ito sa aking file na ginawa ko sa isang trail sa bayan ko sa Timugang Italya (magandang lugar iyon)

The “Karatula” on a White-sandy Beach

(I am reblogging this one because I have written the Italian version of this old post)

Back in June 2008, during my first trip to the Philippines, I visited the One Hundred Islands National Park in Pangasinan.

That trip was a dream come true.

I had been dreaming of visiting the tropics since I was a child. I remember going every year with my parents to our summer-house in Southern Italy, a place where the water is crystal clear and that, under certain aspects, resembles the tropics, even though corals are almost non-existent there and the sea fauna is not anywhere near what I used to see in documentaries about the tropics.

So, whenever my parents took me there, I pretended that I was in some exotic island and, therefore, I grew up with a burning desire to see the tropics.

But it was not until I married my wife that my dream came true.

The paradox is that my visit to the One Hundred Island was the only day I saw the sea during my first trip to the Philippines (the second time, having learned the lesson, I planned things a lot differently and I spent 10 days by the sea).

During my first visit of the Philippines, in order to get my wife to go to the sea I really had to struggle and wrestle.

One reason is that she had not gone home to see the sea, rather, like most expatriate Filipinos, the purpose of her travel was to be with her family.

Another reason is that, like most Filipinos, my wife’s idea of relaxation is going to the shopping mall, eating out at some fast-food chain, watching TV, partying and so on. I realized just how little most Filipinos care about their coral reefs and white sandy beaches.

The landscape of the country is more about giant karatulas or billboards, shopping malls and fast-food chains than about beaches and the exotic landscapes are somewhere in the background, light years away from the minds and hearts of most Filipinos.

The country is so obsessed with the American culture that for many locals the ocean hardly exists.

The island where the bankero or boatman dropped us and where I had my first opportunity ever to snorkel in tropical waters and admire multi-colored corals and giant clams, is Lopez Island, one of the small coral islets of the One Hundred Islands archipelago

But while getting out of the boat and onto the beach, an unlikely sight took me aback: a huge karatula or billboard advertising a popular Filipino brand of hot dogs was dominating the landscape of that amazing island with an unbelievable white-sandy beach and an incredible underwater world!

To this day I keep staring at the picture I took on that day of June 2008, a picture that is a metaphor of a culture where the pristine beauty of the country arouses so little interest among most Filipinos who, evidently, prefer hot dogs, burgers, fried chicken and window shopping at the shopping mall to the sheer beauty of their country.

If you marry a Filipina you will highly likely bump into one who is not that enthusiastic about corals, dolphins, giant clams and who probably can’t even swim.

The karatula I saw in Lopez Island has become a symbol of what my relationship with my Filipino wife is like and of what the culture shock with a Filipina is like.

For decades I had been dreaming of marrying an exotic woman whom I could bliss out on an exotic island with. Both dreams have come true.

I have married an exotic woman and I have been with her on an exotic island, but while my spirit was more in sync with the underwater world, my wife’s spirit was more attuned with the karatula and what it symbolizes: one of the most beautiful (if not the most beautiful) tropical countries in the world in which the exotic beauty is largely overwhelmed by karatulas, mega malls and fast-food chains.

Il cartellone pubblicitario su un’isola filippina: un’ interessante metafora della cultura filippina

Poco dopo il mio matrimonio ho avuto la possibilità di realizzare un’aspirazione che avevo fin da piccolo: andare su un’isola esotica con sabbia bianca, coralli e palme da cocco.

Con oltre 7000 isole le Filippine, un arcipelago situato tra i tropici e l’equatore, offrono il massimo in termini di scenari tropicali.

Tuttavia, appena arrivato in Filippine, mi sono reso conto di quanto ai Filippini i loro scenari esotici interessino molto poco.

Le Filippine sono un’ex colonia americana e sono il regno di fast-food di ogni genere, immensi centri commerciali e cartelloni pubblicitari di dimensioni enormi.

Nella stragrande maggioranza dei casi i filippini preferiscono svagarsi girando per centri commerciali, mangiando fuori o dedicando molto tempo ai social network e alla tv. I loro paesaggi esotici sembrano quasi essere una sorta di ‘corpo estraneo’ e una buona fetta della popolazione filippina sembra quasi indifferente al fatto che il loro paese sia ricco di spiagge bianche, barriere coralline, cascate, foreste pluviali etc.

Per riuscire a convincere mia moglie a fare 300 km per andare alle One Hundred Islands, un arcipelago di isolotti corallini che si trova nella provincia di Pangasinan, ho dovuto insistere al punto di sfiorare il litigio.

Finalmente, un giorno di giugno 2008, sono riuscito per la prima volta nella mia vita a mettere piede su un’isola che, sotto ogni aspetto, rappresentava lo scenario ideale che avevo sognato per lunghi anni.

Tuttavia, mentre ci avvicinavamo alla Lopez Island, parte del piccolo arcipelago di One Hundred Islands, notai un enorme cartellone pubblicitario di una nota marca filippina di hot dog proprio nel mezzo della spiaggia.

Sono anni che guardo la foto di quel cartellone pubblicitario che e’ diventato per me l’emblema dello shock culturale tipico del matrimonio tra un occidentale e una filippina.

Ho conosciuto diversi occidentali tra cui inglesi, americani e tedeschi che hanno una moglie filippina e tutti concordano nel dire che un occidentale che sogna scenari esotici insieme ad una donna esotica rischia di trovarsi molto spiazzato nello scoprire quanto poco i paesaggi tropicali interessino alla maggioranza dei filippini.

Il cartellone pubblicitario sull’isola corallina e’ l’emblema di un paese tropicale dove il paesaggio e’ dominato piu’ da cartelloni pubblicitari, centri commerciali e catene di Mc Donald’s, KFC, Burger King, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts etc. che non dagli scenari naturali.

Is the Philippines Safe for Solo-travel?

What I can say, based on my personal experience, is this: I have criss-crossed the island of Luzon alone and I’ve taken buses, tricycles and jeepneys alone and I’ve never felt, not even once, that my safety was somehow threatened.

I haven’t been to the Visayas or Mindanao, so I don’t know if it is safe or not to travel there.

My solo walks “sa kabukiran”

When I arrived in the Philippines for the first time, I was very eager to explore everything I could possibly explore.

We arrived in Manila at 1 am but, because it was my first experience outside Europe, I almost didn’t sleep at night and woke up very early to walk about in the barangay.

My wife and my mother-in-law didn’t look very happy that I had taken the initiative to go out of the house without a “body guard” and they gave me all sorts of warnings about how dangerous it was for me to walk about in the barangay alone.

I was not too convinced and I actually went much further away than the barangay itself: I spent entire days out in the kabukiran (countryside) and, quite honestly, I saw nothing but smiling faces.

Smiling faces “sa kabukiran”

All roads lead to Cubao

I live in Rome, Italy, and there is a saying about Rome that goes “all roads lead to Rome”.

In the Philippines “all roads lead to Cubao”.

Cubao is a major bus terminal in Quezon City and buses from Cubao go all around Luzon

My Filipino wife, like many Filipinos who work abroad, wants to do nothing but stay home, when she goes home to the Philippines, while I am eager to explore the country.

In order to discourage me from pushing her to go somewhere together she would say that it was just too dangerous for the two of us to go around, let alone for me to go off on my own.

As I said, even the fact that I was walking alone in the countryside was a cause for complaint.

So I decided to overcome my wife’s resistance (which, I must admit with the benefit of hindsight, was a rather selfish move and not very beneficial for my relationship….but I eventually managed to fix a lot of things in my relationship) and make a further leap, and one morning I went to Cubao and took a bus to La Union, where I met up with other Filipinos who live in Italy and who were in the Philippines on vacation.

I used their home as a base for my solo bus, jeepney and tricycle trips to various parts of the Ilocandia

Leaving Cubao

One of the many buses I took alone

Riding a tricycle alone

I spent 10 days away from my wife and her family, partly with my Pinoy friends and partly completely alone, and I didn’t even see the shadow of a dangerous situation during my solo bus or tricycle rides.

Again, maybe the reason is that I speak Tagalog and I know how to build rapport with Filipinos, I don’t know.

Perhaps if someone else does what I did he will be attacked so I disclaim responsibility for what I am writing.

Maybe you shouldn’t try Quiapo by night alone but, by and large, I think that travelling in the Philippines isn’t a problem for most foreigners.

I’ve actually met Western couples who had rented cars and who were doing road trips without any “body guards”.

Europe is more dangerous than the Philippines

In my life I have only experienced a couple of incidents in which I run the risk of being robbed: one took place in Paris, France and another in Brussels, Belgium. Nothing happened to me in the Philippines.

I was in Quiapo (a part of Manila that is considered dangerous) at night with my family and I have the feeling that, because I know how to deal with Filipinos, I could have walked alone there, or in Tondo (an even more “dangerous” area of Manila), without any problems.

Quiapo and Tondo are actually peanuts compared to parts of Naples in Southern Italy: if you walk alone in Quiapo or Tondo you might be robbed. If you walk alone in certain parts of Naples you will be robbed….

Naples Italy, the Tondo of Italy: beware of pickpockets!

A slum in Naples, Italy: try walking alone here at night….

My Filipino mother-in-law was held up in Rome!

I’ve never been held up in the Philippines but my Filipino mother in law (the very one who got very angry at me because I wanted to explore the Philippines alone) was held up in Rome few weeks after she moved to Italy!

Few months later burglars broke into the apartment of a Filipino family whom I known.

I have heard stories of Filipinos being robbed or even killed in my country, while no one of the Europeans whom I know (and I know many), who have been to the Philippines, has ever been injured by criminals in the Philippines.

This is, of course, simply my own experience and limited perspective.

Quiapo by Night: the Ultimate Philippine Adventure

Maybe, as I said, you shouldn’t try Divisoria, Quiapo or Tondo by night (unless you are fluent in Tagalog like me…..) or, maybe, parts of Mindanao but, by and large, as far as I am concerned, travelling in the Philippines has proved to be much safer than the warnings full of doom and gloom that I had heard before I made my first trip to the country.

So, take your precautions and enjoy the Philippines!

How to Meet a Filipina for Marriage

The answer to this question is largely contingent on whether you are looking for a Filipina who lives in the Philippines or one who is an expatriate and, more in general, if you are looking for a happy real love relationship grounded in high standards or a shallow and, ultimately, unhappy one.

I live in Italy and what I have noticed is that single Filipinas, who have been working here for a while, and are, as a result, rather financially self-sufficient, usually tend to look for a Filipino husband and many (at least the ones whom I know) would rather go on vacation in the Philippines to look for a husband than court an Italian here.

One reason is perhaps the fact that a Filipina who lives here is very well aware that the average Western man doesn’t have that much to offer financially, unless they marry their rich employer (which is a highly unlikely scenario).

The average Italian office or manual worker is generally not in the position to support the entire extended family of a Filipina so a Filipina who came here to make money is well aware that marrying a local guy is not that much of a gain financialwise.

So one of the reasons why meeting a Filipina for marriage in a Western country isn’t easy is that (at least based on what I have observed in the past 20 years) most of them are economically self-sufficient and when they are in that position they tend to go for a Filipino.

Another reason why meeting a Filipina for marriage in a Western country (at least in my country) is not easy is that, especially in large cities like Rome where tens of thousands of Pinoy live, Filipinos tend to associate with other Filipinos only and they rarely widen out.

Their usual form of entertainment is going to Filipino social gatherings where the only Westerners are people who are somehow related to the Filipino community (like someone who is part of a religious organization) and rarely do they blend with local people.

There are Filipinas though who do like Westerners more than they like Filipino guys for a number of reasons. Some Filipinas cannot stand heavy drinking and the macho-machunurin (macho masunurin or “submissive”) attitude of many Filipino guys who seem to only be able to act out macho qualities when they drive a car or when they binge drink but in a family setting it is often the woman who takes the lead. So Filipinas seem to like Filipino guys as far as physical appearance is concerned but many cannot stand their way of living.

So, based on my experience, I would say that meeting a Filipina for marriage in a Western country isn’t that easy unless, as I said, you bump into one of those who just cannot stand the attitude of many Filipino men.

The other option to meet a Filipina for marriage (that I personally don’t like at all and I don’t recommend at all) is going to the Philippines to marry a local Filipina who has never been abroad and who has no clue about what real life is like in the West.

Most Filipinos who have never been abroad automatically associate “white skin” with the idea of “Joe the Amerikano” and assume that white equals American and that American equals wealthy, even if a white guy comes from Bulgaria or Greece or some other relatively poor corner of Europe.

There are though several Filipinas who live in the Philippines who are highly educated and have a good job (and I have met some of them) and they neither care about moving abroad nor do they care about marrying a white man and they usually go for a Filipino.

So the risk of looking for a Filipina who is looking for “Joe the Amerikano” is that one finds himself in a co-dependent relationship where love is not exactly what characterizes the relationship itself.

So, what the message that I am trying to convey through this post boils down to is that meeting a Filipina for marriage is not the answer to one’s inability to find a suitable wife in one’s own country. A successful marriage is about giving and sharing not about getting. Ancient wisdom says that, psychology and relationship coaches say that too, so there is no way around it.

Filipinas make for amazing wives but an amazing marriage is only possible if one is pursuing a real love relationship and, as it so happens, the only way a real love relationship can happen is when the relationship is based upon high moral and spiritual standards.

It would be all too easy to go to the Philippines and play the role of the rich “Joe the Amerikano” but that would hardly lead to a proper and happy relationship.

Marrying a Filipina who is not driven by the need to support herself and the whole extended family (like a self-sufficient expatriate or a Filipina who lives in the Philippines who is self-sufficient and is not looking for ways to move abroad at any cost) and who has high moral standards makes it much more likely to have a happy marriage with a Filipina.

Posts in Italian in my Blog

As I mentioned few months ago, because some of my followers are Italian and not all of them understand English or Tagalog, from time to time I publish blog posts in Italian.

I am trying, within the limits of my super busy schedule, to turn my blog into a trilingual one (English, Tagalog and Italian).

This is probably a little overly ambitious project, given the fact that I have a family and work full-time…but I am at least trying.

Should I find it too overwhelming to write in 3 languages I’ll go back to writing in one language….

How to Get Your Partner to Change

My wife is Filipina and one of the hallmark traits of Filipinos is that they can be a little matigas ang ulo, a Tagalog expression meaning “stubborn”.

Filipinos definitely resist change and are rather set in their ways and rooted in their mentality that, more often than not, is at odds with the Western ways and this may create a lot of friction in a mixed-race marriage between a Westerner and a Filipina.

On top of that my Filipino wife and I, like all couples, have different personalities and different viewpoints about a bunch of matters and have different ways to handle problems and situations.

People resist change

I have read a lot of books and blogs about how to get other people to change and I have tried different methods but I have come to the conclusion that the reality is that people can hardly be changed and not only because my wife comes from a culture that is particularly reluctant to making any changes: a lot of other people I interact with including my Italian relatives and friends or people I work with resist change.

For example my mother is no longer able to work and lives on a meager old age pension and yet she doesn’t want to sell her big house by the sea that is a big money pit and is eating away at what little money she is receiving from the government.

My employer is losing clients and money but he is not willing to change anything about the way he runs his business and is not open to any suggestions.

So it is not the case that my Filipino wife resists change while everyone else I interact with is ready to change: we live in a world in which pretty much everyone is reluctant to making any changes.

And yet we only focus on how our spouse is not willing to change and get upset at them and we forget how everyone else around us has basically the same flaw.

I myself resist change

But, even more importantly, I have realized how I myself struggle to change and it took me years or even decades to part with some of the negative habits that I have eventually managed to conquer (like overeating for example) so how can I expect other people to change?

I myself struggle to do it and often come up with all sorts of excuses for why I am not changing.

So, after years characterized by many arguments and failed attempts to get my wife to part with some of her Filipino habits I have made a honest self-examination to find out where I have been ineffective and to what extent I can realistically expect her to change and to what extent I must just accept and learn to appreciate the things that will probably never change.

I remind myself that in much the same way as there are things I want her to change there are things she wants me to change

One of the reasons why my wife resists my attempts to get her to change is probably because women often make an issue of what men view as “little things” so, from my point of view,  the things she wanted me to change were minutia and peanuts while the things I wanted her to change were the big stuff.

This might be true in some areas, but if I continue to operate from the idea that the things I want my wife to change are important while the things she wants me to change are “little” ones we are going nowhere.

So the first step I have made is removing this idea and accepting that we are even: she is not changing the things I am requesting her to change and I am not changing too a lot of things she wants me to change, period.


Why am I not changing the things my wife wants me to change?

Once I made this admission I started looking into the reasons why I am reluctant to changing the things she wants me to change because those must be the same underlying reasons that keep my wife from changing the habits I want her to change.


I have found out that there are three underlying reasons why I have never seriously worked on the things that my wife wants me to change:

  • I have pretty much already mentioned one: I consider the things she wants me to change to be minor and unimportant so I dismiss them. So I have asked myself: “couldn’t it be the case that in much the same way as I dismiss the things that are important to her as minutia she also views the things I want her to change as unimportant?
  • The way she goes about asking me to change: she doesn’t simply request me to change, rather sometimes she raises her voice like all women like to do.

When she (or anyone else for that matter) raises her voice , no matter how right she is, I close my ears. Who is right or wrong flies out of the window, I just don’t want to hear her because I feel like she is attacking me and by attacking me she accomplishes nothing.

So it has to be the case that one of the reasons why she doesn’t change is the fact that she feels that I am attacking her.

Now, I struggle to see myself as one who attacks because I rarely lash out and lose my cool but by thinking a little harder what I have realized is that I attack nonetheless.

I perhaps do it in more gentle and subtle ways but I still attack, criticize and make her wrong.

Preaching, attacking and criticizing doesn’t work with me so how can it work with her?

  • She doesn’t see the positive things I do and my positive intentions and only focuses on what I did wrong. And, again, this keeps me from wanting to hear anything she says about how I am wrong so nothing changes. By honestly examining my approach I have realized that I have also focused my attention way too much on the most irking aspects of her mentality and demanded change without really coming from a place of appreciation, at least for her positive intentions.

I Remind Myself How Hard it Was for me to Change the Bad Habits I Managed to Change

I have become more aware of how my being upset at her lack of willingness to change is directly proportional to my lack of awareness of how much I still need to change and how hard it was for me to change and how many times I failed over and over and over again.

It is true that I have made some major changes in my life but 99% of my weaknesses are still lingering and I have not even scratched the surface of real change.

I have made huge changes, sure, for example I have developed healthy habits and lost tons of weight but it took me 25 years to pull it off.

So by becoming more aware of my weaknesses and how hard it was for me to change I take a more compassionate and less demanding approach

Always Come From a Place of Appreciation

If I view my wife as fundamentally flawed there is no hope so I force myself to dwell each day on at least 3 things I appreciate about her, as many relationship experts suggest, and I am doing it seriously, I do it first thing in the morning without missing a day.

In much the same way as the rich is getting richer because he is building on top of what he already possesses I can only expect positive outcomes if I see positive traits and positive intentions in my wife and I see her as fundamentally well-meaning and good rather than fundamentally flawed.

So this is what I want to share today about the insights I have had about how to get my wife to change.

I am not trying to come up with some sort of ultimate guide on how to get your partner to change, as I am still in the process of figuring it out for myself and I haven’t accomplished a lot as far as getting my wife to actually change some of the things I want her to change, but I have made a lot of mindset shifts that are helping me to look into the underlying reasons why it is so hard to get my wife to change and to get my mind around the idea that there are things that might never change and things that my wife must not necessarily change for me to be at peace.