Il mio primo incontro ravvicinato con una scimmia nelle Filippine

Uno degli aspetti più interessanti dei miei viaggi nelle Filippine sono state le mie escursioni nella catena montuosa della “Sierra Madre”, una zona piuttosto remota e poco frequentata dai turisti (o meglio non frequentata affatto, molto probabilmente sono l’unico straniero che abbia mai messo piede in alcune di quelle zone dopo i colonizzatori spagnoli….ammesso che loro ci siano mai arrivati).

L’unica maniera di raggiungere alcune di quelle zone è a bordo di una jeep insieme a gente del posto, e questo è uno dei grandi vantaggi di essere sposati con una persona originaria di quelle zone che altrimenti un turista straniero potrebbe difficilmente visitare.

Il culmine di quell’esperienza è stato senza dubbio il mio incontro ravvicinato con una scimmia, animale che avevo visto in precedenza solo al Bioparco di Roma.

Il mio incontro ravvicinato con la scimmia è stato davvero particolare perché c’era qualcosa di molto strano nello sguardo di quell’animale, uno sguardo che era un misto di curiosità e aggressività.

Cosa rendeva quella scimmia particolarmente curiosa nei miei confronti? Forse il fatto che era la prima volta che vedeva un essere umano ricoperto di una folta peluria?

Gli uomini filippini non hanno una peluria simile alla mia o quella di altri occidentali (e questo è uno degli elementi che rendono attraente un occidentale agli occhi di una filippina…) e questo probabilmente ha preso alla sprovvista la scimmia che non riusciva a capire se avesse davanti un suo simile o qualcos’altro.

Qualunque sia l’idea che la scimmia si sia fatta di me io, guardandola negli occhi, ho avuto un’ulteriore conferma di ciò che già credevo da tempo: l’uomo e la scimmia non hanno nulla in comune!

Io parlo tre lingue abbastanza complicate e, come qualsiasi altro essere umano, potrei impararne altre e le lingue parlate dall’uomo hanno strutture grammaticali complesse a differenza dei pochi grugniti che ho udito da quella scimmia.

Il semplice fatto che l’uomo sia in grado di comunicare tramite il linguaggio mi dice che l’uomo e la scimmia non hanno nulla in comune e, fissando a lungo quella scimmia negli occhi (mentre facevo questa riflessione), me ne sono ulteriormente convinto al di là di ogni ragionevole dubbio…

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.

So there are plenty of areas in which we can’t see eye to eye and things I would definitely like her to change.

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 is stubborn and 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 changes.

And yet we only focus on how our spouse is not willing to change and get pissed off 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 her quote-unquote “destructive” 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, for many years, I viewed myself as the responsible Westerner who has his priorities straight and my wife as a person who comes from a less developed environment 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 is probably true in some areas (like money management for example) 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 insignificant we are going nowhere.

As long as I view the things she wants me to change as minutia peanuts and the things I want her to change as vital there is no chance.

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 do.

Filipinos give a surface impression of being maamo or mild-tempered but they can get rather emotional.
When she 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 pissed off 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.

 

My Addictive Wanderlust: When the Urge to Travel Becomes a Problem

Travelling alone in the Philippines

I am an Italian man who is married to a foreigner.

One of the reasons why 20 years ago I stumbled upon the foreign woman whom I eventually married is because I am well-travelled, I speak more than one language and therefore, when I first met my wife, I was able to communicate with her because she was new here in Italy and she couldn’t really speak my language.

Also, because of my travelling experiences, I was open to other cultures and I had plenty of experience in interacting with people from diverse backgrounds.

But, while my desire to explore other countries and cultures was the very thing that got me to get to know my wife and eventually marry her, this very desire became a huge stumbling block in my relationship.

WANDERLUST VS BASKING IN BEING

To make a long story short: I love travelling, or, more honestly, I actually crave it, so much so that before I got married I couldn’t stand the idea of letting a single year go by without visiting at least one foreign country and I couldn’t even stand the idea of letting one week go by without  going at least on some excursion even to a nearby medieval town, a lake, a forest or whatever (and we’ve got an abundance of amazing places to explore in my region).

My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t care at all about travelling and I mean at all.

I think that there are three underlying reasons why this is the case:

She left the Philippines at a very early age and became an OFW or Overseas Filipino Worker and, therefore, she associates the idea of travelling to other countries to the idea of migration and being severed from friends and relatives, while I was born in a first world country and I associate the idea of travelling to adventure and the possibility to broaden my horizons.

Another reason is that my wife comes from a culture that is very people oriented and family oriented while us Westerners are more goal oriented.

But a deeper reason is that she has an incredible ability to enjoy little and ordinary things and bask in those things without having to distract herself and necessarily go somewhere to feel fulfilled which is a skill I don’t have at all.


HOW AN ECCESSIVE CRAVING FOR ADVENTURE CAN RUIN A RELATIONSHIP

My wife’s concept of vacation is pure rest and nothing more.

I, on the other hand, have an almost neurotic and compulsive need and urge to go somewhere else.

Few days ago I made a post where I mentioned that my wife and I often go somewhere out of town for the sake of our relationship as a couple.

My idea of going somewhere to spend a weekend together is somewhere in Europe like Prague, Paris or even further away while her idea is somewhere as close as possible, even if this entails renting an apartment here in town or in a very close lake resort or anywhere else that entails moving as little as possible from home.

I have learned to compromise and, therefore, I now travel much less than I used to do in the past.

I was actually forced to compromise because the gap between me and my wife in this area was becoming a big problem in my relationship which took me years to fix.

I realized how serious this problem was after my first trip to the Philippines.

My first trip to the Philippines was my first opportunity ever to visit a tropical country.

Until then I had seen nothing but almost every single corner of Europe, I had never visited any other continent.

I had made amazing trips to the far North of Europe and other amazing places but I had never been to the tropics before or, as I said, I had never been anywhere else outside Europe.

So I was expecting to do a big deal of snorkeling and see plenty of coral reefs, explore jungles and remote waterfalls and do everything else that a European would expect to do in an exotic paradise but I pretty soon realized that my wife had no intention whatsoever to show me around and take me on a tour of her amazing country.
She wanted to do nothing but visit old friends and relatives.

So, because some Filipino friends of mine who live in Rome were in the Philippines on vacation in that period, I left my wife and went off on my own to meet with them.
I took a bus from the bus terminal in Cubao (Metro Manila) and headed North to the Ilocos Region where I met with my friends who took me to a lot of beaches in Pangasinan, to the Cordillera Mountains and to a bunch of other places.

It is not as if I hadn’t seen anything of the Philippines while with my wife: we had actually been to the One Hundred Islands (only for one day), Tagaytay and few other places. But I was eager to see more, as the Philippines offer much more than that.

The problem is that, few months  after my trip to the Philippines, I realized how selfish I had been and how I should have put my relationship ahead of my cravings for adventure.

Once I realized that my urge to travel all the time, not only in the Philippines but also here in Italy, was driving a serious wedge between me and my wife I began to seriously ask myself: “why do I have this urge to travel all the time”, “why can’t I just appreciate little ordinary things as my wife does?”.

AN ADDICTIVE WANDERLUST CAN BE A REAL NEUROSIS

I came to the conclusion that my urge to always experience something new or different was a real neurosis and that I had to become more grounded in being, not only for the sake of my relationship but also for the sake of having a more balanced mindset.

I once stumbled upon a book where I read that our relationship with the present moment defines our relationship with life itself and it became pretty obvious to me that my urge to always go somewhere else was closely tied to my underlying inability to bask in the present moment and enjoy the little things that are the bulk of an intimate relationship and of family life.

I understood that what makes a marriage great is not those ecstatic highs that I hoped to experience with my wife somewhere in Palawan or Boracay but rather the everyday ordinary little moments that my wife seemed to be happy with and that I was failing to fully enjoy.

NEVER STAKE YOUR LIFE ON THE PURSUIT OF ADVENTURE

Another reason why I am reconsidering my relationship with travelling is that I am 53 years old and I am facing old age and, maybe, disease in the future.

What would I do if I lost my eyesight or I got sick to the point of not being able to go anywhere anymore and being bedridden for life?

If travelling is so addictive for me this means that when that part my life is over my whole life will be over.

I can’t run this risk so I’d better learn from my beautiful wife how to be more grounded in the here and now and enjoy the amazing little things we experience every single day while they last and view those extatic highs that we from time to time experience when we travel somewhere as a bonus and nothing more.

REAL FULFILLMENT IS HERE AND NOW

Granted, travelling has enriched my life beyond measure and I also owe the fact that I have met my wife to my travelling experience.

Travelling is an incredible opportunity to broaden my perspectives and enjoy the beauty of life but so is reading, so is buying a microscope and staring at the magnificence of a cell or even staring in awe at my own hand or, as I said, enjoying the beauty of ordinary moments with my wife and my family.

I am seriously introspecting and trying to get to the root cause why for so many years I couldn’t be still and just bask in being without needing to distract myself and go somewhere else to see more or something different or new.

My wife is helping me a lot in this regard and I am very grateful that I have met this amazing woman who has taught me what it is like to put a relationship and the little yet amazing things that characterize it ahead of the flimsy highs that adventures offer.

Omega Pain Killer: un potente antinfiammatorio filippino

Mia suocera è appena tornata dalle Filippine e ci ha portato il “prodotto tipico” ovvero un potente antinfiammatorio che, tra l’altro, emana un odore molto gradevole.

Si chiama Omega Pain Killer e c’è anche una versione più liquida e meno cremosa chiamata Efficascent Oil.

Si può trovare anche a Roma nei chioschetti filippini del mercato di piazza Vittorio ma io lo rimedio gratis da parenti e conoscenti che vanno in Filippine.

Personalmente lo trovo molto efficace per le piccole infiammazioni e doloretti vari che sorgono dopo gli “anta” e ne ho in quantità industriali perché nella mia famiglia estesa c’è sempre qualcuno che torna in Filippine e ce ne porta qualche boccettina.

Da provare!

Omega Pain Killer: the Filipino Solution to Every Problem!

A famous psychologist, Dr. Wayne Dyer, wrote a book entitled “There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem”.

I have discovered that there is also a “Filipino solution to every problem”.

Every problem we have from back pains to cramps, from rheumatisms to itches and what have you can be fixed by gently applying some typical Pinoy ointment known as Omega Pain Killer or its twin product Efficascent Oil.

I have a huge stock of these products at home because there is always someone in my extended family who goes to the Philippines on vacation and so I have so many bottles of Omega and its twin product at home that I could open a sari-sari store.

And, sure enough, one of the little things that help me to build rapport with my wife and create more intimacy is our Omega Pain Killer hour before we go to sleep.

As for other problems like loneliness, depression, anxiety and the like Filipinos have another solution known as Ginebra San Miguel but I don’t go for that…I prefer pulang alak or red wine

Filipino gin(ger tea)

Mabuhay ang Omega Pain Killer at ang Efficascent Oil!

Four Weaknesses I Had to Overcome to Become a Better Listener

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of presence:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We interrupt:

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

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

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

We defend or justify:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of a Regular Overnight Date or a Romantic Getaway With your Spouse

I am married to a woman who comes from a country where the extended family culture is very strong.

My wife and I live with my mother-in-law and my stepson and spending quality time with my wife alone without any distractions is very hard when we are at home. So having a regular overnight date or, at very least, a little getaway as often as possible is the fuel of our relationship as a couple.

My wife and I try to spend a date afternoon together at least once a month.

The city I live in is surrounded by thousands of places that are ideal for a romantic getaway: we’ve got lakes, the sea, medieval towns and villages, almost perfect weather so living in Rome helps a lot.

We do have plenty of “family time” at home, because Filipinos have a very strong family culture, and we also have a very active social life: we go to Filipino social gatherings very often as a family and we invite people to come over.

So opportunities to be together as a family abound.

We also have plenty of time together as a couple because every day I take my wife to work, the two of us alone, and we spend the whole evening in our bedroom where we do indeed enjoy plenty of intimacy.

But even so the very fact that we live with the extended family in one house (which is without a doubt a great privilege and a great source of joy) makes it necessary to physically remove ourselves, once in a while, from an environment that cannot really give a couple the opportunity to experience 100% couple time without any pressures or distractions.

So, as I said, we try to regularly get away from the routine and carve out time for the two of us alone.

But spending an afternoon together, even if we almost do it on a weekly basis, is not enough either.

To really function as a couple we need to have an overnight date or a long weekend together at least every two or three months.

Again, the beauty of living in Rome is that we have so many off-the-beaten track ancient towns and villages, that are not as famous as places like Florence, Siena or other mainstream tourist spots (but they are no less interesting and beautiful), where finding a cheap apartment online is very easy.

For example my wife and I recently found a cozy apartment in the town of Arezzo, not far from Florence, and we paid something like 30€ per night, peanuts indeed.

But we don’t even need to go to another region to have an overnight date: we recently rented an entire farmhouse near Lake Vico, only 50 km away from Rome, for more or less the same amount!

Although my wife is Filipina and for most Filipinos ancient streets of cobblestone and romantic street lamps of medieval towns, or even rustic farmhouses, don’t mean very much, as they prefer modern shopping malls and fast-food restaurants, I have discovered that, in the end, that kind of environment creates an amazing atmosphere where even a woman who grew up close to a city filled with skyscrapers and mega-malls can fully enjoy incredible vibes with her European hubby.

Arezzo, Tuscany

Afternoon getaway at Lake Albano, very close to Rome

Afternoon getaway in Ostia Beach

The ceiling of our bedroom in a farmhouse near Lake Vico

When a Relationship is Driven by Rules Rather than Love

I am in a relationship with a Filipina and this kind of relationship is the epitome of how conflicting rules and expectations that are not openly discussed before getting married can lead to serious problems.

The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says that “when the alien culture behaves contrary to their expectations some people become frustrated and antagonistic”.

In the Western world we have a set of expectations when it comes to family life, raising kids, budgeting and so forth that are radically different from those of the average Filipino.

Generally speaking a Westerner wants to get married to share his life with his wife and kids alone and independent from the extended family while, by and large, Filipinos want their parents to continue to live with them in the same house compound or even in the same apartment.

A Westerner may want to save up any extra money he has while his Filipina may want to send all the extra money to the Philippines to support her relatives.

And the list could go on for hours.

On top of that every human being has his or her personality and set of rules about what needs to happen for him or her to be happy.

For example, in order to feel a sense of connection with my wife, I need to spend a weekend together at least once a month and I need to go on a date once a week.

All of us have a set of requirements that our spouse has to meet to make us feel fulfilled but, more often than not, we get married not bothering too much about finding out what our rules and our spouse’s rules are and we assume that we will figure things out down the road somehow.

We sort of understand that there might be conflicting rules and expectations in the marriage but we are so blindly in love that we sweep the problem under the rug. This is at least what I did initially.

I didn’t precisely identify what my own rules and expectations were in all the major areas of life, nor did I really bother to go deep and carefully investigate what my wife’s expectations were in those areas. I only had very fuzzy ideas not a clear and detailed picture.

And, sure enough, I had not considered to what extent I was willing to flex some of my expectations, for example I hadn’t asked myself the question “what if my Filipino wife wants her mother to live with us? Will I be able to adjust to the Filipino kin-group culture?”.

Because I had failed to consider these things I found myself in a position where my wife’s expectations and mine were a lot different in many areas and that I was everything but ready to flex my rules.

The positive thing is that I eventually decided to learn more about how relationships work and I stumbled upon a principle that worked wonders for my relationship:

the principle is contained in a phrase that I heard in one of the many videos on relationships that I watched and the phrase was “do I want to be right or do I want to be in love?”.

I was absolutely convinced, and I still am, that many of my rules and expectations (especially when it comes to budgeting money) are right but I have discovered that, more often than not, one has to let go of most expectations and rules for the sake of being in a constant state of love.

I have come to the conclusion that, when a relationship is driven by expectations, needs and desires it suffers and that, if in order to feel good a lot of things need to happen, there are going to be conflicts on an ongoing basis, especially in a multiethnic marriage. The longer the list of requirements that our spouse needs to meet for us to be happy the greater the chance that our rules will be broken and, therefore, the more we are likely to suffer.

A Zen proverb says: “if you understand things are just as they are, if you don’t understand things are just as they are”.

I honestly struggle to understand some of my wife’s expectations and rules, especially the ones that are closely tied to her culture and background, but I have realized that, because things are just as they are and people are just as they are, the best and most rewarding way to go through an intimate relationship is by being driven by love rather than too many expectations and rules.

Does it mean to say that I passively cave in to all of my wife’s expectations and rules in order to maintain a peaceful atmosphere in which there is nothing but love, flowers, rainbows and butteflies?

Not at all. What I have discovered is that, by creating an environment where I am more loving than attached to my expectations and strict rules, my wife is more willing and more likely to meet me half way and we are more likely to find a loving compromise.

How to Stop Arguing in a Relationship

Few days ago I wrote a post where I shared the idea that I have chosen to operate from to avoid arguments.

The idea is that my wife and I are on the same boat or the same (relation)ship so arguing with my (relation)ship mate can only cause the (relation)ship to sink even further.

Well, while this idea is nice on paper, there are times in which heated arguments do happen in my relationship and the ship metaphor flies out of the window.

Usually I am hardly the one who initiates the argument, as I am a rather peaceful person.

My wife comes from a culture where people are a little more mainit ang ulo or hot-tempered than the average Westerner so arguments do take place despite my best intentions.

LEAVE THE SCENE IF POSSIBLE

It has been said that it takes two people to have an argument so an easy way to avoid arguing would be removing myself from the situation and going somewhere else to wait for the storm to pass.

But, as it has also been nicely said, sometimes you cannot avoid the storm and you have to learn how to dance in the rain.

There are many circumstances in which I cannot simply leave the scene of the argument and I have to face my wife’s upset head on.

Because, as I said, Filipinos are very emotional they easily and quickly jump to wrong conclusions if I come across in a way that triggers their emotions so it happens quite often that I do or say things that are not inherently wrong or offensive but come across as such.

My natural tendency was to prove myself right and my wife wrong by defending and justifying so the argument would go on forever.

I have discovered two very effective ways to deal with my wife’s strong emotions and face her upset head on when there is no possibility to run away from it by going somewhere else.

JUST LISTEN WITHOUT DEFENDING OR JUSTIFYING

Arguments occur when she attacks and I defend or counterattack instead of just listening.

If I try to clarify what my wife said and immediately respond to her no one is listening and what we are doing is that we are arguing, even if I may have good intentions for trying to clarify.

I have noticed that if she attacks and I abstain from defending myself and making her wrong and just allow her to let off all of her steam I can aikido her lashing out.

The art of aikido is a martial art that consists of rendering the “opponent” harmless.

So by abstaining from responding I am creating an environment where the anger fizzles out instead of going on forever.

I just allow her to vent without interrupting. It doesn’t matter if I am right and she has completely misinterpreted my behavior. I just allow her to let off steam until she eventually stops. I don’t need to physically remove myself from the situation, I just kind of aikido her anger.

APOLOGIZE FOR THE IMPACT

However there are circumstances in which she won’t stop arguing until I have given her an answer.

In this case the best strategy is to apologize for the impact, not for what I did wrong, if I am convinced I was right, but rather for how I have come across to her. In Tagalog that would be “sori para sa dating sa iyo” (“I am sorry for COMING ACROSS that way”).

I must admit that sometimes that doesn’t work either because it sounds to her as a form of subtle blame, as if I were trying to say “it is not my fault, it is yours because I did or said the right thing but you misperceived it.

SOMETIMES ARGUMENTS OCCUR NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO

So, whenever my wife feels the urge to argue I try, if possible, to go somewhere else.

If this is not possible or practical, I try to aikido the argument by either trying to listen without interrupting or trying to let her know that I am sorry for my impact.

But there are times in which no one of these things work.

I cannot leave the scene because she wants to talk, I cannot just let her vent because she wants an answer and if I apologize for the impact she says that it was not just the impact but I did indeed say or do things with the wrong motive.

So what I have learned is that eliminating arguments for good is not possible in an intimate relationship.

The reality is that arguments do occur no matter what I try to do.

But what I can do is do the best I can to minimize them and, over the past five years, arguments have drastically diminished in my relationship.

I am aware of the fact that my wife comes from a culture where the average Filipino is more emotional than the average Westerner so I remind myself that she is doing what she knows how to do given the environment she grew up in.

I would love to be in a relationship in which there are no arguments and I would love to ditch arguments for good but this is not possible.

But I am happy because, by applying the methods I have mentioned in this post, I have been able to minimize arguments a lot and contribute to create an amazing environment in my love life.

What Women Want in a Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This never happened (and never will).

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

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

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

Another insight that I have acquired is that for a woman

  • little things are more important than big ones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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