Culture Clash in Filipina/x Interracial Relationships: What to Consider
How much does culture influence Filipino/x in interracial relationships?
Eight out of ten individuals who seek Couples Counseling in my practice are non-Filipino partners/husbands of Filipina women.
They come scratching their heads and laments, “I just don’t get it. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong because she just wouldn’t tell me.”
Of course, every relationship is different and its possible that either side needs to budge a bit to integrate each other’s beliefs and core values. This is usually the case in any relationship across-culture.
According to John Gottman, a psychologist couples therapist- Every relationship is a cultural experience.
Culture is not just about ethnic composition. It’s also about familial, in-group (groups you belong to), socio-economic strata & even political affiliations. In this article, I will focus on the culture of ethnic up-bringing & conditioning and how this clash with the American/ Western cultural norms manifested in your relationships.
It’s important to note that this article doesn’t depict every Filipina. This would be impossible for a Filipina cannot be fully defined.
This may be the Filipina who married a foreigner (the American) and found herself in the soil of America. This could also be a Filipina who grew up in America but may have followed more strict Filipino norms in her household. This could also be a Filipina elsewhere whose parents may have used shame in their parenting or instilled Filipino values that is operational in the Philippines but isn’t in America.
But this Filipina may not also be you or your partner described in this article. Keep an open mind and be curious.
SHE SAID, HE SAID
*case example is a pseudo-case but describes how culture clash manifest in interracial Filipinx relationships.
Rick, is a non-Filipino hubby, who inquired for Couples Counseling because he couldn’t figure out his wife of one year. She recently migrated from the Philippines.
He complained that his wife does a lot of things for him: cook, laundry, and works part-time. He thinks he does a lot for her too: He works, takes care of the lawn, does the financial balancing of expenses. Rick stated that his wife is always complaining about how he doesn’t spoil her or treat her special.
This is very offensive to Rick because he thinks, he often asks Minda, his wife, what she wanted to do for the weekend. But he is met with a, “ just go out with your friends & I’ll just clean the house.” So, Rick follows this advice thinking its what Minda wants. When he gets home, he is welcomed with a stone-cold Minda.
When asked why she’s upset, Minda keeps to herself & gives Rick a silent treatment.
Minda’s story paints a different picture. She complaints that she doesn’t mind doing a lot of things in the home as long as she gets the Karino (affection) from her husband. When he gets home at night, he asks her about her day. She shares that she had a bad day because some of her co-workers are giving her a hard time. She is a new employee.
You’ll be fine, responded Rick and doze off on the couch.
The next day, Minda shares that her supervisor is being a jerk. Rick asked about the circumstances of the conversation and concludes, “ sounds like his making sure everyone is doing their job well.”
Since work is pressure for Minda, she says she needs a breather on the weekend and would like to spend more time with Rick.
“ I already told him before, I like to go to the Aquarium Museum, the Wharf and any Farmers market. “
What’s happening here?
Pakiramdam means feelings but the more accurate & active interpretation of this noun is makiramdam or pakiramdaman (to sense/ perceptual sensitivity). This is a Filipino core value that clashes with the American culture the most. It causes tension and distance not only in Filipinx interracial couples but in multigenerational families when not understood enough.
Who needs to understand it?
The Filipino born or raised in the Philippines needs to be aware of this especially in American/Western immigration. She needs to be aware and label it at the very least; that its a core value activated in her relationships. Without this awareness, her emotional needs will not be met & she may harbor resentment towards her children & her partner who cannot fill her with the affection she longs for.
On the flip side, her children and/or partner/hubby can feel frustrated and feel never good enough with the ability to give her love.
Non-Filipinos in romantic relationships with an immigrant Filipina and Filipino American children would also benefit from understanding the concept of Pakiramdam.
When it is understood enough, it gives understanding to what seem impossible to understand.
Interested in learning more? Check out the Masterclass on Pakiramdam (Attunement): Filipinos On Affection Beyond Words.
In the case of Rick and Minda, the latter is vouching on Rick to sense her need.
In the Philippines, children get a lot of practice and rehearsing to hone this skill. I talked about this in the Masterclass called Pakiramdam.
This skill is the opposite of what is honed in America. Pakiramdaman is to sense someone without words. In America, children are taught to use their words so that their needs will be met.
To sense ME is to love me, according to the Traditional Filipino.
Minda is waiting for Rick to sense her and Rick is waiting for Minda to state her needs. CLASH.
Minda is waiting for Rick to give her sense of protection, a female archetype that feels beautiful with a strong male. Rick fails.
Minda wants Rick to verbally assert for her when she shares that he co-workers are giving her a hard time (for example,do you want me to show up at work & talk to those guys?). Rick meets it with logic when Minda wanted an emotional response.
This is called the Pinoy Love Language of Sumbong- to tell on. Philippines is one of the most collective cultures in the world. A child in the motherland often activates this behavior when someone messes with him. “I-susumbong kita sa kuya ko (I’ll tell on you to my big brother)!”
Usually the child doesn’t really want the other kid to be beaten up but his language communicates that- If you mess with me, you mess with my people.
The kuya would often reply- Ano gusto mo abangan natin sa kanto (do you want me to hang out in the corner (to beat them)?
The beating up doesn’t usually happen but the verbal assertion based from Sumbong is good enough for the child. He feels loved & protected.
Rick isn’t aware of this so in Minda’s mind, he failed. CLASH.
When Rick asked what Minda wants to do for the weekend, she tests him if he remembered her preferences by responding in a confusing way.
He doesn’t remember and instead took her advice to hang with the guys. She feels forgotten & he feels confused. CLASH.
When Minda could’ve verbally shared with Rick what hurt her feelings, she activates the Pinoy Love Language of Tampo.
She’s been told as a kid that- Kung wala kang masabing maganda, itikom mo ang bibig mo (if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it).
Rick needs Minda to clarify what just happened to fix the issue but since Minda doesn’t want to vomit hurtful words (as she was told), she retreats in her den. CLASH.
She fees more unloved and Rick gets angrier.
WHAT TO CONSIDER
It makes sense that the non-Filipino husband/partner will be the one to initiate Couples Counseling. The context (place) is in America/diaspora and it may be reasonable to expect that the immigrant would have to learn the American ways to assimilate in the culture.
If the context where in the Philippines, foreigners do the same. Some have even recorded their experience via their own youtube channels in learning the Filipino ways.
The Immigrant Filipina ( not used to therapy or talking to strangers about life) is more resistant in seeing a Couples Therapist.This makes sense because she may think-
- Why bring in another person in the picture? We should resolve this on her own.
- She thinks she doesn’t express well and is worried she’ll make a fool of herself.
- Afraid that the therapist will side with the partner and she will be “the wrong one.” A shameful scenario.
- I don’t want to bring up hurts from my past.
if this is case, consider these:
- Learn from other non-Filipino hubby/partners who are in a good relationship with their Filipina wife. Avoid those who complains and stop at that without trying to find a resolution.
- Learn about the Filipino ways from books and videos or you can register free for my Speak the Pinoy Love Language Webinar.
- Ask your wife for recommended people in her group who can give you insight about the Filipino culture.
- Learn the Filipino language or your Filipina wife’s dialect. There are hidden gems when you learn to speak someone’s language. You will learn words that doesn’t have a direct translation in English. It will give you insight to how she organize details and how she views the world. And, it’s always endearing to hear husbands say anything Filipino with their American accent!
- Watch Tagalog movies (with caption) or Tele-Novelas. This will give you insight to the Filipino family dynamics in exaggerated form. Jot down the theme that comes up. Take what relates to your situation and leave the rest.
- Travel the Philippines not as a tourist. This is a high order because if you look “foreigner” chances are you will be treated differently than the locals. Even Filipino Americans who had visited the Philippines a few times, did so as a “tourist.” You will learn a bit about the culture and but not the deep nuances when you travel as a tourist ONLY.
How not to be a tourist? Visit impoverished neighborhood, eat Taho (tofu pudding) and exchange stories with the Taho vendor. Do your shopping where the masa (the masses) do their shopping at in Divisoria or Baclaran. Take public transportation such as the Jeepney or the MRT (our BART in Manila) not as a tourist but to get around.
By doing this, you lived the life closer to your Filipina wife/partner’s lifestyle and can begin to see life from her lens. She will have to learn to do the same for you.
7. Seek Couples Counseling with a Filipinx/o therapist who is not only familiar working with couples but understands the deep intricacies of the Filipino culture. If you’re interested in seeing if we’re a good fit for Couples Counseling, schedule a complimentary session here.
Culture is like water. It’s everywhere. Many can vouched that marrying a Filipina is the best thing ever for she is deeply caring and beautifully undefined.
Since the American Western culture is in polar opposites with the Filipino culture in its fundamental core values, culture clash can often happen.
But it doesn’t have to end there.
Two fish can learn to swim in different types of water, salty and fresh if given enough time to accommodate both: not too salty and not too fresh.
Finding the right mix of cultural water can be attained.
To learn more about Pakiramdam, the most misunderstood Filipino Core Values, check out the Masterclass: Pakiramdam: Filipino on Affection Beyond Words.
If you’re wondering if Couples Counseling is right for you, schedule a complimentary consult with Roanne.
Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 13 years. She has frequented at least 500 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care. Check out her Free Webinar Speak the Pinoy Love Language here.
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