How to Argue With Your Filipina Wife

I am not proud of the fact that Janet and I argue more often than I would like. OTOH I am proud of the fact that our arguments are invariably about nothing and are usually things we laugh about afterwards. Or at least Janet laughs at me.

Now, let’s face it, no matter what culture you are from, all couples occasionally argue – some more than occasionally.  I have a couple of online friends who claim they have never argued with their Filipina wives, but I don’t believe them. At the very least I would have to say that life would be a little dull if one never disagreed or felt passionate enough about his or her point of view to, well, get heated about it.

But the question here is – are arguments engaged by Fil-Am couples different? Sometimes the answer has to be yes. We all know that some disagreements with our asawas are language-based. A misunderstanding based on language occurs and suddenly all hell breaks loose because when she asked you to “shut the light” you shrugged your shoulders and shut the door because you had no idea what the hell “shut the light” means.

Or if she tells you her brother/father/ate got load and you assume she meant they got drunk as a skunk, rather than that they can now call you on their cell – a big argument might ensue.

And then there are misunderstandings that are cultural. Like most Filipinas, Janet points to something or indicates agreement with a tiny flick of her lips. So, if I ask her something and am anticipating a yes or no answer and don’t notice or am not looking directly at her lips, it causes confusion. I am wondering why she didn’t answer me and she gets pissed because she knows she did answer me – with her lips – and why didn’t I pay attention to her.

I would also say that at least 50% of all our arguments in some way, shape or form involve “the family.” Now I really like Janet’s family. I am serious – they are very nice people and I enjoy seeing them. I have been to her hometown of Alcoy 5 or 6 times now and each time we return to the Philippines, Janet is positive that I don’t want to go to Alcoy and don’t really want to see her family, despite what I believe is significant evidence to the contrary. So when we plan our latest trip to the Philippines, we usually end up in some sort of minor argument over visiting Alcoy, despite the fact that we both agree that we want to visit Alcoy.

Once we have booked the trip, including the one week to Alcoy, Janet will shyly ask whether she can spend one night with her family alone, with me staying in the hotel. I know this request is coming, and agree immediately. I completely understand why a night without the kano son in law is a great thing for all of them. But of course this is followed by ten separate discussions making sure it is really, really OK.

“What will you do when I’m gone?” Janet will ask.

“I don’t know. I’ll figure it out,” I respond. This is usually followed by fears that I will do something dangerous, like take a trike on my own or go swimming at the beach. I assure Janet that I have been swimming on my own “since I was 40,” and can handle it. She will nod in agreement but tell me that her mother says there is the section of the beach where there is undertoe and really I should maybe just swim at the hotel’s pool (where I am also less likely to meet another Filipina 🙂 )

In these discussions I keep calm by reminding myself that my previous wives never cared so much for my safety, never asked for permission to do things on their own, and for that matter never asked my opinion about anything, and unlike Janet, never worried about whether I might meet another Filipina.

The flip side is that I too have insecurities and they sometimes come into play during disagreements, usually in the form of wondering why a beautiful woman like Janet would be with a mope like me in the first place. Fears about my age, height, and lack of hair come to the forefront and Janet ends up annoyed by having to remind me that I am “not that old,” am somewhat taller than her, but that it is true that “I wish you had more hair.” Well two out of three ain’t bad, I tell myself.

Sometimes it seems like the thing that causes the most heated arguments is – the sending of the balikayan box. This happened recently. Janet had done a great job filling the box with the goodies we had accumulated over the past couple months. She did quite a job of overstuffing the box with the maximum amount it can possibly hold. After that it takes a herculean effort to close the box and tape it shut, usually involving one person sitting on the thing, while the other uses all his strength to pull the box lids closed and quickly throwing some tape around it.

This particular night I came into our bedroom tired and ready to go to bed. I tore off most of my clothing and Janet said, “let’s close the box.” I looked at it and immediately realized it would be a long, sweaty process and said “let’s wait till tomorrow. Set it on its side so the contents can settle. That might make it easier.” But Janet was ready right then and so we went at the box. Grunts and curses ensued (mostly by me) at first directed at the box and tape, and then directed at each other – ok, those were mostly by me also. We gave up and went silently to bed.

24 hours later Janet decided it might be ok for me to talk to her again. Apologies were given and a certain amount of necessary groveling was done (also by me) and all was well with the world.

The next day we went at the box again and easily got it taped up. I thought to myself (but smart husband that I am kept it to myself) ‘see, when the contents settle, it goes easily.’ Janet thought and then said to me, “see, when we do it together and you’re not cranky, it goes easily.”

So, now I have told you, dear readers how to avoid and resolve your Fil-Am argument problems – or maybe not!

PS. OK, Lucy and Ricky (above) aren’t Fil-Am but their arguments were so funny and they usually made up so well.

BTW, here’s my favorite description of the way most of us Westerners argue, Monty Python’s legendary  Argument Clinic:

14 thoughts on “How to Argue With Your Filipina Wife”

  1. The closest analogy I have to arguing is the Tea Kettle Theory. The more you turn up the heat, the more noise the kettle makes. In order for it to stop making noise altogether, you must turn off the heat completely. Then when the kettle cools, I makes no more noise. And although the heat has been turned off, the kettle is still very hot so you must wait a good length of time before you can handle kettle with your bare hands. Why it takes us men so long to understand that all we have to do is not to apply heat in the first place, I’m not so sure.

  2. Dave, I found out when my wife (on very rare occasions) gave me the tampo treatment, the very last thing I should say is “Are you giving me the tampo treatment”. Wow-talk about gasline on the fire. Time, flowers, humbling, and a little more time usually cures that one.

    1. Yes, Steve. I avoid the t-word completely. Calling out your wife about being tampo or even being angry at all does seem to be gasoline on the fire.

      In all fairness to us Western men, for the past generation or two we were told that our problem was that we didn’t communicate well, particularly when it comes to feelings. So we worked hard (often cringing) to learn to bring up issues such as “are you angry with me? Let’s talk about it.” While I still believe that talking still has value, the process is not the same with our non-Western wives.

  3. When you get it all figured out, Dave…please let us all know. I’m sure our wives lovingly say the same about us too.

    If you contradict a double negative, turn it around and say the 3rd thing that comes to mind (or is it the 4th-not sure), that just might be the answer-lol

  4. Excellent article Dave. Just one minor quibble. I know you have a self deprecating style of humor but please try and hold back on the male bashing. American society indulges in it all too often and to the detriment of society as a whole. Men can “read” women just as women can read men. It is just that sometimes our emotions can get the better of us.
    I have an alternate tea kettle theory. The tea kettle is scorching hot and whistling. Both husband and wife place their hands on the kettle, enduring third degree burns while daring their significant other to let go of the kettle first. It’s all just a big game of tea kettle chicken in my mind 🙂

    P.S. I grew up with a traditional Asian father and mother. Both of them had scarred and callused hands from playing tea kettle chicken too often. They loved each other deeply but man could they argue…

  5. After reading this I noticed my wife doing the lip-pointing thing, so now it is a running joke between us, with me working on my own lip-pointing skills!

  6. I had read all about the lip pointing thing before I visited the Philippines…so the first day Judith and I were walking around Cebu I tried the lip thing,,,,WOW…it worked…sort of…when she couldn’t find what I was pointing to…I had to explain myself…lucky for me we had a good laugh….I told her at the beginning we should have fun with all the cultural and language differences…and we have,,,and I love this WOMAN….

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