Valentine’s Day is here, but let’s take a quick pause from all the talk about romance for a moment. Relationships aren’t all roses and staycations — love is a battlefield. If we look beyond the lovey-dovey moments, there’s also plenty of quarreling and compromise involved in coupledom.
Take 31-year-olds Benedict and Mylene Libunao, a happily married couple who agree on most things — except for one very important issue. Benedict is a DDS, a Duterte Die-hard Supporter, while Mylene identifies as a “dilawan (yellow),” or someone who supports the opposition Liberal Party.
A war of values between these two sides has been going on since the 2016 presidential elections. Some say the Philippines hasn’t been this politically divided since dictator Ferdinand Marcos was in power some 30 years ago. But as polarizing as their platforms can be, some couples like the Libunaos have chosen to ignore political differences, all in the name of love.
For some, Benedict and Mylene’s union sounds like an unthinkable pairing, but according to a marriage counselor and a relationship expert Coconuts Manila spoke with, no chasm is too wide for two people who commit to making things work.
A two-way street
Family and marriage counselor Gilda Fortunata Altez has counseled more than 600 couples in the past 10 years. For her, opposing views on politics — no matter how extreme — don’t automatically doom a relationship. However, she points out, it would require a lot of work from both parties to make it a happy, healthy relationship.
When Coconuts Manila spoke to the Libunaos in January, Benedict said that he used to enjoy initiating political debates with Mylene because he loved it when they had no-holds-barred conversations about controversial topics. Things would get so heated, however, that they ended up going beyond politics and started personally attacking each other.
But there’s no room for toxic arguments like this if a couple wants to make things work, Altez said. A relationship is a two-way street.
Altez said that couples should respect one another so they can talk about their differences in a peaceful way.
“It’s the manner of delivery, the manner of approach. Sometimes, it’s the same sentence, but it depends on how you deliver [it],” she added.
“Before entering [a closed door], [don’t forget to] knock first,” she said. “Always ask, [and] not dictate.”
Compromise and negotiate
Altez stressed that it’s important to meet one’s partner halfway.
To help couples achieve the point of compromise, relationship specialist Aiza Tabayoyong — who works at AMD Love Consultants for Families and Couples — has partners discuss their differences in counseling sessions, then commit out loud to making the necessary adjustments for the compromise to work.
She has seen friendships end because of the DDS vs. Dilawan divide and believes that proper dialogue between couples is needed to address underlying issues.
For Benedict and Mylene, for instance, this means declaring a cease-fire and coming up with ways to stop fighting over politics.
According to Altez, the marriage counselor, setting ground rules is a good way to do this — which is exactly what the Libunaos did. Rule Number One: No more discussion about politics, especially when with family and friends.
Tabayoyong added that couples should also talk about the emotions behind their actions, saying: “While one talks, the other genuinely listen[s] with empathy, and sets aside their own feelings and beliefs first. They can try to come up with a common stand and compromise [a] win-win.”
When asked how they were doing on that front, the Libunaos were proud to say that they are now much better at considering each other’s thoughts and feelings before speaking up about politics.
Mylene said that earlier in their relationship, Benedict had the tendency to share articles praising President Rodrigo Duterte, even though they sometimes came from questionable news sources. But today, her husband is more cautious with his social media activity.
“Before, I would just like and share whatever I wanted because that’s my Facebook page. No one can meddle,” Benedict said. “Now I filter [what I post]. I would read [it] first, [determine] if it’s real or not.”
Agree to disagree
While rules are good to have to help prevent conflict, Altez said that issues are still inevitably going to pop up, and that it’s vital for couples to talk out those issues as they materialize. If they avoid talking about the issues altogether, then it’s likely that frustration and anger will build up, and those negative pent-up feelings will start to surface in other ways.
On top of that, Tabayoyong, the relationship specialist, said couples must have the ability to listen with empathy, maturity, patience, selflessness, and empathy.
Both Altez and Tabayoyong said that if no one is willing to budge on their beliefs, they should weigh what’s more important: their views, or their relationship.
In the Libunaos’ case, Mylene said she used to attempt to convert Benedict away from his pro-Duterte stance. But now she has become more accepting of her husband’s views, adding that this has also helped her grow as a person.
“You’ll get to see the other side of things, like why this is how they view things. You’ll realize that the person’s views depends on a lot of factors, like your social influence and your environment.”
She remains a staunch Duterte critic, but has accepted that, as she said: “You can’t just force people to believe something.”
For Benedict, love trumps being right. “I’d rather lose this argument than lose you,” he told his wife during our interview.
Accept and respect
A fight needs two people in conflict in the first place, said Altez — so couples should talk openly about what they don’t like about each other, as a pathway to settle fights and reconcile.
“No matter how painful it is, you have to accept it. You have to listen,” she said.
Tabayoyong teaches the same concepts, adding that couples should strive to be best friends (not just lovers) — forgive often, see the good in each other, verbally affirm one another, and maintain healthy boundaries as individuals.
Mylene described her relationship with Benedict as one that can overcome differences. “Being kind is better than being right,” she said.
“Respect begets respect,” Benedict said, saying that no one should be ridiculed for having different views.
While their situation is certainly out of the ordinary, the Libunaos are making it work the same way that any other couple would — with a cocktail of trust, openness, mutual respect, and the willingness to exert effort to make the relationship work.
Subscribe to The Coconuts Podcast for top trending news and pop culture from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong every Friday!