Just recently, I concluded a workshop for families engaged in micro- enterprise activities. In one of the topics that explored the Filipino families’ developmental life-span theory, a consensus regarding middle age, gender-related behaviors surfaced. It would seem that couples who start a life together, doing things together, overcoming life’s challenges together, at middle-age, seem to encounter, what I would refer to as a “Babel Syndrome.”
I coin and define “Babel Syndrome” to be, for couples who, with a united heart, mind, and effort, build their lives together up to a point where their life achievements, their marriage, and their love for each other is threatened of collapsing because of confusion brought about by a frustration to communicate. “What happened? How could this happen?” were some questions that ran through the minds of the participants- as well as mine.
My wife and I started our marital union with a business enterprise. We made it work simply by working things out together- communicating- planning, deciding, and enacting out the plans and decisions together. We did things together. Our “diskarte” was mutual, supportive, and coordinated.
Then, “Babel” came. I don’t remember when and from where, but “Babel” was there. Perhaps it was there, earlier before we noticed it. But it was like an “all of a sudden” experience. All of a sudden, we couldn’t agree on our “diskarte.” We still wanted the same thing. But we couldn’t agree over the principles and the route of getting there. Was it mis (missed)-communication? Perhaps, but it felt more like a systems failure over a breakdown of the fundamentals of a relationship based on mutuality, trust, and confidence. Quite happily, we’re past this situation, with traces still of “Babel” constantly being weeded out.
“Babel” intruded our lives when my financial capability to provide for the needs of the family started to dwindle. Much like the experience of the couples who participated in the workshop, “Sinong gumagawa ng para-an kapag may problemang pinansyal ang pamilya?” The unanimous response was, “kaming mga babae!”
There were no objections from the men as they shrank from the response. What courage, what humility! To endure the pain of reality before the person they vowed to provide for. Ordinarily, this situation would have been called teamwork If the occasion for the wife to take care of financially providing for the family is the exception rather than the rule. But living life is difficult, more so when economic opportunities seem to favor the women more than the men, the situation becomes chronic.
“Diskarte” once united, once supported, then becomes the battleground for who has a better one. With resources not able to accommodate mistakes, “diskarte” becomes competition. As we held fiercely on to how we remember our dynamics to be: “Dapat ikaw…” the more frustrated we become. I guess, for me at the height of it all, there was a struggle to be understood: “Intindihin mo naman ang sitwasyon ko, mahirap talaga ngayon…” and for my wife, a struggle to be heard, “Naririnig mo ba ako? … Nahihirapang ako!”
To have started our marriage doing things together, “Babel” is perhaps our experience of hell on earth. It took more than ourselves to keep the family together. Family and friends who understood gave us moral support and acceptance. Here, I over-emphasize acceptance because while we were down, acceptance became a rare commodity. What kept us together was the valor by which my wife faced the condition. Her faith in God and her family’s understanding and support led her through it all with the resilience I did not have.
This experience of hell leads me to believe that God gives us, at the very least, one opportunity to exploit our personal limits. This means exploiting our financial making and providing capabilities, exploiting our skills and talents to benefit our family and our community, and exploiting and challenging our different expressions of loving.
To love, it seems has become an idea. To keep on loving, tests the idea. To continue to love, despite the experience of the test, makes us fully human, fully vulnerable to love, fully alive!
How about you? Tell me what you think.
• Roderick Marfil, RGC, is a family therapist. He is available on Thursdays by appointment only at the Ilaw Center, Miriam College in Quezon City. For inquiries: (0939) 211-0403; (+632) 520-5400 loc. 1134.