Love Language Reflections: Appreciating Each Other’s Yin and Yang

Black and white photo of a couple holding hands, photo focus on the torso, arms and hands.

By: Giselle General

Being “Therapist approved” is an inside joke that my husband and I have, which is a reference to the first time I went for mental health help in 2017. I shared to my counselor at the time the different gestures my husband does to support me, as well as his perspectives that are different from mine in a good way. And always, after each story, this counselor would say “he’s great, I like this guy!” After every therapy session I’d share this to him, and would say cheerfully “wow, I’m therapist approved!”

Recently, I booked another online therapy appointment with the psychologist I’ve been seeing for the past year. This time around, there isn’t a major issue that I needed regular appointment for, but more like an check-in and occasional help once in a while. It’s like going for a massage – but for my psychological wellbeing – going once every few months feels really nice!

As I described how my husband and I support each other, and how our personalities and priorities are complementary but different, this psychologist commented about how my husband and I seem to be a yin and yang of each other. A contrast that is drastic and obvious, but works so well together and creates a harmonious union.

It reminded me of a painting I made many years ago, back when we were still living in the condo. It is an abstract interpretation of how he and I were a yin and yang complement to each other. It looks like my younger self had observed that about our relationship already. My husband liked the painting to much that it moved with us when we bought our house. Now, not all paintings that I made are kept. Some end up getting donated to fundraising auctions for charities, or I paint over it with a different design. For a painting to stay here for more than five years, it has to feel really special to him.

Abstract painting of a yin and yang symbol that is altered, with handwritten scribbles in either blak or white pencil.

What does this yin and yang harmony as far as our relationship is concerned? Here are some examples:

  • I’m very achievement-oriented and strive for excellence, while he is content with being minimal and steady in achieving life goals
  • He has an amazing ability to be a long-time ‘couch potato’ sitting and watching TV or playing video games all day. I lose attention, and my bottom hurts after watching 1.5 episodes on Netflix, unless it is really interesting.
  • He emphasizes a lot on rest and relaxation, while I’m energetic and immerse myself in lots of volunteering and creative work
  • One example related to chores: I strongly dislike doing laundry, having to wait and time my day to move clothes from the washer to the dryer. But he is more than happy to do so. And then, he dislikes folding and putting away clothing neatly, which is something I am more than happy to do.
  • Our backgrounds and upbringings are drastically different. He is a born-and-raised Canadian white man, with a middle-class family, parents who raised him and stayed in the same home the entire childhood. I grew up in the Philippines, orphaned at a young age and had to function as a parent, immigrated to a new country and moved across cities and provinces.

I think it is not just personality, but encouraging one’s partner to look at things from a different perspective, so that each person has a sense of balance in life. It’s really great whenever he talks to me a few times a month to help me take inventory of all my volunteer activities, and making sure I don’t take up too much and overstretch myself.

Another important aspect is the acknowledging and accepting the differences, particularly if it doesn’t cause harmful disruptions in day to day living. For many years, our budgeting system is quite different, and as long as we are overall organized, it was okay if he used a specific software for budgeting while I used my bank’s online system. It’s totally okay if our office desks, which are next two each other, looks so different. His is really tidy, while mine has mini piles of stuff, from pens, my wide-open bullet journal, business card organizer, and our couple’s diaries. It’s totally okay if he has his clothes sorted in a pile of stackable bins, one of each type of clothing, while I have a closet where majority of the clothes are in hangers.

Close up of a couple mixing baking ingredients. One person hugging the other from the back.

It’s been six years since I looked at that yin and yang painting up close. I wrote words in black or white color pencil in the flowy parts of the yin and yang symbols. As I read the words, the passages are filled with eagerness and curiosity, affection and optimism. There were many phrases that are contrasting and complementary describing both him and me and our experiences: happy and sad, modest and proud, dark and light, straightforward and confusing, assertive and passive, generous and practical, gentle and blunt, he and she.

My Financial Costs to Volunteering

The time and energy that it takes to volunteer in a meaningful way is something I anticipated and embraced. I mean, that’s the whole point. To receive little or no financial compensation for doing something that is interesting and helpful to the community at large. It gives opportunities to meet different types of people, learn information and perspectives that are not always available within one’s home or work environment, and have a fun time making a project or goal a reality.

However, there are two items that I didn’t quite expect, which turned into actual additional expenses. These are travel and food costs.

Overall, I’d say I have a decent grasp of my finances, where the dollars go, how much, and under which category. As I grow older and have reached a level of stability in my life, I’ve managed to aim a certain quality of life that I’m satisfied with, hit savings targets and enjoyed the process, and find ways to be savvy with expenses. That being said, as my list of volunteer activities grew, there are times that spending a bit more to travel around places or to have a quick bite is inevitable.

As a non-driver, public transit user, who attends meetings and activities outside of “regular” transit hours, the cost of ride hailing services do add up. I’d say 90% of my taxi, Tappcar and Uber trips are related to a volunteer or community service activity. Whenever possible, when heading to the location I try to take transit, and then only take a cab going back. However, traveling from downtown Edmonton where I work, to the very far edge of Edmonton farther west from Anthony Henday, it’s just not feasible. It’s a hefty car ride as well. Such trips would likely be $40 one way. I’ve done this a few times, and given my duties in this particular volunteer board, it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.

For another board I volunteer for, the main office is on the south side across the river, around the Scona area. When the weather is good and I can leave the office from downtown 45 minutes ahead of time, taking a bus and walking for 20 minutes (if the weather is good and the sidewalks are not slippery) is feasible. Otherwise, it’s a $20 cab ride to get to the meeting. And then, since the meeting ends pretty late, no way can I take transit going home. Fellow board members had kindly offered a ride sometimes, for which I’m grateful for. However, when that is not an option, that’s another $20 minimum for another trip. One volunteer meeting, $40 expense, but I get a nice dinner, so there’s upsides and downsides for sure.

For one board I am a member of, our sub-committee meetings usually take place in restaurants. Typically it would be a bar in downtown Edmonton. Sometimes there would be two of these meetings in a month, and that’s where the expense can add up.

I was worried about this when my husband helped me put things in perspective by asking a simple question. “Is it within the budget?” Regardless of what prompted the expense, there is comfort in knowing that the expense is anticipated and that I do have the resources to allocate money for it. Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.

I’ve managed to find a workaround to make sure this doesn’t break the bank too much. As far as eating out is concerned, I have given up on my “solo restaurant dates” that I’d have once a month. So, that’s one less restaurant meal I spend on. Whenever there is a meeting in a bar, depending on how hungry I am, I started ordering appetizers half of the time, instead of choosing an entree right away. A board member started teasing me and say “looks like you have a thing for poutine!” when he noticed that for several meetings in a row, I’d get the same thing: iced tea and a poutine.

Regarding travel costs, it looks like I spent $1,500 on cab rides last year and $1,100 in 2018. That jump is definitely directly correlated to the additional activities I’ve been attending. But I have zero car expenses because I don’t drive. This expense is the additional one I have on top of my bus pass. Thinking about how much people spend on their cars, helped me put this in perspective.

I realize that having to spend a few dollars in addition to sharing one’s time and energy while unpaid is too much for some. But I hope that for some who have a bit of financial flexibility, that it would manageable to give just a little bit more. And seriously, the conversations I have outside the actual meetings, when at the restaurant chatting while waiting for everyone else, or during the carpools after a long board meeting, they are just as meaningful as the actual volunteer activity we just had.

If Money is not an Issue

Many years ago, while searching for jobs not too long after finishing university, I stumbled upon a few articles online that encouraged the reader to ask this question:

“If money is not an issue, what job would you like to have?”

At that time, I answered “volunteer”. And it seems like that indeed had led me to a role that suited my skills and interests, and is quite rewarding. As a Volunteer Coordinator of a nonprofit, I have learned to appreciate the value of having the structure that enables the volunteers to focus on what they do best at their designated role, and not to worry about small details that can delay or distract them.

Lately, I have been thinking of what the future holds given that I am still considered a young professional. After all, I’m a few years away before turning 30. Retirement feels like a long time away, despite the fact that my husband diligently prepares for it through our regular savings and keeping our accounts organized.

We have a lottery pool at work, where each staff member who wants to participate can pitch in $2, a staff person goes to buy a ticket, and hope that we are the next group of employees who win a few million dollars, like the ones we hear about in the news.

I remember a comment from a former colleague Sofia about lottery winnings that stuck with me. She said “imagine how much affordable housing you can build out of all that money.” I appreciate her viewpoint since it was the first time I hear from anybody about a way to spread the winnings to those in need. Another colleague had said, with a hint of worry “I wouldn’t know what to do with all the much money.” This is also a fair point, as I heard numerous stories of people’s lives turning for the worst after winning the lottery. The troubles that the winners have come in two ways, from being reckless about spending, and from being bombarded with inappropriate request for money from distant relatives to random strangers. I guess, with great wealth comes a great burden.

Right now, if money is not an issue because somehow I have large sums of it or an unlimited supply, I imagine that I will split the money into a few different categories:

  • Personal financial stability
  • Assisting relatives in need, both in this country and overseas
  • Local charitable donations
  • Large-scale impact on certain social causes

For example, I’ll pay off our home’s mortgage and set aside enough money for an investment fund where the interest is enough to cover current expenses and occasional luxuries. And then, I’d like to find a way to provide financial assistance to my relatives in need in a way that is sustainable and has a long-term benefit: whether it is funds to start a business, house and lot, or covering tuition payment for younger kids.

Outside of the family unit, here’s how I envision huge sums of money can make an impact. There are many charitable organizations that struggle to stay afloat, and as a result, searching for funding eats up precious time that could have been spent making a difference through their programs and services. Providing stability such as through an endowment fund or a financial boost for a few years would be a good thing, I think. And then, similar to those lottery winners who would donate millions of dollars towards a cause, I’d like to do the same thing as well. Instead of just dropping a cheque though, I’d like to help build something from the ground up. Maybe a new building to expand an organization’s service and operations, or even a brand new facility to fill an unmet need.

One can dream, right? But, since the chances of winning the lottery or having a massive multi-million dollar business empire is pretty small, the realistic, real-time version of myself had scaled back these lofty dreams into manageable, small things that can be done in present time. With the income from my paycheque, helping charities and relatives and building a sense of personal financial stability is achievable in small chunks. As far as making a large-scale impact, I’m hoping that running for public office one day can fulfill that.

Either on my own, or through in-person and online workshops, I have participated in exercises to help envision the future. It’s a good opportunity to evaluate one’s preferences and aspirations, and indulge in thinking about how outlandish scenarios might just come true. The plan is to ask again this question when I officially turn 30 and periodically in the future.

There was a catchy Filipino pop song that I remember in my teens, titled “Ambisyoso” which is the translation for ‘ambitious’. Some of the writer’s outlandish dreams are pretty funny, like a kissing scene with his favourite actress, but I really like the line that talked about “a wallet that never runs out of money”. That’s what prompted this thought exercise, and I’ll likely revisit it again.

Reasonably Content from being Reasonably Frugal

“You’re a monster! exclaimed a co-worker”, my husband told me, upon revealing to them at the lunch table that he is not buying me any gifts for Christmas. I imagine their jaw would drop even more if we tell them that it has been many years since I received anything from him covered in gift wrap or a card of any kind. Whether it is birthdays, anniversaries, or Christmas, we don’t buy items to celebrate that occasion whatsoever.

I had the same chat with a colleague in the kitchen not too long ago, when we were talking about a downtown Christmas Market right in our office building. I told her I haven’t explored the market yet, because the ‘anti-consumerist in me’ has no motivation to browse around different shops while fully aware that there is likely nothing that will catch my fancy and buy. She seemed pleased though, instead of the strong reaction my husband’s co-worker’s have.

My husband and I would share stories like this at night, during our scheduled bedtime that we try to stick to. We go to bed together at the same time, a great opportunity to share to each other how our day went, have some cozy cuddles, and also to have a regular sleep schedule. In addition to random stories of how the day went, we talk a bit about errands we need to do, what volunteer activity will I be working on, and the financial state of our home. He’d tell me which of our roommates had already paid rent, or how far long we are in paying off our mortgage.

Sometimes, he would mention about things that we need such as an apron for when he cooks spaghetti every Sunday, or a couple pairs of jeans or work shirts. He’d tell me about a hole in his shirt or a pair of pants that are too long, and I’d say ‘no problem, I’ll take care of it’. By taking care of it, it would either mean bringing out my sewing kit to repair the clothes or make the clothing item, or going to the thrift store to buy a few items. When a clothing item is too frayed to be worn anymore, they are the first candidates to be turned into a rag, oven mitt, and quilt.

“I broke my budget!” he told me just a few weeks ago, when he decided to buy a VR (Virtual Reality) gaming system, which is fairly expensive. He does have the money for it, but it’s just something he didn’t budget for this year. So according to the budgeting software he uses, for the ‘personal expenses’ category, he is over budget. Over budget from what I would say is a fairly low personal spending allocation. Instead of getting upset, I was quite amused. He now alternates between playing video games with a controller and the VR set, and he is pretty content.

Frugal is defined as economical and not wasteful about money and I think, with great relief, that we are able to incorporate that in our lives. Other positive words that come to mind are “budget-conscious” or “mindful about money”.

I wonder if our drastically different upbringings made it necessary to have upfront discussions about important topics that are taken for granted. There’s no expectations or assumptions that are to be made, the only way to know is discussing it. The fact that he is not Filipino gave me the confidence to frankly talk about women’s health issues and procedures that I experience. I was hopeful, and I was right, that he won’t be too grossed out. In the same token, he we talk about expenses, retirement plans, insurance and inheritances.

It’s fortunate that for many things that are important, we see eye to eye, both in principle and in process. We both like to stick to habits and automating things, which is evident in how we save money, pay bills, and track our spending. We found our happy medium between flexible, easygoing, forgiving and disciplined. This makes us feel okay with eating out with friends, and also meal prepping every week. This makes us consider thrift stores or DIY items as opposed to buying the latest model gadgets and equipment. This resulted to him using a nine-year-old flip phone with a $15 a month with a Pay As You Go set up, while I have a smartphone with 2 GB of data. This helped us feel okay with certain luxuries that were considered deliberately. He bought a TV and the VR gaming system, and the TV is the first one he actually purchased after moving out 9 years ago since his TVs then were both hand-me-downs. I had a professional photoshoot at a studio just for myself which was pretty expensive, but it is something that was carefully considered for a few years. It was both a fancy gift and a therapeutic exercise for myself.

The reasonableness in our approach takes the pressure off, which I think is what makes many people struggle with managing money. In our culture where immediate feedback, gratification, or results are sought after, the subtle peace of mind that comes with a long-term plan is not as appealing. Even the quietness of not having a major current problem can be unsettling for some. Thinking in bigger numbers in terms of dollars and time horizons is a significant thing I learned from my spouse. Now, I look at them with excitement, instead of dread. Given my age, having ‘only about twenty years’ left in our mortgage can be viewed as an optimistic thing.

Realizing that our savings rate does not compromise our way of life is reassuring. His biggest hobby is gaming (both video games and board games). He definitely maximizes the money he does buying these, and through friends and gaming leagues, has access to gaming opportunities where he doesn’t need to buy much. With my hobbies of arts and crafts and volunteering, there were multiple ways I discovered to save money also. Using second-hand and upcycled materials for the items I make, and then as far as volunteering is concerned, I usually get ‘paid’ by having food at the meetings.

This is something I hope that other couples and other households are able to achieve at some point.

Habits Osmosis – Couples Absorb Each Other’s Behaviours

By: Giselle General

Eight years in a relationship which consisted of five years of cohabitating, and three months of intense travel beforehand is a good chunk of time to learn about your significant other. At least that is what I would argue in my case. It’s safe to say that because of our drastically different upbringing and life experiences before we started dating, that there are some differences in our personalities and habits.

We do share a lot of common values, the ones that matter most to both of us, otherwise we would not still be together. Both parties are very diligent with communicating well, expressing our love can care for each other, and working together to maintain our home and relationship. There are some aspects of our relationship that are less contentious compared to other couples. Religion and race are not sticking points between us which is a huge relief. In contrast, we are born-and-raised in different environments, with him growing up in Edmonton, Canada with a middle-class family where the father worked and the mother stayed at home. On the other hand, I grew up in a small mining village in Benguet, Philippines, being orphaned at the age of eight are raised ‘by the village’, then immigrated to Canada as a teenager and adjusted to life here.

There are certainly traits, that in the beginning of the relationship, was clearly evident on one person only. It’s normal to describe the other as the “clumsy one” or the “chatty one”, and it can be with any other traits as well. That being said, direct and indirect influences can make an impact in one’s habits and behaviours.

His Creativity – Painting Miniatures and Trying Artistic Ideas

For our first year anniversary I crafted a shadow box with sticker lettering, printed photos of us, and colourful strips of paper with very adorably cheezy romantic statements. It wasn’t until when I moved in with him that he said he loved my arts and crafts work and would like me to do more.

For several years since then, most of the artistic projects are done by me alone. There were a few times when he would provide input whenever I feel stuck in a rut, but the hands on work is completed by me most of the time. In fact, he had a kit of unpainted miniatures and supplies he left untouched for a while, until I started painting some of these models.

But things have changed over the recent months and years. He has pursued his own ways of being creative. Speaking of those unpainted miniatures, he painted almost a hundred of them over six months, while watching Star Trek episodes on the TV. Our dining room table has a direct line of sight to the living room, so with all the art supplies splayed out on the table, he would be half-listening to the TV while choosing the paint colors for a magician’s robe, or the skin colour of the imps, or how much additional red spotches of paint he wanted to add on a zombie.

And then lately, he joined a running group that encouraged him to decorate his own shirt. He bought a plain cotton shirt, and used the fabric paints I have to decorate it, including a funny pun that apparently half of his group understood.

My Organization Skills with Personal Finance

He told me when we first started dating, that us getting together is what prompted him to purchase his first home. And when he purchased his first home, he purchased a budgeting software called MoneyDance and he’s used it ever since.

My first attempt at using this software didn’t go very well, I was a bit too impatient and overwhelmed with the features and the reality of those numbers staring at me. But last year, I finally took the leap and gave it another go. After a few months, my bank eliminated the online budgeting feature on their website, so the switch to using our own software was pretty timely.

Now, since we use the same software, we are more in-tune with our language when it comes to organizing our money. While I’m not as particular with tinkering with the charts and graphs feature, I appreciate the reliable way to organize my financial information. Now that it has been a year and a half since I started using the software, I have the ability to compare what happened at the exact same date a year ago. This has become a really useful tool for making plans, and setting healthy boundaries without feeling guilty.

For better or for worse, we have been considering ourselves as a unit, and taking on each other’s traits is an inevitable part of that. There are more positive traits that I do hope I gain from him, both through a combination of modeling (just by seeing someone do it on a regular basis) and finding my own version of implementing it.