Ep24: Recipe to a 15-year healthy relationship

Published on Mar 8, 2023

About our guest Kar Fei

Kar Fei coaches and grows individuals and executives into high performers in life. His life is obsessed with this question, “How can we be the best version of ourselves, and be happy and fulfilled in our lives?“.

He is part of the Hive Global Leadership Program (a community of leaders and entrepreneurs) and the Global Shapers Community by the World Economic Forum. He is also a TEDX Speaker, and a member of the Forbes Coaches council.


[00:00:00] Kai Xin:

Hi, welcome to another episode of the Handful Of Leaves podcast, where we bring you practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life. This is another episode where we talk about romantic relationships. It’s part of a series. If you have missed the previous two episodes on the same topic, you can look back at our playlist wherever you listen to the podcast.

Today, we’re going to talk about how can we sustain a healthy and successful relationship despite having differences with our partners. Sustaining a healthy relationship requires a lot, a lot of hard work. And today we have a very special guest, Kar Fei, who is a motivational speaker as well as a life coach, to share with us how he kept the flame alive with his wife for 15 years. They have dated for 11 years, been married for four years with a beautiful child right now.

At the end of the episode, we’ll be sharing some reflections as well as resources on the Buddhist take on romantic relationships and true love. So, stick till the end if you’d like to find out more. Now let’s dive right in.

[00:01:08] Kai Xin:

Good to have you here with us Kar Fei. Really good to see you.

[00:01:12] Kar Fei:

Hi, Kai Xin. Hi Cheryl. Nice to see both of you. And thank you so much for having me on this podcast.

[00:01:18] Kai Xin:

Yes, I’m really excited to learn a lot from you, especially on the topic of growing with our partners, despite differences. And I think in the ideal sense, all of us wish that our partners would have similar traits and characteristics as us. We project our ideals onto them and that can be a source of conflict. So, today we’re gonna explore this topic deeper and give a brief introduction about you. You have been a life coach that guides people to live life more fully and be successful on their own terms, and you have also helped many people achieve ambitious goals, whether it’s getting promoted within six months or growing successful six-figure businesses.

I think there’s a lot that we can learn from you. You are also an expert coach. You’re in the Forbes Coaches Council as well as a TEDx speaker. I can go on and on, but if our listeners want to find out more about you, they can go to the show notes.

I think when it comes to success in life beyond material success, we also talk about relationships because we can have all the wealth and fame, but if our relationship with people is not good, then we don’t really have that true happiness.

So I know, typically, you talk more about corporate success and relationship success in this aspect, it’s not something that you even openly talk about to your followers if I’m not wrong. And I’m just wondering, what does a relationship mean to you, or what does a successful relationship mean to you?

[00:02:44] Kar Fei:

That’s a great question and you are actually right. This whole topic about relationships isn’t something that I talk a lot about, in terms of how to have a successful relationship in life. But I’ve actually talked a lot about my wife on my social media. A lot of people know who my wife is.

But that’s a really good question because I feel the thing about defining success in a relationship, is that it has to be broken down into a few categories. First, an intimate relationship, as well as your social relationship, are two very different things. So I guess for the sake of this podcast today, I’ll touch a lot more on intimate relationships, especially about me and my wife, and how we manage our relationship and our differences.

For me, a successful relationship is very simple. It is a relationship where it consists of three very important things: passion, intimacy, and commitment. Any successful relationship requires these three things, and when I say require these three things, it means it must have all three of them. If one of them actually does not exist, then the relationship might be shaky.

Let me give you an example. Take a look at our parents’ relationship, I’m not too sure about your parents, but my parents, they’ve been together for like 30 years, more or less. What I find interesting is that when I look at them as a couple, I actually don’t see love. I see commitment. They don’t hold hands.

[00:04:04] Kai Xin:

Very Asian.

[00:04:05] Kar Fei:

Exactly. It’s a very Asian thing. they don’t show emotions towards each other, and the way they talk to each other is a lot more of a commitment rather than having passion and intimacy in the relationship. Growing up, seeing them in a relationship, I can feel that it is not a harmonious, happy relationship. And since then, I realized that for any relationship to be successful, it requires these three things: intimacy, passion, and commitment. So that’s my definition of a successful relationship.

[00:04:36] Cheryl:

I’m really curious here, so you mentioned that your parents have been together for more than 30 years. If that’s not a success, then what is success for a relationship? Cause I would define it as being able to last through the ups and downs and weathering through everything, hopefully to the end of life.

[00:04:51] Kar Fei:

That’s an extremely good point. Because if they have been together for 30 years, how can we say that it’s not a successful relationship? It was for me how I feel about the relationship. I don’t think there will ever be a term for a successful relationship for 8 billion people in the world.

How I would define if my relationship is successful might be very different from how you define it with your partner, how my parents define it for themself. Because from what I see in my parent’s definition of a successful relationship, it’s being able to, number one, bring up the kids, make sure that they are healthy, successful, whatever. Number two, make sure that they don’t get a divorce. Again, it is a very Asian taboo thing. Even if they are not in a happy relationship, they will be contented or they will find ways to make it okay because the risk or the taboo of a divorce is way, way, way stronger than being in a relationship that doesn’t make you happy.

Growing up, seeing their relationship, I learned what I don’t want in a relationship. Because I don’t want a relationship where I am with you purely because I’m afraid of a divorce. I’m with you because 20 years ago, we have already signed a piece of paper and we’re committed to each other till death do us part.

I know what I don’t want when I look at that relationship and from then on, I start to figure out what exactly I want from a relationship. And when I figure out the three things — intimacy, commitment, and passion, that was what kept my relationship going.

There are times when you don’t feel that there’s passion, you feel a lot of commitment, so you have to find ways to bring up the passion. And the thing about these three things is that it is not an end goal. These three things are a process until the end of the relationship. So for me, to have a successful relationship is when I’m able to have that three things with my partner in life.

[00:06:58] Kai Xin:

That’s so important because I see also there’s a shift from relationships being very functional and practical. Like, oh, let’s raise kids and family in order to, I think in, in the old days, it’s so that you can farm, you can, help out, you know?

[00:07:12] Kar Fei:


[00:07:12] Kai Xin:

Take care of the entire family or take care of the parents when they grow old. Now, I think because we have a choice, with the change in women’s role in society, we now have a choice as to who should we settle down with. And then there’s also an increasing number of divorces. I think people have come to realize that, hey, there’s really no point just sucking it up when there’s a build-up of resentment where I really hate my partner, but just still stick with it. People have a choice to then leave their nuclear family.

[00:07:41] Kar Fei:


[00:07:41] Kai Xin:

But I thought it was interesting that you talk about intimacy and passion. I’m a very practical person, and I’m not naturally very forthcoming when it comes to physical touch. We have different love languages, right? So, can you share a little bit more as to why intimacy and passion are important to sustain a relationship?

[00:08:01] Kar Fei:

Well, I think first things first, passion is what gets you into a relationship in the first place. At least from, again, my own experiences and probably some experiences of me, my clients, and how they get into a relationship and so on. Passion is the spark and it’s the fire. So, that is pretty straightforward.

Now, the second thing is actually intimacy. You mentioned you’re not very comfortable with physical touch, but the thing is even though we have different love languages, intimacy can be translated in many different ways. And one of the very important things to really understand as well is that to a certain extent, our biological human nature requires some form of intimacy, it can be in the form of sex and also in a form of just touch. It could be in a form of hugs. You don’t need to do many things, but to a certain extent, intimacy also means being next to the person, without the touch. It also means how you are at home with your partner every single day or every single night. For example, when I have my son Lucas, he’s two years old right now, intimacy was something that we were lacking because obviously taking care of a baby and all these things. But we manage by actually spending time together almost every night before we sleep. It could be just sitting next to each other watching TV, or it could be us sitting next to each other doing our own thing and just being there in silence.

And for both of us as well, sometimes it’s her doing her own thing on the sofa and me watching TV while giving her a massage, and that is the form of intimacy that we are also talking about. So intimacy can come from many different aspects, but the most important thing we need to know is that in human relationships, human nature in general, we are social creatures.

So intimacy is something that we crave, something that humans have had since prehistoric times when our ancestors were living in caves, sitting around bonfires and having conversations. We talk to each other, next to each other. That’s the kind of intimacy that human beings are being brought up with. So it’s a very human thing, in my opinion.

[00:10:05] Kai Xin:

Yeah. And I think scientifically, physical touch does stimulate the release of some form of endorphins, right? And it’s healthy in some sense. I’d like to bring in a little bit of a Buddhist concept because I think when people think of intimacy, there’s a lot of desire.

Sometimes to the extreme, it can be lust, but I do feel like it can be on shaky grounds if the relationship is on the foundation of intimacy and passion, then it would be successful. This is why I think actually commitment becomes very important because it’s about loyalty. And I think adding to the mix of the three sauces of a good relationship, it’s also understanding. Because just now the example you gave is that people can be really unhappy in a relationship, and that’s because there’s no mutual understanding. So they are committing for the sake of committing. But, what if there are ways to commit without intimacy, without passion? Because if it’s only these two, then any other temptations outside of the relationship, like people giving you more attention or maybe physically they touch you a little bit more, they hug you and you feel good then. I think that’s where cheating happens.

[00:11:12] Kar Fei:

I guess that’s why in the beginning, it’s very important to realize that a successful relationship is a combination of all three. Because if you think about it, as you mentioned, if it’s only a relationship that is only purely based on passion and intimacy, it’s probably a relationship where you won’t want to get married to this person, because once you wanna get married to the person, it’s a next level of commitment, right? It’s about probably starting a family, having kids, etc. If it’s a relationship that is purely based on commitment and intimacy. What does that mean? There’s no love, but only commitment and intimacy. We have seen all this before, right?

[00:11:51] Cheryl:

It’s responsibility.

[00:11:52] Kar Fei:

Correct. And the question is, responsibility for what? That one is up to the partner. But again, without all three together, then it becomes a very different form of relationship. That might be what the individuals need at the point in time, but it might not be helping them to have a sustainable long-term relationship.

So if you’re talking about a long-term relationship, it’s one where all three of them are present at any moment in time. I talk about these three things a lot with some of my clients sometimes, which is really because of my own upbringing. Our first role models for relationships are always our parents. How your parents are when they’re together shapes how you become when you grow up.

[00:12:38] Kai Xin:

That’s so true.

[00:12:39] Kar Fei:

And this can be manifested in many things, not just your intimate relationship, your self-confidence, your emotional regulation, and how you manage your emotion. And these are all scientific studies. Scientific studies have shown that how parents actually show love to each other, and how they manage their own relationship, would have a positive or negative effect on the children when their children grow up.

So for me, what I found out was, I realized that my parents were not really in the happiest relationship, and for me, I wanted to avoid that at all costs. That’s the reason why I figured out what is the best way for me to manage and maintain a long-term relationship. That’s why I have been with my wife for 11, 12 years before I got married. Including our yeas of marriage, we are right now in our 15th year together, so those three things together combined is the one that really makes the relationship last. But of course, we also need to talk about a lot of other things outside of these three things for a relationship to continue to last. It could be, you know, your vision of what you want in your life, the quality of life that both partners require, parenting. All these things also play a part to maintain the relationship, for a long period of time.

[00:13:53] Kai Xin:

Definitely, there needs to be some form of alignment. I heard from Cheryl that like, you’re actually very different from your wife. Maybe you can share a little bit more about how you find the alignment when you’re so different and what are the differences.

[00:14:06] Kar Fei: Okay.

Let’s talk about the differences right now. If all of you listening to the podcast and you know for yourself as well, Kai Xin, I’m a hardcore personal development fan and my job is personal development coaching, life coaching, and leadership coaching, I do corporate training, and all these kind of different things.

Fun fact number one, my wife has never attended any form of personal development course in her life. Now, I’m not even talking about attending my course because attending my course is a bit off, right? I mean, your partner come to your course and your program; I think that’s a bit off. But she’s never taken anything in terms of coaching in the personal development space and all this kind of stuff.

So it was that extreme, that different. Second, my wife used to be a banker, but not anymore. Right now, she works in an operations team in the bank, and at the same time, she’s actually also very creative. Creative in a sense she’s very good with artistic skills, taking pictures. If you’re on Instagram, you can see, that I’m the total opposite of that. I failed my art class when I was 14 years old in high school.

So, we are extremely different in that sense. But what really help us in our relationship was our vision of what we wanted for our life. In our first to second year of our relationship, we actually started talking a little bit about what we feel the future could be like; what do we think the world should be like? What do we think our future could look like? And, it was those conversations that helped us to see the similarities that we have and differences that we have.

And the beautiful thing about this is that we noticed that a lot more things are similar about what we want for our life and what we want for the future. And that sort of became a vision that we constantly moved towards. So, that’s why over the years, in different things that we talk about, that vision, that future becomes what holds us together. When we talk about financials, when we talk about buying a house, when we talk about her quitting her job to take care of Lucas full-time at home, from having a baby. You know, like when is the right time? How do we manage our parenting styles?

All these things that we talk about are aligned with us and with the future that we wanna have. So when all these little things have disagreements, we always look towards the future: at the end of the day, what is it that we want? That helps us to agree to disagree in terms of our differences. That helps us to manage some of the differences in terms of opinions or ideas that we have about the relationship and about the family. So that’s what really helped us so far in the past 15 years.

[00:16:51] Cheryl:

So it’s almost as though there’s a hierarchy of importance in terms of what is similar and what is different. And the most important thing that should be similar should be the shared vision that both of you have.

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[00:17:03] Kar Fei:


[00:17:03] Cheryl:

And was shared vision something that you just spoke about it and it happened to be similar or was it something that you worked together towards getting to a shared vision?

[00:17:13] Kar Fei:

Actually, for us, it was something that we talked about and you just feel it’s right. But obviously, I guess what really happened as well was because when we were in a relationship together, we were only 19.

So when we start talking about stuff, we were probably about 20, 21 years old. At that point in time, there were certain things that were shaky in the sense that we are not sure. But we have the commitment to communicate with each other when things don’t go well or things don’t go right.

Now, lemme give you an example. When I was 21, 22 years old, I started my first coaching business. And at a point in time again, when you are young, you start your own business, of course, you can take all the risks you want, and do everything you can. But at the same time, my wife being a very practical person, she’s a bit worried. Like, you know, if you’re starting a business, that means your income will be lesser than mine because she started working and all this stuff. And then what about the future? We were thinking of buying a house. How will we be able to buy a house in the next three to five years and et cetera?

So there are a lot of questions because of that decision of mine where I wanted to start a business. But when we sat down and then we became very realistic because we have a commitment to each other. So we’re like, Yes, the concerns are legit, but how can we minimize the risk? How can we minimize the concern?

And that was when we agreed that if my business does not take off within the next three years, I will go and look for a job to have a sustainable, monthly income kind of thing. And that was actually what happened. The coaching business didn’t take off, and after about two and a half to three years, I actually got a job offer.

I was headhunted by someone to join a company as an internal coach. When that opportunity came, it was a relatively easy decision to make. It was a painful decision for me because I started a business, I told myself, I told everyone that I founded a company, I do coaching, and now I’m going back to employment.

It took a hit on my ego, to a certain extent. But she kind of really kept me accountable. She’s like, you know what? This is what we have agreed upon, and this is the reality of what’s happening. The business is really not taking off, and we wanna have a long-term plan for our future, and this sounds like the best option at that point in time. So obviously I took the job and then, the rest is history, right? So that really helps us in terms of making decisions and whatnot. And I just want to add to what Cheryl said, right? At the end of the day, actually, the hierarchy is actually very important. Because we actually hear different things. We hear also, you know, the birds of a feather flock together.

[00:20:02] Cheryl:

Opposites attract and so on.

[00:20:02] Kar Fei:

Exactly. So there’s also, opposite attracts. My personal opinion. Both works. But it’s just a matter of what. I think the very important things in our life, it has to be relatively similar. And think about it. What is the most important thing in our life? It’s not your job, it’s not your title. It’s not how much money you have, it’s actually the future, the vision, your personal values, your personal characteristics, your vision of the future that you wanna have with this person and how you want the future to look like. Those are at the top of the hierarchy, the important things.

Those things that are different are the not-so-important things, e.g. what you like to do, what you like to eat, you know those things. We can tolerate each other throughout the relationship, all these little things. She doesn’t like sports. I love sports. You know, all these are different things. These are small things, but if you are committed to each other enough, then these small things, it’s easy to manage.

[00:21:07] Cheryl:

I think you shared a lot of big words and I think it may be good to define them, especially what are the important things, like personal characteristics, and personal values. What do you mean by these terms? Because, for example, someone who is a gym couple, if you tell them, having different habits could still work. They will argue with you until the cows come home. So maybe, share the clear definitions, and if you could help us with some examples, that could work as well.

[00:21:34] Kar Fei:

So I think two things at the highest level, or maybe three, right? Number one, it’s the future. Now one of the things that we need to define is that when you get into a relationship, to a certain extent, you’re not thinking of the relationship for the now. The relationship usually it’s for the long term, for the future.

Of course. I know there are people who say, “No, Kar Fei. I only wanna get into a relationship for the now, for the present.” Well, then it’s okay. But I can guarantee you that after two to three years, thoughts about the future will start to come, right? Because we only get older, we never get younger, the future will come.

So for me, the future is one of the very important things, which is how we envision our future together. Now when I say how we envision our future together, that includes both of us people and also our role as parents if you wanna have kids. If you don’t wanna have kids, then it’s okay. Then it’s just the two of you, right? And that is very important to define. For example, for some people, their vision of the future is – I will never own a house, but for other people, owning a house is a very important thing. Again, this is not about the house itself. This is about the principle behind having the house.

And that’s where the second thing comes in, which is your personal values. What do you as a person value the most in life? It could be different things. It could be relationship, it could be career, it could be freedom because all these personal values translate into different things in life. For someone who wants freedom, you probably wouldn’t wanna have kids. If you want freedom, you’re probably better off owning a dog. You can put your dog somewhere else, but when you have a kid, you can’t to a certain extent. So that’s the second thing, which is personal values. The important thing is you need to understand what’s important for you, for your life, and for both of us, one thing in common that we found is growth.

And when we say growth, you guys might be thinking, “Hey, Kar Fei, but you say your wife is not interested in personal development. The thing about it is when I talk about growth, it’s not just about personal development. It’s not just about technical skills. It’s about how interested we are in becoming a better person or in becoming a better parent. Now for me, because of what I do, I’m very much into growing and learning new things about personal development, but my wife on the other hand likes to read up on new stuff, all the art-related stuff. She likes to research different things just to fill her creative mind. She likes to read up on things just for the sake of it, and that’s her way of growing now. And how this growth actually helps us in our relationship is that when I learn something new about personal development, life coaching and all these things, I will share it with her and she will listen. When she learns new things, she will share them with me and I will listen.

And this is actually our second value, which is curiosity. So what we found out is that we are very curious about each other, what we do and what are the things we enjoy doing. Sometimes she loves to do certain things and I’d ask her, “Why do you like to do these things? Why do you have to take a thousand pictures, you know, when you’re in a cafe, right?” I hated it in the first few years. But eventually, it became second nature to me. Some people call it Instagram husband and Instagram boyfriend, whatever. It became second nature to me because she enjoys looking at those pictures; she enjoys editing photos; she enjoys recalling memories based on pictures.

So, that for me is the two things. The vision of the future, personal values, and the last one is basically your personal characteristic, your personal traits. You need to know yourself well enough to know what are the things that you can tolerate, what are the things that you cannot tolerate in a relationship. So again, let me give you an example. I’m an extremely punctual person. Extremely punctual. My definition of being on time is 20 minutes before time. I was actually online already like before you guys.

[00:25:34] Kai Xin:

Yes. You were early.

[00:25:36] Kar Fei:

But my wife is just on time. Let’s say the breakfast is 9:00 AM. Her definition of on time is, I’ll arrive at 9:00 AM, just on time. Obviously, at the beginning of the relationship I couldn’t take it. It drives you mad. Freaking drives me mad. But the passion, the intimacy and the commitment I have for her trumps that.

And thankfully I have the patience to wait. I’m one of the most patient people you have ever seen in the world, right? And that helps me to really manage my own emotion, manage my own thing, and give her that space, give her that time. Obviously, my personal development skills kind of help me to manage it.

But it’s very important to know if you’re someone who cannot tolerate it, then probably it’ll be very difficult for you. So that’s the three key things that I think are highly important, and that everyone needs to talk about in a long-term relationship.

[00:26:36] Kai Xin:

I love that. So it seems like vision, values and personal characteristics, fuel the passion, intimacy, and the need for commitment. I’m just wondering, could it be a chicken and egg thing? Because what if the personality traits or certain values are misaligned and that erodes the passion, and that erodes the intimacy, then how would you work on that?

[00:27:00] Kar Fei:

So, in a lot of my coaching work, one of the things that I noticed, not just in relationships, but for anyone in life, is that people generally become very unfulfilled, and unhappy because of values misalignment. It’s when what they think they want, and what they really want are misaligned. So in the context of relationships, as you mentioned, when things are misaligned, it erodes the commitment, the relationship, and whatnot, then it’s important to actually communicate.

It’s very important to actually talk about it. And that’s one of the things that I think works really well for me and my wife — communication. When we feel that there’s something incongruent or misaligned, we will talk about it even though it’s difficult. Sometimes my wife is the one that brings it up because again, I’m the more patient person. Whenever there are problems or challenges, I can sit on it and wait until shit happens, that’s my level.

[00:28:07] Cheryl:

So somewhat avoidant.

[00:28:09] Kar Fei:

Correct. I’m a peacemaker, right? So I avoid risk; I avoid confrontation. My wife, on the other hand, will bulldoze through. She will say things as it is; she’ll point them out exactly as it is even though it is painful to hear.

So there were a few times in our life, in our relationship where there are certain things that start to misalign, which is the timing of having kids. Because again, men being men, I was very much thinking I need to be successful in my career to make a certain amount of money and financial income and all these things in order for me to have kids.

But on the other hand, she has this belief that she needs to give birth before she’s 30 years old. Now obviously, is this scientifically proven that women should give birth before 30? I think it is highly debatable. It’s a 50-50 thing. I know a lot of people give birth between 40 to 45 years old. But for her, it is very important. And the thing is, there were past experiences that happened to her in the family that created this belief. Now then the question to me is — which one is more important? Is making enough money to have kids more important than respecting her belief and her body because she’s the one who’s giving birth? Which one is more important for the relationship?

[00:29:36] Kai Xin:

How do you come to that reflection? Because I would think that maybe other people might have other views, right? To say I’m young and if I wait till I’m past 40 to have kids, I’ll be tied down. Then, I can’t be successful in my career anymore. So there’s no thought about respecting women’s body or whatsoever. So it’s very wise of you to even think of that, and it’s very considerate and very loving. How do you even come to that conclusion?

[00:30:05] Kar Fei:

This is where coaching comes into place. Shameless plug, get a coach.

[00:30:11] Kai Xin:

Hire Kar Fei.

[00:30:13] Kar Fei:

But on a serious note, that is actually true. And how do I get to that realization? It’s because I have a coach. My coach actually challenges me because I talk about this with my coach and I don’t just talk to one, I talk to a few other mentors as well, and I have mentors who are way, way older than me. My mentors are 60 – 65 years old. I also have mentors in their 40’s and they actually question me and challenge me, “Kar Fei, at the end of the day, who’s the one giving birth?” And I’m like, obviously her. So what’s more important? Is making money more important than respecting this woman that you love, who’s gonna give birth to your children in the next couple of years?

And that kind of shocked me, right? It’s like, hold on a second, right? How can I be so selfish and just think about myself when this whole parenting thing is an equal thing? And most importantly, to be fair, I actually don’t think parenting is equal. The mother puts a lot more effort into carrying through pregnancy, giving birth, and taking care of the kids. At that point in time, it really struck me and my coach even asked me another more important question — How much money is enough to have kids, and there’s no answer to it.

[00:31:30] Kai Xin:

Oh, really? I thought you can work out the math.

[00:31:33] Kar Fei:

Yeah, you can work out the math. I can tell you right. Easily RM 1 million. In Singapore, maybe SGD 1 million. I don’t know. But for me, we have sort of looked at the numbers. It’s almost RM 1 million, to a certain extent. It depends on the quality of life. A million ringgit. Will I be able to get a million ringgit cash in the bank in the next three years?

Actually, no. I mean, I can make probably another RM 100K, another RM 200K in the three years before the ideal age to get kids, but then that means it’s still not enough. So, how many more years do you wanna work until you get RM 1 million then you’ll be ready to have kids?

[00:32:09] Kai Xin:

So you’re saying that you don’t have to be fully financially able or like in an ideal sense to start thinking about kids? Because, I’m having a little bit of a struggle here trying to understand, cause traditionally when we talk about financial management, we wanna make sure that there’s proper planning so that when our kids are born, they don’t suffer and they are given a good environment and lifestyle. But then what you are saying is you will never be fully ready. So maybe set the bare minimum.

[00:32:39] Kar Fei:

In a sense, yes, of course, if you wanna have kids, then you also need to make sure that your finances are in place, right? So at least at a point in time we have our own reserves e.g. one-year savings here and there, we have some assets, we bought a house, we have all these things in place, but I was overthinking it. I was overthinking in the sense that I need to have a few 100K in the bank in order for me to give my son or my daughter the best life possible. I was thinking too far ahead, but the thing is, again, this is just pure parenting. You’ll never be ready to be a parent. The only time when you’re ready to be a parent is when your kids are born. That’s the only time right?

[00:33:21] Kai Xin:

Some are also not ready when the kids are born.

[00:33:23] Kar Fei:

Exactly. So from a financial point of view, yes, have some money, have some savings. That’s important, but don’t overthink it. That’s the reason why my coach asked the question. How much do you need? Honestly, if you really wanna have kids, how much do you really, really need? RM 50K to 100K in the first two years probably. Actually, I have that in the bank, right? So how much more do you need? How much more ready do you need to become? That was when I realized that the money thing is an ongoing thing. Even if I make 1 million now and I’m ready to have kids, I will still continue to work to make more money.

[00:34:01] Kai Xin:

Yeah. So it’s not so much of a destination, but it’s like you have the starting point and then the rest is a process.

[00:34:07] Kar Fei:

Correct. It’s a process of getting there. But on the other hand, for my wife, it is not, she needs to give birth. And her age will not decrease. It will just go up. So at that point, it’s about give-and-take.

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[00:34:21] Kai Xin:

It’s the opportunity cost.

[00:34:22] Kar Fei:

Okay, which one is more important? And then the point is, you know what? The relationship is more important. So let’s do it, get married and all this stuff. So that’s how we kind of manage that. So again, at the end of the day, this thing is all about communication. It’s really about communicating. Taking time to understand. Communicating doesn’t just mean I wanna have kids now, if you don’t want to, then we’ll break up.

[00:34:47] Cheryl:

My way or the highway.

[00:34:48] Kar Fei:

Exactly, that’s not communication, right? That is confrontation. Communication is when you communicate, you take time off to really understand, to really think, to really process, and then make the best decision for the relationship.

[00:35:04] Kai Xin:

Could you share a little bit more about how you approach communicating on differences and try to find a workaround? How do you even start a conversation? Because deferring views sometimes can get you very heated and then you’re just thinking from your own perspective.

[00:35:23] Kar Fei:

Very good question. I just talked about this with a friend of mine a couple of days ago over dinner. The keyword is two things: (1) Curiosity, (2) Intention. So especially when it’s about differences, right? See, it’s easy when we talk about similar stuff. That’s why couples who are very similar to each other generally have it very easy in the beginning.

Because the whole relationship is based on their similarities, right? As Cheryl mentioned, let’s just say a gym power couple. Maybe their whole life or their whole relationship is based on exercising together, going to the gym, eating healthy, working out, sports, and all that. Again, there’s nothing wrong. I’m just giving an example, right? But, what about their differences? What if one of them is very much into going to the gym and another one is not? How can these two still be a good couple together on a long-term basis? The first one is actually curiosity. So for me, curiosity is what actually got us to communicate really well.

Curiosity about the other person. See, when we are trying to communicate differences or when we are trying to communicate, we are actually not trying to tell the other person what we know. Our job is to be curious about each other, because remember — fundamentally, what is a relationship? A relationship is your relationship with another person. It’s not your relationship with yourself. So you wanna have a good relationship, you need to know the other person; you need to be curious about the other person. That helps in communication a lot. That’s number one.

Number two is intention. When you’re communicating the differences and you’re trying to be curious about the other person, you need to have the right intention, especially when you’re communicating or when you’re receiving the communication. So when you’re communicating, you need to be very clear. Your intention is to share. Your intention is not to make the person agree with you because you just can’t have everyone agree with you on every single thing, right? So, the intention is very important.

On the other hand, as the receiver of the communication, you also need to know the intention of the person communicating with you, and you also need to ask yourself — What is my intention listening to this person? Is my intention to prove him wrong? Or is it my intention to be curious? Or is my intention to listen? Or is my intention to understand?

These two key things really make or break communication in relationships. And, and I personally believe these are the two things that really help me and my wife over the past 15 years, we always communicate at the dinner table. Sometimes, I find it very sad because before we have kids, we always eat out, pre-MCO. And every time when we are at the dining table, they don’t play on their phones, we don’t use our phones much, and we always have conversations. I realize that a lot of other couples at other tables having dinner, they’re either doing their own thing, or they’re on their phones, or they’re just there not talking to each other.

[00:39:01] Kai Xin:

They’re not present.

[00:39:03]: Kar Fei:

Yeah. How is that even possible? Because for both of us, if it’s a one-hour dinner, we probably have like 45 minutes of things to talk about non-stop. How come other couples have nothing to talk about? How come we have so many things to talk about? And I slowly realized it’s the curiosity and the intention that kind of got us into that communication.

[00:39:23] Kai Xin:

Wary of time, we’re gonna wrap up soon. Cheryl, do you have any last questions to ask Kar Fei?

[00:39:29] Cheryl:

Maybe some questions that couples could use to reflect on, to ask each other to be more curious and more intentional in their relationship.

[00:39:40] Kar Fei:

I think the most practical tip in that sense is that everyone needs to practice how to listen. The reason why I say this is because, it’s interesting to see that every time when someone communicates, especially when we are communicating about differences, or when we are communicating about something that the other person is probably not so knowledgeable about, and when we listen to those things, it’s very easy for us to just either dismiss them or give them a bit of a passive reaction. But if you are really listening, you are able to pay attention to what your partner is saying or what the other person said, and actually ask better questions.

So when you listen well, you are able to ask, “Oh, so you’re saying that this happened. Can you tell me more?”, “Oh, you are saying that this happened in the workplace, but I don’t understand why did it happen?” See, the challenge with a lot of communication breakdowns is that people don’t listen enough.

People always want to talk, but they don’t listen well or listen enough to ask good questions or to have a good conversation. So the most practical skill I can give, Number one, listen attentively to the other person, to your partner when your partner is talking and then ask questions. Trust me, asking questions solves probably 80% of communication breakdowns because the more questions you ask, of course, it has to come from a curiosity mindset, okay? Not from a judging and questioning mindset. When you ask questions, your partner will be more likely or they’ll be happy to share more with you. They’ll be happy to tell you a little bit more. That’s when you get to know your partner a little bit more. That’s when you get to know what really is happening in your partner’s mind or in their work and et cetera. So for me, listening and then asking questions, I think these are two extremely practical things that couples should do.

And the third one, you know, something that I want to share that all couples should really do, it’s block time for date nights. I cannot emphasize this enough. Date nights have been something that we have been doing for 11 years until MCO and until we have a two-year-old in our house. We actually go and watch movies every Thursday night without fail. Without fail, it’s probably 80% of the time, the remaining 20% happens if I am flying somewhere for work or if I’m outstation for work. If we are both in the same place, Thursday nights, we will definitely go to the movies by default, and that’s our date night.

[00:42:36] Cheryl:

So it doesn’t have to be like a conversation kind of thing. You can just be doing something together.

[00:42:41] Kar Fei:

The thing is that when you’re committed to doing something together at a specific time of the week, naturally you will have things to talk about. Naturally, the conversation starts to happen. Because at the time, so on our Thursday date nights is our movie nights. The moment we finish work at six o’clock, we’ll go to the shopping mall. We’ll have dinner from probably 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM or 9:00 PM. We’ll watch a movie from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM or 11:30 PM, and then we’ll take 30 minutes to drive home. So basically, we’re together from 6:00 PM or 7:00 PM until midnight, just the two of us, no friends, nothing, no work, no phones, etc. It’s just the two of us, and that generally will spark conversations. You know, late-night drives on the highway, you’ll get some conversations. The thing is, of course, it is also important to be intentional about creating time for reflection.

I know some of my mentors, they actually spend five days where both of them, without the kids, would travel somewhere to plan their 2023 goals and reflect upon the years. My wife is not so interested in that, but my wife is interested in nature, so what we do is usually, again, pre-covid, end of the year, we’ll travel somewhere. We’ll sit somewhere, have coffee for half a day without going to any tourist spots, and just start having conversations. How’s the business? What will the business be like next year? This year you’re not doing so well, what about next year? This kind of conversation happens naturally for us. So what helps us are the date nights.

[00:44:19] Cheryl:

Yeah, and I think having that time set is also a strong signal for commitment, that you show up for your relationship no matter how many things are going on for you.

[00:44:27] Kar Fei:

Great. And do you know how committed I was to the date night thing? All my best friends and my business partners know they can never book my Thursdays. They know that it’s non-negotiable. So they know that it is a commitment Kar Fei has to his partner. Like, there’s nothing that could take it away. Unless again, I’m travel for the whole week somewhere. That is an exceptional case. So if they need me or they want me for, let’s just say a Chinese New Year dinner or a big occasion, they actually text my wife straight away.

[00:45:03] Cheryl:

They are stealing Kar Fei this time.

[00:45:06] Kar Fei:

Correct, correct. So, that’s how we define commitment for our date nights.

[00:45:13] Kai Xin:

That’s very good practice. Thank you so much. We have learned so much from the very beginning. I think everything ties very nicely together, so we talk about intimacy, passion and commitment, and towards the middle, the level of communication to build understanding, and curiosity with good intentions then helps to fuel that intimacy, passion and commitment.

We talk about three things, which are values, vision, and personal characteristics. It all has to align. So we have quite a good framework over here. I think the underlying thing it’s really about trying to build harmony by being present. Also, from a Buddhist perspective, we need to be wary of our mental state. Do we always wanna get what we want? Because not getting what we want is gonna bring some form of agitation or getting what we don’t want is also gonna bring some form of agitation. So recognizing that would allow us to show up more fully in a conversation to say, “Hey, actually, I don’t necessarily always have to get what I want out of this, but let me just be here and see how things unfold.”

[00:46:23] Kar Fei:

Yeah, exactly. That’s a good summary of what we have talked about so far, actually.

[00:46:28] Kai Xin:

Thank you so much, Kar Fei. It’s been wonderful.

[00:46:30] Kar Fei:

Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. That was a great episode. Thank you so much for having me here.

[00:46:34] Kai Xin:

Thank you so much. Bye.

[00:46:37] Kai Xin:

What are your thoughts on this episode? What do you think is the most important element that makes a successful relationship? Or what is your definition of a successful relationship? Is it about commitment, curiosity, understanding, and intention?

You know, as I was editing this episode, I still have this doubt about the part on passion and intimacy. And is there really such thing as true love from a Buddhist perspective, when we are taught to let go, not have any kind of attachment and not to kind of feed on our sense desires?

I felt like that part was kind of missing from the conversation. So I went to do a little bit of research and found really beautiful sayings from Ven. Thích Nhất Hạnh. And this is what he has said.

The Buddha never said anything negative about true love. If you’re successful in romantic love, you would cultivate a lot of loving-kindness and compassion, and very soon, your love will be embracing.

Ven. Thích Nhất Hạnh

And he also gave an analogy:

If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water. The water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw water to cook, wash, and drink. The river has the capacity to receive, embrace and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, the same thing doesn’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are and then they have a chance to transform.

Ven. Thích Nhất Hạnh

A forest monk, Ajahn Jayasaro, also talked about loving-kindness in a romantic relationship. In his book, On love, he has a paragraph that reads:

Those who have what the Buddha called as ‘Right View’ would train themselves to see love in terms of the Four Noble Truths. They train themselves to acknowledge Love’s inherent deficiencies in order to try to find appropriate value and meaning they should give to love in their lives. They attempt to abandon impurities in the heart that cause suffering in spite of the presence of love. Their goal is to avoid or minimize the suffering that arises from love and to achieve and give as much happiness as possible. Finally, they used the Buddha’s teachings to train their action, speech and mind to lead their love in the direction of loving-kindness, as much as possible inspired by the awareness of the beauty of a love that is unconditioned.

Ajahn Jayasāro

So this concept of loving-kindness is so important from the Buddhist perspective when it comes to a romantic relationship because a lot of conflicts come from this sense of wanting to control in order to change things to our own liking and to serve ourselves rather than serve our partner. And like what Thích Nhất Hạnh mentioned, that comes from a very small heart, but when we have loving-kindness, it doesn’t discriminate.

It is not so much of I’m right, you’re wrong because I have this particular difference, I’m superior and you’re inferior. There is no sense of such judgemental comparison. But it comes from a very wholesome place of wanting to support, wanting to care and reducing and minimizing suffering. And with all of these, it becomes very nurturing. Its kind of like a relationship is a safe place for you to always turn to, it’s like a home, a refuge where you can always feel a sense of comfort and security.

And I think that would be my definition of a successful and healthy relationship. It’s not so much about, you know, having physical intimacy where you show affection through holding hands, hugs or kisses, like what’s romanticized in a lot of TV drama, but rather, it’s really the sense that you have a very, very good companion who is supporting you on the path to being free from suffering and you supporting your partner to be free from suffering as well.

Let me know what your thoughts are and what your definition of true love is.

There are links to resources on this topic from a Buddhist perspective. That you can find it in the show notes, or you can go to a website to read the full transcript.

And in the next episode, we have another very special guest, Siew Lin, who is experiencing stage four breast cancer. And she shares her journey on how she experiences the entire process and sheds some light on how friends and loved ones can be of better support. What are the best things to say and what not to say, when you find out that your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer.

So till the next episode, may you stay happy and wise and may you cultivate boundless love. See you.

Connect with Kar Fei

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Resources on Buddhist’s take on romantic love

Book: On Love, by Ajahn Jayasaro

In this book, Ajahn Jayasaro, a monk from the Theravada Buddhist forest tradition, breaks down four types of love, and how to develop a love that is free of suffering. Here’s an excerpt:

Even the purest love needs to be constantly cleansed. Why is it necessary to keep cleansing love? The easy answer is that it tends to get soiled. And the dirt that soils it is suffering and the cause of suffering: craving. Since we human beings do not desire even a shred of suffering and gladly accept every little bit of happiness that comes our way, it makes sense for us to ensure that all the various aspects of our life, including love, be as conducive to happiness and as safe from suffering as possible. Love is a part of life which we need to imbue with wisdom and understanding.

Does Buddhism support romantic love? By Thich Nhat Hanh

In this talk, Thich Nhat Hanh shares the Four Elements of True Love.

Romantic love, if it is true love, can also bring a lot of happiness. But if it is not true love, it will make you suffer and make the other person suffer as well.

Book: How to love by Thich Nhat Hanh

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