Couple Reuben Ostrea and Karen Agustin – Ostrea are the living proof that opposites attract. Perhaps complementarity is Mother Nature’s way of raising humanity’s chances of survival so that the virtues of our species are reinforced and the vices cancelled out.
Anyway, seeing them for the first time, one wonders how two people so different in many respects could have such a crackling spark between them – one only possible when two different world collide – and yet be so accepting of each other. It defies logic.
Reuben is the reserved, I-mean-business civil engineer who gets things done efficiently in the quiet of his own office, while Karen is the outgoing beauty queen (yes, dahlings, Bb. Pilipinas – Universe 2002) turned corporate image consultant who can do a twee Korean accent just to add an amusing embellishment to an already compelling anecdote.
But for some magical reason, Introvert He and Extrovert She do get along well—they were high school sweethearts!—and their upcoming tenth wedding anniversary in 2018 attests to that fact. Beaming, Karen told us about how she got an instant crush on Reuben the first time she saw him at their school fair and asked to be handcuffed to him at the jail booth.
Doing everything together
Since then, the little crush bloomed into the real thing after a series of on-and-off phases in their relationship. Fate would find a way to bring Karen and Reuben back together for good in September 2002 right in the middle of Karen’s reign as Ms. Philippines – Universe.
“We just love being together,” said Karen, who shares how after a day’s work, she’ll even go with Reuben to a late night, on-site inspection of one of his construction projects … well, just because.
They remember well-noted advice from one of their wedding sponsors, the late Filipino restaurateur Larry Cruz, who told them to “do everything together.”
And doing everything together is what they love to do.
On one of his freer days, it’s not hard to find Reuben playing technical assistant/Powerpoint handler/designated moral support at one of his wife’s image building workshops. “He’s in charge of ingress and egress,” explained Karen.
Has it always been happily ever always for the Ostreas? Hardly.
The key to wedded bliss, they realize – aside from much-touted
“communication” – is the recognition of the distinct roles of husband and wife, without one usurping that of the other, though they didn’t always know this.
“I’m not supposed to decide; he’s supposed to decide … I’m supposed to respect and obey, which means he needs to give me an order for me to obey something,” shared Karen, the eldest among three, who confessed to being a little on the dominant side of their relationship before at the expense of Reuben, the youngest and only boy among a brood of three.
Worst year ever
In 2013, the Ostreas experienced what they could only describe as the worst year—the “annus horribilis”—of their professional as well as of their married life.
It was when they were neck-deep in debt and had nobody else to turn to for help, their businesses weren’t doing well as expected, and their quarrels seemed to be reaching the intensity and scale of the Napoleonic Wars.
It all changed when she and Reuben began attending a series of seminars exclusively for couples where they learned to appreciate their respective roles in the family.
To the modern mind, which hears talks about “equality” and “breaking the glass ceiling” almost on loop, the idea of wives and husbands adhering to particular roles seems a tad too traditional if not archaic. But shockingly, the Ostreas seem to be discovering the dirty, little secret that – by golly! – these “roles” actually work.
“It made me wake up more to the big responsibility at hand which calls for lots of prayers. It gave me focus,” explained Reuben, adding that being the head of his family also means being the protector, provider, and priest of his wife and three kids: Lorenzo Reuben, 8; Leonardo Reuben, 5; and Lila Raven, 2.
According to him, now that he’s more aware of his duties both as a husband and as a father, especially its priestly component, he is able to spend more quality time with his family as compared to when he and Karen were too busy making money and barely had an hour to spare for spiritual matters.
“Now I’m surprised that the more time we set aside for praying, the more time we get to spend with each other. I’m able to delegate. Unlike before when I had less prayer time, I also had less time for them,” he said.
And even when another serious financial crisis hit them just last year, the Ostreas weren’t as affected this time. They merely shrugged it off, trusting that everything would get resolved in time.
On Karen’s part, the whole program was a humbling experience for her because it taught her to embrace wholeheartedly her role as a wife, to be more submissive, to be more trusting and restpectful of her husband.
“Spiritually, mentally, emotionally, it became my turning point … I started learning to be quiet and to listen,” she said, remembering how virtually from start to finish she was bawling her eyes out during the retreat organized by a Catholic community for families she and her husband are members of.
Taken care of
For a headstrong woman like Karen, who doesn’t seem to have bone of self-dbout in her body, it proved to be quite a challenge to simply sit down with mouth shut, but, in time, she learned to control herself, treating Reuben as the true head of the household. And she does this by “seeing God in him.”
“I only know that God is there. I didn’t know that God is in him also, that whatever I do to him, I do to God, and that whatever I say to him, I say it to God. The way I treat him, that’s how I treat God,” she stressed.
This is what prompted the Ostreas to serve more actively in their community, not because they want work or money in return, but because they believe God takes care of them whether health-wise, finance-wise, relationship-wise, and time-wise.
“Because He takes care of us, we make sure that we try our best to share His word,” Karen added.
Nowadays, inspite of their busy schedules, the couple find time to bond either alone or with the kids. If they share a common passion, it’s a irrepressible desire to see the world together. They travel as a family but they also go on their own adventures as a couple – sans kids at least once a year.
While they’ve since taken the message of the saying “The family that prays together stays together” to heart, Reuben and Karen believe that traveling together is also an effective way of strengthening the bonds of the family.
Every once in a while, you catch Reuben and Karen stealing kisses from each other like a pair of 17-year olds. In the middle of the interview, the shoot, they lock eyes, and you know it’s not for show nor an affectation. These two seem to be getting the whole traditional roles thing right.