There she was, dressed all in white, in a stunning gown of beauty and perfection. As she walked down the aisle, I was dazzled by her elegance and poise. Time seemed to come to a halt, even as my heart rate started racing. For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health. Till death do us part.
I still remember that day, more than 13 years ago. It was the perfect day. And I was getting married to the most perfect woman in the world.
While things may have seemed perfect that day, I now realise that perfection only lies in my imagination.
It is true that I love my wife deeply, and that the vows I had made that day remain true. But we have also been through our fair share of difficult moments; like when we argued with each other over family-related issues, or when finance matters seemed to get the better of us, or when we had to look at grief and loss in the eye and allow the emotions to run their course.
Relationships are never perfect, whether it’s the marital relationship or that between parent and child. There are so many variables that could cast a spanner in the works; and our intended outcomes do not always materialise.
Perhaps the root cause of our disagreements and unhappiness lies in the many expectations we quietly uphold – of ourselves, our spouse and our children.
Because of our upbringing and families of origin, we are ingrained with a set of expectations about life. Although we bring these expectations into our marriage and into our parenting, sometimes we are not even aware of them. However, our spouse also brings his or her expectations into the marriage, and if the expectations don’t seem to match, differences and arguments arise.
Our children too develop their own expectations, and these could possibly come into conflict with our desires for them. We may have raised them since birth, but they develop autonomy and independence, a process that begins as early as 18 months, according to development theorist Erik Erikson. And we can observe our children slowly learning what it means to create their own identity and develop a sense of self, important aspects that enable them to differentiate from us, their parents.
Is there a purpose to all this? Surely it must be better for a relationship to remain perfectly aligned instead of causing both parties to go through various tensions and strife?
As it turns out, those who take a proactive stance towards resolving these differences tend to rise above them.
My wife and I have witnessed various couples going through tough times in their marriage, with a few headed towards divorce. One common thread we have observed is that couples who are headed towards divorce tend to plaster over their differences. They tend to sweep their problems under the carpet, refusing to address them until it is too late.
For example, a woman might feel that her husband should be the one bringing back the lion’s share of the household income. On the other hand, the husband might expect his wife to assume responsibility of the household, while still contributing in some way to the family coffers.
How do we bridge the gaps and safeguard our marriage? Similarly, how can we be a better parent to our children? I suggest three ways:
- Respect and affirm our spouse and children
- Acknowledge our faults and seek to change
- Take steps to care for the self
Respect and affirm our spouse and children
As a counsellor, I am privy to the innermost thoughts of many of my clients, and one of the most important reasons why they come for therapy is that they do not feel validated. Their spouses and parents say things that hurt them or do things that seem to ignore their existence.
If we could instead create a culture of respect and affirmation in our homes, we would be able to deal with the root issues of self-doubt and a battered sense of self-worth. Respect creates an enabling environment, one where we can feel safe in bringing up our unmet needs or expectations, while affirmation builds up each one’s sense of self. Both are crucial in addressing the needs of our spouse and children.
Respect creates an enabling environment, while affirmation builds up their sense of self. Both are crucial in addressing the needs of our spouse and children.
Acknowledge our faults and seek to change
Oftentimes we ascribe blame to our spouse or our kids when something goes wrong. What if we took responsibility for our actions instead, and sought to change aspects of ourselves that we do not like? When we acknowledge our faults and seek to change ourselves, our spouse and kids may also take our lead and make changes to their lives. It may not be easy or even possible to make big changes overnight, but even small steps would lead us close to our goals, and there would be less criticism and condemnation on both sides.
When we acknowledge our faults and seek to change ourselves, our spouse and kids may also take our lead and make changes to their lives.
Take steps to care for the self
Self-care is one of the most important steps we can take to safeguard our marriage and our family. Whether it’s a quiet walk by ourselves in the park, or a meal out with close friends, we need to take a time out – to recharge and take stock of where we are at in our lives, our marriage and our parenting. Only then would we have the energy to deal with the intense pressures of life.
I have always looked back at my wedding day with a smile. The preacher forgot the wedding date and made everyone wait for almost an hour, the food was delayed, and many guests didn’t have enough to eat. And at one point, my wife couldn’t get the contact lenses out of her eyes and we had to cancel the entire tea ceremony. If one was to consider every problem that took place, the entire day was one big mess, but it was perfect in my eyes for I had married the girl I loved very much, and that was all that mattered.
Today, when we argue over the many things in our lives, we can look back at our wedding day and smile. Life is far from perfect, but maybe the key to unlocking true happiness is in giving ourselves and our loved ones room to grow, and discovering the beauty within our imperfect relationships.
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys almost 11 and 9 years old.
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