It was a weekly affair, one I will always remember fondly. I would head over to my paternal grandparents’ home every Friday to find the table laden with food. There would be fried pomfret, crispy battered prawns, an onion omelette, and a whole buffet of food – all prepared specially for me by my grandmother.
My grandfather would buy one board game for me each week, while my grandmother would play the game with me. And I would be content to stay the night, without a care in the world. But the next day, when my mum came to fetch me home, I would burst into tears.
I remember there were times when my grandparents would hide away, and only then would I reluctantly leave with my mum. It was miserable leaving my grandparents’ home each week. It had been my childhood home after all, the comfortable place I used to live when my mum and my dad were still together.
My parents split up when I was only 3 or 4 years old. Growing up, it was a struggle to make sense of what had happened between them, and to understand why my life had changed so drastically.
Yearning for a complete family
My parents never gave me the full story of what had happened, but I learnt much later that the separation was largely because of differences between them. As a child, I couldn’t accept that my parents were no longer together, and I continued to yearn for them to reconcile.
Today, when I counsel children who come from broken homes, I recognise this deep desire in them. No matter how bad their parents’ marriage was, they dream of going back to a time when things were better, when their parents still loved each other, and when the family was whole.
Dealing with the pain of a broken family
I carried the baggage of my parents’ divorce into adulthood. As a single young man in university, I began to seek out a possible life partner, someone I could hopefully spend the rest of my life with. My philosophy of marriage then, as it is now, is that marriage should last forever. And while my parents’ marriage did not stand the test of time, I was determined to live my life in a way that would not allow history to repeat itself.
So, throughout my tertiary years, I read books on what healthy relationships should be like. I joined a campus group and got to know a group of friends who shared similar principles on life and marriage. I will always remember the father of one of my good friends, who treated his wife and children with such honour and respect. I told myself I wanted to treat my future family in the same way.
Because we had ruled out the option of divorce in our marriage, we began to focus on points of connection rather than on points of disruption.
Focus on connection rather than disruption
Many years later, I met the girl who would eventually become my wife. And we decided early on in our relationship that if we get married, it would be forever; we would never consider divorce even if times were hard.
Perhaps it was because we had ruled out the option of divorce in our marriage that we began to focus on points of connection rather than on points of disruption.
We weren’t expecting to make big changes or achieve great leaps overnight, but we took small consistent steps to work out our differences whenever tension arose, and bit by bit we got closer to where we want to be.
Two imperfect people do not make a perfect marriage; in contrast, marriage brings out the imperfections in each person.
Know that we are all imperfect
The breakdown in my parents’ marriage has caused me to become even more careful in safeguarding my own marriage. In fact, one night as I laid next to my wife and considered the reasons why I love her, I came up with 10 important principles to keep a marriage healthy.
One key takeaway for me is that no one is perfect. When we get married, we bring our imperfections into the marriage. Two imperfect people do not make a perfect marriage; in contrast, marriage brings out the imperfections in each person.
Having been married for more than 10 years, I can say that it is not easy to remain married. There were probably times when we could have walked away and gone our separate ways. But we chose to hang on even when times are difficult. The decision to not walk away from each other but to continually turn towards each other was not easy, but it gave us a starting point to build on our commonalities and work through our differences.
Make adversity an ally
When I look back at my childhood, petrified because my world had changed following my parents’ separation, and then at my young adulthood, I would never have imagined what marriage could be like.
But I know that the pains of my childhood have made me grow stronger, giving me the motivation to become a better husband and to do all I can to build a healthy marriage.
So, to the question: Is it possible to have a happy and lasting marriage if I’m a child of divorce, the answer is a resounding “yes”. The only criteria is that you must want it badly enough, that you’re willing to accept the imperfections of your spouse, and that you are willing to give your all towards safeguarding your marriage.
© 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.
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