What Children of Divorce Feel About Family

Connie, 28, laughed before she started the interview.

“My family is really, really messy. Are you ready?” she quipped.

Her father was married thrice before he met her mother, whilst her mother was married twice before she met him. Even when he married her mother, he was already having an affair outside of the marriage.

It meant that when she grew up, she already had 2 older stepsiblings living with her, and 2 younger siblings to take care of.

Growing up, there were regular fights outside the home. Because their home was small, Connie heard everything.

Even after those fights, her mother would come and recount to her the details. Once she remembered being with her mum when her mum discovered a receipt of something her father had bought for his girlfriend.

Her mother cried.

And even though Connie was only 9 at that time, she immediately advised, “You should leave him.”

When she was 9, her parents separated. She admitted that she had a part to play in that, telling her mother something her father had revealed to her in confidence.

“Yes, in a way, I can say I activated the divorce. I felt sad but also a sense of relief. Moving around my grandma’s and aunt’s places was not easy.”

Connie recalled that much of her schooling years was spent in a state of depression, and she often complained, “My life sucks. What kind of life is this?”

Even at the age of 12, she had to take care of her 4 and 5-year-old siblings, fetching them back from school, and cooking for them.

She began to see how divorce had affected her childhood, forcing her to grow up much faster, and thus she could not enjoy her childhood like other children could.

Trying to make the best out of divorce

“But I wanted to contribute to this article because divorce can be damaging to young children. And I wanted to share how I bounced back from that difficult period.”

Connie believes that many people hold onto their marriages for the sake of their children.

While this is a worthy cause, and couples should make every effort at rebuilding the marriage, including seeking help, one must also realise that children often can pick up the tensions within the marriage, and it can be difficult for them.

Trying to keep things together just for the children can be like pouring poor-quality glue into a deep crack in a pot. It often takes deep and hard emotional work to resolve the differences and tensions that have built up over the years.

So perhaps what is required of couples is an ongoing, intentional work to grow their marriage and an openness to seek guidance from other, more experienced couples with the issues that may surface along the way.

Jonathan, 28, also saw his parents divorce at the age of 12. He remembered how he frequently went to school crying, because of how hard it was to see his parents separate.

Surprising though, he managed to turn his adversity into opportunity. He worked hard at his studies, so that he could make both his parents proud.

Amanda, a 22-year-old university student, agreed that her parents’ divorce had caused her to grow up faster. As a child, she witnessed her father physically abusing her mum during fights. Eventually, her parents divorced when she was 9.

The importance of communication

Connie did learn something from her parents though.

Her mum communicated the reasons for the divorce to her, rather than keeping them in the dark, thinking that children wouldn’t understand what was happening.

“This helped us in not having an open wound when we were trying to figure out why our parents were leaving each other,” she revealed.

Amanda’s mum also opened up to her when Amanda asked why the divorce had happened. She even explained that she was pushing Amanda so hard in her studies so that this cycle of broken families didn’t have to continue in her generation.

For her mother, education was a key ladder out of the generational cycle of broken families.

Connie also confided in her friend, who was 4 years older. She admits that she would probably be some “bad kid” now if she didn’t have the advice of this older friend.

Having a place where she could rant and find a different perspective helped her to deal with the loneliness of having to settle all these adult affairs alone.

“We shouldn’t perceive that the future will turn out like the past.”

Hopes for her future family

As Connie grew up, she found herself disillusioned by the idea of marriage. She had seen all her immediate family, such as her aunties and uncles, have affairs and divorces.

She felt marriage was just a piece of paper to make things more convenient for all parties. She didn’t believe that it would work.

But then she met her boyfriend, who helped her to see that there was good in love and being loved. And that love is a choice we make, day in, day out. She shared, “We shouldn’t perceive that the future will turn out like the past.”

Amanda added that the tensions within her parents’ marriage helped her to see that healthy marriage needed constant communication, and not a single point of commitment.

She’s thus taken important lessons in communicating with her current partner about their expectations. For example, when to have kids, and how many to have has been a feature in their discussions.

No perfect families

Yet as Connie’s story shows, children of divorce can still try to make the best of their situations, if they are willing to forgive, move on, and recognise that there aren’t perfect parents, perfect marriages, or perfect families.

There are only imperfect ones, brought together again and again, through a willingness to repair ruptures, whatever it takes.

For privacy reasons, pseudonyms have been used in this article.

Relationship Rituals to Re-energise Your Marriage

“What is one or more relationship rituals you and your spouse keep to help your marriage thrive?”  

This was the question I asked many of my married friends.   

BL’s crisp answer caught my attention. 

“Nothing spectacular. We love movies and so we go for movies whenever new ones come out.’’ 

Nothing spectacular. We often think that enriching our marriage requires going to great lengths like organising a lavish birthday party, travelling to exotic destinations, or having fancy dinners at high-end restaurants.  

Yet it is the day-to-day things that we do with or for our spouse on a daily, weekly, or yearly basis that can make the greatest impact in our marriage. 

If these activities are shared and repeated on a regular basis, are they not routines? What is the difference? 

Routines are repetitive actions we engage in every day; they create order and continuity, but they don’t have much emotional meaning. Rituals, while they have elements of routine, are symbolic, driven by intention and meaningful. 

Why are relationship rituals important? 

Rituals are essential in keeping your relationship strong and vibrant. Thus, if your goal is greater emotional intimacy, here’s a look at how these couples have benefited from rituals.  

Rituals strengthen relationship bonds  

Rituals are especially important during uncertain times. Mel, married with two teenage boys, shared her reflection:  

“The covid years where we work from home somehow inspired us to take more night walks after spending many hours working from home.  During these brisk walks, we managed to talk more, and touch on many topics that would have escaped our attention during normal working hours. All the walking created a lot of self-awareness and allowed us to connect at a meaningful level.” 

Rituals convert the mundane into significant moments   

A trip to the supermarket with your spouse or a weekly swim or walk may seem ordinary, but couples who intentionally set aside time to exercise together relish the closeness and enjoyment they experience in sticking to these “boring” rituals.  

Jennifer, married with young adult children, reflected:  

“We hold hands even when we go to the neighbourhood shops or market to buy our weekly groceries. It reminds me of our courtship days where we hold hands when we are out on a date. It certainly makes me feel closer as a couple.” 

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, a New York Times bestselling author on marriage, points out that “men hear criticism as contempt [while] women feel silence as hostility.”  

At the heart of lies the different emotional needs of a man and a woman. We may want to avoid gender stereotypes, but we cannot deny that men often value respect over everything else, and women, being loved. Once we can understand this fundamental aspect of our spouse’s need, we can set our minds to meeting those needs and creating a positive cycle of interaction, instead of a negative one.  

Read more about love and respect here 

Rituals build fond and affectionate memories 

Sylvia met and married her husband while working in Hong Kong for many years. Even after tying the knot and settling down in Singapore, the couple often reminisce their overseas experience. Thus, they establish an interesting ritual to keep their love alive:  

“We love to go out and try new food together. And searching for Hong Kong food is certainly a bonding ritual. This couple activity reminds us of our courtship days and happy moments while we were working and living in Hong Kong.”  

The daily rituals of talking to each other made us feel emotionally connected. 

Rituals create shared meaning and common purpose 

When YJ and her husband decided to take over the household chores after their helper left for her hometown permanently, doing these tasks was indisputably a chore initially. As they continued with this daily routine of maintaining the cleanliness of their home, something shifted in YJ.  

The routine became a ritual of love and shared meaning, as narrated by YJ:  

“Since our helper left, my husband and I took on the responsibility of doing household chores together. Providing a comfortable living environment for our children means a lot to us so we are willing to do the chores on an almost daily basis. I have a greater appreciation of my husband and his strengths. I feel so fortunate to have a partner who can complement me well, and it has brought us closer as a couple”  

Rituals bolster commitment when couples are separated geographically 

Jo and her husband resided in different countries for several months due to work commitments. When I asked how they protected the bonds of their marriage, Jo reflected: 

“We had daily calls to check in on how we were doing, and we expressed appreciation for each other verbally or through written messages regularly. These daily rituals of talking to each other made us feel emotionally connected; it didn’t really feel like we were physically apart. The daily communication was momentous especially when we faced work challenges and couldn’t encourage each other with a hug.” 

There you have it. These couples show us that rituals do not need to be splashy (although they can be) to help their marriage thrive. These simple rituals of connection that are a regular feature of married life accentuate the specialness of their relationship.  

By engaging in these shared activities intentionally, they’re essentially strengthening, protecting, and affirming their commitment for each other.  

Managing Change As A Couple, After Baby Arrives

I remember the day when my wife and I discovered that we were going to have a child. It was a whirlwind of emotions for us. After all, we had been longing for a baby for such a long time, so when the news came, we almost couldn’t believe it.  

The day finally arrived. Baby came, and our lives changed forever.  

Before baby arrived, we had our time and space as individuals and as a couple. But once our first child arrived, it seemed to be one amorphous blending of day and night, especially given baby’s erratic feeding cycle, which continued regardless of whether we were awake or asleep.  

The arrival of a child is a major change in the life of every couple. There is an exponential increase in the things that need to be done around the house. From preparing for the feeding needs of the child to taking care of clothing and diapering. On top of this, the regular office work and household chores do not decrease. What’s worse is that leaving one area of the household unmanaged could snowball into other areas of life very quickly.  

Many couples have highlighted sleeplessness as another major factor affecting their physical and emotional wellbeing during the early weeks. Disrupted sleep leads to tiredness and crankiness between husband and wife, which could increase spousal tension, especially due to differing expectations on how the workload in the home should be shared.  

And then there is marital intimacy, or lack thereof. A decreased desire for sex is a common experience, and this could have a negative impact on the closeness felt by both husband and wife.  

Disrupted sleep leads to tiredness and crankiness between husband and wife, which could increase spousal tension. 

Transitions and change

The arrival of a child is a huge transition. For the marriage to withstand the challenges, you may need to process the transition well.  

What does this mean? According to author William Bridges, a transition is an inner psychological process that people go through as they come to terms with the changes they are going through. Bridges highlighted three stages in his transition model – Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings.  

Endings is when people come to terms that their situation has been changed forever. This encompasses aspects of grief and loss, and individuals need to accept that the status quo they had been used to is now gone. In the arrival of a baby, both husband and wife need to realise that their situation has changed, and the family now has to incorporate the routines of the child.  

The neutral zone, which is the second stage, is an in-between period when there is a need to recalibrate, especially since the old has gone and the new isn’t quite established yet. There is a need to reconsider old ways of doing things and develop new strategies to manage the changes that have occurred.  

The third stage of the transition process is one of new beginnings. It involves new understandings, which is associated with a shift in values and attitudes. This in turn sparks a new release of energy, and individuals then operate with fresh perspectives, managing their new roles with more confidence and security.  

For the couple with a new baby, this is often accompanied by a new sense of purpose and they are propelled in a direction that they have never experienced before. This stage is also marked by new norms and traditions. 

The key to dealing with a newborn is to accept that life as you know it has changed forever. 

Managing change 

I remember our first year as parents. We seemed to be always tired, always running around in circles, and feeling like headless chickens, not knowing what we were doing from one moment to the next. There were, however, two things that helped us during that difficult time. 

  • Embrace the changes 

The key to dealing with a newborn is to accept that life as you know it has changed forever. You need to mourn the loss of your childless existence and recalibrate your life as a couple, coming to terms with your new status as parents.  

For us, it took acknowledging that we would never be able to go out again without a diaper bag and a whole inventory of baby accessories. This also meant that unless we made prior arrangements, our baby would follow us wherever we went. It also meant adjustments to our social life so that we could allow our child to have an early night. 

  • Don’t forget your spouse 

In the hustle and bustle of a child’s arrival, it is not uncommon to neglect tending to the wellbeing of your spouse. And while it is important to reorientate your life to cater to the needs of your child, it is also crucial to care for your spouse.  

For men, this means expressing love to your wife in a way that she would understand, in accordance to her love language. For us, this included taking the early feed before I went to work, so that my wife could sleep in a little later after caring for our child during the various night feeds. It also meant shouldering more of the household chores.  

As for women, loving your spouse could mean acknowledging the important role he plays in maintaining the financial integrity of the household. It could also mean showing love to him in his love language, and making the effort to have some regular couple time. 

A new normal 

The tumultuous days after the arrival of a child will not last forever, but as you continue to love each other, and embrace your new roles as parents, the early days of parenthood while challenging can also strengthen your marriage.  

For it’s not how much you do as parents that matters, but it’s how much you choose to love that keeps the family together. 

What Changed My Mind About Having Kids

“The most we’ll have is one child, and if not, none. It’s just too expensive to have kids in Singapore.” 

In this day and age, it is common to hear such a narrative. Increasingly more youth and young adults are either indifferent towards having a child or do not want a child. A primary reason is having to deal with the high costs of living in Singapore.  

Parenting also involves a significant investment of time and energy. It is little wonder then that fewer married couples find it desirable to have children today.  

What struck me about the words above was that they were spoken to me by a family member who loves children. Although he and his girlfriend enjoyed being around kids, they felt it was too costly to have their own. This got me thinking: If even people who love kids aren’t keen on becoming parents, why would anyone still want to have children today?  

The real costs to raising children 

Many people whom I’ve met have the impression that I’m a “family man” through and through. While it is true that I am passionate about family life today, it was not always so!  

Growing up, I could not understand why anyone would invest so much of their lives in their children only to have so many outcomes beyond their control. I even used to wonder why people would congratulate parents on the arrival of a new baby! 

Now as a father myself, I can appreciate the sacrifices that parents make to give their best to their children. Before my son was born, I had invested much of my time in martial arts. I had the ambition of becoming an instructor, a goal that seemed attainable given my passion and dedication to the art.  

But as the date of my son’s birth drew near, I grappled with the fact that commitment to martial arts would mean being away from my family quite often. Even my attention at home would be compromised as I had to spend time practising when away from the gym.  

After months of deliberation, I ceased my gym membership. I tried switching to other martial arts with a lower time commitment, but a few weeks in, I realised that my family would still feel my absence at home. I decided it was best that I quit the hobby altogether for my family’s sake, though I did so with a heavy heart.  

This is just one example of the many choices parents make at their own expense to give their best to their children. Indeed, the costs involved in raising a child are very real. 

Children are our best teachers, and they remind us that there is so much of the world around us to explore and enjoy.  

But there are also real joys   

If the cost is so high, what then could have convinced me to cross over to this side of the fence? 

My turning point came during an encounter with a neighbour several years ago. This next-door neighbour was very young, no more than two years old at the time. That afternoon, I was re-entering the house after disposing trash in the common chute when he peeked out of his gate, curious to see what I was doing.  

I smiled and gave a little wave. Just before I shut the door however, he gave me a big smile in return. It was the first time I had experienced such a moment of connection with a child. I’d never thought of myself as child-friendly before, so I was surprised the boy wanted to interact with me at all. Though the interaction was fleeting, the pure joy of being greeted by his smile softened my perspectives towards children. 

As the years went by, and with more interactions with other children, I slowly began to understand the joy of being with kids.  

For me, parenthood takes this joy to a deeper level. When I became a father, I was awestruck by the miracle in my arms as I observed the movements of my son’s tiny chest and his peacefulness as he slept safely in my embrace. 

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve now experienced tossing a ball and running freely in the park with him, and I realise these moments of fun and discovery with our children provide a sense of respite from the toils and complexities of our grown-up world.  

Raising my own kids has opened my eyes to the meaning of life and the joy of family. And I feel so privileged to be able to carve a strong and precious bond with my children in their early years, a bond that will hopefully anchor our family through every season of life.   

Children are our best teachers, and they remind us that there is so much of the world around us to explore and enjoy.  

How do you value children or count the joys they bring through their adorable smiles, hearty laughter, and pure wonder? 

The true value of children 

It is hard to put a price tag on children; after all, how do you value children or count the joys they bring through their adorable smiles, hearty laughter, and pure wonder? 

On the flip side, because we live in such a pragmatic society, it is easy to calculate the costs of raising a child. 

The truth is, having children is not a fully rational decision you make. We can budget and count the cost beforehand, but we will never be able to comprehend or behold the joys until we get there. 

As parents, our desires and hopes are often very simple. Ask any parent what they desire most for their child, and the likely answer you’ll get is: “For them to grow up happy, healthy and strong.” Few would say, “I hope they will become the next CEO of a multi-million dollar company.”  

And yes, while there are day-to-day challenges to overcome, I think my biggest takeaway as a father is that my children open my eyes to the joys of life, and anchor me to the present moment. And the love we share helps me find the strength to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.  

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

When Your Spouse is Overly Controlling

No relationship is perfect.  

But if you often feel powerless or wonder if your spouse is micro-managing your life under the guise of love, control might be an issue in your marriage. 

What are tell-tale signs of a controlling spouse?  

1. They criticise you frequently 

It could be a disparaging remark, such as, “You can never get the facts of a matter right” or sarcastic jokes about things your spouse knows that you are sensitive about, such as, “You are a first-class procrastinator.”  

When you express your hurt, your spouse would frequently invalidate your feelings by saying, “You are so sensitive” or “Why are you upset over a harmless remark.”  

2. They use manipulation to get what they want  

Silent treatment and the use of threats or ultimatums are some ways a controlling spouse gets their way.  

A friend once shared with me that her husband often gives her the cold shoulder to “punish” her if she did not follow his instructions.  

3. They dismiss your points of view 

They do not listen to understand, but to evaluate what is being shared. The oft complaint of the non-controlling spouse is, “She doesn’t listen to me at all” or “He likes to thumb down whatever views I have as if his view is the only valid one.” 

4. They think you are the problem   

When things go south, they do not take responsibility for their actions. Instead, they put the blame on your oversight.  

5. They make decisions for you  

If your spouse routinely makes decisions, whether it is on how you should spend your weekend, how you should discipline the children, or what you should wear for an important event without considering your needs or consulting you, it can be considered controlling behaviour.  

There are many reasons why people crave control: insecurity in the relationship, childhood trauma, fear of abandonment, low self-esteem, perfectionism, or irrational beliefs about marriage. 

What are the reasons behind controlling behaviour? 

Maintaining a marriage with a controlling spouse can be emotionally exhausting but there is no need to write them off. Some people may not even be aware they are being controlling. They may think they are being protective or helping their spouse grow in their areas of weakness.  

There are many reasons why people crave control: insecurity in the relationship, childhood trauma, fear of abandonment, low self-esteem, perfectionism, or irrational beliefs about marriage.  

If you have a controlling spouse, it is best not to expect overnight change. However, if the power dynamics in your marriage leads to abusive behaviour, do seek professional help straightaway.  

Have an honest conversation with your spouse about how their behaviour affects you and what you would like to change. 

How to bring about a balance of power 

1. Examine your role in contributing to your spouse’s control  

Consider if you are a people pleaser and often yield to your spouse’s demands just to keep the peace, or if you make excuses for your spouse’s behaviour because of fear.  

2. Have open and honest conversations 

Have an honest conversation with your spouse about how their behaviour affects you and what you would like to change. If your spouse refuses to engage in an open dialogue, consider penning down a heartfelt note.  

Tip: Write the note only when you are feeling calm. If possible, get a trusted friend to read it to ensure the tone is respectful and loving. 

3. Stop giving your power away  

In a healthy marriage, there is a balance of power and control. Whilst there are situations where the dynamic is tipped in your spouse’s favour, it should not be a permanent or longstanding pattern. It is healthy for you to exercise your own power to choose and make decisions, not just for your self-interest but also for the interest of your marriage bond. 

4. Establish healthy boundaries with consequences 

Decide what you are and are not going to accept in your relationship. For example, you do not want them to nitpick and find fault with everything you do. Whenever you think the criticism is uncalled for, let your spouse know in a firm and kind way. If they continue with the behaviour, you may want to walk away from the scene.  

5. Understand the reasons behind the controlling behaviour 

It is helpful to understand the cause of your spouse’s need to control others. Reframing their behaviour will help you avoid feeling exasperated whenever they are overbearing. With patience and understanding, you may even be able to help them become less controlling. However, being empathetic does not mean you should excuse any abusive behaviour. Seek professional help if you think your spouse’s controlling behaviour has crossed the line.  

6. Nurture supportive relationships with trusted friends and family 

Relating to a spouse who has a need to be in constant control can rob you of your peace. They know your soft spot and may sometimes attempt to make you yield to their demands. You need trusted friends and family who can affirm you and help you stay grounded.  

Living with a spouse who is controlling does not mean your marriage is in serious trouble unless the controlling behaviours are excessive, and physical or emotional safety is compromised. Some spouses are controlling only in certain aspects of the relationship, so it may be good to take an honest look at these areas.  

It is possible to recalibrate and maintain a healthy level of power and control in the relationship when you and your spouse engage in honest and open dialogue and come up with strategies to rebalance power in the relationship.  

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.  

5 Questions to Guide You In Resolving Couple Conflict

Given a choice, most of us prefer living peaceful and conflict-free lives, especially when it comes to our marriage and families. 

But conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. While unhealthy conflict with lots of shouting and physical violence can cause a lot of grief and heartache, most everyday conflicts are made up of disagreements and misunderstanding, and when dealt with constructively, can help us to grow in our understanding of our spouse. 

What does healthy conflict management look like? 

Fighting constructively means keeping your eye on the prize – a peaceful resolution of the conflict and strengthening of the marriage. It also means not attacking your spouse, or hurting them intentionally through insults, name-calling or threats.  

It could mean calling for time-out when the emotions run high and finding a more conducive time and setting to talk things through. 

At that time, you may use these 5 questions to help guide the conversation. 

1. Are you ready to talk about what happened? 

This question gives you and your spouse a moment to decide if you’re truly ready to discuss things, or if you simply need more time to process. 

If both of you are ready, and the setting is conducive and calm, then proceed to the next question. 

2. What caused you to react in that way? 

Asking this question helps your spouse process their experience and figure out what could have been happening internally. Recognise that we could be more prone to having big reactions when the issue is a sensitive one for us.  

For example, if we were frequently criticised while growing up, we may get easily triggered when our partner criticises us.  

If you are the one asking this question, do give your spouse time to think and respond. Refrain from making judgmental comments about what has been shared; instead, focus on listening and reflecting to your spouse what you’ve heard. 

For example, “So you felt criticised and hurt when I said this. It reminded you of what you experienced in your growing up years. That was what caused you to blow your top.” 

Refrain from making judgmental comments about what has been shared. Focus on listening and reflecting to your spouse what you’ve heard. 

3. What emotions or thoughts were you experiencing in that moment?  

It can be hard identifying and expressing our difficult emotions and thoughts, especially if they occurred in the heat of the moment, when we may not be at our best. However, it is still worth exploring – our emotions can provide critical clues as to what might be going in within us, and help provide clarity and point the way forward. 

Try to be a safe space for your spouse by first acknowledging that there are no right or wrong emotions. This will help keep their defences down. 

If he/she raises some thoughts that you think do not have any basis, allow them to share their points of view first. Later, you may want to gently question or challenge that thought.   

For example, “When you saw the picture of me and my colleague together, you felt insecure and jealous. And you thought that I was having an affair behind your back. I can see why you’d jump to that conclusion, but have I ever done anything to break your trust in me?” 

4. How do you think we can resolve this?    

After sharing emotions and your personal perceptions of what happened, this is where you can kick into brainstorming mode. 

Here, don’t be too quick to dismiss any ideas. Just jot down all the ideas and strategies that the both of you can come up with.  

Once you have a couple of possible solutions, review each one critically. Make a call as to which would be the simplest to implement, yet would make the most impact to your marriage. 

Going back to the scenario of the suspected affair, perhaps one workable solution is to simply avoid situations where you’re dining alone with a person of the opposite sex. And if a situation crops up that you cannot avoid, then make it a point to give your spouse the heads up. 

5. What would you like to see happen? 

Although resolving conflict is a lot about problem-solving, we can also make space to re-imagine what we desire for ourselves and our marriage. 

So this question could possibly help you to go beyond not doing something, to doing something that is desirable and good 

Going back to the example where the spouse felt criticised, one action point might be to intentionally affirm your spouse at least once a day, say for cooking a nice meal or for picking up your dry-clean laundry without you asking. 

Although resolving conflict is a lot about problem-solving, we can also make space to re-imagine what we desire for ourselves and our marriage. 

Using this simple 5-question method, we are hopefully able to move from understanding each other’s readiness, reactions and emotions, to finding solutions and looking forward.  

It will take practice, and you’ll also see some near hits and misses along the way, but don’t lose heart. Keep working on your communication and conflict skills, and in a couple of years’ time, you’ll be reaping the rewards of what you’ve sown into the relationship! 

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.  

6 Signs That Your Marriage Needs Help

When your marriage turns stormy and whisperings of sweet nothings morph into shouting matches or cold wars, it can be hard to hold onto hope that things can change for the better.  

The exasperation and sadness that we feel when our closest relationship isn’t doing well can be very difficult to deal with. 

Is it possible to bring back the love and connectedness we once had with our spouse? How did things turn south seemingly overnight?  

Is it worth seeking external help such as marriage counselling?   

Questions like these might be flooding your mind. Here are six tell-tale signs that your marriage may need a helping hand. 

1. Almost every conversation turns into an argument 

Having a normal conversation with your spouse – where one person doesn’t end up shouting – is next to impossible. 

It feels like you are in combat mode all the time, and you may even avoid bringing up certain topics that you know are sensitive, such as visiting your parents, sharing the household chores, or your finances.   

If everyday conversations with your spouse leaves you feeling angry, misunderstood, judged, or hopeless, you may need to learn new ways of communicating and how to set realistic expectations. 

2. One or both of you have mentioned “divorce” 

Perhaps during one of your fights, one or both of you have raised the possibility of separation or divorce. Whether it was said in the heat of the moment or it is really something you’ve thought about seriously, the fact that the possibility was raised is a red flag. 

It would be good to seek timely help from an objective facilitator who would be able to help you identify the root causes of your conflicts, and equip you with new tools to resolve them. 

Be willing to talk about the offenses that have occurred, instead of denying or burying your hurt feelings. 

3. Conflicts end with ice-cold silence 

It could be that you and your spouse are afraid to voice opinions for fear of “rocking the boat” or are simply too emotionally drained to want to deal with the issues at hand, so you end up staying silent instead of communicating your needs or hurts.  

This inability to express your real emotions, when allowed to continue over a prolonged period, can widen the rift between the both of you. Be willing to talk about the offenses that have occurred, instead of denying or burying your hurt feelings.

4. Criticism and defensiveness are common occurrences 

When one party launches into a complaint by criticising the other, it can often result in defensiveness in the one who feels attacked. This negative cycle can be hard to break out of, but it can be done.  

First, be aware of your emotions and take pains to bring up an issue when both of you are feeling calm, and using more statements that begin with “I feel…” instead of “You always…” 

When one party launches into a complaint by criticising the other, it can often result in defensiveness in the one who feels attacked. 

5. You feel you can no longer trust your spouse 

If you feel the need to hide what you have from your spouse – from personal bank accounts to email accounts – there could be trust issues in your relationship.  

Or maybe you are struggling to trust that he/she is being faithful to you and would constantly try to check their messages when they’re not looking.  

Trust is an essential part of marriage; without it, it can be tough for couples to build a marriage that can withstand the ups and downs of life.   

6. Your sex life has seen changes  

If you are having a lot less sex, or none at all, it could build up resentment in the relationship or a sense of emotional distance.  

Such a change in your emotional and physical intimacy tends to spill over to other areas in your relationship. Sex is designed to bring bonding and closeness to a couple’s relationship, but the emotional wounds that you carry might be a dampener to your bedroom activity. Don’t allow your hurts to fester uncontrollably, as the issues could snowball and create even deeper wounds. 

Should you seek marital counselling? 

Our marriage needs to be a relationship where we feel secure, safe, and loved. If going home to each other is nothing more than sharing a house, or worst, associated with fights and tension, it is a clear sign that something needs to be worked on.

Those feelings of love and joy you once felt with each other can be rekindled. But it does take time, patience, a willingness to face the tough issues and emotions head-on, and in some cases, counselling help. 

Many couples procrastinate in getting help for a variety of reasons. Don’t let hang-ups about counselling, or hopelessness, get in the way of your marriage and your wellbeing. Even if your spouse is unwilling to seek help, you can go ahead on your own to learn new ways of communication, which can still benefit your marriage.  

Remember, change often begins with small steps, and it can start with you.   

If you are hitting roadblocks in your marriage, do consider seeking counselling help as soon as possible. 

Bedroom Talk: How to Grow in Sexual Intimacy

Communicating your desires in the bedroom can be a daunting and awkward affair -and certainly not the regular fare of topics that most married couples would readily jump into!  

Many couples probably may not perceive this to be an important facet of marriage life. However, just as how engaging in regular communication on different aspects of life with our spouse helps make a great relationship — communicating our thoughts, feelings and emotions about sexual intimacy is no exception.  

The ability to talk about sexuality to our partner could be the key to enhancing marriage intimacy and relationship. 

The truth is a healthy sex life in marriage is a great gift, and it is something to be enjoyed and nurtured through open and honest communication. Studies have shown that couples who talk more about sex have more satisfying sex lives and are more in tune with each other in real life. Knowing how to please your other half also builds relationship confidence and has good ripple effects for your marriage.  

How can couples work towards achieving good, open communication in sexual intimacy?  

For example, you may not be interested in sex because you’re overburdened with housework or worried about meeting your sales target. Yet instead of sharing about the source of frustration honestly with your partner, you send signals of irritation that could be hurtful or misconstrued.  

Creating a safe environment to be open and honest with each other about potential roadblocks to sexual desire forms a good foundation for sexual intimacy.  

Joyce Brothers puts it aptly, “Real intimacy is only possible to the degree that we can be honest about what we are doing and feeling.”

Despite this, many couples find sharing their sexual needs and desires more difficult than actually having sex. This is because one needs to be vulnerable to share your feelings, express what you like, and be open about what pleasures your body.  

Some may worry about being rejected or hurting their spouse unintentionally or are simply unsure of how their spouse may react to their preferences.  

If there are issues in your sex life, talking about it honestly and sensitively with your spouse might be needful in order to strengthen your relationship and mutual understanding, while working towards ways to meet each other’s needs.   

I remember that with each new child we welcomed into our family, bedroom activity would take a dip for a period of time while we adjusted to our new family dynamics.  

Sex was the last thing on our minds and the first priority was to get as much sleep as we could – without waking the baby! It really helped that both of us were on the same page in understanding the ebb and flow of family life and gave each other space to adjust our expectations in the midst of transitions.  

Here are some common areas that might be worth checking in with your spouse about:  

Changes in sex drive

Desires for intimacy can be affected by circumstantial changes such as health issues, e.g., sexual dysfunction or mental health issues like depression. They could also be affected by important transitions in life, such as welcoming a baby, post-partum recovery, transiting to a new job, periods of heightened work stress, etc.  

These are periods when new levels of understanding need to be forged and when the affected party may need more support from their other half.  

If your spouse is experiencing challenges, do be attentive to their emotions and feelings. Your spouse will appreciate your listening ear, and validation of their feelings. 

Mismatched libidos 

It is not uncommon for one spouse to have a stronger desire for sex than the other. This may be an obvious statement but sex SHOULD be enjoyed. If sex is not enjoyable for one party, it could lead to resentment or avoidance.  

If your spouse expresses discomfort or seems to be making excuses to avoid sex, it may be time to have an honest discussion about what needs to be added, changed, or altered for both husband and wife to have an enjoyable experience. Check in with each other on ways to come to a compromise in meeting and satisfying each other’s needs.  

How to go about family planning   

This could be an important aspect to discuss for those who may feel the pressure or desire to conceive for a variety of reasons. Discuss each other’s priorities in your current season in life and how that may affect family planning and intimacy.  

For example, a wife may feel her biological clock is ticking whereas her husband prefers to focus on his career and financial security before starting a family or having more children.  

Both concerns are valid and each couple needs to navigate that so that these conflicting desires do not affect intimacy. Are both spouses ready to grow the family with ongoing responsibilities at hand and what are the support systems in place? Knowing the “whys” will help couple’s understand their shared goals and align themselves as a couple for that particular season of life. It can also help relieve the pressure once there is understanding and acceptance from the other.  

Always the one initiating sex  

This could be a sensitive topic to deal with especially since we may have certain expectations while having autonomy over our own bodies.   

Sexual rejection can fuel personal insecurities about attractiveness and value as a partner, with thoughts like: Does “no” mean “I’m no good”? or “Is my spouse no longer attracted to me?  

The key issue is learning how to negotiate sexual boundaries and learning how to say “no” without damaging your relationship. Reassurance is key in affirming and showing our spouse that they are loved, wanted and needed. Compensating with relational intimacy, affection, talk or cuddle time could be one way to reinforce this to our loved one.  

It can be awkward embarking on this journey with your spouse, but think of it as an area of growth for you both. With practice and intentional investment, you will reap the rewards of a fulfilling sex life! 

How to Create an Emotionally Safe Space in Your Marriage

In a recent survey conducted by Focus on the Family Singapore, couples were asked to respond to one of the statements: “It is difficult to share my deepest thoughts and feelings with my spouse.”  

It is noteworthy that a significant percentage (30% of total respondents) indicated that they strongly agreed/agreed with the statement. 

Interestingly, more wives (32.3%) compared to husbands (25.6%) strongly agreed/agreed with the statement. 

There are many reasons why husbands and wives are afraid to be vulnerable and engage in authentic conversations. But perhaps the root cause is the lack of emotional safety in the marriage. 

In an emotionally unsafe relationship, there is a feeling of distrust, disconnect, and defensiveness. You are afraid to speak your mind or show your true feelings because there is an undercurrent of anxiety, wondering how your spouse would react.  

In contrast, when couples feel secure and trust each other, they let their guard down and express their thoughts or share their fears, hurts, or deepest longings without worrying about being judged or invalidated. Of course, no one is perfect, so it is impossible for couples to always be responding perfectly to each other. But if we want greater intimacy with our spouse, we need to be intentional about fostering emotional safety in our relationship. 

How do we cultivate such a safe space through our daily life and actions? 

Consider the following S.A.F.E.R strategies. 

Set a positive and uplifting tone  

What is the first thing you say when you meet your spouse after a long day at work? Is complaining or making snide remarks a default way of greeting each other? Once you allow negativity to set the tone for your conversations, the atmosphere no longer feels safe for sharing. 

Be deliberate about how you greet each other after being apart for a good part of the day. Regardless of the kind of day you had at home or at the office, make it a point to greet each other with a kind word or caring gesture.  

A workshop attendee once shared a strategy – when he drove home after a long day at the office, he would turn off his car ignition switch, but he would not get out of the car immediately. He would intentionally do a “mindset switch,” reminding himself that he is going home to his family, and they deserve the best of him.  

Regardless of whatever had happened at the office, especially if he had a bad day, he kept to his commitment to be loving and gracious in his words and body language. It created a warmer, reassuring atmosphere at home, which in turn allowed for enriching and deeper dialogues as a couple 

Avoid absolute language 

“You are always looking at your smart phone.” 

“You always interrupt when I am speaking.” 

“You never ask for my views or opinion on any issues.” 

These are examples of absolute language that couples often use when they are upset with each other. In intimate relationships, absolute language is ineffective because it tends to put couples on the defensive. If one spouse is bombarded with absolute language on a regular basis, it is a sure-fire way of causing him/her to withdraw emotionally.  

Focus on listening to what your spouse is saying instead of making your point 

It is not uncommon for couples with strong personalities to want to make their point instead of listening to what their spouse is saying.  

Even if we disagree with our spouse or believe our perspectives on issues are far weightier than theirs, it does not warrant harsh judgment or criticisms. Having a self-righteous attitude hinders genuine connection. We listen to know our spouse better, not to convince our spouse that we are right in all matters.  

Try this instead: Replace judgment with curiosity. Ask questions to understand why our spouse holds a certain view or assumption. When our spouse knows we are accepting and open to differing views, they would be more willing to engage in deeper conversations. 

We listen to know our spouse better, not to convince our spouse that we are right in all matters. 

Emotions – be aware of your emotions and choose wisely  

There may be times when you’re having a discussion with your spouse, and you get triggered by something he/she said.  When this happens, you may feel a wave of strong emotions, but remember you always have a choice on how to respond. 

An unempathetic approach is to verbalise what is on your mind without being sensitive to your spouse’s feelings.  

A more gracious approach is to turn your mind to what your partner has said and pay attention to your emotional reaction. Ask yourself what you are feeling – Is it fear (because your partner hit a raw nerve), embarrassment (because she is more knowledgeable than you), or pride (because you can’t lose to her/him)?  

If you notice your emotions riding high, and you are combing your mind for a rebuttal, hit the “Pause” button. Let your spouse know that you are losing your cool, call for a time-out to regain your composure, and pick up the conversation when you are ready. 

If you notice your emotions riding high, and you are combing your mind for a rebuttal, hit the “Pause” button. 

Respect each other’s boundaries 

There are times when your spouse is unwilling to share his/her thoughts and you are unsure of the reasons. It is important to accept his/her need for space and not insist that he/she express her views or share her feelings.  

Before it becomes a pattern that either one of you is not interested in engaging in heartfelt conversations, consider creating a dialogue around emotional safety. Share with each other the behaviours or words that make you feel safe or unsafe during conversations with each other. Identify ways to improve trust in the relationship to facilitate authentic conversations with each other.  

Emotional safety is a key building block of flourishing marriages. When it is present in your relationship, there is a deep sense of closeness and connectedness as a couple. Be purposeful in creating and maintaining emotional safety, and you and your spouse will reap the rewards of a trusting and fulfilling relationship. 

What is one thing you are willing to do in the next week to increase the presence of emotional safety in your marriage relationship? 

Why Date Nights Are So Hard to Do

If we pause and check in with ourselves for a minute, most of us parents may ourselves thinking that we are either tired or stressed out.  

So, it may not be unexpected that date nights get relegated to a dusty corner of most of our minds. 

Or as something that happens once in a blue moon, when all the stars are aligned – A babysitter is available, there’s something both parties want to do, and a restaurant they can agree on to try. 

Just the other day, my husband asked if I wanted to go cycling with him after work. In that split second teetering between “Yes” and “No,” I thought of the daughter who needed a ride home after math tuition, and the bag of laundry waiting for some attention.  

You probably know what my answer was. 

And I distinctly felt a pang of guilt after. The last date night we had was when we celebrated our anniversary a month ago. “That’s not so bad right?” I consoled myself while making a mental note to plan the next one soon. 

Over those few years, I learnt that it’s not so much about going to a fancy restaurant as it is about cultivating a safe emotional space for our hearts to be laid bare. 

The many hurdles to a great date night 

Date nights – we all want them.  

Alexandra Frost in The Washington Post article, How Pandemic-weary Parents Can Bring Back Date Night, And Why It Matters, even calls it an “antidote to parenting stress.”  

But sometimes it’s hard to get to a place where our hearts can truly meet.   

I remember the first time my husband and I managed to sneak out for a dinner date the first year we became parents. I was so anxious as I only had a two-to-three-hour window before the baby’s next feed. Although I tried hard to be present and to relax, it took a while for my brain to obey.  

We had a few precious years when my mother was available to help, and things looked up for a while. My husband and I could take walks or go for a jog at the nearby park. We didn’t go out for long dates often, but those mini-getaways (for exercise, a quick meal, or a grocery run) – short but regular – did help to keep our connection alive.  

Over those few years, I learnt that it’s not so much about going to a fancy restaurant, or a romantic location, as it is about cultivating a safe emotional space for our hearts to be laid bare. 

Let’s be honest – we’ve all gone on date nights where we came away feeling full, but also empty. Yes, it may have been a great Michelin-starred meal, but somehow one or both of us couldn’t quite make a full and robust conversation happen; like a Wi-Fi connection gone wonky.  

We fell back to discussing mundane matters and problems that needed to be fixed.  

We skirted around the edges of our hearts instead of diving into the things that truly matter to us, or our spouse. 

Our worries and fears, hopes and aspirations, stayed below the surface, unaired at the end of the date. 

It’s not about blaming, but it’s worth getting curious and asking ourselves how we felt, and what didn’t go so well, so we know how to do dates better.  

Our worries and fears, hopes and aspirations, stayed below the surface, unaired at the end of the date. 

What makes a great date? 

For some couples, good food is a must; for others, date nights must feature a fun activity that both enjoy. 

Though it’s definitely worth putting some thought into the date, sometimes even simple dates can do wonders. After all, we don’t need to place unnecessary pressure on ourselves to put together the perfect date every single time. 

Even the 10 minutes you spend together in the car wash counts for something – so long as there is some meaningful conversation and phones are stored away.  

These short bursts of together-time can help remind us that we are on the same team, and that we are striving towards the same goals. 

Make space for listening, often  

One of our more memorable dates happened recently when my husband packed some wine, cheese and crackers and found us a shady spot on the beach.   

To my surprise, he even came prepared with a few questions for both of us to talk about and share. So while munching on crackers, we chatted about our worries and observations, and did a mini-review of what we thought was going well in our marriage, as well as the areas that needed some attention. 

As I was sitting there soaking in the views of the setting sun over the water, I found myself feeling grateful for my husband of 14 years.  

More than the effort he had put into making this picnic date special for the both of us, I was marvelling at how he has been consistently practising the art of listening intently whenever I’m sharing something close to my heart.  

In The Lost Art of Listening, Michael Nichols wrote: “The feeling of not being understood is one of the most painful in human experience…When we’re with someone who’s interested and responsive – a good listener – we perk up and come alive. Being listened to is as vital to our enthusiasm for life as love and work.” 

Perhaps the key to great life-long dates with your spouse isn’t in splashing out on a meal, but just getting down to each other’s eye level, creating a space to speak (and listen) from the heart, and letting judgment or resentment fall by the wayside as you do. 

Reciprocity counts too. So, it’s probably time for me to plan that cycling date my spouse has been asking me about.