When Your Marriage Hurts

Do you dismiss your hurt feelings in your marriage, thinking that time will heal? 

Imagine putting 5 raw potatoes into a draw string bag and carrying the bag everywhere you go. During mealtimes, when you are at work, the bag must not leave you and you even need to sleep with it. You can take a peep at the potatoes and move them around in the bag. But you are not allowed to remove them from the bag.  

After some time, you will probably notice a stench coming out of the bag. People around you will also alert you to the foul smell coming from the bag you are carrying.  

Now, what would you do? Would you dump the entire bag, with the rotten potatoes, into the garbage bin?  

Perhaps merely thinking of this scenario is enough to make you feel nauseated? 

But what if I tell you this is an analogy for what happens when married couples accumulate their emotional hurts and wounds in marriage?  

When wounded, most people slap on a band-aid that provides superficial relief in the short-term.   

But as the offenses stack up and nothing is done to clear the air, some couples reach a tipping point and throw the baby out with the bath water. They end up at the family court or lawyer’s office. 

But does your marriage have to end in this way?  

Dealing with pain 

Ponder the various hurts you may have accumulated in your marriage life. She criticised you in front of your family members. He forgot your wedding anniversary. She neglected your needs in favour of your newborn child. She compared you with her colleague’s husband. He did not help with chores around the house.  

It is a laundry list of hurts – intentional or unintentional.  

While there are serious issues such as adultery, spousal violence, addictions, or abandonment that often inflict enormous pain and require professional help, my focus in this article is on the common mistakes and choices that everyday couples make.  

When a hurt occurs in our marriage, it is not uncommon for us to ignore or nurse the hurt or hold onto it with resentment or thoughts of revenge. 

We often think burying the pain will somehow make it go away or secretly wish time will heal all emotional wounds. The unfortunate truth is, it does not.  

Recognise that you and your spouse will say or do things that will offend each other during your life together 

What happens when hurts are not attended to  

1. When we leave conflicts unresolved and hurts unhealed, these may drive a wedge in the relationship. Avoidance will gradually lead us into an unhealthy zone, sometimes even resulting in “emotional divorce,” where one or both spouses check out emotionally from the marriage. 

2. You may not opt for divorce because of the children, cultural or religious convictions. But the relational and emotional disconnect between you and your spouse can widen, opening the door to increasing risks, such as an extramarital affair.

3. Marriage does not exist in a vacuum, and the effects of these unresolved hurts can spill over to those who are closely related to us. Children are often the victims who suffer the ill effects of a troubled marriage.  

Without forgiveness, it is almost impossible to cultivate a good marriage

What can couples do? 

1. Recognise that you and your spouse will say or do things that will offend and hurt each other during your life together.

2. Realise that both of you are equally responsible for the marital pain even though you may think you are the victim of your spouse’s insensitivity or unkindness.   

3. Be willing to make time to talk about the offenses and hurts instead of denying or dismissing hurt feelings.  

4. Develop a sensitivity to your spouse’s hurt feelings and learn to understand your own.  This means discovering the causes of the hurt – unintentional or intentional. When we separate the problem from the person or view hurtful actions not as personal attacks but as a result of past baggage, it can make it easier to forgive.  

5. Extend forgiveness. The closer we are in a relationship, the more opportunities for hurt, thus forgiveness is a crucial element in a marriage. Without it, it is almost impossible to cultivate a good marriage. Remember that forgiveness benefits the forgiver much more than the one being forgiven. Nursing an offence will eat you from the inside and undermine your marriage, but by forgiving, you can experience a sense of profound peace. 

6. Nursing an offence and can often cause bitterness, and eat you up from the inside. Seek professional help if your emotional wounds run deep, and you are unable to heal on your own as a couple.  

What can you do if your spouse is not willing or ready to address the relational hurts? 

1. Acknowledge your hurts and start your own healing journey  

You may feel frustrated or disappointed if your spouse thinks there is nothing wrong with the marriage and you are the one having issues. Or he is closed to the idea of talking about your marriage. You wonder if it is possible to move the marriage in the right direction in this instance. If this is true in your case, it is needful for you to pursue your own healing. As you work on yourself, you develop emotional and psychological resilience. And when you learn new ways and strategies to resolve marital conflicts, at best, your spouse may join you in this healing journey.   

2. Reach out to trusted mentors, friends or professionals for support 

Going it alone can sometimes be daunting if there is a stockpile of grievances and resentment. Talking to and receiving encouragement from trusted friends and mentors can go a long way to facilitate your healing.  

Every marriage relationship has its fair share of mistakes and selfishness that result in emotional wounds. It does not matter how much you love each other or how long you have been married, petty arguments and conflicts are inevitable. It is critical that you and your spouse acknowledge the hurts, past and present, instead of sweeping them under the rug. And be willing to make time to heal the hurts so that together you can rediscover the love and care you once felt for each other. 

If you are experiencing abuse or violence in your marriage, please seek professional help as soon as possible.  

How to Have Healthy Expectations in Marriage

Let’s not be shy about admitting it. Marriage is hard. Often, it’s made even harder by the one thing that floats beneath the surface, only surfacing in the midst of quarrels.  

Expectations 

Whether said or unsaid, expectations, when unmet, can leave couples feeling dissatisfied, disillusioned, and disappointed with marriage life. 

Expectations are not wrong  

One common misconception about expectations is that it’s wrong to have them. But renowned marriage therapist Donald Baucom found that people often get what they expect. He found that people who had low expectations for their relationships tended to be in relationships where they are treated poorly.  

Knowing this, how can we communicate our expectations in a healthy way?  

Focus on the Family spoke to Ivan and Kerin Lau, who have been married for one and a half years and are parents to a 7-month-old baby, to find out more.  

Expectations allow you to uphold certain standards, but grace allows for flexibility when one party doesn’t meet them. 

Balance your expectations  

As Kerin reflected on her expectations of Ivan, she realised that expectations need to be balanced with grace. Expectations allow you to uphold certain standards, but grace allows for flexibility when one party doesn’t meet them.  

She wasn’t always like this. As they are still waiting for their home to be ready, Ivan moved into her home after they married. Being neat and tidy, she expected him to continue keeping the space exactly how she wanted it to be. She would even remind him, “No handprint” whenever he touched the mirror.  

But one day, she realised that by nit-picking on every little thing, she was not allowing him to feel free to be who he is.  

Ivan laughed upon hearing Kerin recount that incident. He believes in communicating what you want, but also showing understanding and grace to your spouse. “In that way, while we might not be there now, we can move towards where we want to be and avoid blaming each other.”    

Learn from every argument  

Kerin admitted that they often find out more about each other’s expectations after an argument. Ivan agreed, saying that arguments are “opportunities to learn more” about each other. But it’s not simply enough to have an argument and expect to magically understand each other 

One day, after quarrelling repeatedly over how their newborn child, Arabelle, should be cared for, Kerin had an idea.  

She realised that she could not possibly resolve every conflict on the spot, so they began to have regular debriefs after every argument. They would share their feelings with each other, and think of ways they could improve. 

“What you said, made me feel this way. What I said, might make you feel this way.  

How can we do better?” 

With this nifty trick, the couple could then go on with whatever they were doing and wait until later at night or the next morning to have the debrief. This was usually when they were not as tired and emotional, and could better discuss what had happened. 

The journey is more rewarding when it’s more than me, myself, and my needs.

Recognise the unchangeable  

While there are things that can be changed and improved on, Ivan is clear that there are certain things that he needs to accept. He has learnt “to come to terms with reality, and to acknowledge that it’s never going to work in the way I want if I insist.”  

This does not mean that he has had to sacrifice all his ideals; rather he has learnt to temper his expectations in a way that makes them “realistic and workable.” 

Place your partner’s needs above yours 

Kerin and Ivan are very different individuals. Whenever they fight, Ivan would want to resolve it quickly while Kerin would prefer to have some space. Although Kerin has heard advice about how couples shouldn’t go to bed angry, she often needed time to process things on her own. Now, Ivan has come to understand her need for space, and to put her needs above his own. “The journey is more rewarding when it’s more than me, myself, and my needs,” he mused.  

Trust that your partner’s heart is for you, and communicate your heart with your partner. 

Share your heart 

Ultimately, expectations are not wrong. Many times, expectations can be helpful in setting a goal that both parties can work towards. But by communicating those expectations and learning to show grace when the other party falls short, we can minimise conflict and tensions in our marriage.  

As Kerin reminds us, “Trust that your partner’s heart is for you, and communicate your heart with your partner.” 

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

Kindness – The Secret Sauce Of A Good Marriage

Kindness is an often overlooked characteristic of a successful marriage.  

Ask any married person what a key ingredient of a great marriage is, and you would receive answers like respect, commitment, honesty, and openness in communication.  

Just like cooking up a palatable dish, if a key ingredient is missing, the dish lacks the “oomph” that has you coming back for more.  

Kindness may not be the fundamental element that holds the marriage, but without generous dashes of it, your relationship cannot flourish.

What is kindness? 

According to the Cambridge academic content dictionary, kindness is defined as the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people, or an actshowing this quality. 

When people think of kindness, they often associate it with acts of generosity such as buying gifts, or acts of service such as taking out the trash.  

But being kind is both an attitude and an action. Do we treat our spouses with gentleness when they make mistakes or are we condescending? Do we insist on our way or do we consider our spouse’s needs and preferences in every situation? 

Of course, it is easy to be kind when things are going well or when your spouse is kind first. It’s a totally different story when things are not going well, or you perceive your spouse to be the one who is unkind or undeserving. Such angsty times are, in fact, opportunities to practise kindness.  

If you match a snide remark your spouse made with your own equally sarcastic comment, what you get at best, is negative vibes for that moment, but at worst, it could spark a cycle of tension and resentment in your marriage.  

However, if you try something different – instead of returning harsh words, you choose to speak with compassion or voice your emotion with an “I” statement, you halt the negativity in its tracks and might even get an apology from your spouse. 

As the saying goes, “Kindness begets kindness.” So, if couples make it a habit to exercise kindness toward each other, they will feel validated and cared for. Over time, it gives rise to an upward spiral of positivity and love, which nourishes the marital bond and fosters intimacy. 

If you are in a relationship that is struggling, conscious acts of kindness may not transform your marriage overnight, but they are a good start. Kindness has the power to change a marriage that has become lacklustre or contemptuous. What is required is effort and time to be a kinder partner.  

However, if you are experiencing abuse of any form or find yourselves entrenched in unhealthy patterns of communication, please seek professional help 

Since kindness nourishes the marital bond and promotes emotional connection, why not flavour our marriages with the secret sauce of kindness?  

If couples make it a habit to exercise kindness toward each other, they will feel validated and cared for. 

Choose to be kind first 

We cannot make or force our spouse to be kind. However, we can choose to be kind regardless of our spouse’s attitude or actions. Being kind does not mean faking a smile when we are unhappy or yielding to demanding behaviour. It does mean we treat our spouse the way we want to be treated. If we want our marriage to be characterised by kindness, we can start by being kind first.  

Give without expecting payback 

Of course, it will not come easy if we perceive our spouse to be undeserving of kindness. That’s when it is helpful to examine our motivation for expressing kindness. If our goal is to give expecting a payback, we would be upset if our spouse does not reciprocate. When we extend kindness because it is the right thing to do, then the rewards are more far-reaching and long-lasting: a healthy, vibrant and thriving marriage. 

Schedule time for kindness 

This strategy may be deemed as lacking depth or hollow. But it is worth a try if your priority is to strengthen your relationship by becoming a kinder person.  

Random acts of kindness can increase good vibes and make your spouse feel validated. But they are just that – random. When you schedule time for kindness, your focus will be on ways to express kindness toward your spouse. So instead of ruminating over petty grievances that could potentially make you feel worse and zap your energy, set aside a little time on a regular basis – whether it is ten, twenty minutes, or whatever timeframe you are comfortable with – to do something thoughtful for your spouse.   

Daily acts of kindness not only nourishes your relationship; they can keep resentment taking root in your marriage. 

Tip: Embark on a 30-day kindness challenge to help you kickstart your journey of   kindness.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. Aesop

Show kindness the way your spouse understands 

Our idea of acts of kindness may differ from our spouse. We may think that buying a gift is a kind act whereas our spouse experiences kindness when we refrain from using harsh words during a conflict. When we understand how our spouse wants to be treated kindly and express kindness from his/her frame of reference, we will likely have a happy spouse and relationship.

Kindness has the power to change a marriage that has become lacklustre or contemptuous. What is required is effort and time to be a kinder partner. 

Kindness in marriage matters. Without it, our marriage cannot flourish. If we want our marriage to be thriving, we can choose to be kind, and make conscious effort to show kindness to our spouse.  

What is one act of kindness you can do for your spouse today?  

 © 2023 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

4 LOVE Habits To Cultivate In The New Year

When it comes to new year resolutions and goals, lifestyle habits such as productivity, finances, and nutrition are usually given more attention and focus.  

But what if we take time to develop new habits or relook at our current habits with the goal of strengthening our marriages? 

Healthy habits provide structure and consistency and cultivating them is important as they contribute to our marriage’s health and vitality. Additionally, relationship habits promote changes that are sustainable over time.   

Here are some Stop-Start-Show-Stay habits you might want to consider:  

Stop comparing, complaining, and criticising 

It is very easy and tempting to compare our spouse with someone else’s husband or wife, complain when our needs are not met, or criticise our spouse’s shortcomings: 

“My marketing manager manages her work and children so well; you can’t even discipline a three-year-old, let alone do well at work.”   

“My boss prioritises his family over his work, you can’t even have an uninterrupted meal with us. You are always on your phone.”  

Of course, your criticism might well reflect a very real and difficult marital issue you might be facing, and genuinely want to seek resolution for.  

But constant comparison, nitpicking, and focusing on what your spouse does wrong builds resentment, and may chip away at their motivation to do anything about it.  

A more effective approach is to express your concerns or dissatisfaction in a non-judgmental manner and share your needs or request for change.  

But constant comparison, nitpicking, and focusing on what your spouse does wrong builds resentment, and may chip away at their motivation to do anything about it. 

Start affirming and validating  

Our spouses want to know they are valued and accepted. Practicing unconditional positive regard not only uplifts our spouses, but also nourishes and gives the relationship a dose of fresh air during stressful times.  

Ideas to affirm and validate your spouse:  

  • Send an encouraging text message  
  • Tell your children how much you appreciate their father/mother for being a loving parent 
  • Show empathy through attentive listening
  • Share with your spouse a positive character trait that you like about him or her 
  • Plan a surprise birthday party or event for your spouse

Practicing unconditional positive regard not only uplifts our spouses, but also nourishes and gives the relationship a dose of fresh air during stressful times. 

Show appreciation and gratitude  

Taking our spouses for granted is a surefire way to sour the relationship. Here are some examples you may find familiar:  

  • He expects and gets used to her coaching the children in their studies and disciplining them when they misbehave.  
  • She sees it as his duty to work hard to support and provide for the family.  

As the saying goes “familiarity breeds contempt”; when a spouse’s contribution toward the welfare of the family is unappreciated or goes unrecognised, it can slowly create unhappiness and contempt.  

Make it a habit this new year to say “thank you” more often although it is not necessary to go overboard. Genuine expressions of appreciation will make you more grateful and your spouse will also feel affirmed, which will go a long way in enhancing the marriage bond. 

The grass is greener where it is watered and given tender loving care. 

Stay committed for the long haul  

Regardless of the number of years you are married, when your marriage hits a rut, it is tempting to think that “the grass is greener elsewhere” and fantasize about being married to another person.  

So, instead of spending time and energy working to revitalize the marriage, it is not uncommon for the “bored” or dissatisfied spouse to give excuses for not putting in effort or shift the blame onto the spouse.   

The prospect of having a new partner may seem like a wonderful alternative to a rocky marriage – especially at your lowest moments – but remember that you may just end up with a different set of problems with the new person.  

There is no easy way around it – the grass is greener where it is watered and given tender loving care.  

Here is an interesting quote that can be aptly applied to marriage:  

There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it is convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.Ken Blanchard 

A marriage relationship is for keeping. Choose to be faithful and commit to tending and nurturing your relationship 

Here are some practical ideas you can start working on today:  

  • List the good and gains you have from being married to your spouse  
  • Remember and recite your wedding vows and choose to uphold the promise to stay faithful 
  • Practice the art of forgiveness 
  • Display a family or marriage photo on your electronic devices or any spaces that serve as reminders of your goal to be faithful 

 Which habit do you want to cultivate in the new year to deepen your marriage bond? 

What is ONE habit you can jumpstart this week to reset your marriage? 

© 2023 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Make Love Last with a Growth Mindset

We’ve all heard the adage that marriage is hard work. But how often do you see couples putting in this ‘hard work’ intentionally and regularly?

How often do we sit down and reflect on our relationship with our spouse, understanding what makes him or her tick, and figuring out ways to strengthen our marriage?

In our hectic world, it can be challenging to make time to tend to our relationship, especially after kids enter the picture. But I think it is crucial that we try.

Healthy marriages allow room for change and growth. You may have heard of Carol Dweck’s work about the growth mindset, but can you imagine what will happen if we apply this same growth mindset to our marriage?

Difference between the growth and fixed mindsets

Dweck found that there exists two different mindsets. People either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

The growth mindset says:

  • You are still growing.
  • You can learn from your mistakes.
  • We all have strengths as well as areas to improve on.

The fixed mindset says:

  • Don’t even try.
  • My spouse is always like this, things will never change.
  • Don’t take the risk.

People with fixed mindsets tend to judge constantly—themselves as well as others. Their firm belief is that people and character traits are often unchangeable.

Those who practise the growth mindset are observant of others, but refrain from judging. Instead of accepting the status quo unquestioningly, they are always asking: What can I learn from this? How can I improve? How can I help my partner do better?

Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset—according to Dweck—entails “changing the internal monologue from a judging one to a growth-oriented one”.

It is healthy to notice the good and even great things that you’ve achieved in your marriage or family life, and be grateful for them.

Here are some growth mindset tips that we can apply to our marriage:

1. Remember to enjoy the good things

It is healthy to notice the good and even great things that you’ve achieved in your marriage or family life, and be grateful for them. Perhaps it is the strong family support that you’ve built, or solid friendships; whatever it is, remind each other that you’ve worked well together in this aspect. And think about the different areas that you want to grow in this year.

2. Seek to understand your differences better

When something about your spouse irks you, seek to understand the root of this habit. There have been times I have been annoyed by my spouse’s tendency to plan everything, right down to the details. While I prefer some fluidity and can handle a high degree of ambiguity, he needs all the data and facts.

When we talked through it, I realised that it boils down to his need for security and control. Without the information, he feels things are out of control or not planned well. After I understood this, we were able to sidestep unnecessary arguments and tension, and focus on meeting each other’s needs.

3. Praise your partner for effort

Encourage your spouse when he or she tries something new or challenging. Try not to focus on the results alone. For example, if you’ve been asking your husband to help with cooking a meal, don’t put him down the first time he tries; this will stamp out his motivation. Instead, let him know that you see (and appreciate) his effort to show love in this novel way.

If your wife tries out a game that you love to play, give her space, patience and affirmation to reach your level. Your guidance and the time together will make the relationship grow in new ways too.

4. Focus on your own lane

Sometimes social media can feed our feelings of envy and jealousy. Pictures of exotic family vacations, or frequent expensive dinners and gifts that others enjoy can trigger feelings of discontent in your marriage.

We should become aware of how certain media, people or environments make us feel, then be vigilant to allow into our minds only what is good for ourselves and marriage, and what helps us feel grateful for what we have.

5. Transitions can offer opportunities for growth too

A new baby, a new home, a business investment, or a change in career—sometimes big changes make us feel stressed out and uneasy, and we may take it out on the ones dearest to us.

They may bring stress, but change also carries opportunities for us to clarify our thoughts, feelings, even our values; more importantly, it lets us seek our spouse’s support. So choose to lean closer, and not pull away due to tensions or stress.

With the growth mindset, we can focus on developing the positive qualities that cause the relationship to flourish.

What growth mindset in love looks like

When we apply the fixed mindset to love, it seems like life should reflect what we see in movies: Love is easy, perfect, and simply “meant to be”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ask any couple who have clocked over 10 years in marriage what their secret is, and the answer will likely be: pure hard work.

Perhaps the best thing we can do for our marriage is to decide that we will do whatever it takes to make it work.

When we look back on our past, do we see that we have changed too? Sometimes for the better, sometimes in not so good ways. But it shows us that if we can change, our spouse can change too. With the growth mindset, we can focus on developing the positive qualities—both within ourselves and in each other—that cause the relationship to flourish.

Let’s remember that you’re on the same side, and you’re walking this journey together. Tempers will flare and someone will be annoyed from time to time, but as long as we continue to work on our weaknesses and improve ourselves for our spouse, we will experience the grace and strength to keep going.

Take action:

  • Choose a growth mindset tip and apply it to your relationship this week.

Top Conflict Triggers in Marriage and How to Resolve Them

My wedding – 12 years ago – was one of the most memorable days of my life. I still vividly recall the overwhelming feelings of elation like it was yesterday. The excitement from a wedding can propel most newly-weds into marital bliss for the ensuing few months, at least. However, once the honeymoon period is over and the realities of life set in, those once intense feelings of bliss may fizzle out.

We had our first child a year after we got married and as a result, our marriage relationship underwent a sea-change. From dreamy newly-weds, we morphed into sleep-deprived, barely functioning parents.

Even though we had discussed parenting goals before marriage, actually becoming parents was a totally different ballgame. We found ourselves having to talk through and resolve multiple points of conflicts in our relationship.

Our 12 years as husband and wife has brought about an awareness of the conflicts that we easily, and sometimes, unwittingly trigger as we walk through this journey of life together. I would like to believe that we have learnt (and are still learning) to navigate our differences, appreciate the complexities of each other’s personalities and create a loving home life that looks beyond being just functional.

Our 12 years as husband and wife has brought about an awareness of the conflicts that we easily, and sometimes unwittingly trigger.

Chores

A conflict trigger that appeared fairly early into our marriage – even before the children arrived – involved how chores around the house would be divided and the expectations we both had.

From the onset, my husband and I agreed that I would do the cooking and he would do the washing up but we didn’t consider that we would have different points of view with regards to even the most basic of these chores. When it comes to dishes, I like to do them right away. My husband, on the other hand, likes to do them later.

In the beginning, every time I walked past a sink full of dirty dishes, I cringed but would keep silent because I wanted to appear as the gracious, understanding wife. I soon realised that not addressing the issue only caused my resentment to grow.

Thankfully, we’ve discovered that our conflict about household chores was easily resolved by honestly sharing our expectations of each other. My husband was unaware of my irritation over a sink of dirty dishes and I realised that he was not intentionally leaving those dishes unwashed. I made it a point to trust that he was putting in his best effort to get the chores done while he made it a point to get his portion done as soon as he remembered them.

Parenting

My husband and I grew up in very different family environments. He came from a Chinese-Eurasian family and spent his formative years overseas, while I grew up in a strict Chinese-Peranakan family.

These differences came into play especially after we had children. We have disagreed on multiple occasions, ranging from disciplinary strategies and childcare arrangements, to even nutrition!

Over the years, we’ve learnt that resolving conflicts over parenting is best done without the children present. This is not always easy especially when you are in the heat of the moment and want to work out an issue then and there. Whenever possible, we try our best to hold off resolving our conflict until the children are out of earshot.

Resolving conflicts over parenting is best done without the children present.

Money

When it comes to finances, my husband and I are still a work-in-progress. In the last few years, however, we have learnt that discussions over finance work best for us when we deliberately schedule an appointment with each other. We usually do this after the children have gone to bed.

Setting aside a specific time to discuss decisions and issues concerning money helps us stick to the plan and reduces the temptation of talking about more light-hearted matters. It allows us to share our expectations, concerns and values openly with each other. We have also used this time to discuss important life decisions (for example, career choices) together.

Although these are the top three stickiest issues for us, and perhaps for many couples out there, at the end of the day, we need to understand that marriage is a journey of a lifetime.

Every year together brings new and exciting discoveries about our spouse. We can use these as opportunities to appreciate each other better. When we begin to see each other as a tag-team and work towards resolving conflict as honestly and lovingly as we can, our marriage relationship is strengthened and we find ourselves in a better position to create a safe, secure and loving home environment for our children to grow up in.

This article was written by Sue-Ann Lee. 

Life is a journey, and we want to walk with you. In need of a listening ear? Come speak to our qualified counsellors today.

Growing Even More In Love With Your Spouse

“A good marriage is one which allows for change and growth in the individuals and in the way they express their love.” – Pearl S. Buck

My husband and I turned 12 as a married couple this year.

With three children in primary school, and both of us working (albeit part-time for me), it can be challenging to find the time to tend to our relationship.

But still, we try.

I remember our first year of marriage quite vividly. As I got pregnant shortly after our honeymoon, we barely had enough time to get used to being known as “Mr and Mrs” before becoming “Dad and Mum”.

We got mad at each other often, had cold wars, and disagreed over the habits that we each brought into our marriage.

Thankfully, with some work, lots of conversations, and tonnes of understanding and forgiveness, we navigated our way through the minefield of early marriage and parenthood.

Healthy marriages allow room for negotiation, change and growth. If we had entered into marriage thinking that life would be just the same as it was before we said “I do”, we’d have been blindsided, and thoroughly disappointed.

Here are some things that have worked for us over the past 12 years:

1. Make time to talk about your relationship

When work and children take up the bulk of your energy and time, it can be easy to just let things slide where your marriage is concerned. My husband and I have noticed that even when we go on dates, it is hard to get through a meal without once mentioning the kids or any issues that we have experienced at work!

To help us focus on our relationship, we make it a point to ask each other questions, such as:

  • Do you feel loved? If not, how can I fill your love tank?
  • How can I better support you in your role as a father/mother?
  • What goals can we work towards as a couple?
  • How can we better work together as a team?

These conversations can be bite-sized, or even take place when you’re on the go. What is important is to create a safe space where we can share honestly, even if we are not happy about something, and to feel listened to and understood.

2. Seek to understand your differences better

When something about your spouse irks you, seek the “why” behind it.

For example, I found myself feeling annoyed by my spouse’s tendency to plan everything — right down to the nitty-gritty — and his expectation of me to do the same. While I can handle a high degree of ambiguity, he needs all the data and facts.

We had to find time to talk through it, and only then did I realise that it boiled down to his need for security and control. Without all the information, he felt things are out of control or not planned well.

I shared that while I understood his viewpoint, I needed to have clear guidelines for the task, and some time to execute it. I also needed to feel trusted to do it.

After this crucial discussion, we could sidestep unnecessary arguments because we had begun to see the issue from each other’s perspectives, and could focus more on meeting needs.

3. Learn to fight well

Arguments within marriage are bound to occur from time to time, but let’s try to choose our battles wisely and to fight well.

What does it mean to fight well? Here are some examples:

Instead of:

Using generalisations: You never … / You always …

Try:

Being specific: I felt [emotion] when you …:

Being curious: What happened?

Accusing: Why did you …? / Why did you not …?

Expressing your anger: I don’t know why I even bother making a nice meal.

Expressing concern: I was worried about you …

Making your request known: I need you to call when you will be late for dinner next time.

In Daphne de Marneffe’s book The Rough Patch, she describes a golden-ring mindset where both partners bring “his or her individual feelings into the ‘ring,’ and they think together about the problem at hand”.

“Both implicitly recognise that they are two people, each with a complex mind and body, which means that they can’t expect their communication to be magically, telepathically received. Even between intimates the distance between minds can be great, and it will take time to come to an understanding.”

When you can only see the negatives of your life partner, it can trigger certain ill feelings over time. But if you choose to appreciate the good sides, it can change the dynamic within the marriage.

4. Notice the small things your spouse does well

It is often easy to put on a critical lens when we view our spouse. Why can’t he help out in the home more? Why can’t she give me more space to chill and wind down after work? The list of “why can’ts” can grow long.

Stuart Shanker wrote in his book Self-Reg, “When you see a child differently, you see a different child.” The same principle applies to spouses.

When you can only see the negatives of your life partner, it can trigger certain ill feelings and pile on resentment over time. But if you choose to acknowledge and appreciate the good sides — perhaps he is really funny, or she is good with maintaining connections with people, or your spouse is simply dependable — it can change the feelings and dynamic within the marriage. This then creates the atmosphere for gratitude, positive change or collaboration to occur.

5. Focus on your own lane

Sometimes social media can feed our feelings of envy and jealousy. Pictures of exotic experiences, or frequent expensive dinners and gifts that others enjoy can trigger feelings of discontent in your marriage.

We should become aware of how certain media, people or environments make us feel, then be extra vigilant to allow into our minds only what is good for ourselves and marriage.

With the growth mindset, we can focus on developing the positive qualities that will help the relationship to flourish.

Applying the growth mindset in love

Psychologist Carol Dweck found that there exists two different mindsets. People either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

The growth mindset says:

    • You are still growing.
    • You can learn from your mistakes.
    • We all have strengths as well as areas to improve on.

The fixed mindset says:

    • Don’t even try.
    • My spouse is always like this, things will never change.
    • Don’t take the risk.

When we apply the fixed mindset to love and marriage, it seems like life should reflect what we see in movies: Love is easy, perfect, and simply “meant to be”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ask any couple who have clocked over 10 years in marriage what their secret is, and the answer will likely be: pure hard work.

Perhaps the best thing we can do for our marriage is to decide that we will do whatever it takes to make it work.

With the growth mindset, we can encourage the positive qualities—both within ourselves and in each other—that will help the relationship to flourish.

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

6 Great Ways Couples Can Prepare for Parenthood

Parenthood is an exciting and fulfilling journey, but it is also fraught with challenges, conflicts and many a sleepless night.

Is it possible to prepare ourselves well for parenthood?

And can we approach parenthood with a positive mindset?

Here are 6 practical strategies that have worked for me in my own parenthood journey.

1. Communicate your fears and dreams

If you’re planning to try for a child, it is vital to communicate with your partner what your hopes, dreams and even fears are about parenthood.

Sharing your feelings and thoughts in a transparent manner can help to build trust between you and your spouse, and also surface any challenges or differences in opinion, ahead of time, so they can be resolved before baby arrives.

Sharing your feelings and thoughts in a transparent manner can help to build trust between you and your spouse.

2. Anticipate challenges

We’ve all heard of the myriad challenges of parenthood: lack of sleep, difficulty securing babysitters and child-minders, and a general sense of overwhelm.

For many couples, juggling the different responsibilities of work and family can be a major challenge. When things get overwhelming, it is common for self-care and time together as a couple to get pushed to the bottom of the list. This can have a negative effect on our emotional health, as well as the marital relationship.

The first step to overcoming these challenges is to recognise that each season of parenthood brings its own set of difficulties, and to commit to working things out as a team.

3. Remember your spouse’s needs too

Finding a balance between caring for your spouse and your child can feel more like an art than a science.

However, this might require a slight mindset change on our part. We’ve found that when couples prioritise their marriage, the whole family thrives – including the children.

Make time to spend one-on-one time together regularly as husband and wife. You can rely on these scheduled couple dates to emotionally connect and communicate with your spouse.

They don’t have to be elaborate or expensive – even watching a movie at home together or playing your favourite computer game counts! The important thing is taking time to talk heart-to-heart, laugh and have fun with each other.

If you struggle to find time for intimacy, just schedule it and mark it down on the calendar. Remember that when something is important enough, we will somehow make it happen, so find a time that works best for you and your spouse, and get some help if you need to.

The important thing is taking time to talk heart-to-heart, laugh and have fun with each other.

4. Talk about household responsibilities

Different couples work out household chores differently. If you feel that you’ve been doing most of the heavy lifting, it may be good to discuss some possible ways that your spouse can chip in.

Often, you’d find that your spouse is willing to help, but isn’t clear on how to go about helping. Figure out some of the things you’ll be happy to split, such as one puts clothes in the washing machine to wash and hang, while the other takes it down to put it away, one gets the groceries while the other plans the meals, or taking turns for baby’s night feeds on weekends.

Once you’ve agreed on a plan, and both parties understand the expectations, caring for the home (and the baby) will likely be a smoother and more fulfilling process.

5. Strive to balance work and family

The early years of raising a child may feel more intensive as young children are more reliant on their parents. However, this is just one stage of parenting; you’ll have more time for personal interests and advancing your career as your child grows and becomes more independent.

Work and family responsibilities will be a constant juggle, so it’s best to take time to discuss your family and career goals with your spouse. When you’re both in agreement, it becomes a lot easier to work as a team towards achieving those aims.

Make time to review these goals as a couple, perhaps on an annual basis, and celebrate your progress, or consider if any of your goals need to be changed. Finding work-life harmony is a shared goal for both husband and wife – and it will take both of you to make it a reality.

When you’re both in agreement, it becomes a lot easier to work as a team towards achieving those aims.

6. Be part of a community

Being in a community of parents can provide much-needed support and encouragement for new mums and dads. Indeed, when challenges arise, it can be reassuring for new parents to realise that they are not alone; other parents have had similar experiences too.

Whether it’s an online forum or a new mums’ support group, try to seek the support and fellowship of more experienced parents around you. This way, you are setting yourself up for success in your journey towards parenthood.

Think about:

• What is one challenge that you can better prepare for before baby arrives?

This article was written by Joanna Koh-Hoe. 

© 2019 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Pornography was a Symptom of My Strained Marriage

Focus on the Family Singapore interviewed Christine and Joel (not their real names) about their difficult journey through first discovering Joel’s porn addiction, and then recovering from it. Here is Christine’s account.

Q: What was your marriage like before you discovered your husband’s porn addiction?

A: At the time I discovered the addiction, we were quite distant. I worked full time, and when I got home, my full attention was on the children. I think we had grown apart without realising it.

Joel was working part-time then since our children were 3.5 and 1.5 years old at that time. It was equally challenging for him as they were constantly falling ill.

We were so exhausted by the end of each day that we had little to say to one another. Being introverts, we both needed our own quiet moments. I stayed up and busied myself with my hobbies and online shopping, while he was doing his work or playing computer games.

Sex was the elephant in the room that we totally ignored.

Q: What were some of the issues you faced?

A: We lacked physical intimacy, given the limited energy and time we had.

But I think the lack of physical intimacy is often symptomatic of deeper issues.

    • Lack of connection in our communication:
      We communicated but it was often at the level needed for survival, such as I need you to pick up some groceries, or one kid needs to see a doctor. There were no deep conversations about our feelings or our needs. We were in the trenches of parenthood, and to a certain extent, it was every individual for himself.
    • Joel’s fear of rejection:
      We never talked about the need to be intimate. I didn’t want to, given the exhaustion. But I had always taken a pastor’s advice to heart (i.e., never reject the other party). But Joel never asked, perhaps due to fear that he would be rejected, or that I would find the act unenjoyable. Since he didn’t ask, I kept quiet too. Sex was the elephant in the room that we totally ignored.
  •  
  •  
    • Unspoken resentment:
      I resented having to go to work, while my husband was on part-time. We had discussed it to death and agreed that the children needed at least one parent to be around during their formative years. The nature of my work was better suited to a full-time arrangement. His job, however, often took him away from the home for long hours, and sometimes weekends. Hence a part-time arrangement for him seemed to work well.

      However, I struggled with mum guilt immensely. I missed my children, and would often feel jealous when my son seemed closer to my helper than me.

      Looking back, I think the resentment grew because we never had a chance to talk things out. To assuage the mum guilt, I turned to online shopping instead of pouring my heart out to my husband, or asking him to pray for me. I kept quiet about the mental load because I didn’t have the energy to quarrel about it. At that time, we had not come to a place in our marriage where we could argue without drama and rage.

I did not know whether I could trust anything he had promised me, or said to me, anymore.

Q: How did the discovery about his addiction make you feel?

A: I contemplated broaching the topic of divorce, but I knew that I was contemplating it only because it would hurt him. In my anger, I wanted to hurt him in the same way I had been hurt.

But even in the midst of these thoughts, I felt God speaking to me.

As I was mindlessly surfing the internet on my phone, hoping to find something to distract me from the pain, God said, “He’s addicted to porn, you’re addicted to online shopping and a whole host of things that numb your guilt and frustration. Are you any better than he is?”

A few hours after the discovery, I was still raging and angry. He was broken and contrite but I was not ready to forgive so easily. We were still not connecting as we tried to pick up the pieces. I called up a couple whom I trusted in our church, and they came over and counselled us.

It took a long while, but the night ended with Joel agreeing to be held accountable. I was still angry, but I accepted that I too had a part to play—by failing to connect with him and meet his needs.

One episode from that night stands out for me. Joel was trying to explain why he did not want to initiate sex with me. I remember cutting in and insisting that I did not understand. The older couple stopped me and told me that I needed to learn to hear Joel’s unspoken cry. It is not just about his words, but what lay beneath them. If I do not learn to hear it now, it would be a similar struggle to understand my kids.

Q: How did you emerge from the episode?

A: It took me quite a while to find that secure familiarity again. I remember heading out for breakfast with him the next morning and feeling as if I were walking next to a complete stranger.

Over the next few days and weeks, I fasted from my phone and computer and spent time in reflection and prayer. I realised that I needed to change. I was off-centre, and I was not dealing with my mum guilt and resentment. The result was that I no longer knew who I was, and I was constantly looking for quick, instantaneous solutions. It also made me extremely self-centred. As a result, I was no longer interested in connecting with my husband, or even hearing what his needs were.

I recall repeating the words of this hymn during that season of healing:

When love is tried
    as loved-ones change,
hold still to hope,
    though all seems strange,
till ease returns
    and love grows wise
through listening ears
    and opened eyes.

When love is torn,
    and trust betrayed,
pray strength to love
    till torments fade,
till lovers keep
    no score of wrong,
but hear through pain
    love’s Easter song.

We look back on that episode now and agree that it was one of the defining moments of our marriage. It was a wake-up call for us to work on our marriage NOW and not assume that there would be something there for us to work on, after the children are grown.

I am also convinced that when we hold fast to the marriage, and work through the pain of betrayal and hurt, our love matures. It transforms into a love that runs deeper because you learn to say that I will love this person no matter how strange he has become, or how much pain he has brought me.

It was a wake-up call for us to work on our marriage now and not assume that there would be something there for us to work on, after the children are grown.

Q: You’ve talked about hearing his unspoken cry. Have you heard more of what he is trying to say since then?

A: I hope so! I don’t profess to hear his unspoken cry all the time. But it is a reminder to me when we have our arguments, to slow down, and not just allow my emotions to take over.

It has become a guiding principle for me whenever my children come to me, and attempt to tell me something. There is something restorative about listening to what lies beneath all that emotion, and reflecting it back to the person. I see it at work when I help my children articulate their feelings. They look at me, grateful to be understood, and it helps them on the journey back to security.

Q: What do you and your husband do together to strengthen your marriage?

A: We walk a lot. Walking helps us open up and talk to each other. So we take long walks, which creates a space to share about the deeper issues that matter to us.

We’ve also cultivated the habit of sharing our devotions with each other. It could be a verse from our reading, and is sometimes as short as 1 sentence. We also pray together every night and make it a point to chat before we go to bed. These small changes have helped us to grow closer.

Take action:

    • If you need help resolving difficult issues in your marriage, speak to one of our counsellors today.

Make a stand for marriage! It is hard work, but it is worth it. Download a free guide “How to Date Your Spouse Again” for practical ideas to date your spouse.  — only at Celebrate Marriage.

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Extramarital Affairs: Can There Be a Second Chance?

Most couples enter marriage with intention of savouring long-lasting marital bliss. Nobody expects themselves or their spouse to have an affair. However, the unfortunate reality is that affairs do happen.

An affair usually arises when there are perceived or real unmet needs in a marriage. Lack of intimacy, poor communication, unresolved anger, undercurrent issues, and emotional distance are all common traits of a marriage in crisis, according to Larry Lai, Head of Counselling and Principal Psychotherapist at Focus on the Family Singapore.

“There is usually something missing in the marriage relationship that has resulted in one or both parties feeling frustrated or helpless and instead of resolving the issues, one party chooses to fulfill their unmet needs outside of the marriage” he adds.

There is usually something missing in the marriage relationship that has resulted in one or both parties feeling frustrated or helpless.

Having personally known couples who have journeyed through infidelity, Larry has also witnessed, first-hand, their successful recoveries. Here are some of the key factors necessary for healing after an extramarital affair.

Be prepared for the long recovery journey

The first and foremost thing is for the wrongdoer to admit and accept responsibility for committing the affair, acknowledge the hurts and injuries they have caused, and seek forgiveness. The next and very difficult step, especially in the case of a long-term emotional affair, is for the wrongdoer to commit to ending the affair and restoring the marital relationship.

Larry emphasises that both parties must be prepared for the tough and long-drawn process in an affair recovery and restoration journey.


“Realistically, it may take 1-2 years, if not longer, for both parties to fully heal, through the help of individual and couple therapy,” said Larry.

Be willing to forgive 

Forgiveness is another key ingredient in moving on after an affair. Reconciliation cannot happen without forgiveness.

Reconciliation cannot happen without forgiveness.

This is arguably the hardest step to take for the wronged spouse. When your spouse betrays your trust and causes you deep emotional hurt, you may have a strong need for vindication or justice. Forgiveness is likely to be the last thing you want to extend.

However, it is important to realise that forgiveness not only frees the wrongdoer from shame and guilt and allow him to start afresh in rebuilding the relationship, it also frees you to focus on your own healing process.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting but it does mean not using the incident against your spouse in the journey ahead. It also doesn’t mean that the pain and hurt automatically vanish; you will still need the time and space to grieve as your marriage has changed irrevocably.

Rather, forgiveness facilitates your own internal healing process. It is only through forgiveness that you can free yourself and focus on restoring and strengthening your marital relationship without the encumbrances of the affair.

Seek good counsel

Working with a counsellor can help facilitate the healing and restoration process. A counsellor will generally work with both of you, through individual and couple therapy, to identify the unmet needs in your marital relationship, and guide you in the work needed for healing and restoration.

For instance, it may be necessary to establish new boundaries for re-building trust in your marriage with regards to interactions with the opposite sex and improve on the accountability and transparency in your marriage.

Take it one day at a time

The best thing you can do for yourself during the recovery period is to take things one day at time.

For those with children, the challenges might seem even more overwhelming because it will be hard to hide your stress. Be honest with your children about the difficulties that you are going through but only provide them with age-appropriate information. Don’t weigh your children down with the details or play the blame game.

Do take care of the parts of your family life that you still have control over to provide a semblance of security and stability for your children.

Be honest with your children about the difficulties that you are going through but only provide them with age-appropriate information.

Infidelity does not have to signal the end of the road for a marriage but with the willingness from you and your spouse to forgive and work on your relationship, your marriage can be given a new lease of life.

© 2018 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

If you have unresolved issues in your marriage, or are dealing with marital infidelity, speak to one of our counsellors today.