A Father’s Role in His Daughter’s Worth

As a young child, Charis enjoyed the praises of her mother’s friends when they saw her doing her homework. “What an obedient and hardworking child,” they would comment while observing their own children running around and playing.  

Somehow, those praises motivated Charis to continue living up to her reputation of being obedient and hardworking. She began to set high expectations of herself, and would always want to do her best. 

But when she went to secondary school and her peers began to outdo her in exams, her sense of self-worth started to plummet.  

How can we support our children’s self-worth without getting them to lower their standards totally?  

What is self-worth? 

With mental health issues coming to the fore, there is an urgent need to help children build a strong sense of self-worth, and to understand they are more than their achievements.  

Although Charis struggled in the beginning with peer and societal pressure, she realised in her later teen years that she “didn’t need to care so much about other people or the labels that they put on me, but rather to just focus on myself, on my own, knowing my own abilities, my own strength, my own beliefs and to feel secure in that.”  

She credits this self-worth as a by-product of the way her parents raised her. What did her parents do right? 

She can always be herself with us and have nothing to prove. 

Create a safe space  

Charis’ father, Wen Wei, has managed to build a safe space for her, largely by being a safe person. However, this doesn’t mean there were no mistakes made. 

Growing up, Charis was particularly sensitive to the word “stupid” being used on her. Somebody had done that once to her and Wen Wei made a mental note never to do the same. However, one day when Wen Wei was helping Charis through her homework, he got frustrated at Charis and snapped in exasperation, “Don’t tell me you’re really so stupid.” 

That sent Charis over the edge, and triggered a crying fit. 

Immediately after, Wen Wei had to send his other daughter to a swimming class but during the drive to the pool, he was so worried that Charis would do something foolish.  

That incident made Wen Wei realise the importance of being Charis’ safe place. He said, “She may feel like she has something to prove to other people, but she can always be herself with us and have nothing to prove.”  

Charis laughed upon hearing her father recount that incident. Having happened when Charis was still in primary school, she does not remember it. But it’s clear it had a lasting impact on Wen Wei.

Offer physical hugs and comfort 

During Charis’ frequent meltdowns, Wen Wei and his wife tried different methods every week to comfort her. But nothing seemed to work.  

One time, during a meltdown, Wen Wei decided to just hug her. Miraculously, it worked. Coupled with honest and open talks with her parents, Charis gradually managed to find her feet and step out of the shadows of self-doubt 

Today, you might overhear Charis telling her friends, “Whatever tough situation you are in, hugs can solve everything.” 

Listen well and help them feel understood 

Now 22, Charis is moving into a new phase of life – from the safety of school to the world of work. Even as she sends out job applications, she often worries about the outcomes. However, she’s learnt to self-soothe by telling herself, “It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get an offer.” 

She attributes her growth in security to her father’s willingness to sit and have long conversations with her. “He has always given me that space to talk. He is a really good listener, and he has never imposed his decision or opinion on me.”  

“Sometimes I get annoyed,” Charis joked, “because I think it would be easier if he decides and then I follow, but I also appreciate that he helps lead me to a decision that I make, instead of telling me what he thinks first.” 

Genuinely enjoy them. Express that pleasure in them. Then delight in them, any time, every time. 

Genuinely enjoy your children 

Whenever Wen Wei’s children would disturb him when he was in the middle of something, he would try to stop and shift his attention to them.   

“My children are really the joy of my life. I try to communicate that with them as often as I can. Genuinely enjoy them. Express that pleasure in them. Then delight in them, any time, every time.”  

We all want the best for our children. But in the midst of pushing them to their maximum potential, we should not forget to hold them close. And to tell them, “I love you, whatever you do, however you do.” 

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

Why is it So Stressful Talking to My Kids About Sex?

My husband and I had picked our precociously energetic six year old from kindergarten one day following our usual routine. All of a sudden, she blurted out unbridledly from the backseat of our car, “Mommy, what’s an orgasm?”  

My ears did a backflip, while I sat stunned for a moment in disbelief at what I had just heard. My eyes met my husband’s while we exchanged raised eyebrows in what we felt was uncomfortable wriggle room. Fortunately, I recovered just in time to return a question in a quick serve.  

“What do you think it is, dear? And why do you ask?”  

“Today my teacher drew a picture of it on our white board…. 

“And it looks like something from under the water – from KorKor’s science encyclopedia!”  

Realisation came in a wave of relief and suppressed giggles. “Do you mean organism?”  

“Yes mummy, what’s an organism?”  

I laughed. We all did – having narrowly escaped being put in a spot in the most potentially  awkward conversation ever. While we are usually ready to teach our children anything they want to learn, (think reading, math, good manners), we aren’t AS ready to launch into graphic discussions about sex and how babies are made – despite knowing that it is an important conversation to address in their lives!  

Culturally, being raised in a largely conservative Asian society doesn’t help. Most of us may have never had such a conversation with our own parents. It is probably not wrong to say that parents in that era simply evaded this topic altogether, leaving their children to piece together the nuances of their sexual understanding through a collective smattering of euphemisms for sexual acts and body parts.  

Their only question after the talk was, ‘Can we go and play Lego now?’ 

A friend, a parent of four, recounted her experience (or lack of) bringing up the sex topic to her kids:  

“Their only question after was, ‘Can we go and play Lego now?’ I was self-conscious because it was not a topic someone spoke to me about. (I discovered the meaning of sexual intercourse from the dictionary, and it shocked me when I found out.) But I was determined to not pass such stigma down to my kids. I want them to see the gift and miracle of sex.” 

Psychologists like Joye Swan, chair of the department of psychology and social sciences at Woodbury University, California, reckons it “can be weird to think of our family members as sexual beings for the same reason it was weird to see our teachers outside of school.” 

Our kids may also find it difficult to accept parents giving advice on sex as it feels uncomfortable and awkward to visualise them in these roles as lovers or sexual beings, which disconnects from their primary roles and image as caregivers.  

Parents too, may find it unnatural to accept their child’s progressive coming of age – preferring to assume their child stays in a perpetual state of innocence.  

When the kids were about 10 years old, they would start to talk through the physical changes in their bodies, and even prepare a gift pack for them as they hit puberty, as a gesture of celebration. 

Ming, a 16-year-old, said she’d much rather google all her queries on sex than ask any graphic or awkward questions to her parents.  

Another teen commented that he would prefer to disassociate the topic where possible; preferring to have a teacher explain it as a subject in class.  

If we feel unsettled talking to our kids about sex, the kids, especially older teens, definitely feel it too. Nevertheless, how can we make this important topic more approachable?  

A fellow mum of three adolescents shared that she speaks with her girls separately while her husband tackles this subject with their son. As a family, they prefer to approach the topic as an ongoing conversation rather than a one-off talk 

Starting as young as four or five, they would introduce concepts such as “good touch, bad touch” and parameters for physical touch and affection, such as when to give or receive hugs, within different social contexts.  

When the kids were about 10 years old, they would start to talk through the physical changes in their bodies, and even prepare a gift pack for them as they hit puberty, as a gesture of celebration.  

Some parents use books to lead them into conversations on sexuality, such as The Ultimate Girls’ Body Book: Not-So-Silly Questions About Your Body by By  Walt Larimore, MD , and Amaryllis Sanchez Wohlever, MD. (There is an equivalent guide for boys.)  

Most would agree that communication about sex ought to start when a child is very young and continue through his life stages and eventually when he or she forms relationships. No matter which stage your child is at, let’s start this conversation somewhere!  

© 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. 

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.” 

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