By Tan Chin Hock
If you think marriage is a lovey-dovey chemistry reaction between the two of you that cannot be explained or understood by others, you are wrong. There are deep and extensive researches on couples and marriages. These researches delved into the couples’ attitudes, commitment, conflicts management and many other factors that go on in a marriage and relationship. Dr John Gottman, a renowned Professor for his work on martial stability and couples can even predict the likelihood of a divorce between couples from his research.
So when Dr Huang Wei-Jen, also affectionately known as “Dr Love”, briefly shared some of the findings from empirical research on what make or break intimate relationships, I was all ears. He was a keynote speaker at the Marriage Convention 2016 organised by the Families for Life Council.
After the event, I reflected on my marriage of 10 years and did some soul searching. I recalled the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears shed along the way. I also took a long hard look at some of the emotional roller coasters that my wife and I had gone through. I must say that we had a wild ride and I am very glad that we are still hanging on it, willingly. Whether you are planning to get hitched or already in an early marriage, I hope the following would provide you with some insights.
What Marriage has Taught Me
The first few years are golden. They call it the honeymoon. It is the period where we want to have each other to ourselves. Couples communicate lovingly and endlessly. I would text and call my wife to ask about her day occasionally. All the decisions we make, it is mostly with a “We” mentality. For instance, we would seek each other’s opinion on where to eat, what movie to watch, which country and places of interest to visit, which colour to choose for our couple shirts etc. And when there is a difference, we are very accepting.
Just that one fine day, I woke up to discover that I am not a prince in some fairytale wonderland. Nah, that is too exaggerating! The truth is I start to do lesser of the stuff that I used to do for my wife. I start to procrastinate due to the changes in my priorities. Some of the things that my wife asks me to do (which I would do readily in the past) has all but somehow turned into a chore. For instance, asked to do groceries shopping while I am writing a paper or writing a compliment/feedback letter on her behalf, or asked to go over to the mum-in-law’s place (which is a 1.5hr journey away) to pick up something, queuing up for 45 mins to get her favourite food etc, while I was leisurely surfing the internet.
The children and parents-in-law comes into the picture. The bundles of joy brought bountiful happiness and blessings in our lives. Every day, we revolve ourselves around our little ones. Every ounce of my energy is devoted to the children. Being the eldest son, it is a natural responsibility for me to take care of my parents during their twilight years. Thus, we also made a collective decision for them to stay with us. However, with 8 living beings housed within 94 sqm of space, conflicts, fights, disappointments are more common now.
Marriage is not the graveyard of love. It should be a new beginning where the couple embark on a lifelong journey together. It will be a journey of revelation. Every marriage is inherently different and fraught with challenges and difficulties. But whatever definition you may have, it is definitely not the end of a loving relationship.
Marriage requires a conscious effort from the couple to keep the fire burning and to maintain the lifetime friendship. There should be ongoing effort to seek understanding, respect and learn to live with each other’s differences. It is not an easy journey but one that both of you have chosen to embark on and it is really up to you and not anyone else to determine the storyline.
There is no perfect spouse. At some point in time, I tried to change my wife. To be specific, I hope my wife would behave similarly to how I deal with my parents. I expected her to be more patient, empathetic and understanding. And at times when I did not see the expected behaviour, I grumbled and made a fuss.
I overlooked the fact that my wife is another individual configured totally different from me. She has her virtues, needs and desire for private spaces like the rest of us. While I have a mild temper, she has a quick temper. However, she has a bigger heart and I can be petty at times. I should show the same level of empathy towards my parents and children to her too, if not even more. She is my soulmate and she deserves more from me as compared to strangers, colleagues and friends. We have to accept our spouse just as they are.
Differences and conflicts are inevitable. The key is to manage them effectively. During heated arguments, we may lose sight of the objectivity and start to shut our spouse down. I have said things that I later regretted coming out from my mouth. It is through numerous incidents that I learnt that “Time Out” is one of the effective ways to regain our emotional control and get together to look at the issue with impartiality. There will be past issues or events that will trigger strong negative emotions. For the sake of protecting your marriage and keeping the relationship healthy, do not hold grudges and bring those up. From the Marriage Convention, Dr Huang shared briefly on Dr Gottman’s Six Skills of Conflict Management which I thought will be useful. You could read more from Dr Gottman here.
Think of the good times that you have spent with your spouse. Several months ago, we had a big fight. It took the photo in my wallet to make me realise that I had gone beyond the line. Intentionally reviving those sweet memories and butterflies that I felt at the beginning of my relationship always helps to lighten me without fail. One of those memories was the singing to my wife on our wedding night. Reminiscing the good times also helps me to stay focus on the marriage and keep me reminded of the vow that I made – “To take her for my wife, to have and to hold …in sickness and health, until death do us part.”
Saying “I Love You”. These simple words could melt hearts and break ice. Yet it weighs on the tongues of many. However cliché or mushy they sound, they should be said to our loved ones on a daily basis. Researches have shown that expressing love can lead to better relationships. So say “I love you” regularly and mean it from your heart. I tell this to my girls and my wife every day and I strengthen the message by stating the WHY too.
Saying “I am sorry”. Does being egoistic help in any way to improve your relationship? Does having the last say matters? I used to think that apologising is a sign of weakness, a sign that I lost the argument and fail to bring across my point. I count my blessings that I am able to see the bigger picture in relationships and life. Ask yourself, what were you trying to achieve in those fights? If tomorrow were your spouse’s last day on earth, how would you react today? If you were to ponder at those nasty exchanges, most of the issues would seem trivial now. Please do not get me wrong. I am not advocating avoidance of difficult topics or conversations within the household, instead we should talk things out and behave responsibly. If you are in the wrong, admit it. One important message when saying, “I am sorry”, is that you are telling the other party that you value the relationship and that is already one positive step in relationship healing.
Lastly, there are professional assistance and services available ranging from marriage preparation programme to counselling of couples in troubled relationships. If you are unhappy in a marriage, it does not necessarily mean that the relationship cannot be repaired or you are unworthy of a loving relationship. Try to recall why you chose your spouse in the first place, try to think how would the failed relationship impact your children, if you love each other and would like to stay in the relationship, do not wait long to seek help. You could visit MSF’s website for marriage counselling services or marriage preparation programmes for more information.
This article was first seen at Familiesforlife.sg