Finance manager Michelle Lee, 38, did not realise that her marriage was going south until her 6-year-old daughter Chloe asked if she and daddy were getting a divorce. She had noticed that her parents hardly spoke to each other.
“I was shocked when she asked me that. I thought our marriage was going on fine as we hardly had conflicts, our home was run like clockwork and we hardly had any problems with each other.”
However, it was then that Lee realised how little she interacted with her husband. After spending the entire day at work, they’d either be on their mobile devices when they returned home, or he’d watch soccer on TV, while she read.
“We probably did not have arguments because there was no time or opportunity to even have conflicts!”
Lee acknowledges that they’d speak to each other for only several minutes a day, even on weekends. The couple would de busy ferrying their three children to different enrichment classes, or he’d go for golf while she attended Zumba classes.
“It was horrible!”
After talking about it, Lee and her husband talked about it and decided they needed to do something. Lee says, “Sean wanted to avoid couple’s counselling because he did not think it was a serious enough issue. So, we started hunting around for alternative ways to help us with our problem.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Sara Delia Menon of Alliance Counselling explains that it is common for couples to experience a dip in satisfaction or closeness when manoeuvring transitions such as having children, changing jobs or homes.
She advises, “Make time to start a conversation about the issues ― relationships are living things which need attention and care. If the couple has neglected the relationship, it is natural for the quality of the relationship to deteriorate.”
Noting that each partner’s ideas on the roles and responsibilities in their relationship can evolve over time, Dr Menon points out that when they do not talk about the changes in expectations, it can lead to frustration and resentment.
Couples counselling should not be a last resort and the myth that the relationship should be bad before seeking help should be debunked.
Says Claire Nazar, Families for Life council member. “It is a misconception that couples should consider seeing a counsellor only if they are facing a marriage crisis ― couple’s counselling is helpful at any stage of a relationship. Going for couple counselling will help you and your spouse to develop the necessary tools and navigate the pitfalls to build a strong and fulfilling relationship.”
If you or your spouse aren’t comfortable sharing their problems in front of a stranger, learn ways to strengthen your marriage before deciding that you need couple’s therapy.
#1 Reflect and communicate
Typically, when a couple faces a tough situation, they react instinctively on emotions alone, which might cloud good judgment. Nazar notes that this is likely to aggravate the situation and compound relationship stress.
“Effective communication is key in maintaining a strong relationship, and even more so in the situation when a couple is facing relationship issues. The first course of action is to call a ‘time out’ to reflect on the situation, before coming back together to discuss a holistic solution,” she explains.
Setting aside time to reflect is a useful method to make sure that you and your spouse are focused on understanding each other’s concerns and coming to a compromise.
Notes Nazar, “When couples do not give themselves time and space to reflect on taking responsibility for their own actions and how they can work together as a team, it is easy to start blaming the other person and seeing the other person as being the problem instead of the issue itself. Being irritated or upset with each other at times, is normal. Being constantly upset with each other shows that there is resentment brewing and it should be dealt with.”
“Effective communication is key in maintaining a strong relationship, and even more so in the situation when a couple is facing relationship issues.”
#2 Show an interest in your spouse
Checking in with your partner during the day signals interest in what he or she is doing. Take the initiative to send simple messages such as “Have you eaten your lunch??” or “Did the meeting with the client go well?”’ or “What would you like to have for dinner tonight’ to keep the communication channels open and flowing.
“Research shows that ‘small things often’ make the most sustainable difference in a relationship, rather than the occasional ‘wow'’ event/ occasion. Everyday gestures such as checking in with your partner, showing interest in his/ her day, responding to his/ her invitations to connect go a long way to building a relationship with longevity,” states Dr Menon.
#3 Put your marriage first
Most parents, especially mums, tend to relegate their spouse to second place once children come along. Changing the baby’s diaper, midnight feeding, cooking and cleaning for the children, guiding them in homework, doing their laundry ― kids have a way of taking over your marriage, leaving no time and mood for romance or couple time.
So, it is important to put your marriage first ― make your spouse feel as important as your children, carve some uninterrupted time out each day to catch up with each other, find a caretaker for your kids and go for date nights.
Dr Menon suggests that you try and instil in the relationship a sense that you think about your partner and demonstrate these in ways that your partner will recognise and respond to. This is where Gary Chapmans work on love languages comes in handy. Figure out what your partner’s love language and invest in words/actions/gestures of affection that will let him/her know that you are attentive and loving.
It is also important to eat together, as “A family that eats together, stays together”. “Your relationship as a couple can be strengthened through shared commitment to your children and fostering a strong home for them. You can also use this opportunity over meals to catch up and reconnect with each other,” Nazar notes.
#4 Find similar interests
Find an activity that you enjoy doing together and set aside time to do it.
Nazar says that she enjoys trying new eating places on date nights with her husband, as well as watching TV together ― especially laughing over comedies.
She adds, “We also enjoy conducting marriage workshops together ― sharing personal anecdotes reminds us of all the experiences we have had together, especially the good times. This helps to build up the positive emotions about the relationship. We also enjoy going for cooking classes.”
#5 Attend workshops and self-help classes
It may take up several hours or even a day, but going for marriage talks, seminars and bonding programmes lets you both explore other ideas and advice, so that you can better navigate the ups and downs of marriage for a stronger relationship.
There are also loads of relationship self-help books you can enjoy reading together, then applying the expert advice from these. Or even explore online relationship courses and quizzes.
Couples need to develop a strong commitment to making their relationship work and stick to it. There is no one-method-fits-all formula for a good relationship. What’s essential is that you and your spouse are on the same page and both put in effort to get over this speed bump in your shared lives.
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