Family therapist Jennifer Chee dispenses sage advice on how to keep a marriage strong, plus tips on handling the in-laws.

Throw kids and one’s in-laws into the mix and suddenly marriage becomes a totally different ball game. Every person who is added to the family could add another layer of stress on the couple. This is on top of any existing disagreements you have with your spouse. If these pressures and differences are left unresolved, it may mean the ugly spectre of divorce looms.

Indeed, figures from the Department of Statistics show that a total of 7,522 married couples called it quits in 2015, a 2.9 per cent increase from the previous year. There were 28,322 marriages that year.

Beyond a breakdown in communication, a wide variety of causes may be causing the spike in the present number of divorces. Extra-marital affairs, conflicting parenting styles and financial differences are common causes, too, points out aLife marriage counsellor Jennifer Chee. “I’ve also seen cases where there is a mismatch of needs — the husband demanded more sex but the wife wants him to be more emotionally caring.”

Couples should seek help from counsellors as soon as they are unable to resolve any issues on their own.”

Indeed, marriage counselling programmes — such as the ones non-profit groups like aLife provide — are often seen as a last-ditch attempt to salvage a failing marriage. But it shouldn’t be. Chee says couples should seek help from counsellors as soon as they are unable to resolve any issues on their own. “Especially if the issue makes them emotional and angry and they’re no longer able to talk to each other on about it ― even refusing to listen to each other.”

As a counsellor, Chee explains that she, as the neutral party, is there to ensure that either spouse is able to hear each other — something they are unable to do at home. But don’t expect your problems to be solved if you aren’t prepared to work with the marriage therapist.

Notes Chee, 68, who has racked up more than 15 years of marriage counselling experience, “I would always give homework to couples and especially the wife. I would ask her to write a diary to record the instances where she was crying and the reasons for it.”

SmartParents unlocks secrets to a loving and everlasting marriage…

In your experience, couples in which age range tend to experience marital problems?

In my counselling experience, it’s most common among couples aged 35 to 50 years old. Couples in this age range [around 35] have usually been married for five years and above and have young children. Marital issues arise because of conflicting parenting styles and an inability to establish financial independence and stable careers. So, in the midst of raising young children, building a career and ensuring financial stability, conflicts emerge. There is also conflict between wanting and not wanting children for couples in this age range.

More and more older couples are getting divorced what’s causing this increase?

Common causes include a communication breakdown, extra-marital affairs and, in some cases the wife, complains that the husband is spending too much time at work and has little time for her.

Any advice for older couples on how they can keep their marriage going?

Spend time together and engage in activities based on their interests such as going to musical concerts and travelling.



What can couples expect during their initial counselling sessions?

During the first few visits, I would go through with the couple the objectives, purpose and the outcome they hope to gain from the counselling sessions. I would also gather information from them as to when the issues started and what was the cause. We will also address why they are unable to resolve it themselves. This information allows me to make an assessment and come up with an appropriate intervention plan and techniques to help them.

Walk us through a normal day in the office…

I am not a full-time marriage counsellor with aLife, so I’ll usually come into the office when I have client appointments. After each session, I’ll record the case and include key issues discussed, the techniques used, behavioural observations and my assessment of the session. I’ll then make preparations for the next session. In between sessions, I’ll spend time reading books or resources on marriage for personal growth that will help in my counselling sessions.

“Couples should have a more forgiving and understanding attitude and practise unconditional love towards their in-laws.”

Describe a particular counselling experience you will never forget…

I handled a case in which a couple who were in the process of getting a divorce decided to come for counselling to give their marriage a last chance. I was very happy that after our counselling sessions, they decided to reconcile. They have even gone on to welcome a baby into their family.

What are the secrets to a successful marriage?

Good communication, spending quality time and matching each other’s needs. In my counselling sessions, I will help couples discover what the love language of their spouse is. For example, the wife may be someone who likes to receive gifts rather than compliments from the husband. That way, the husband can show his love by giving gifts if he knows the love language of his wife.

Why do you think many couples have in-law issues?

Couples usually struggle with in-laws who feel insecure ― they think that the wife and her parents have “stolen” their son away from them. They also struggle with in-laws on money matters. A common complaint from in-laws about couples is that rather than respecting them as elders in the family, they were treated like friends, which demonstrates a lack of care and concern.

How can couples enjoy a good relationship with their in-laws?

Couples should have a more forgiving and understanding attitude and practise unconditional love towards their in-laws. For instance, in a case I’ve handled, a stepmother provided education and unconditional care for the children from her husband’s previous marriage.



How should parents explain their divorce to their kids?

If the children are old enough, the parents must explain their decision for divorcing each other. Parents should bear in mind that they must talk in a manner that their children will feel that they are at fault and responsible for the parents’ divorce. Also, parents need to communicate to them that despite the irreconcilable differences that led to the divorce, the children will not be abandoned or deserted.

Any post-divorce advice for parents?

It is important to allow the siblings to be reunited on big occasions such as Chinese New Year or attending someone’s wedding, especially if each parent has custody of different children. Otherwise, sticking to a constant schedule for the siblings to be together will ensure that the children wouldn’t feel abandoned or rejected by the parent who does not have custody of the child.

“It has been very fulfilling for me as a marriage counsellor to see couples deciding to reconcile and when families are reunited as a result of successful counselling.”

Is there a “right time” to get married again, following a divorce?

The individuals must first address the issues that led to their divorce. They need to change their behaviour and attitude before even considering remarriage. They should not bring any emotional baggage that is the result of the failed marriage into the second marriage. Once they are able to do that, they can consider remarriage.

What do you love most about being a marriage counsellor?

It has been very fulfilling for me as a marriage counsellor to see couples deciding to reconcile and when families are reunited as a result of successful counselling. It also gives me great satisfaction in knowing a couple’s decision to give their marriage a second chance.

Complete these sentences:

The things couples can do to have good relationships with their in-law is to… Understand their needs such as their religious beliefs, their emotional need to stay connected with their married children, the family background or culture, and even their character and morals.

To me, marriage is… About bringing up a family together and setting good examples for their younger generation to emulate and learn.

Main Photo: aLife

Other photos: iStock

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