The Gain That Comes From Marital Pain

 

Podcast: The Gain That Comes From Marital Pain

Making adversity in marriage benefit our relationship

By Focus on the Family Singapore | 22 April 2021

Someone wise once said that marriage is the best test of a person’s mettle. In the daily grind of doing life together, a person’s character and inner strengths and weaknesses are revealed.

In this episode, we are focusing on the growing pains in marriage and Christopher and Inez Fun will share about the ups and downs of their marriage and parenting journey in conversation with host, Aaron Ng.

Chris and Inez have been married for 6 years and they have 3 children—Isa, Ian and Ike. Chris is a business lead for social commerce in a media network, and Inez works as a global digital and PR lead for a skincare brand.

The transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.


Aaron:
Someone wise once said that marriage is the best test of a person mettle. In the daily grind of doing life together a person character and inner strengths and weaknesses are reviewed. Today, we are focusing on growing pains in marriage and we have with us husband and wife couple, Chris and Inez.

Welcome to the ParentEd podcast!

Thank you for taking time to be with us despite managing both your work and children. Chris and Inez, what three words would you use to describe your marriage?

Chris:
That's interesting. We were talking about this, before the recording. We said Ian, Isa and Ike would be the best 3 words to describe this marriage because for a start, they are the fruit of our marriage. The love we have for each other is seen in the commitment and this project we have in building a family together.

But like many other parents, children become the centre of attention and family, especially so with COVID, work from home, everyone is stuck at home. It's so easy to be caught up with three kids, ensuring that everything continues to run as normal as possible in the house, as that takes key priority for our lives.

Then we also discussed one of the key tenets of our marriage — exactly because they are the fruit of our marriage, it is ever more important that the marriage is strong. Rather than letting the children take over and run the show, the marriage is the plant. The kids are the fruit.

If we don't guard and build our marriage strong, be intentional and committed to it, the fruits will turn bad.

Aaron:
I really like your analogy of how marriage is like a tree and that represents that growth; in fact the children really are like the fruit right? And marriages normally go through a few stages and transitions.

There's the honeymoon stage where we first start off, then the reality stage past the honeymoon where we realized that there's stuff about each other that we didn't know before. Then you add kids into the mix. I guess both of you are experiencing that with your third child.

Right, you know add to that all our life challenges, career switches, all kinds of issues with health scares finances. That's, there's quite a lot that parents have to go through. So, in your own experience, what would you say have been your pain points in marriage?

Inez:
Well, I guess there are numerous pain points. First, transition can be very stressful in the marriage. To be honest when we first got married, we didn't know that our transition could actually impact the marriage in such a deep way.

So, when we first got into our transition, we would actually stop and we had mentors to help us and guide us through. And it taught us one thing — that if we navigate through the pain points or the transition well, it could actually bind us to be stronger as one couple and the marriage would have a stronger foundation.

If you do not manage it well, you will actually magnify the pain and the stress that comes from the transition, and it will actually affect the marriage in a very deep way.

We've experienced a lot of transitions. I think the first would be being the sweet arrival of our first-born. We had our first kid within the first year.

We didn't get to enjoy parenting much but just really learning as a first-time parent. That was being stressful.

In fact, every newborn that we had brings along with them a certain level of stress, and it's inevitable because if you ask any parents with newborns, they are trying to work with their sleep deprivation.

They're trying to understand why the baby is crying, what's going on? And if you have more kids in the family already, there are these tantrums and meltdowns to manage. So the dynamics is actually quite tricky.

Aaron:
So with three children, does it get better? At least you're a bit more experienced each time.

Chris:
No, it doesn't get any easier, nor better. While it's true that you know the drill better—the routines of how to take care of them or change the diaper, the principles—the dynamics of having a new member to the family is always surprising, if not shocking.

And when we partner to manage the new dynamics and needs at home, like how I described previously, it's easy to be entirely sucked into caring for the kids and forget about each other.

I mean, they are always demanding for our time. Well, right now they always demand for Mummy's time, not mine yet.

There were moments when I just didn't have the energy to communicate or express how I feel. Something that takes a lot of energy for me to do that because I'm an introvert, and it always leaves Inez wondering what's going on. Or if she doesn't notice it, it leaves me feeling unheard and unloved, which is a huge part in this marriage.

These are the times when it's most important to be very intentional in sharing how I feel, what I'm going through. And it may be the same challenge that we both face, but it doesn't mean we face it the same way.

I think that's one of the key lessons that I've learned, especially going through so much—3 kids is seriously no joke. Inez shared about just the routine and stuff, but we haven't included issues like kids going to the hospital. We had Ian going to the hospital 2-3 times in a period of two or three months.

And I feel the kind of stress that comes with parenting can't carry it alone; it's never meant to be carried it ourselves.

Inez:
So the highs are very high and the lows are quite low, but that's why we're saying it's very important to be intentional in communicating through the highs and the lows.

I remember this one time where he was telling me how he was stretched because he was very burnt out at work. And I was in the midst of managing my work and I was managing the kids as well. The kids are asking for Mummy's attention all the time and I was pregnant. OK, so there were a lot of things that I'm shouldering.

So, when Chris was telling me he's burnt out, I was like, "You'll get through it. I got through it, so you'll be fine."

But that was not fine because he did say that he is stretched; no matter how heavy my load is, it's very important to hear him speak. So because I disregarded or discounted what he said, it became a big issue in the marriage.

It felt like our communication had broken down. He felt like he wasn't heard. So it was a very tense period for us to resolve.

We had to get back into our daily routine of communicating, having a weekly lunch, really prioritising ourselves again in the midst of everything, and that’s really intentional.

Chris:
And it was really, I mean, we because of us being so tired, emotionally drained.

Physically drained, it's very easy at the end of the day to just lay down on the couch, or just turn on the TV and zone out, or be caught up with work again. But the very small things, like using dinner time to talk little or a lot, just communicating again was really, really important. That was our investment in the marriage—our watering and fertilising that tree we're talking about; while it was difficult and tiring to have that weekly date through all these transitions, it was definitely worth it because it really helped us to build a foundation we need to last to the end.

Aaron:
Yeah, saying that, "Yeah, I hear you but we will go through this together."

Were there moments in your marriage where you also experienced pain in a deeper way? May be a form of unexpected loss, like in Singapore right now with COVID, couples are going through a tough time. People may be losing their jobs or even just feeling uncertain about their future. Has that been an experience for you?

Inez:
I think the toughest transition was when Chris lost his job. We were married for three years and he was jobless for 1.5 years. He was retrenched twice and it happened very close to each other.

The most memorable one happened when I started my first day at this huge FMCG company. I was excited about it. He sent me to work, and that afternoon, he received news about his retrenchment. So it was a very high moment for me and it was a very low one for him.

And how do we actually reconcile through that day was, it was just a miracle of God and it was uhm very challenging to begin with,

Chris:
Yeah, it was initially quite a joy. I would say, "Yay, no work!" I can just take a break, relax, go do whatever I want to do.

It didn't take long before I started questioning. After a lot of job rejections, I remember going through interviews 6-7 rounds and they say no at the end of it. I started to wonder whether there's something wrong with me. Yeah, you can get rejected once or twice, but after many times, you start to really wonder, "What's wrong with me?"

It was also very difficult to update relatives who started thinking that I was becoming a bum, depending on my wife for a living; it really goes down to those moments where we hold it together. We spend time together and I'm really, really thankful that my wife never gave up.

I mean, she could have easily just said, "What's wrong with you? Why didn't you just go find job? Is there something wrong?"

She constantly encouraged me try to do practical things, like look into my CV, recommended recruiters and all.

It wasn't "Why didn't you?" but it was "Let's go through this together."

And that was really, really important. Of course, during my spare time I tried to do my little bit in the house of decreasing the workload, like chores and routines and kids. But it was an incredible season for us that we will never forget.

Inez:
I believe that as we went through that transition, in different seasons of our lives, our load of the housework and all the things that we needed to manage shifted accordingly.

For example, when he was jobless, he could take on the load of the housework and I had a very heavy workload. So it was great we're working to complement each other.

During the entire transition, I had two choices, either despise him or honour him. And I believe in him in his talents and his gifting.

It was hard, also a heartache for me that people couldn't see it and validate it. I really believed in him and he finally got hired, and now he's really doing well.

He's driving the entire social commerce business, and I think that period of time really helped us to focus on who the person is and not what the person does. I think that's very critical.

I think what helped also was to alleviate the stress on our finances. I know a lot of families, they have 10 scores of finances. What helped us was that from day one, we already set the principle that we have a shared account. So when we got married, I closed my bank account, took all my shares and move it into one account. He closed down his account and moved too.

We believe that the whole family will stay afloat and do well whether the income is coming from Chris or me. Yesterday it could be him being jobless, but maybe tomorrow I'll be the stay-home mum, where I have no salary. That mentality really helped us a lot.

Chris:
And that's the whole idea about marriage, it's really two becoming one. It's no longer either or, who's better than the other; rather it's how we complement because if we tell you the differences we have, or how incredibly different we are now since we started dating.

I think you'll be very surprised at how we are still together as one, but that's the whole point. When we can see two becoming one, we start to complement each other rather than contradict, and that becomes a very strong foundation. Not just for ourselves, but also for the kids that we bring up.

Aaron:
When all this happened, I believe it was a shock to both of you. And yet through this, I believe there's a strength that you're drawing forth. The past experience over 1.5 years of going through trusting each other, believing in each other, and now you are seeing the fruit of those years.

In that sense, when we have pain or suffer a loss in our life, we can have a different perspective, right? We could be really angry, despising our partner.

Or we can honor and choose the other person.

If that kind of disappointment is not dealt with, it can really lead to a bitterness against each other. So how can we see this loss or this pain to become a gain?

Are there practical tips for us, given how the things you have gone through are now something you hold on to?

Chris:
I think one of those things that we took away from all this was being vulnerable with each other.

As a man, especially in an Asian context, whether you like it or not, we all have this belief system. That as a man, you must do certain things, meet certain expectations and be the one who's strong for the house. It's difficult to be vulnerable, and yet that is so important because it's only when we're vulnerable, when we're open, that the other can come and cover us.

We should seek help when we need to and admit that we need help. That's the time when help can come and mentors can come in, your spouse can come in, whether to just give us wise advice or offer other forms of help.

But only when we are humble enough to admit that we need help.

It's like how I shared with her, "I need help, I'm burning out." Otherwise, I'll just be stuck by myself; because we're so different, she will never know how to help me.

Inez:
Yeah, the other thing that I learned is that the fastest way to destroy a marriage is to be self-centered.

If I'm only focusing on my needs and what I can get from the marriage, there will be tension in the marriage straightaway. So I think what really helps us through the transition&mdahs;where there is already a lot of frustration, uncertainties, financial stress—is really to be focusing on what our spouse needs.

It's a bit crazy to think of that, but it is actually possible! We believe that when we enter into a marriage covenant, it is about me laying down my rights so that the other person will flourish and live. Chris also lays down his rights so that I will flourish, and in that, we learn to love each other unconditionally.

One thing that we decided to do when he was in the pits was that even though he may be feeling frustrated and really didn't know what to do next, I could focus on the best thing I could do to help him.

He didn't need anyone to ask him what he was doing with his life, but he needed an encourager—that's one thing that I can be for him.

Chris: In the midst of all this, another thing I've learned a lot from her being so kind and loving to me was that we need to be kind to ourselves.

It's easy to blame ourselves when things don't work out. As a parent, I'm constantly thinking, "Why is my kid like that? Have I failed as a parent? Have we not considered enough?"

Or as a husband, "Have I not loved enough? Have I not done this enough? Why did I lose my job? Have I not tried hard enough?

Sometimes we repeatedly replay certain incidents in our minds and mull over what we did wrong. This is really unhealthy for us personally and for our marriage, because we need to be realistic. If COVID taught us anything, it's that we need to be real.

You never know what's going to happen tomorrow, and what we think is right, or the "should be, could have, should have" isn't necessarily true.

What's important is how we have each other, and are kind to ourselves as a couple, and to each other.

Inez:
I think the last thing that really helped us was to be humble and really thankful.

There're always ways to be thankful for the small things and the big things that we have, and celebrate moments.

Especially when you're a parent of three kids, there are a lot of things you can be upset about, like the kids are not sleeping on time, they're not eating their dinner, and they're not listening well. Yet there are a lot of small wins that we choose to celebrate, and I think being thankful in those moments, even during tough transitions, is one thing that helps to keep us moving forward because there's always blessings if you look for it.

Chris:
That’s why I'm very thankful Inez constantly takes photographs of the kids when they're playing together. When I'm too frustrated with myself to observe any of these or just those very precious moments that I love to revisit, it reminds me that things are not as bad.

Yes, this season is very challenging, but when we take a few steps back, we start to see things are really not that bad.

There's so much to be thankful for, and that really helped us to be focused on the right things, not just on the minor hiccups of the day.

Aaron:
Inez, is there something you're thankful for Chris that he does when it comes to your marriage?

Inez:
Absolutely. I think one of the amazing things about him is that he pivots really fast. For example, a man usually has his own ego and all that, like "I'm the father, I'm working hard and all that."

For him, whenever we talk about how we could be better parents, or I share with him honestly what the kids need from him or what I need from him, even though it was hard truth, he gets a bit disappointed or discouraged but he's back on his feet the next day.

He's on his “A” game, he likes to say. "I'm gonna learn to love my wife, I'm gonna learn to love my kids better." And I think I really appreciate that part about him.

Chris:
Not the flowers?

Inez:
The flowers as well. He sends me flowers every month to celebrate many anniversaries so we always have flowers.

Aaron:
Wow every month?

Chris:
Yes, since we started dating. That’s a lot of money to the florist.

Inez:
Yeah, it's coming from our bank, but it's fine and the kids know that Mummy like flowers! So now they actually pick flowers when they see them on the floor and they're like, "Mummy, flowers for you!"

So they actually learn how to love their mum like how Chris loves me.

Aaron:
Sounds like the flowers every month, which decorate the home, also represent his love for you.

Inez:
Yes.

Aaron:
I also heard that you are sharing and imparting some of your lessons with the younger mums or younger parents at your workplace. What are some things that people can do to encourage others, maybe their friends?

Inez:
So one thing that we learn as mothers is that it's very easy for us to go on the guilt trip. Like we're not taking care of our kids well enough, we are not being patient enough. Even for newborn parents, especially mums with newborns, just starting with whether we breastfeed or not, there's a lot of things that will get us down.

So I shared with the mums that we can actually be more helpful, or we can actually love our kids more lavishly, when we decide to be guilt-free. That goes back to Chris' earlier point of being kind to ourselves; it's not easy so self-care is really important.

I think that really helps to liberate our mums to be more free to love their kids.

Aaron:
At the same time, when they are not so stressed, they are also more free to love their husbands, and their husbands to love their wives as well.

Inez:
Absolutely.

Aaron:
Are there any last tips that you would like to share?

Inez:
Well, it would be to appreciate the fact that we have someone who knows us intimately, and that is our spouse. Someone we can trust and do life with; I see as a privilege.

To me, as I got married really late at 34 years old, I used to think it's a miracle for me to get married because I'm so strong-minded.

I always think it's a privilege to have someone to journey through life with. Life will always have its ups and downs. And if we have someone who loves us, support us unconditionally, it makes such a huge difference!

Even as we talked about all those tough transitions—having three kids, being unemployed, getting a new job—which are many things we need to resolve in life, but having our spouse with us will be the one thing that makes marriage life-giving.

Chris:
Yeah, to be frank that, that privilege doesn't come cheap and easy.

No one else in our lives will ever have that privilege to have not even my own parents or anyone closer. And for me, one of the takeaways is that marriage works when we work as a team, two becoming one.

I still treat it as "two lives coming together" for it to work. We don't just focus on ourselves, our own needs and wants, and we work as one. We were mindful each other's growth as individuals. It really brings the journey more meaningfully and stronger. Is it challenging? Definitely!

But like I said, this privilege is immensely rewarding.

© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

 

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