Imagine this: Wife is excited to plan a family holiday over the next school break, and is trying to convince Husband to get on board. He throws cold water on the idea immediately, saying that it’s too soon since their last major holiday, and that he’s expecting a tonne of work during that time.
Wife gets upset that he isn’t listening and prioritising her needs, and gets hostile. She thinks he’s being selfish, while he thinks she’s unreasonable and throwing a fit over nothing.
When everyday issues like this becomes a tug-of-war over who’s right and who’s wrong, then settling even the smallest of disagreements becomes a major battle.
Ask any married couple and you’ll hear that disagreements and conflicts are part and parcel of married life. We bring emotional baggage from our childhoods and past into our marriage to varying degrees, which complicates our relationship.
Larry Lai — the Principal Psychotherapist at Focus on the Family Singapore — drew out important lessons from his 7 years of experience in counselling married couples and shared tips for couples to weather storms in their marriage.
Lesson 1: Deal with small problems before they become much bigger
A common issue that couples face is leaving problems unaddressed until their marriage is in dire straits. By the time these couples seek counselling, a lot of work needs to go into reversing the damage and working through layers of hurt. If some problems were addressed earlier, the damage would be lower and the chances of reviving the marriage, a lot greater.
He likened this scenario to someone who ignores his health for ages, only seeking medical treatment when the physical conditions are too glaring to overlook any longer. It’s not too late to help with the condition, but a lot more effort is needed to restore the original state of health.
Lesson 2: Learn to forgive, again and again
If there’s one essential habit to work on in your marriage, Larry strongly encourages couples to learn to forgive, repeatedly. Forgiveness takes practice and intentionality. It’s hard to do but crucial for the wounded spouse to release forgiveness to their partner. Doing so helps the hurting spouse experience healing personally.
The wrong-doer must also be willing to ask for—and receive—the forgiveness, demonstrating a commitment to change for the better. Going beyond mere talk, this entails taking responsibility for the hurt and actively making amends.
In this way, both spouses can work together to help restore their marriage. Larry underscored the truth in Ruth Bell Graham’s wise words: “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” – Ruth Bell Graham
Lesson 3: Be a loving listener and communicator
Communication is another common pitfall. Couples need to constantly work on their communication with each other, instead of assuming that they can do it well.
Larry shared a personal example. He used to struggle with listening to his wife, often interrupting her or responding presumptuously when she spoke to him. This led to a lot of misunderstanding and unhappiness between them.
He learnt to work on his listening skills over time, realising that listening to his wife stemmed from a genuine desire to understand her, instead of entering a conversation with a conclusion in mind. In response, this simple and intentional act of listening vastly improved their communication; it enhanced their marriage too.
Improved communication between spouses enhances the marriage.
Lesson 4: Marriage counselling is a guide
Contrary to popular belief, we do not need red flags to appear before seeking marriage counselling. It is especially good for couples to undergo marriage counselling at least once a year for the first 5–7 years of marriage. In these formative and foundational years of marriage, there are many lessons for young couples transiting from dating to marriage life, and to uncover any unvoiced and unmet expectations of each other that have led to disappointment, anger or frustration.
Counselling enables couples to address unresolved issues while they are still manageable, before these escalate into major obstacles in the relationship.
Address unresolved issues in the marriage when they are still manageable, before they escalate into major problems.
For couples who have been married for some time, Larry encourages them to have regular marriage check-ups. Marriage is a life-long journey, and even veteran couples will benefit from attending marriage “coaching sessions”. This gives important skills in mutual understanding, and helps them overcome their blind spots. One quick way for couples to discern the health of their marriage and get on the same page is to do The Couple Checkup.
Returning to the medical analogy, consider it like going for regular health check-ups. If it turns out that there’s nothing to worry about, it provides a peace of mind that you’re on the right track. More often than not, these check-ups may reveal issues worth having a closer look at, and early detection will give us a much better shot at nipping the problems in the bud.
With these tips, may you witness transformation in the quality and strength of your married life.
© 2018 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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