What I Didn't Know about Marriage before the Plunge

How one couple has kept their vows through almost 2 decades of marriage

By Elvira Tan | 4 April, 2017

I married at age 23. My husband was 25 then. We were insanely young in the eyes of some peers, and raised an eyebrow or two among some older relatives when news of our impending marriage was shared back then.

The initial years were a blur. The loving feelings came naturally and we had a lot of fun getting to know each other better in marriage. However the real shocker came between our fifth to tenth years of marriage—we were almost at each other’s throats when we hit rock bottom. Thankfully we journeyed out of that together, and we are well into our second decade of marriage, fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary.

Taking stock of what we’ve been through, some pieces of advice that used to be concepts that hadn’t sunk in or I’d been clueless about, have now crystallised. Let me share them with you.

It is so vital to continue seeking greater self-awareness, and learn new things about my spouse too.

I’m a junkie for personality tests and relationship assessments, and I was ecstatic when I got my husband on the bandwagon. An in-depth personality test can be taken every few years. Looking back, I see how nifty those personality and relationship tests have been in forging greater empathy and understanding for each other in our marriage.

It gave me a lot more self-awareness, and helped me better understand why my husband would respond in a certain manner or understand things better if information was presented differently. We even found each other’s quirks comical when we understood the reasons behind some of our idiosyncrasies from these personality tests.

A relationship assessment tool that we found useful was the CoupleCheckup, which greatly helped to identify areas in our marriage to work on together for a stronger and healthier bond.

Armed with this information, I read up on as much as I could on communication and conflict management in marriage, and shared what I’d learned with my husband. We tried everything that we thought would work well in resolving differences for us.

From the start, agreeing that divorce was not an option was important.

Attending a marriage preparation programme is probably one of the best things we have done for our marriage. We were told of what to expect in marriage—the season of fuzzy love, and the spring in our step that our union brings, would taper off within the first couple of years, followed by a constant tug of wills. After this season passes, it will take intentionality to keep our marriage strong and healthy. We knew this in theory but we had to experience it to truly understand the principle behind this piece of advice.

Most importantly, divorce should not be used as a threat in the heat of an argument. With my husband and I agreeing on this matter, we realised that we had to make things work between us, whatever the cost; it certainly shaped how we dealt with conflict in our marriage and the way we communicate with each other.

“Most importantly, divorce should not be used as a threat in the heat of an argument.”

A strong marriage is made up of two whole individuals.

Our marriage is at its strongest now because we have learnt in the past decade to be whole individually. A loving and respectful marriage is not a parasitic affair, it does not merely feed off someone’s generosity and magnanimity. My self-worth should not be based on how much love and affection I have received from my husband, nor should his self-worth be dependent how much respect my husband thinks he has from me.

“A loving and respectful marriage is not a parasitic affair.”

The more assured we are in our own identities, the less conflict we had because we had less insecurities clouding our perspectives of issues in times of conflict. With a heightened self-esteem, fears play out less in our arguments and there is an increased calmness when we’re resolving disagreements between us. Over the years, as we firmed up our own identities by dealing with individual emotional baggage and strengthening our faith and convictions, love, affection and respect naturally increased between us.

Sharing common values and beliefs are crucial.

Identifying with the same values makes things easier, as these spill over to the lifestyle choices we make, the way we think and feel about anything and everything—from financial management to parenting to marriage and career choices. Over the years, we have worked towards aligning our values.

Reflecting on the struggles and how we have overcome them, I must add that the power of prayer and a shared faith was undeniably a defining factor in making our marriage work and ultimately survive the toughest of times.

The man I married was only an idealised version of who I thought I could love at that point, but having seen each other at our worst through the years and still accepting and loving all of what we see in each other—to me, that is a much greater and richer love.

A love that is there for the taking is available for all married couples who persevere through the years, even when it’s hard to feel loving and things appear hopeless.

I truly believe that with tenacious intentionality, the love we experience in marriage can only get deeper, more beautiful and more complete through the years.

©2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved

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