“The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.”
Japanese organisational guru Marie Kondo took the world by storm with her philosophy of tidying up. Instead of going from room to room to declutter your home, Marie suggests tidying up systematically by category, keeping only the things that speak to your heart and discarding those that no longer spark joy. Advocates of the Marie Kondo method have described her ideas as revolutionary, and report feeling more empowered to make clearer decisions based on whether or not an item sparks joy.
In a similar manner, our marriages also need decluttering. And the longer you are married, the more your marriage needs to be decluttered.
When you say ‘I do’
Let’s travel back in time to the day you got married. You gaze dreamily into the eyes of your beloved; and everything around you seems to fade. You hardly even remember your wedding vows; all you can remember is that somewhere down the line you uttered the simple two words, “I do.”
At that point in time, everything about your relationship seems to radiate joy — the newness of the marital relationship, the marital home, planning for children.
But years later, you realise that your marriage has become cluttered with too many things. After all, life is not a fairytale, and there is no such thing as a fairytale marriage. So the grudges, the hurts, the grievances, the resentment all build up and clutter up the marital space. As husband and wife, you do try to tidy up. You try to work on your issues one at a time, but it’s not as easy it you’d hoped it would be.
Perhaps we can take a leaf from Marie Kondo, and apply some of her tidying rules to our marriage:
If we want our marriages to work, we need to commit to them. My wife and I have been married for more than 15 years, and we have had our fair share of quarrels. But one thing both of us decided early in our marriage is for it to be our first priority, and that no matter what happens, we will stand together for our marriage. If couples commit to making their marriage work, they may be more likely to overcome the challenges that life throws at them.
What is your ideal marriage? While there is no perfect marriage, there are ideals we can aim for and work towards. Every year, my wife and I ask each other “What is one thing I can do in order to be a better spouse?” We have learnt that if we are able to articulate what we want from our spouse, and if we know what our spouse wants from us, we would then be better prepared to work on our issues and become a better person.
“While there is no perfect marriage, there are ideals we can aim for and work towards.”
As a counsellor, I know that each of us goes through many struggles. Many of our hurts stem from experiences in our childhood, our families-of-origin or are caused by incidents in school.
We sometimes need help to deal with our past hurts, be it through sharing with a trusted friend, a mentor or a therapist. This is one of the first steps to decluttering our marriage – dealing with the years of trash accumulated even before we got married.
There are so many different aspects of our lives that we could possibly work on. So, where do we begin?
If finances are an issue, seek a money manager who can help in this area. If you need help with communication issues, perhaps an online class on marital communication would benefit you. As for deeper emotional hurts, seeing a counsellor might be the way forward for you to learn new skills and narratives to process past grievances and resentment.
What is the right order? Marie Kondo states that there is an order in which you declutter your house – first declutter things that are less personal, working your way to the more personal items.
Likewise, for your marriage, start with the issues that seem obvious to you and your spouse. In counselling terms, these are the “presenting problems”, or issues that appear to be causing the most strain to your marriage.
As you tackle these problems, the more personal items or “root issues” will gradually surface. Sometimes, it helps to work through these difficult issues with a marital therapist.
Do the day-to-day interactions with your spouse spark joy?
If the answer is no, then take time to refocus on other aspects of your relationship that spark joy. Contrary to popular opinion, there is always something new to be discovered in marriage. Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson’s Developmental Model of Couples Therapy states that there are four stages in a marriage – the honeymoon, early marriage, middle marriage and long-term marriage periods.
Essentially this means that couples experience different challenges as they go through the different seasons of their marriage. It is important to understand what are the unique challenges that you may be facing right now in your marriage, and intentionally search for things that spark joy for the both of you.
For instance, during the years when your children are young, you could carve out date nights with your spouse. Or when your children are themselves getting married and moving out of the home, you could both learn a new hobby to rekindle the spark.
“It is only when we begin to deal with the past hurts in our lives that we can make space to rekindle joy in our marriage. “
Changing your habits
“People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking.”
Old habits die hard. Many couples get trapped in negative ways of dealing with the issues in their marriage. It may be a difficult step to first commit to decluttering our marriage but it is a much-needed one. Perhaps it is only when we begin to deal with the past hurts in our lives that we can make space to rekindle joy in our marriage.
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