Managing Change As A Couple, After Baby Arrives

I remember the day when my wife and I discovered that we were going to have a child. It was a whirlwind of emotions for us. After all, we had been longing for a baby for such a long time, so when the news came, we almost couldn’t believe it.  

The day finally arrived. Baby came, and our lives changed forever.  

Before baby arrived, we had our time and space as individuals and as a couple. But once our first child arrived, it seemed to be one amorphous blending of day and night, especially given baby’s erratic feeding cycle, which continued regardless of whether we were awake or asleep.  

The arrival of a child is a major change in the life of every couple. There is an exponential increase in the things that need to be done around the house. From preparing for the feeding needs of the child to taking care of clothing and diapering. On top of this, the regular office work and household chores do not decrease. What’s worse is that leaving one area of the household unmanaged could snowball into other areas of life very quickly.  

Many couples have highlighted sleeplessness as another major factor affecting their physical and emotional wellbeing during the early weeks. Disrupted sleep leads to tiredness and crankiness between husband and wife, which could increase spousal tension, especially due to differing expectations on how the workload in the home should be shared.  

And then there is marital intimacy, or lack thereof. A decreased desire for sex is a common experience, and this could have a negative impact on the closeness felt by both husband and wife.  

Disrupted sleep leads to tiredness and crankiness between husband and wife, which could increase spousal tension. 

Transitions and change

The arrival of a child is a huge transition. For the marriage to withstand the challenges, you may need to process the transition well.  

What does this mean? According to author William Bridges, a transition is an inner psychological process that people go through as they come to terms with the changes they are going through. Bridges highlighted three stages in his transition model – Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings.  

Endings is when people come to terms that their situation has been changed forever. This encompasses aspects of grief and loss, and individuals need to accept that the status quo they had been used to is now gone. In the arrival of a baby, both husband and wife need to realise that their situation has changed, and the family now has to incorporate the routines of the child.  

The neutral zone, which is the second stage, is an in-between period when there is a need to recalibrate, especially since the old has gone and the new isn’t quite established yet. There is a need to reconsider old ways of doing things and develop new strategies to manage the changes that have occurred.  

The third stage of the transition process is one of new beginnings. It involves new understandings, which is associated with a shift in values and attitudes. This in turn sparks a new release of energy, and individuals then operate with fresh perspectives, managing their new roles with more confidence and security.  

For the couple with a new baby, this is often accompanied by a new sense of purpose and they are propelled in a direction that they have never experienced before. This stage is also marked by new norms and traditions. 

The key to dealing with a newborn is to accept that life as you know it has changed forever. 

Managing change 

I remember our first year as parents. We seemed to be always tired, always running around in circles, and feeling like headless chickens, not knowing what we were doing from one moment to the next. There were, however, two things that helped us during that difficult time. 

  • Embrace the changes 

The key to dealing with a newborn is to accept that life as you know it has changed forever. You need to mourn the loss of your childless existence and recalibrate your life as a couple, coming to terms with your new status as parents.  

For us, it took acknowledging that we would never be able to go out again without a diaper bag and a whole inventory of baby accessories. This also meant that unless we made prior arrangements, our baby would follow us wherever we went. It also meant adjustments to our social life so that we could allow our child to have an early night. 

  • Don’t forget your spouse 

In the hustle and bustle of a child’s arrival, it is not uncommon to neglect tending to the wellbeing of your spouse. And while it is important to reorientate your life to cater to the needs of your child, it is also crucial to care for your spouse.  

For men, this means expressing love to your wife in a way that she would understand, in accordance to her love language. For us, this included taking the early feed before I went to work, so that my wife could sleep in a little later after caring for our child during the various night feeds. It also meant shouldering more of the household chores.  

As for women, loving your spouse could mean acknowledging the important role he plays in maintaining the financial integrity of the household. It could also mean showing love to him in his love language, and making the effort to have some regular couple time. 

A new normal 

The tumultuous days after the arrival of a child will not last forever, but as you continue to love each other, and embrace your new roles as parents, the early days of parenthood while challenging can also strengthen your marriage.  

For it’s not how much you do as parents that matters, but it’s how much you choose to love that keeps the family together. 

What Changed My Mind About Having Kids

“The most we’ll have is one child, and if not, none. It’s just too expensive to have kids in Singapore.” 

In this day and age, it is common to hear such a narrative. Increasingly more youth and young adults are either indifferent towards having a child or do not want a child. A primary reason is having to deal with the high costs of living in Singapore.  

Parenting also involves a significant investment of time and energy. It is little wonder then that fewer married couples find it desirable to have children today.  

What struck me about the words above was that they were spoken to me by a family member who loves children. Although he and his girlfriend enjoyed being around kids, they felt it was too costly to have their own. This got me thinking: If even people who love kids aren’t keen on becoming parents, why would anyone still want to have children today?  

The real costs to raising children 

Many people whom I’ve met have the impression that I’m a “family man” through and through. While it is true that I am passionate about family life today, it was not always so!  

Growing up, I could not understand why anyone would invest so much of their lives in their children only to have so many outcomes beyond their control. I even used to wonder why people would congratulate parents on the arrival of a new baby! 

Now as a father myself, I can appreciate the sacrifices that parents make to give their best to their children. Before my son was born, I had invested much of my time in martial arts. I had the ambition of becoming an instructor, a goal that seemed attainable given my passion and dedication to the art.  

But as the date of my son’s birth drew near, I grappled with the fact that commitment to martial arts would mean being away from my family quite often. Even my attention at home would be compromised as I had to spend time practising when away from the gym.  

After months of deliberation, I ceased my gym membership. I tried switching to other martial arts with a lower time commitment, but a few weeks in, I realised that my family would still feel my absence at home. I decided it was best that I quit the hobby altogether for my family’s sake, though I did so with a heavy heart.  

This is just one example of the many choices parents make at their own expense to give their best to their children. Indeed, the costs involved in raising a child are very real. 

Children are our best teachers, and they remind us that there is so much of the world around us to explore and enjoy.  

But there are also real joys   

If the cost is so high, what then could have convinced me to cross over to this side of the fence? 

My turning point came during an encounter with a neighbour several years ago. This next-door neighbour was very young, no more than two years old at the time. That afternoon, I was re-entering the house after disposing trash in the common chute when he peeked out of his gate, curious to see what I was doing.  

I smiled and gave a little wave. Just before I shut the door however, he gave me a big smile in return. It was the first time I had experienced such a moment of connection with a child. I’d never thought of myself as child-friendly before, so I was surprised the boy wanted to interact with me at all. Though the interaction was fleeting, the pure joy of being greeted by his smile softened my perspectives towards children. 

As the years went by, and with more interactions with other children, I slowly began to understand the joy of being with kids.  

For me, parenthood takes this joy to a deeper level. When I became a father, I was awestruck by the miracle in my arms as I observed the movements of my son’s tiny chest and his peacefulness as he slept safely in my embrace. 

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve now experienced tossing a ball and running freely in the park with him, and I realise these moments of fun and discovery with our children provide a sense of respite from the toils and complexities of our grown-up world.  

Raising my own kids has opened my eyes to the meaning of life and the joy of family. And I feel so privileged to be able to carve a strong and precious bond with my children in their early years, a bond that will hopefully anchor our family through every season of life.   

Children are our best teachers, and they remind us that there is so much of the world around us to explore and enjoy.  

How do you value children or count the joys they bring through their adorable smiles, hearty laughter, and pure wonder? 

The true value of children 

It is hard to put a price tag on children; after all, how do you value children or count the joys they bring through their adorable smiles, hearty laughter, and pure wonder? 

On the flip side, because we live in such a pragmatic society, it is easy to calculate the costs of raising a child. 

The truth is, having children is not a fully rational decision you make. We can budget and count the cost beforehand, but we will never be able to comprehend or behold the joys until we get there. 

As parents, our desires and hopes are often very simple. Ask any parent what they desire most for their child, and the likely answer you’ll get is: “For them to grow up happy, healthy and strong.” Few would say, “I hope they will become the next CEO of a multi-million dollar company.”  

And yes, while there are day-to-day challenges to overcome, I think my biggest takeaway as a father is that my children open my eyes to the joys of life, and anchor me to the present moment. And the love we share helps me find the strength to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.  

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

Bedroom Talk: How to Grow in Sexual Intimacy

Communicating your desires in the bedroom can be a daunting and awkward affair -and certainly not the regular fare of topics that most married couples would readily jump into!  

Many couples probably may not perceive this to be an important facet of marriage life. However, just as how engaging in regular communication on different aspects of life with our spouse helps make a great relationship — communicating our thoughts, feelings and emotions about sexual intimacy is no exception.  

The ability to talk about sexuality to our partner could be the key to enhancing marriage intimacy and relationship. 

The truth is a healthy sex life in marriage is a great gift, and it is something to be enjoyed and nurtured through open and honest communication. Studies have shown that couples who talk more about sex have more satisfying sex lives and are more in tune with each other in real life. Knowing how to please your other half also builds relationship confidence and has good ripple effects for your marriage.  

How can couples work towards achieving good, open communication in sexual intimacy?  

For example, you may not be interested in sex because you’re overburdened with housework or worried about meeting your sales target. Yet instead of sharing about the source of frustration honestly with your partner, you send signals of irritation that could be hurtful or misconstrued.  

Creating a safe environment to be open and honest with each other about potential roadblocks to sexual desire forms a good foundation for sexual intimacy.  

Joyce Brothers puts it aptly, “Real intimacy is only possible to the degree that we can be honest about what we are doing and feeling.”

Despite this, many couples find sharing their sexual needs and desires more difficult than actually having sex. This is because one needs to be vulnerable to share your feelings, express what you like, and be open about what pleasures your body.  

Some may worry about being rejected or hurting their spouse unintentionally or are simply unsure of how their spouse may react to their preferences.  

If there are issues in your sex life, talking about it honestly and sensitively with your spouse might be needful in order to strengthen your relationship and mutual understanding, while working towards ways to meet each other’s needs.   

I remember that with each new child we welcomed into our family, bedroom activity would take a dip for a period of time while we adjusted to our new family dynamics.  

Sex was the last thing on our minds and the first priority was to get as much sleep as we could – without waking the baby! It really helped that both of us were on the same page in understanding the ebb and flow of family life and gave each other space to adjust our expectations in the midst of transitions.  

Here are some common areas that might be worth checking in with your spouse about:  

Changes in sex drive

Desires for intimacy can be affected by circumstantial changes such as health issues, e.g., sexual dysfunction or mental health issues like depression. They could also be affected by important transitions in life, such as welcoming a baby, post-partum recovery, transiting to a new job, periods of heightened work stress, etc.  

These are periods when new levels of understanding need to be forged and when the affected party may need more support from their other half.  

If your spouse is experiencing challenges, do be attentive to their emotions and feelings. Your spouse will appreciate your listening ear, and validation of their feelings. 

Mismatched libidos 

It is not uncommon for one spouse to have a stronger desire for sex than the other. This may be an obvious statement but sex SHOULD be enjoyed. If sex is not enjoyable for one party, it could lead to resentment or avoidance.  

If your spouse expresses discomfort or seems to be making excuses to avoid sex, it may be time to have an honest discussion about what needs to be added, changed, or altered for both husband and wife to have an enjoyable experience. Check in with each other on ways to come to a compromise in meeting and satisfying each other’s needs.  

How to go about family planning   

This could be an important aspect to discuss for those who may feel the pressure or desire to conceive for a variety of reasons. Discuss each other’s priorities in your current season in life and how that may affect family planning and intimacy.  

For example, a wife may feel her biological clock is ticking whereas her husband prefers to focus on his career and financial security before starting a family or having more children.  

Both concerns are valid and each couple needs to navigate that so that these conflicting desires do not affect intimacy. Are both spouses ready to grow the family with ongoing responsibilities at hand and what are the support systems in place? Knowing the “whys” will help couple’s understand their shared goals and align themselves as a couple for that particular season of life. It can also help relieve the pressure once there is understanding and acceptance from the other.  

Always the one initiating sex  

This could be a sensitive topic to deal with especially since we may have certain expectations while having autonomy over our own bodies.   

Sexual rejection can fuel personal insecurities about attractiveness and value as a partner, with thoughts like: Does “no” mean “I’m no good”? or “Is my spouse no longer attracted to me?  

The key issue is learning how to negotiate sexual boundaries and learning how to say “no” without damaging your relationship. Reassurance is key in affirming and showing our spouse that they are loved, wanted and needed. Compensating with relational intimacy, affection, talk or cuddle time could be one way to reinforce this to our loved one.  

It can be awkward embarking on this journey with your spouse, but think of it as an area of growth for you both. With practice and intentional investment, you will reap the rewards of a fulfilling sex life! 

How to Create an Emotionally Safe Space in Your Marriage

In a recent survey conducted by Focus on the Family Singapore, couples were asked to respond to one of the statements: “It is difficult to share my deepest thoughts and feelings with my spouse.”  

It is noteworthy that a significant percentage (30% of total respondents) indicated that they strongly agreed/agreed with the statement. 

Interestingly, more wives (32.3%) compared to husbands (25.6%) strongly agreed/agreed with the statement. 

There are many reasons why husbands and wives are afraid to be vulnerable and engage in authentic conversations. But perhaps the root cause is the lack of emotional safety in the marriage. 

In an emotionally unsafe relationship, there is a feeling of distrust, disconnect, and defensiveness. You are afraid to speak your mind or show your true feelings because there is an undercurrent of anxiety, wondering how your spouse would react.  

In contrast, when couples feel secure and trust each other, they let their guard down and express their thoughts or share their fears, hurts, or deepest longings without worrying about being judged or invalidated. Of course, no one is perfect, so it is impossible for couples to always be responding perfectly to each other. But if we want greater intimacy with our spouse, we need to be intentional about fostering emotional safety in our relationship. 

How do we cultivate such a safe space through our daily life and actions? 

Consider the following S.A.F.E.R strategies. 

Set a positive and uplifting tone  

What is the first thing you say when you meet your spouse after a long day at work? Is complaining or making snide remarks a default way of greeting each other? Once you allow negativity to set the tone for your conversations, the atmosphere no longer feels safe for sharing. 

Be deliberate about how you greet each other after being apart for a good part of the day. Regardless of the kind of day you had at home or at the office, make it a point to greet each other with a kind word or caring gesture.  

A workshop attendee once shared a strategy – when he drove home after a long day at the office, he would turn off his car ignition switch, but he would not get out of the car immediately. He would intentionally do a “mindset switch,” reminding himself that he is going home to his family, and they deserve the best of him.  

Regardless of whatever had happened at the office, especially if he had a bad day, he kept to his commitment to be loving and gracious in his words and body language. It created a warmer, reassuring atmosphere at home, which in turn allowed for enriching and deeper dialogues as a couple 

Avoid absolute language 

“You are always looking at your smart phone.” 

“You always interrupt when I am speaking.” 

“You never ask for my views or opinion on any issues.” 

These are examples of absolute language that couples often use when they are upset with each other. In intimate relationships, absolute language is ineffective because it tends to put couples on the defensive. If one spouse is bombarded with absolute language on a regular basis, it is a sure-fire way of causing him/her to withdraw emotionally.  

Focus on listening to what your spouse is saying instead of making your point 

It is not uncommon for couples with strong personalities to want to make their point instead of listening to what their spouse is saying.  

Even if we disagree with our spouse or believe our perspectives on issues are far weightier than theirs, it does not warrant harsh judgment or criticisms. Having a self-righteous attitude hinders genuine connection. We listen to know our spouse better, not to convince our spouse that we are right in all matters.  

Try this instead: Replace judgment with curiosity. Ask questions to understand why our spouse holds a certain view or assumption. When our spouse knows we are accepting and open to differing views, they would be more willing to engage in deeper conversations. 

We listen to know our spouse better, not to convince our spouse that we are right in all matters. 

Emotions – be aware of your emotions and choose wisely  

There may be times when you’re having a discussion with your spouse, and you get triggered by something he/she said.  When this happens, you may feel a wave of strong emotions, but remember you always have a choice on how to respond. 

An unempathetic approach is to verbalise what is on your mind without being sensitive to your spouse’s feelings.  

A more gracious approach is to turn your mind to what your partner has said and pay attention to your emotional reaction. Ask yourself what you are feeling – Is it fear (because your partner hit a raw nerve), embarrassment (because she is more knowledgeable than you), or pride (because you can’t lose to her/him)?  

If you notice your emotions riding high, and you are combing your mind for a rebuttal, hit the “Pause” button. Let your spouse know that you are losing your cool, call for a time-out to regain your composure, and pick up the conversation when you are ready. 

If you notice your emotions riding high, and you are combing your mind for a rebuttal, hit the “Pause” button. 

Respect each other’s boundaries 

There are times when your spouse is unwilling to share his/her thoughts and you are unsure of the reasons. It is important to accept his/her need for space and not insist that he/she express her views or share her feelings.  

Before it becomes a pattern that either one of you is not interested in engaging in heartfelt conversations, consider creating a dialogue around emotional safety. Share with each other the behaviours or words that make you feel safe or unsafe during conversations with each other. Identify ways to improve trust in the relationship to facilitate authentic conversations with each other.  

Emotional safety is a key building block of flourishing marriages. When it is present in your relationship, there is a deep sense of closeness and connectedness as a couple. Be purposeful in creating and maintaining emotional safety, and you and your spouse will reap the rewards of a trusting and fulfilling relationship. 

What is one thing you are willing to do in the next week to increase the presence of emotional safety in your marriage relationship? 

How to Have Healthy Expectations in Marriage

Let’s not be shy about admitting it. Marriage is hard. Often, it’s made even harder by the one thing that floats beneath the surface, only surfacing in the midst of quarrels.  


Whether said or unsaid, expectations, when unmet, can leave couples feeling dissatisfied, disillusioned, and disappointed with marriage life. 

Expectations are not wrong  

One common misconception about expectations is that it’s wrong to have them. But renowned marriage therapist Donald Baucom found that people often get what they expect. He found that people who had low expectations for their relationships tended to be in relationships where they are treated poorly.  

Knowing this, how can we communicate our expectations in a healthy way?  

Focus on the Family spoke to Ivan and Kerin Lau, who have been married for one and a half years and are parents to a 7-month-old baby, to find out more.  

Expectations allow you to uphold certain standards, but grace allows for flexibility when one party doesn’t meet them. 

Balance your expectations  

As Kerin reflected on her expectations of Ivan, she realised that expectations need to be balanced with grace. Expectations allow you to uphold certain standards, but grace allows for flexibility when one party doesn’t meet them.  

She wasn’t always like this. As they are still waiting for their home to be ready, Ivan moved into her home after they married. Being neat and tidy, she expected him to continue keeping the space exactly how she wanted it to be. She would even remind him, “No handprint” whenever he touched the mirror.  

But one day, she realised that by nit-picking on every little thing, she was not allowing him to feel free to be who he is.  

Ivan laughed upon hearing Kerin recount that incident. He believes in communicating what you want, but also showing understanding and grace to your spouse. “In that way, while we might not be there now, we can move towards where we want to be and avoid blaming each other.”    

Learn from every argument  

Kerin admitted that they often find out more about each other’s expectations after an argument. Ivan agreed, saying that arguments are “opportunities to learn more” about each other. But it’s not simply enough to have an argument and expect to magically understand each other 

One day, after quarrelling repeatedly over how their newborn child, Arabelle, should be cared for, Kerin had an idea.  

She realised that she could not possibly resolve every conflict on the spot, so they began to have regular debriefs after every argument. They would share their feelings with each other, and think of ways they could improve. 

“What you said, made me feel this way. What I said, might make you feel this way.  

How can we do better?” 

With this nifty trick, the couple could then go on with whatever they were doing and wait until later at night or the next morning to have the debrief. This was usually when they were not as tired and emotional, and could better discuss what had happened. 

The journey is more rewarding when it’s more than me, myself, and my needs.

Recognise the unchangeable  

While there are things that can be changed and improved on, Ivan is clear that there are certain things that he needs to accept. He has learnt “to come to terms with reality, and to acknowledge that it’s never going to work in the way I want if I insist.”  

This does not mean that he has had to sacrifice all his ideals; rather he has learnt to temper his expectations in a way that makes them “realistic and workable.” 

Place your partner’s needs above yours 

Kerin and Ivan are very different individuals. Whenever they fight, Ivan would want to resolve it quickly while Kerin would prefer to have some space. Although Kerin has heard advice about how couples shouldn’t go to bed angry, she often needed time to process things on her own. Now, Ivan has come to understand her need for space, and to put her needs above his own. “The journey is more rewarding when it’s more than me, myself, and my needs,” he mused.  

Trust that your partner’s heart is for you, and communicate your heart with your partner. 

Share your heart 

Ultimately, expectations are not wrong. Many times, expectations can be helpful in setting a goal that both parties can work towards. But by communicating those expectations and learning to show grace when the other party falls short, we can minimise conflict and tensions in our marriage.  

As Kerin reminds us, “Trust that your partner’s heart is for you, and communicate your heart with your partner.” 

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

9 Things to Know Before Getting Married

When two people come together in marriage, they often hope for a blissful and exciting journey ahead.  

But sometimes, the experience disappoints, resulting in doubt, anger, disappointment, or even hopelessness.  

 What are the ingredients of a good marriage, one that will indeed be “till death do us part?” And more importantly, what are some things you should know as you prepare to take the leap of faith into marriage? 

1. Things will never be perfect 

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that once we tie the knot, things will be smooth-sailing and that all our issues will work out magically. Perhaps the first thing we should adjust is our expectations on our better half, as well as on this crazy little thing called marriage.  

It will take time, hard work, lots of patience and endurance to run the race well, and to learn to communicate our needs, quirks, likes and dislikes with this person whom we love but can also drive us up the wall. Acknowledging all these is a good first step toward building marital intimacy. 

2. Trust is key 

We know trust and commitment are vital ingredients in every thriving marriage, but what exactly does this mean? As one writer puts it, “[Trust] is made up of the many small things we choose to do (or not do) each day.” It is found in the way we speak to each other, the way we appreciate the things our spouse does, and the way we honour our word.  

Read more about trust here. 

3. Friendship is vital 

The secret to a long-lasting marriage is friendship. It may sound obvious, but it is easy to take your spouse for granted, and to forget even basic manners like being kind and gracious.  

Think about what your best friend would do for you – such as supporting you when you’re feeling down, cheering for you when you are facing a challenge – then strive to do the same for your spouse.  

As friends do, make time to have fun and discover new things together. Build a treasure trove of great memories that you can revisit throughout your lifetime.  

Men often value respect over everything else, and women, being loved. 

4. Men need respect; women need love 

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, a New York Times bestselling author on marriage, points out that “men hear criticism as contempt [while] women feel silence as hostility.”  

At the heart of lies the different emotional needs of a man and a woman. We may want to avoid gender stereotypes, but we cannot deny that men often value respect over everything else, and women, being loved. Once we can understand this fundamental aspect of our spouse’s need, we can set our minds to meeting those needs and creating a positive cycle of interaction, instead of a negative one.  

Read more about love and respect here 

5. Marriage is a team sport 

Regardless of how you sometimes feel, it is vital to remember that you and your spouse are on the same team. Build up your team spirit, improve the way you work together, and seek to understand the innermost thoughts of your spouse. This way, when life hurls its worst challenges at you, you both can stand strong, and support each other well through the ups and downs.   

6. Financial discussions are a must 

Money discussions are not always easy to have, especially when you’re caught in the tailwind of romance. However, money is one of the biggest sources of marital conflict, so it is worth diving into the topic early, and revisiting it intentionally.   

Discuss how you’ll share your finances after marriage, who will pay for what, and the checks and balances that you wish to set in place. Learn more about managing finances here. 

7. Learn to give and take 

In a healthy relationship, both parties need to learn to give and take, and there is a sense of balance and equity. When one partner is in need because of an illness or a demanding project at work, the other plays a supportive role without being asked, and without keeping score.  

Of course, this cannot be to the detriment of one party all of the time, as it could lead to feelings of resentment or being overlooked. 

We need not be overly afraid of conflict, as each fight could lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our partner. 

8. Seek to surprise, with chores 

When the shower drain is clogged with hair, or the toilets need to be scrubbed, it shouldn’t always fall on the same person to handle.  

For some couples, a set list of chores for each person helps, while others may split them based on their work schedules and competencies, rather than divvy them up equally. 

Regardless of whether the chore falls into your domain, remember that it’s always nice to surprise your spouse by taking the initiative to do it.   

9. There are ways to fight well 

Conflicts are part and parcel of married life. We need not be overly afraid of conflict, as each fight could lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our partner. 

Set some ground rules in this arena, for example, no matter how bad the conflict, let’s not say hurtful words or threaten to leave the marriage. Or, let’s keep short accounts and not bring up past mistakes or failures to hurt the other person.  

Even in the midst of a squabble, set your heart on understanding your spouse. Ask, what is important to him/her when it comes to this issue? Is there a deeper need that they’re finding hard to share?  

Remember – this is a journey of a lifetime, so give yourselves and each other the space and time to grow and learn! 

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

Make Love Last with a Growth Mindset

We’ve all heard the adage that marriage is hard work. But how often do you see couples putting in this ‘hard work’ intentionally and regularly?

How often do we sit down and reflect on our relationship with our spouse, understanding what makes him or her tick, and figuring out ways to strengthen our marriage?

In our hectic world, it can be challenging to make time to tend to our relationship, especially after kids enter the picture. But I think it is crucial that we try.

Healthy marriages allow room for change and growth. You may have heard of Carol Dweck’s work about the growth mindset, but can you imagine what will happen if we apply this same growth mindset to our marriage?

Difference between the growth and fixed mindsets

Dweck found that there exists two different mindsets. People either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

The growth mindset says:

  • You are still growing.
  • You can learn from your mistakes.
  • We all have strengths as well as areas to improve on.

The fixed mindset says:

  • Don’t even try.
  • My spouse is always like this, things will never change.
  • Don’t take the risk.

People with fixed mindsets tend to judge constantly—themselves as well as others. Their firm belief is that people and character traits are often unchangeable.

Those who practise the growth mindset are observant of others, but refrain from judging. Instead of accepting the status quo unquestioningly, they are always asking: What can I learn from this? How can I improve? How can I help my partner do better?

Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset—according to Dweck—entails “changing the internal monologue from a judging one to a growth-oriented one”.

It is healthy to notice the good and even great things that you’ve achieved in your marriage or family life, and be grateful for them.

Here are some growth mindset tips that we can apply to our marriage:

1. Remember to enjoy the good things

It is healthy to notice the good and even great things that you’ve achieved in your marriage or family life, and be grateful for them. Perhaps it is the strong family support that you’ve built, or solid friendships; whatever it is, remind each other that you’ve worked well together in this aspect. And think about the different areas that you want to grow in this year.

2. Seek to understand your differences better

When something about your spouse irks you, seek to understand the root of this habit. There have been times I have been annoyed by my spouse’s tendency to plan everything, right down to the details. While I prefer some fluidity and can handle a high degree of ambiguity, he needs all the data and facts.

When we talked through it, I realised that it boils down to his need for security and control. Without the information, he feels things are out of control or not planned well. After I understood this, we were able to sidestep unnecessary arguments and tension, and focus on meeting each other’s needs.

3. Praise your partner for effort

Encourage your spouse when he or she tries something new or challenging. Try not to focus on the results alone. For example, if you’ve been asking your husband to help with cooking a meal, don’t put him down the first time he tries; this will stamp out his motivation. Instead, let him know that you see (and appreciate) his effort to show love in this novel way.

If your wife tries out a game that you love to play, give her space, patience and affirmation to reach your level. Your guidance and the time together will make the relationship grow in new ways too.

4. Focus on your own lane

Sometimes social media can feed our feelings of envy and jealousy. Pictures of exotic family vacations, or frequent expensive dinners and gifts that others enjoy can trigger feelings of discontent in your marriage.

We should become aware of how certain media, people or environments make us feel, then be vigilant to allow into our minds only what is good for ourselves and marriage, and what helps us feel grateful for what we have.

5. Transitions can offer opportunities for growth too

A new baby, a new home, a business investment, or a change in career—sometimes big changes make us feel stressed out and uneasy, and we may take it out on the ones dearest to us.

They may bring stress, but change also carries opportunities for us to clarify our thoughts, feelings, even our values; more importantly, it lets us seek our spouse’s support. So choose to lean closer, and not pull away due to tensions or stress.

With the growth mindset, we can focus on developing the positive qualities that cause the relationship to flourish.

What growth mindset in love looks like

When we apply the fixed mindset to love, it seems like life should reflect what we see in movies: Love is easy, perfect, and simply “meant to be”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ask any couple who have clocked over 10 years in marriage what their secret is, and the answer will likely be: pure hard work.

Perhaps the best thing we can do for our marriage is to decide that we will do whatever it takes to make it work.

When we look back on our past, do we see that we have changed too? Sometimes for the better, sometimes in not so good ways. But it shows us that if we can change, our spouse can change too. With the growth mindset, we can focus on developing the positive qualities—both within ourselves and in each other—that cause the relationship to flourish.

Let’s remember that you’re on the same side, and you’re walking this journey together. Tempers will flare and someone will be annoyed from time to time, but as long as we continue to work on our weaknesses and improve ourselves for our spouse, we will experience the grace and strength to keep going.

Take action:

  • Choose a growth mindset tip and apply it to your relationship this week.

Build Your Marriage By Asking These 5 Questions

After 16 years of marriage and six children, my husband and I thought it timely to park some couple time aside this year and signed up for a marriage retreat. It was obvious to us, that after a season of coping with parenting young children in our twenties and thirties, along with career and family transitions, our marriage had lost some of its initial shine with the daily wear and tear of life. 

Marriage too is subject to seasons. The early years of marriage, while sweet, felt akin to walking a tightrope in order to balance each other’s expectations. Midway, in trying to establish financial stability, the demands of work and hopeful ambition ate into our attempts at real connection.

After children came on the scene, marriage became not just about “us”. Our time was mostly consumed in taking care of their needs first, leaving us with barely enough energy and time to address each other’s. Our moments were no longer exclusive but shared – our children would tag along with us to celebrate our wedding anniversaries.

To be fair, all marriages go through change. After all, some of our initial conceptions of our spouse and ideas of what marriage would be like will evolve. Adding to that, our personal experiences and emotional growth may shape us into different people from the original two starry-eyed individuals who had vowed to stick together for better or worse.

It was a timely weekend; Covenant Marriage Retreat 2019 in Singapore taught us some practical handles on how to iron out the kinks and rev the engines of love that would sustain our marriage in the decades to come.

If you can identify with what we have experienced, here are five specific questions that will help our marriages go the distance:

1. How can I focus on the good in our marriage? 

As the years go by and we see the person we married for who he or she really is, it may be easier to magnify their weaknesses and flaws than recognise the good. Focusing on the good means accepting your partner for who he is and where he’s at. It is also about choosing to acknowledge your partner’s efforts and strengths.

My husband is not a natural romantic who plans surprises or buys me flowers. However, I’ve learnt to appreciate him for the practical hands-on husband that he is, rather than focusing on what he is not. I appreciate his quiet ways of expressing love: Allowing me to take a bath first after a long day, swapping dishes with me when his order looks better than mine, doing the dishes without being asked and changing nappies. These are the many sweet ways he makes me feel special and loved! 

I’ve learnt to appreciate him for the practical hands-on husband that he is, rather than focusing on what he is not.

2. How can I fill my spouse’s emotional fuel tank?

Craig Hill, founder of Family Foundations International and author of Two Fleas & No Dog: Transform Your Marriage from Fleadom to Freedom, reveals that men and women perceive value totally differently. “Every person has an emotional fuel tank and Value is the fuel.” Men perceive value through respect and women perceive value through love.

For a woman, practical love means ensuring she is given high priority, that attention is given to address her feelings, and responsibility is taken when her spouse hurts her. For a man, practical respect translates to acceptance, admiration and appreciation of his work and efforts for the family.

Understanding this difference helps us do what matters most to our spouse and fills their emotional tanks. We need to consciously and intentionally fill our spouse’s emotional tank so that marriage becomes a safe harbour for them to rest and refuel instead of a battleground.

3. How can I better communicate to my spouse his or her value?

Most of the communication failures in a marriage arise from the things we say and…the things we don’t. While words can be used to accuse, tear down and manipulate emotions, sincere, affirming words have the power to build up our marriage relationship regardless of how we feel.

For every gripe we have about our spouse, think of three things we can thank and honour him for. Choosing to speak life-giving words will feed the heart and soul of our marriage. At the same time, “Only 7% of a communicated message is contained in the words spoken. Another 38% is in voice intonation and 55%, body language,” says Hill. That means a whopping 93% of all our communicated messages are non-verbal! We must be mindful that our tone and bodily gestures, such as touch and eye contact, have a direct impact on our relationship too. 

Sincere, affirming words have the power to build up our marriage relationship regardless of how we feel.

4. How can I put his or her needs first? 

Our marriage can run the risk of becoming transactional if we choose to prioritise our individual happiness above our spouse’s. The world has conditioned us to think that every relationship should offer some kind of payback.

“What’s in it for me?” “Can my spouse provide me with enough money?” “Will we be able to afford yearly holidays?” reflect attitudes that can prove toxic to a marriage.

Instead, we can shift gears by asking questions like, “How can I serve my spouse?”, “How can I make his or her day special?” and “How can I prioritise my spouse’s needs first?” The adage, “It is better to give than to receive” is definitely applicable to how we treat the one closest to us. 

5. How can I prioritise my marriage more?

Are there any hobbies, people, activities that might be competing with our desire to spend time with our spouse? The year-end holiday season is a good time for couples to reconnect and spend time together. Go on a short vacation or just take time out away from work or the kids.

It is easy to confuse building our families with building our marriages. They are complementary but not the same thing. In fact, spending time to intentionally improve our relationship with our spouse will ensure that our children and family relationships benefit as well. 

Think about:

  • Which marriage question will you mull over this week?

What Happens When We Truly Listen To Our Spouse

Thriving in your marriage is not a science, it’s an art.

Like all relationships, marriage ebbs and flows through time and personal challenges and growth.

Through all the changes, the art of listening can affect a marriage’s strength. Gaius and Herng Wei, married for over 8 years and parents to two children aged 4 and 6, share with us their own insights and tips into this art.

1. Turn towards, not against

When the couple discovered their firstborn would be born with a congenital heart issue, they were thrown into a period of distress.

“When we received the diagnosis during the pregnancy, Gaius supported me in very practical ways like making sure I have my meals. I remember days when I said, ‘I don’t even feel functional today,’ and he would come back to make sure I have my lunch,” shared Herng Wei.

Gaius said, “That was a challenging time but thankfully, we chose to walk closer and not apart. It was a subconscious decision but looking back, thank God, we decided we could express our vulnerabilities and fears to each other.”

The fact that they had each other to turn to and communicate with was the reason this difficult season somehow got transformed into – in Herng Wei’s words – “a bonding time” instead.

When going through periods of stress and fear, do you turn towards your spouse or turn against them by shutting down or taking out your emotional turmoil on them?

Learning to express our emotional needs in a way that helps our spouse understand and support us will enhance the love in our marriage.

2. Expressing yourself authentically

The art of listening and communicating functions much like a mirror. If one is willing to listen but the other is not committed to share their feelings on a deeper level, the connection will still be lacking. But when one spouse chooses to communicate vulnerably, it can spark a desire in the other to do the same. This can form the beginning of healthy emotional connection that strengthens the foundation of your relationship.

Expressing yourself in your marriage should go beyond talking about routine matters, like what’s for dinner, who’s picking up kids, or what did the kids do in school.

Learning to express our emotional needs in a way that helps our spouse understand and support us will enhance the love in our marriage.

As Gaius shared, “There have been multiple occasions when she would say, ‘Hey, we are not connecting.’ The fact that it crops up so many times means I have not got it yet. Whenever she tells me we need to connect or I need you to listen to me, I would try to find the time to listen to her. I think of it as a cry to listen to her thoughts. If the other spouse can’t listen, then we have to ask questions to find out if there are other reasons like emotional or physical needs not being met.”

“When someone listens to me, I feel loved. It tells me that what I’m feeling is valid,” explained Herng Wei.

It is also important that no one takes these requests personally or as an accusation that one is not working hard at the relationship.

“We have to respond in a manner that’s appropriate and respectful to consciously create a safe place for the other person to talk,” added Gaius.

The magic phrase, “We will talk about this later” helps them fix a time to discuss the issue again while giving each other space to calm down.

3. Carving out quality time

But of course, expressing yourself at the wrong times can be unhelpful. Like talking about an issue during the early morning rush to get out the door, or when one spouse is obviously tired and you “won’t have them 100 percent”.

Gaius and Herng Wei shared how they have adapted their communication style after marriage and kids.

“When we were still dating, we coined this term, ‘RTC’ or real time communication. Maybe because we were still dating and we had more time to address any issues immediately because we hoped to see the whole picture and get to know each other,” said Herng Wei.

“Now, there’s some delay,” laughed Gaius.

But on the flip side, this also works to help each other become calm to ensure a conversation is gainful.

“Gaius once shared that he realised after marriage, his highs are higher and his lows are lower,” said Herng Wei, adding that the magic phrase, “We will talk about this later” helps them find a time to discuss the issue again while giving each other space to calm down.

Gaius pointed out a universal challenge that every modern-day couple probably faces – time. He shared, “The challenge has always been to carve out a window of time. People don’t ask you ‘are you available to listen’? They just say, ‘Papa, this or that’ or ‘darling, this or that’, and I need to prioritise them.”

He manages his priorities by recognising that work and other demands will always be there, but we still have to carve out time for our marriage.

What has really helped Gaius and Herng Wei is fixing a time daily where they can connect.

“We try to do evening walks every day. That’s our undistracted time to talk. It’s about 45 minutes each time and we don’t have our phones with us,” said Gaius.

This omits distractions that can affect quality time together and is a key to keeping the marriage growing.

Said Gaius, “We tend to think what’s before marriage is the same as what’s after marriage but it’s not. We need to set aside time to communicate sometime, someplace, somewhere.”

Food for thought for couples shared by Gaius and Herng Wei indeed. Would you too set aside time today to communicate and connect with your spouse heart-to-heart?

© 2023 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Are You A Controlling Spouse?

  • Do you find yourself constantly trying to control what your partner does and how they do go about their tasks?
  • Do you get upset or angry if things are not done specifically how you want them to be done?
  • Do you often criticise or are judgemental towards your spouse?
  • Does your spouse complain that you are controlling?
  • Do you get your way by using the silent treatment or threats?
  • Do you often make decisions for your spouse without consulting them?

If your answers are mostly “yes”, there is a high chance that you are controlling the relationship.

1. What’s behind controlling behaviours?

No one likes to admit that they are the “controller” in their marriage.

We get defensive when our spouse says that we are controlling. We may even believe that our controlling behaviours come from a good place because we care about the well-being of our spouse and the relationship.

While our intentions may be well-meaning and our concerns valid, it is important to realise that being overly controlling can do more harm than good to the relationship. No one likes to be micromanaged, especially not our spouse. If left unchecked, controlling behaviour can erode trust and gradually push the person closest to us away.

Controlling behaviours often stem from trust issues and are exacerbated by fear and anxiety. The causes can range from deep-seated personal issues, unhealthy habits, unresolved emotional wounds, negative family modelling, and insecure attachments, to irrational beliefs about others, self, and life.

Perhaps you grew up in a family where you experienced rejection instead of unconditional acceptance. This could have resulted in dysfunctional relationship models that you unconsciously picked up and replicated in your own behaviour.

If you want to maintain a healthy and thriving relationship, you can start by attending to your personal growth.

You may hold irrational beliefs or fall into thinking traps that increase your fear or anxiety to unhealthy levels. For example, you might think that when your spouse disagrees with you on an important matter, it signifies rejection, and damages your self-esteem. So, you may give your spouse the silent treatment or demand that he/she aligns with you instead of embracing the value of differing viewpoints.

Or perhaps your personality is such that you expect compliance from your family. You feel secure and comfortable only when you are in charge.

There can be a variety of reasons why a person exhibits controlling behaviours.

Understanding the root causes of one’s controlling tendencies is not about inducing guilt or punishing oneself, but rather gaining insights into how to address them. It’s crucial to recognise and understand our need for control. Without this recognition, it becomes difficult to engage in the process of change and growth.

If you think you need help to uncover the causes of your controlling behaviour and to make changes to strengthen your marriage, consider seeing a relationship coach or a counsellor.

Instead of trying to control your spouse, learn to accept, respect, and love him/her with all his/her shortcomings and failings.

2. Practical steps to take

There are also practical steps you can take to help you loosen the reins and improve your relationship:

1. Work on yourself first

Being controlling is usually a coping mechanism for anxiety. It is not uncommon that we project our undesirable attitudes onto our spouse when we feel lousy about ourselves. If you want to maintain a healthy and thriving relationship, you can start by attending to your personal growth.

2. Accept your spouse unconditionally

Instead of trying to control your spouse, learn to accept, respect, and love him/her with all his/her shortcomings and failings.

3. Learn to manage stress well

When we feel overwhelmed by life events and situations, we can become controlling towards others as a way of coping with our insecurities. So, if anxiety is fuelling your controlling behaviours, you can alleviate it by working on your stress management skills.

4. Examine irrational beliefs

When you notice that you’re starting to exhibit controlling behaviours, ask yourself: What about this situation is making me scared or worried? What am I afraid of? When you are able to press “pause” and become more self-aware, it will help you to let go.

It takes courage to admit that we are the controller in the marriage, especially if it is feedback from our spouse.

If left unchecked, controlling behaviours often do more harm than good to your marriage. It is thus important to first acknowledge the behaviour is unhelpful, and then identify the causes behind it so that you can work towards positive and sustainable change.

© 2023 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.