Don’t wait for big problems to arise to see a marriage counsellor

We recently went for marriage counselling.

Some friends raised their eyebrows when they heard the word “counselling” and I found I had to quickly explain that while we don’t have major problems in our marriage, we wanted to work on our weak areas and have a plan for our growth.

Our coach was Winifred Ling, who is based at Promises at Novena Medical Centre.

Overall, our experience was comfortable; nothing too intimidating or intrusive.

During our first session with her, we played a simple game. She gave us a stack of questions like “What do you admire in your partner” and “What is your biggest worry at present?”

We took turns answering some of the questions and tried not to laugh while doing so. It was actually quite an insightful exercise as we don’t often get the opportunity to think about such things, much less share with our partner about them.

Over the three sessions we had with her, we each discovered a couple of things.

One, my hubby realised that he wasn’t sure how to support me through my grieving (my godmother has a terminal illness). While he had been through loss of his own, the context was different and his way of dealing with difficult emotions was to park it somewhere and move on with life.

Two, I realised that there had been times when I would silently sweep my struggles under the carpet instead of opening up to him and asking for support. When times are hard, I am more inclined to stay silent than to cry out for help.

Perpetual problems vs temporary problems

We also learnt that there are perpetual problems (problems where there are no real solutions for) and temporary problems (problems that can be resolved). Many of us are not aware of this but it could well be the reason why we sometimes argue over the same thing.

Perpetual problems are usually linked to very fundamental values and aspects of our personality. For example, to him, money is something to be saved for a rainy day, while to me, we also need to enjoy money for the here and now. So disagreements linked to finances can sometimes boil down to this fundamental difference in the way we perceive money.

Or he may be neat and organised in the home, while I have a higher tolerance for mess. Rather than insist that the other person changes their ways, we need to find ways to cope with such differences, or come to a middle ground.

Winifred also guided us to practising healthier ways to communicate during conflicts and deal with our differences.

She also helped us see that we bring different strengths into the marriage, as well as different weaknesses.

The dream behind the conflict

The best part for me was when she made us re-do a conflict situation using a simple principle: Behind every conflict lies differing dreams.

Often the dream is linked to some of our own experiences growing up, or just something we value, like freedom, creativity, or stability. We don’t often express this dream but it silently drives our behaviour, and sometimes, it makes us hold fast to our position and it becomes a struggle to let go of whatever it is we want to achieve.

It can be very frustrating for both parties during such a stalemate, because we don’t articulate and understand each other’s dream and vision behind the conflict.

This was the biggest ah-ha moment for me. Not only did it help me in my own self-awareness, it also helped me understand his perspective and why he behaves the way he does.

Marriage is for a lifetime. It is worth investing in.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my thoughts are: Marriage counselling isn’t such a scary experience. It is actually very helpful to have a professional guide sit beside you and facilitate the digging deep and unveiling process (similar to peeling an onion, and yes some tears will flow too).

Many couples will think, “We don’t need it,” and place it on low priority…until something blows up in the marriage. Just like we go for regular health checks, it is totally worthwhile to invest in your marriage for the long haul by going for a marriage checkup.

Problems and issues will be unearthed, and new strategies and ideas will be learned and applied. Your marriage and family will thank you.

Special for readers

Winifred is offering a 10% discount for the first session to all my readers. (U.P. $300 for a 1.5 hour session). To make an appointment, call 6397-7309 or email wini@promises.com.sg.  You can check out her credentials here.

PS. Winifred was kind enough to offer us pro-bono counselling sessions as she wanted to raise more awareness in the community of such marriage coaching services. I utterly enjoyed the sessions and was thankful my husband was brave enough to join me! Thanks Winifred!

great marriage quote

 

Two phrases that will help you be a more mindful parent

It’s the start of a brand new year and people are busy making plans for CNY, holidays, as well as setting new year resolutions.

I was inspired to write this post as I’m trying to be more mindful about my parenting this year. This includes being more careful with what I say, and what I do.

Here are two mantras I hope to be more intentional in teaching the kids, and using it with them this year.

1. “There is a time for everything”

I first heard this statement being used by a psychologist friend. Her niece was whining about not being able to play for a longer time.

In response, she said simply, “Remember, there is a time for everything. You’ll still get to play with your friends next time.”

Now that school has started, and our schedules need to be tighter, we are trying to keep to an early bedtime of 8.30pm.

This means that in the evening, when the kids are busy playing a game or reading a book, the activity sometimes needs to be cut short.

I hope to use teach them this mantra this year, and use it consistently, whenever we are preparing for a transition. It will hopefully help them to overcome the disappointment of having to end their play-time, and go to bed in a happier mood.

2. “Turn your unhappiness into a request”

Just the other day, I was feeling a little upset at my hubby for a minor thing. I lapsed into a usual complaint routine where I express my irritation at him.

After the event, I realised how unpleasant I sounded, and it hit me then, how I could have made the situation more bearable by turning my unhappiness into a request.

For example, instead of going, “Why didn’t you do _________?” I’m going to say:

  • “I feel upset when you don’t _______(using the I-statement to avoid blaming the other person).
  • Next time, can you _______?”

Now doesn’t that sound more palatable than a rant?

Sometimes the kids tend to grumble or throw a tantrum when something doesn’t go their way. This is when I’m hoping this phrase will come in handy and remind them to turn the upset feeling into a request. Of course, I’m not promising that every request will be met with a “yes”. But at least I would consider it and if it’s practical and doable, then why not make it a “yes”?

To teach them these mantras:

  • I will choose a time when everyone is calm and ready to listen.
  • I will write the statement down on a white board (keeping things visual helps for young children)
  • I will ask them how they’d feel if someone else communicated their desires and needs in such a way.

It will take time and repetition, for sure. But I hope these two phrases will provide us with some handles to better manage the school year ahead.

If you have other ideas and mantras that you’ve heard of, would you share them with me by leaving a comment? Thank you and blessed new year!

hi five with parents

People image created by Freepik

Review and giveaway – Tea in Pajamas: Beyond Belzerac

Rachel Tey, author of the beloved Tea in Pajamas book is back with an intriguing and action-packed sequel.

Her second book, Beyond Belzerac, takes us to new, darker depths as Belle Marie, Tess, and Julien are forced to travel back to Belzerac when they realise that things at home are amiss. They find themselves entangled (and literally on the same boat) with Orpheus and Eurydice, of Greek mythology origins.

Tea in Pajamas cover

While the daring trio is fighting to exit the strange world of Belzerac and return to their loved ones safely, Orpheus and Eurydice, two star-crossed lovers, are too seeking to control their own fates.

I asked Rachel about her inspiration behind weaving the story of Orpheus and Eurydice into the sequel’s narrative. Here’s what she said:

The inspiration came from the actual piece of music called “Melodie” by CW Gluck. The first time I heard it my dad told me it’s from a piece of music called Dance of the Blessed Spirits, and he told me about the tale. I felt intrigued and read up more about the greek myth, and it always stuck with me. I thought it was tragic but beautiful.

Tea in Pajamas 3

Rachel began her own adventure with writing Tea in Pajamas with the goal of encouraging readers to take a step towards greater self-awareness and discernment. Here’s how she illuminates this path:

This is an ongoing journey, and one that’s not linear, with a definitive start and end. Sometimes the dark, uncertain moments can be periods of the most profound growth, so I really wanted to bring that out in this sequel…the struggle of the human spirit.

Vera really enjoyed the sequel – its magical qualities, a hint of a love story, and the tragedy of Greek mythology – appealed to her as an emerging teen. In her words, “It’s not like the other books that have perfect, happy-ever-after endings, and I like the bit of tragedy at the end.”

Her verdict kinda surprised me. I guess I’ve always pictured her as a happy-ever-after kind of girl and haven’t yet put my finger on how much she’s grown and matured! (Hah.)

I read the book myself and found that I enjoyed it even more than the first Tea in Pajamas. Perhaps it’s the good pace of adventure, the heady mix of mystery and romance, or the derring-do of Belle Marie, but whatever the case, Rachel’s writing has an enchanting, ethereal quality that easily sweeps you off your feet (in jammies of course) and lands you in another world.

I’d say it is a perfect companion for the holidays for any 9 to 12 year old. 🙂

Special thanks to Rachel for the review copy of the books. Hop over to our Facebook page to stand a chance to win the Tea in Pajamas book set giveaway!

How to speak life into our children’s gifts

How many times do you criticise your child in a day? And how many times do you affirm them?

I did that test myself one day and didn’t do great. I affirmed all the kids that day, but only once each.

But when it came to criticism, or nagging, or complaining, I did it to all three kiddos…multiple times. (Okay, I admit I lost count.)

“Vera, why is your room always so untidy?”
“JJ, why do you take so long to come when I call?”
“Eeks, Josh, you’re such a mess!”

And I asked myself “Why is it so easy to point out their flaws and faults, and so hard to acknowledge their good sides?”

Today’s kids face performance-related pressures more than ever before. We expect them to do well in school, finish their homework on time, be a shining example to their siblings, help their younger siblings, the list goes on.

What is the result of a high-stress, fast-paced, and overly critical environment?

Highly stressed out and anxious children.

And are they getting enough love and support from us? I think that receiving unconditional love and acceptance in the home is an antidote to the world’s burgeoning mental health problem.

Do we accept them for who they are, mess, quirks, tantrums and all?

Are we ready to forgive and give grace when they make mistakes?

Are we generous with our time, love, words of praise and affirmation, and most importantly our presence?

The word for me this season? Delight in my children.

They may frustrate you. They may defy or turn a deaf ear to your instructions. Their untidiness may drive you up the wall.

But take pleasure in them. Rejoice over them. Remember they are God’s gifts to us. Remember that He finds great joy in them, as He does too in us.

Sometimes I think I express so much disdain that they may feel like they’re not good enough. Now that’s a really scary thought.

How can we express our infinite joy in our children and make it known to them?

1. Practice unconditional love. Let your children know they are loved, regardless of how well or poorly they perform in school or in their chosen sports/hobbies.

2. Use affirming words: You are God’s wonderful gift to me. You are my precious son/daughter. You are beautiful not just on the outside but on the inside, because you are loving and kind to others.

3. Be curious. When asking about their day, replace the question “Any homework?” with “How was your day?” or “Who did you have recess with?” or “What was the best /worst part of today?”

4. Write them little love /encouraging notes.

5. Practise restoration. End off any discipline or confrontation with “I may be angry because I don’t like this behaviour…but I still love you.”

6. Be a great listener. When they are sharing about a funny or exciting story, give them the time of day and your full presence.

7. Lavish them with hugs and kisses.

8. Spend time with them. For 30 minutes a day, log off all devices and tune into their hearts.

As we put aside a critical spirit and put on an affirming spirit, we may begin to see a different side to our children.

When we focus on their strengths and speak life into their gifts, they will learn that they are worthy and have unique talents to offer the world.

“See a child differently, you see a different child.” – Dr Stuart Shanker

see a child differently

What our children really need

Our children need more of our time

Today’s modern and ever-connected world means that all sorts of responsibilities and distractions are eating away at our leisure time and mental space.

We need to take charge of the things that come into our daily lives and set aside some time every day, just to spend with our kids. And try to keep that time unadulterated from the worries of their academic progress, or other concerns.

One way is to let your child know this is his/her time, and ask what they would like to do together.

More of our attention

Our children are practically fighting for our attention with gadgets, screens, and work. I know because it happens in our household too. I know the inertia, the amount of willpower it takes to turn off the screen and answer the cry for attention from one of my kids.

As a work-from-home mum, it is even more of a struggle because physically you’re there but mentally you can be miles away.

But we need to make a conscious effort, and start with small pockets of time to play, bond, and assure our kids of our love.

More play

In my teaching and intervention work, I come across students who have their schedules packed from Mondays to Saturdays.

They often sleep late (past 930/10pm) and have little free play. And they start to exhibit signs of inattention, an inability to focus, tiredness and irritability.

If we don’t make changes to the input (rest, nutrition, play, strong bonds), we are not going to see that much change in the output.

Children need time and space to play, tinker and explore. And I think we all need to constantly re-examine and re-calibrate the balance of play versus work in our children’s lives.

child tinkering with lego

More nature

We recently took a family trip to a forest resort in Malaysia. I wrote about the lessons we learnt from nature on Channel NewsAsia, so do have a read!

My son, who has some behavioural issues, remains calm and engaged throughout the trip. And I believe nature (as well as the presence of his cousins as playmates) had a big part to play in this.

children in nature

Less hovering, more autonomy and problem-solving

On our nature trip, there was a river that wholly captured the imagination of our kids. They spent many marvelous hours there navigating it, splashing around, and also working together and solving problems. It was a wonder to witness.

During the three days, I did not hear the usual cries of “mummy, can you help me….(fill in the blanks).” They did most of the things themselves and roamed the resort grounds freely. It gave me a glimpse of the kampong life of yesteryear.

While I cannot bring the river home, I can certainly allow them the chance to let them hone their independence and autonomy.

It takes a conscious effort to deliberately sit back and not do a thing. (Especially hard for mums…)

Just try it the next time you visit a playground. Don’t rescue your child from every sticky situation, but coach them through it and remind them that you are near to help. (This, of course, does not apply if they’re about to hurt someone or themselves, or hurt by others.)

The end result of a confident and can-do spirit is worth it.

More affirmation

I will be the first to confess, I’m not particularly great at this. I come from a family where my parents were not very expressive in their show of love.

But I use my strengths in writing to compensate where I fall short of in the physical affection department. I write little notes of love to them, highlighting the efforts I see them making, or any admirable qualities that I see them demonstrating.

And I try to not let a day go by without lavishing a single hug, smile, or word of affirmation to each of my kiddos.

They need us to call out their strengths

The words we speak can either be life-giving or destructive. They can either add or take away.

Our children need us to identify and call out their strengths, as well as give them opportunities to use their strengths to serve or bless others.

Instead of focusing on or harping on their weaknesses, take the opposite approach and help them use their strengths in their studies, or for friends and family.

If it is in music, play a song to bring cheer to an elderly person. If it is in cooking, give them a chance to plan the family meals. If it is in writing, encourage them to write positive notes to friends, or to craft stories to share about a recent outing or holiday. If it is in helping others, get them to help coach a classmate who is struggling in a subject.

The possibilities are endless once you start to think about it. But the impact is great, as our children start to see that they are given different gifts for a purpose. That they aren’t just chasing academic or sporting excellence for a medal or an award, but the achievement will one day enable them to be in a position to give.

As they grow, they will start to think about how to contribute and give back to society, rather than just be focused on themselves.

Is there anything you feel your kids really need at this stage of their lives, or any ideas on how you meet those needs in your own special way?

Please share in the comments!

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