Developing closeness in your marriage requires adding and eliminating

growing in intimacy

We have been married for 12 years. Family life feels familiar, safe, like a well-loved blanket.

Hubs and I may be lovers but we also feel like besties. I feel I can talk to him about anything.

One day, I told him about a conversation I had with an acquaintance about one of our kids. This kiddo is high in his need for control, and one of the ways that we’ve managed this very real need is to give him control over when to do his work, how to plan his schedule, and what skills he wishes to learn.

Hubs laughed and said, “That’s me too. I’m like that.”

“I know!” I replied.

Intimacy is the sense of another person fully knowing you, and loving you because of who you are—as well as in spite of it. This requires taking a leap into rare honesty and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. (Source)

Indeed, one cannot achieve true intimacy without knowledge and understanding of the other personknowing who your spouse is, what makes them tick, what makes them come alive.

But one cannot be fully known if one does not let yourself be seen. So intimacy requires us to be vulnerable about our weaknesses, flaws, and even insecurities.

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes:

To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees—these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude, and grace.

Vulnerability is indeed hard and uncomfortable. In fact it took a long time for me to feel safe enough to let go of the protective layers I held over myself.

Thankfully, hubs carved a safe space for me. A space where I could go just as I am, unafraid of being judged or criticised, a little cave where I could feel loved, understood and accepted.

13 ways to add trust and intimacy in a relationship

We deepen our trust and intimacy whenever we:

1. Turn toward each other more than you turn away (video). As Daphne de Marneffe writes in her book The Rough Patch, “Couples turn away from each other for any number of apparent reasons, but underneath it all, it’s usually because they feel misunderstood, unheard, or unable to agree.”

2. Support each other in times of failure or discouragement.

3. Establish rituals of connection, like a goodbye hug or a 10-min chat before bed.

4. Speak well of each other, especially in front of others.

5. Believe in the otherand express that in words or actions.

6. Express who we really are and what we really feel inside (even when it may lead to a disagreement).

7. Celebrate each other’s successes, however small.

8. Sit with the other person’s emotionseven if you feel just as lost or hopeless just make an effort to not turn away or shut the emotions out.

9. Express unconditional acceptance of each other.

10. Practise listening without judgment. Whenever we do this, we provide a safe space for more sharing and disclosure to happen in future.

11. Acknowledge and appreciate the other’s strengths.

12. Make time for things that each other enjoys (including sex of course).

13. Forgive, often.

Eliminate these top 5 intimacy stealers

1. Digital devicesYes, digital devices are so sexy that they often tend to divide and isolate even the best of us. Keep them away from bedrooms if possible, and especially during date nights or movie nights with your spouse. This tells your partner that your eyes are for him/her only.

2. Ignoring your spouse when he/she is trying to talkNot really listening counts to. We all know when someone isn’t really listening to us, even when they give eye contact.

3. Frequent and drawn-out cold warsCold wars, if frequent, can drain the passion and energy from a marriage. It can make us question the strength of our marriage and doubt or distrust our partner. To resolve the issues, communication is key, and here I’m going to use the analogy of the golden ring (The Rough Patch, Marneffe).

In the golden ring mindset, “partners figuratively stand alongside each other and look together at their shared problem, collaborating rather than competing.” I love this analogy because each partner brings their need into the ring and are able to think about the problem more objectively.

4. CriticismFrequently criticising your partner or putting them down (especially in public) can make them feel insecure and unappreciated. Instead of being blowing up flaws or negative traits, try to add more positive and affirming words to your vocabulary. This doesn’t mean that you sweep all the negative things under the carpet; there is still a time and place for dealing with certain recurring issues. But do so with love, compassion, and respect as it will allow your partner to be less defensive and more open to feedback.

5. Ignoring small problemsIs there something you wish he would do but he doesn’t? Or does he do something that annoys you to no end? (Maybe leaving his dirty clothes around the house?) If the issue is a nagging one and it’s causing resentment, it may be better to nip it in the bud. Find a time/place that is conducive for talking and give each other a headsup so you’re prepared. (Try the ring analogy I shared in point 3.)

What is one thing that has helped you grow closer to your spouse?

Do you notice and affirm your child doing good?

Do you hold certain stereotypes of your child?

I do.

I tend to think my boys just cannot organise themselves well, and are generally quite messy.

Just this week, however, one of them proved me wrong.

When scooping out yoghurt for himself and his siblings, he took care not to drip the yoghurt on the table. When he needed to grab another spoon to clean out the yoghurt spoon, he asked for help to hold that spoon. When he came back, he gingerly cleaned out the yoghurt spoon.

When I saw the amount of care he put into this simple action, I was surprised. And I said, “Wow, JJ, I like how you scooped the yoghurt so carefully and cleanly.”

This is one of the first few times I have used those adjectives on him. He was probably surprised too.

It taught me not to hold on to my stereotypes of him so tightly. Because every person has the potential to transcend the limits we place on them in our minds.

It also taught me to open my heart to see and behold the good.

Our children are capable of growth; they are capable of doing great things, if only we will let them out of the box we have placed them in in our minds.

notice the good in your child2

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Phil 4:8

How to make working from home work for you

I’ve been working from home as a freelance content creator, writer and editor for the past 6 years.

With three kids in primary school and an elderly at home, working from home is like wearing many hats — at the same time. There are days where I’m frazzled and grouchy, and less than efficient. Then there are days where things run smoothly and kids are cooperative — this up and down pattern is to be expected.

Here are some things I’ve learnt along the way. I hope you find them handy if you’re also working remotely during this period:

how to work from home

1) Give yourself time to adjust and find your bearings

When you first start working from home, it may feel like loads of freedom. It’s true that you enjoy some pros: You can work in your PJs, go without makeup, and in some cases work at your own pace and time.

However it is also a constant juggling act. I may start work at 9, but take a break at 11.30 to get groceries or prepare lunch for the kids.

Once the kids get home around 2pm, it’s a frenzy of feeding them and ensuring that school work gets completed.

When I’m settled in at my desk again, it might be 3-ish. Then I usually start preparing dinner at 430/5pm. So it’s another 2-hour duration of actual work.

It will take time to adjust to this stop-start lifestyle, so don’t beat yourself up if you seem unable to get much done in the early days.

2) Work with your own rhythm, not against it

Everyone has their own natural rhythm. Some get into their zone at night when the house is quiet. Others are morning people and do their best thinking and work at dawn.

It is best to use your natural rhythms to your own advantage. And while there are some timings that are not within direct control, such as team meetings, working from home does offer a bit more control over when you choose to tackle what tasks.

For me personally, I try to eat my frogs in the morning. Once I get my hardest thing done and over with, it makes the rest of the day a lil breezier.

3) Get your kids’ buy-in

If you have school-going kids, it is helpful to let them know about your new work situation. If they understand that you are home physically but need to work during certain periods in the afternoon, it is likelier that they will cooperate and give you room to do it.

For me, the kids are quite used to the fact that I work at home. But it doesn’t mean they always give me the quiet space and time I need. On some days, they are playful and rowdy and just being kids, so I’d just pick up my laptop and shift myself physically from the living area to my bedroom.

When I need to do a work call, I will preempt them by letting them know I am not available between this time to this time. It usually goes without a hitch…but if they do barge in, I try not to make a big about it. I just remind them that I’m on a work call and I’ll attend to them after.

4) Expect disruptions

Sometimes when I’m in the middle of something important, the kids get into a tiff and it can be mighty irritating. Or my littlest will come and ask me to cut him some fruits for a snack.

I’ll usually tell him “10 minutes” then I’ll try to finish my train of thought or hurriedly jot something down so I don’t forget it.

The truth is–it is hard for their young minds to understand that while mum is physically home she is mentally taken up by work. So we have to accept that kid-related disruptions and interruptions are normal.

Understanding this will help us to be more accepting and calm when they do pop up. And after answering their needs, I occasionally find I receive more time in return to focus on work after.

5) Communicate regularly with your team

Now that you’re working from home, it also means you need to make an effort to communicate with your team members about what you’re up to, and the status of various projects you’re handling.

Be proactive wherever you can. Early in the week, update your boss and your team about what’s on your plate, and what your priorities are. This also allows you the opportunity to raise issues or ask for help (if needed) early, rather than struggle with a problem quietly on your own.

6) Set a break time

The whole idea about me working from home is not just to provide for the kids physically, in terms of food and safety, but also emotionally. So I have to intentionally set aside playtime with them.

I aim for 2 afternoons where I will get active and bring them for a game of badminton or just a romp at the playground. It could be just an hour or so, but the benefits we reap to our relationship and mental health are aplenty.

7) Minimise distractions

WhatsApp messages and other notifications often distracts me from work. So I keep my phone on silent and leave it a distance away from my work area so I don’t peek at it so often.

I have a friend who swears by a work playlist on Spotify so you can try exploring that too. Recently I’ve found that putting on instrumental music (in particular violin pieces) gets my creative juices flowing.

8) Keep healthy boundaries

It can be hard to draw the line and say “Ok work ends at 9pm.” Very often I think about my work even when I’m tackling the dishes or doing the laundry.

This can be a bit unhealthy, especially if you’re not getting sufficient sleep. (In the past I would work till close to midnight and find that my brain cannot shut down until an hour later!)

So now, having understood my own body, I try not to work past 10pm; nor check my emails after that time. I will spend the hour or so after that to relax with a book or make a chamomile tea and chat with my spouse. If I have tight deadlines that week, I will channel the worries into a to-do list, which helps me focus on the important tasks the next morning.

Have you started working from home recently? What works or doesn’t work for you?

Love in the time of coronavirus

It’s Valentine’s day this week but I don’t think the florists and restaurants are going to be that busy—at least not as busy as previous years.

Many couples will choose to go low-key, because of the nCoV19 virus that’s been spreading on our shores.

For the hub and I, this will be our 15th Valentine’s day together. Not that we are big on celebrating it, we’d never splash out on an expensive dinner just because it’s V-day, but I do insist ask that he bring home a small trinket each year. Whether it’s chocolate, a small bouquet of flowers, or a special meal (so I don’t have to cook up a sweat), it’s just a little something to remind him that he still needs to pursue me, to make an effort now and then, even though I’m legally and lovingly his wife.

This year will be pretty special. Well, we’re definitely staying home…because he’s arranged to meet an ID at our place to talk about the design of our new home.

When I found out, I wasn’t mad. But I said sarcastically: “Oh so clever, like that we don’t need to celebrate.”

To which he replied: “I think it’s romantic.”

To be honest, just like how the CNY mood quickly dissipated into the air when news of the virus hit our media (and minds), it may be hard to conjure up lovey-dovey feelings this week, as we hunker down and prepare ourselves for when the spread gets worst.

Since we can’t go out on dates (well unless you count walking out to the hawker centre to get takeaway a date), we are going to make use of the time we have at home to:

  • Plan for our new home
  • Read books (I’ve downloaded The Handmaid’s Tale and The Meaning of Marriage into Overdrive)
  • Ask each other questions (like these or these)
  • Create a bucket list of places/things we’d like to do and visit
  • Play more board games with the kids (our hot favourites currently are Organ Attack, Monopoly Deal, and Go Nuts for Donuts.
  • Do devotionals regularly at night (we use ODB’s Give Us This Day, kindly gifted to us by Susan from A Juggling Mom. You can also request a copy online.)

 

If like us, you’re planning to keep it simple this Valentine’s weekend, here are some small but meaningful acts of love you can consider:

  • Plant a kiss on his cheek before he leaves for work
  • Sneak a card into his briefcase
  • Cook him a nice steak (or whatever he likes) for dinner/pack a surprise dinner and let her have a break from the kitchen
  • Gather everyone into the room for a movie (yes this year, the kids will get to experience Valentine’s day with us)
  • Watch your tongue and use more affirming words, while reducing critical or harsh words
  • Take care of the meals/laundry/housework without complaining
  • Go for a leisurely walk at the park if weather permits
  • Light some candles or open a bottle of wine, just because

 

I started out writing about marital love, but in thinking about the virus and human behaviour I’m now inclined to talk about a different kind of love—the kind of love that sees (people’s needs) and serves.

  • The hospital staff who are tirelessly serving the needs of their patients and their family members.
  • The security people working hard to guard the entry into office buildings and schools.
  • The teachers who while constantly worried that they may get exposed to the virus, choose to place the needs of their students ahead of themselves.
  • The mums and dads who try to secure groceries and other goods in a bid to ensure their families get fed. (Particularly those who refrain from going overboard and get just enough or a bit more.)
  • The common folk like you and I who are just trying in our own little ways to remain calm and spread calm.

Love in the time of coronavirus

They say that laughter is good medicine. But at such a time as this, love is an even stronger medicine.

And this love, it begins with our words and actions at home.

You may have heard of the famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13. Here’s a little twist on it in light of our times.

Love is patient (when you have to stop to take temperature). Love is kind. It does not envy others who have masks. It does not hoard food supplies it doesn’t need. It does not tell medical workers to not board the bus. It stays home if it has been given Leave of Absence or if feeling unwell. It brings food to those around who are in need.

It is not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered.

Love does not delight in hearing there are patients in critical condition, but rejoices when even one of them recovers fully.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Two parenting skills I’m practising in the new year

What are you looking forward to this year?

What hopes and dreams do you hold in your heart?

I haven’t been blogging much. With all 3 kids in primary school now and my writing work on the side, I just don’t have the mind-space to write as much as I used to. But I will keep trying.

And today, I want to share about two new parenting skills I picked up in December.

1. Empathetic listening

A person who sits down with you, opens his ears and heart to listen to you, doesn’t judge, and tries to understand what it’s like to be in your shoes—this is empathetic listening.

As with many parents, I’m prone to giving instructions and advice. Perhaps we live in a pragmatic society that values efficiency and we won’t want our kids to make too many mistakes. We tend to go straight to problem-solving.
But by listening empathetically, actively, with your whole presence, we give our kids “psychological air”—the space to feel what they feel and to know they are safe in spite of those huge, hard feelings.

In doing so, we also get to help them identify some of those big emotions. They also learn to be more in tune with their feelings.

Left out during recess? “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that… did you feel more lonely or sad?”

First day at school? “How do you feel about your first day tomorrow? Are you feeling worried?

Favourite snack sold out in the supermarket? “Oh dear, that must feel so disappointing. You were really looking forward to eating it.”

Crying because she had to leave a party early? “I can see you’re feeling really upset and frustrated we have to leave. Do you want to talk about it?”

Results so far?

Practising this skill at home has helped me be more patient in handling my kids when they’re having difficulties or feeling upset over something. I find that they calm down faster, and are more willing to listen after they feel like I’ve understood.

I’m definitely motivated to continue this. I feel kids in general need help in building their emotional skills and EQ. I believe this will strengthen their foundation in coping with life’s stresses and challenges!

2. I-messages

This isn’t the first time I’m learning about I-messages but it is the first time I’ve practised it consistently with others in different scenarios and contexts. Basically, I-messages focus on my (the parent’s) feelings when a certain behaviour is seen. It could be positive behaviour, for example, “I like it when you are honest with me.” Or “I enjoy seeing you try your best in practising violin.”

It could also be negative behaviour, such as “I get very agitated when you guys shout or fight in the car. It makes it hard for me to concentrate on driving.”

At times it can also express a certain belief or value, for example, “I believe in working together as a team to tidy up.”

What is so powerful about I-messages?

I-messages are opposite from you-messages, which are unfortunately what most of us are used to dishing out daily. (“Why are you so untidy?” Why can’t you just listen to what I say?”)

The power of I-messages is that they don’t accord blame or guilt; they simply describe the feeling that is caused by a certain behaviour.

The best form of I-messages that I like to use is “I feel ______[emotion] when [describe the situation or action].”

So, they are compassionate and respectful, while also communicating the need to change the behaviour or to reflect on one’s wrong actions.

I think it’s powerful because it helps me be assertive without being aggressive. Thus reducing the need to shout or yell over anything that goes awry. 

Results so far?

Similar to active listening, I feel this skill has helped me to slow down and express my wishes in a gentler, less aggressive way. In the beginning, my kids laughed because they weren’t used to it. Maybe I was still using an angry tone, rather than a reconciliatory one to express my needs. But I think they are slowly getting the hang of it!

Parenting classes in Singapore

If you’re keen to start the new year with new parenting skills under your belt, check out Parent Effectiveness Training (PET). Developed by psychologist and three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Thomas Gordon in 1962, PET offers proven communication skills that enhance relationships in and out of the home.

There are weekday and Saturday classes coming up in February, so do check them out and sign up early! Classes are also available in Mandarin here

Here’s to building stronger relationships with our kids this year!

 

mum and young son bonding

Disclaimer: I was offered to attend the PET training workshop for free in order to write this review. Views shared above are my own.

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