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

 

Building rituals of connection in your marriage

rituals of connectionI’ve noticed that my husband and I have established some rituals of connection. This is a term I picked up from the Gottman Institute.

Rituals, as the name suggests, are regular habits of interactions with our spouse.

For us, it’s the morning kiss as he bids me goodbye and leaves for work.

It’s the bedtime hug or “love you” that we give each other before turning in.

It’s the coffee that we make for each other during weekends.

It’s the bi-weekly date nights that we aim for, even if it’s just to check out a new coffee/food joint. (We now have to plan this in stealth mode as the kids are quite possessive of us these days).

It’s the weekly tennis sessions we try to have. (Not so romantic, but at least we keep each other healthy, right?)

It’s the 10 minutes of him listening to me rant, I mean share, about my day, after the kids have gone to bed. (He talks a lot at work, so he usually maxes out his quota by the end of the day, but he knows I need to talk so he graciously lets me do it.)

For this last one, he’s been making an effort for quite some time, but I hardly noticed it until last night. After “downloading” my thoughts to him, I turned to him and said, “Thank you for listening.”

He smiled, albeit in a half sleepy state. I have no idea how much he really receives from me every night, but I know that I feel loved and cherished at the end of it.

I guess that’s what really matters.

I hope to say “thank you” to him more. Maybe that could be a new ritual – a ritual of gratitude.

I hope to surprise him more (a breakfast in bed morning perhaps, or sweet text messages) – a ritual of giving delight.

Even when I feel cranky or overwhelmed with the kids or with the day’s troubles, I hope I still find the strength to smile and ask for a hug. A ritual of turning towards.

With kids in the picture, it’s easy to lavish all our affections on them and neglect our spouse. These small everyday rituals remind us that we still have each other at top of mind.

What rituals of connection do you enjoy in your marriage? 

38 habits of love that can change the atmosphere of your home

We’ll be celebrating our 10th year anniversary this year and I’m feeling thankful for the journey that we’ve made thus far.

Still, there is room for us to grow and become better life partners to each other. And we’re constantly trying to think of ways to keep the flame burning.

Sometimes we tend to overlook the small daily habits, but apparently…we shouldn’t. As the Gottman Institute says, “It’s the seemingly meaningless little moments of connection that are the most meaningful of all.”

How to love your spouse (1)

Here are some daily habits that we can cultivate at home (listed according to the 5 love languages):

Words of affirmation

1. Say “thank you” when she cooks a nice meal

2. Say “thank you” when the other takes over the kids

3. Say “thank you” when the other has done something for you

4. Express words of affection, e.g., that she’s beautiful, gentle, or understanding. (Likewise for him, tell him he’s   loving, kind, or hardworking.)

5. Listen with curiosity and seek to understand first before responding

6. Express support when you know she’s been having a rough time at work. (Likewise for the ladies too.)

7. Sneak a love note into her handbag (or use the note to wrap a chocolate bar and hide it in her handbag.)

8. Compliment her on a new dress or hairstyle

9. Make a gratitude list for each other, and take turns to read it out one date night.

10. Send her a sweet WhatsApp message out of the blue

 

Acts of service

11. Do the laundry, sometimes

12. Wipe the dishes she’s washed

13. Play chef for the night

14. Wash the car without her asking

15. Throw the trash at night

16. Top up the fuel when it’s low

17. Offer to ferry the kids to enrichment classes and let her sleep in on the weekends

18. Carry her heavy bags

19. Inform her early if you’re not having dinner at home

20. Check with each other before making a major decision

21. Make an effort to protect family time and prioritise it above other commitments

22. Ask her how you can help out more at home

 

Gifts

23. Surprise her with flowers for no reason

24. Pick out a handbag/jewellery for an occasion

25. Plan a romantic getaway/staycation just for the both of you.

 

Touch

26. Hug often, before you leave for work/after you return

27. Hold her hand when you’re out on dates/shopping

28. Give her a kiss the moment you step in the door (John Gottman even suggests doing a 6-second kiss every single day!)

29. Lead her across the road or at crowded places

30. Diffuse some essential oils, turn down the lights, and give him a massage.

 

Quality time

31. Spend time exercising together

32. Go for a walk in the park

33. Learn something new together

34. Check out a new cafe or restaurant together

35. Catch up (even if just for a few minutes) at the end of a long day

36. Pray for each other often

37. Plan a surprise date and pick her up after work.

38. Put your phone on airplane mode during your weekly or monthly date night

 

As part of my focus to be faithful in the small things, I hope to cultivate more of these little habits of love at home. 

What would you add to this list? What are your favourite ways to show and receive love?

Why listening is so important in marriage

A good listener is a witness, not a judge of your experience

Why listening is so important in marriage

We took a day off to celebrate our ninth anniversary. We had fun all in all but the part I remember most was when we enjoyed a quiet breakfast together at one of our favourite cafes.

The food and coffee was great, but that wasn’t it either. When I drill it down, it was the moments we spent listening intently to each other share our different perspectives and ideas on the struggles that we’ve had managing one of our kids who has been showing anxiety and manifesting difficult behaviour.

Our hearts have been burdened and we’ve had to rely on God and each other for strength.

Seated on a comfy red cushion seat, side by side, I shared my thoughts and observations with him, and he listened quietly and was not in a rush to speak.

Too often, as Stephen Covey put it, we listen to respond, instead of to understand. The reason why we do this habitually is because we seek first to be understood, rather than to understand others. But when we do so, the other person inevitably feels second-rate, judged, or simply not heard.

He gave me a gift that morning – the gift of empathic listening. I didn’t realise it at first; it was all in the subconscious. But then something remarkable happened. Instead of feeling anxious and worried with what was going on at home, I felt secure and calm. We moved forward in the conversation, sharing anecdotes and stories and laughing over some of them.

When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It’s an entirely different paradigm. Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.

Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, you’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart….You’re listening to understand. You’re focused on receiving the deep communication of another human soul.

Empathic listening is, in and of itself, a tremendous deposit in the Emotional Bank Account. It’s deeply therapeutic and healing because it gives a person psychological air…When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving.” – Stephen Covey

Therapeutic and healing? Like psychological air? Wow give me some of that already.

In this day and age, we are all talking simultaneously, on different platforms, with viral messages flying everywhere and devices beeping every so often. It is hard to keep quiet, stay focused, and listen to any one person at a time.

But for the sake of your family and marriage, this is a skill that we all urgently need to cultivate.

Because of that unrushed conversation and heart-to-heart exchange, we were able to strategise and come up with a fairly detailed plan on how to help our child and our family.

Because of those quiet moments, I saw how God had meant for us to come together to trust in Him and to work in partnership for His purposes. I also saw how my husband’s ability to look at things systematically complemented my own slightly more haphazard, but ideas-based thinking.

I know we may not have the luxury to do this kind of retreats often…I know I sometimes complain of being ignored and not heard…but I also know this is something we will have to keep working at – listening in an unjudgmental, kind, truly understanding way.

Feeling heard and understood is perhaps one of the most underestimated and overlooked ways of loving in this digital age. But giving each other that space and time to feel heard and understood and valued in a marriage is worth every single effort. It is truly a gift of love.

So the next time your spouse or partner says “I’ve something important to share…can we talk?” Drop your phone, turn off the distractions, get you both comfortably seated, stay eye-to-eye so you can get the meaning of those words through the gestures and body movements, and seek to understand things from his/her perspective.

I leave you with a quote from The Lost Art of Listening:

The feeling of not being understood is one of the most painful in human experience. Not being appreciated and responded to depletes our vitality and makes us feel less alive. When we’re with someone who doesn’t listen, we shut down. When we’re with someone who’s interested and responsive – a good listener – we perk up and come alive. Being listened to is as vital to our enthusiasm for life as love and work. So is being a good listener. Understanding the dynamics of listening enables us to deepen and enrich our relationships. It involves learning how to suspend our own emotional agenda and then realizing the rewards of genuine empathy.

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Cultivating the habit of saying “thank you” in my marriage

We celebrated the hubby’s birthday this week. It was nice spending time together, shopping, having coffee, and rounding it off with a yummy sashimi dinner. Especially after the busy period of moving and settling into our new home.

We’ve gotten into a habit of not buying each other gifts but instead would let the other choose their own gifts. I guess you could call it the lazy way out but I’ve realised that he also likes the process of browsing and choosing something.

So I decided to just write down a list of things to thank him for. I pulled out a simple card from my stash, and starting writing…

I thanked him for being a wonderful listener. I thanked him for tolerating my nonsense. For being understanding (and not judging) even when I feel upset or down. The list went on, and I found it was quite easy to fill the entire card with ‘thank yous’! Almost like turning on a gratitude engine…it just kept flowing.

I realise that after writing down the things that he does that makes me feel valued and loved, I started to see him even more positively. A sense of gratitude welled up, and I also thanked God for him.

As fallible and as flawed as he may be (and I, too) I saw that I had a lot to be grateful for.

Gratitude changed my perspective. I think it also helped him to recognise the things he does that really mean a lot to me.

Simple things like listening to me when I’m feeling down or lost.

Simple things like laughing with me, or making me see the funny side of a situation.

Small things like caring for the kids, and playing with them.

(Never underestimate these small things, guys. They can mean a lot to your tired spouse.)

Although I wrote the card for him, I actually felt quite good after writing it, as if expressing it somehow made me pay more attention to the good, and feel happy as a result.

I think I need to put up a little note on my workstation, to remind myself to say “thank you” to him every day. (And not wait till his next birthday!!)

And maybe also sneak little surprises / notes into his work-bag from time to time.

Never underestimate the power of these humble words “thank you”. They can enhance your marriage relationship, and even counter existing negativity…Most of all, I think it keeps our hearts soft towards each other, and trains us to focus on the good aspects and encourages the other to do the same.

What’s your favourite way of expressing thanks to your partner?

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. – Philippians 4:8

Make saying thank you a habit in your marriage

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