When Andrew, Chief Editor of The Online Citizen, asked me to help out with TOC as a guest counselor for a new column last year, I readily agreed as I feel that Singaporeans, by and large, are besieged by many issues which are often beyond their control. Many also need a listening ear and support so that they can draw from their inner reserve and fight another day.
For example, we are hit hard from the recent financial economic crisis and as many as 50,000 Singaporeans were retrenched last year. Many jobless executives have difficulties adjusting as this was their “virgin” retrenchment. Many also belonged to the middle aged category when children are still at a dependable age and home mortgages are mostly not paid up yet. Their stress level is unparalled and some have even given up in their struggle to stay sane.
I want to particularly pay more attention to those who are divorced or contemplating divorce here.
One in three marriages also breaks up in our country and the situation does not look like it’s going to improve. Many friends around me have also thrown in the marital towel and are on their own now licking their wounds. Some have ended their marriages lasting more than ten years of relationship. So what happened here?
Many people have suggested to me that keeping a marriage going is like running a marathon. You have to put in a lot of effort and energy to maintain the relationship and like in a marathon, many feel like giving up half way as it is a tiring and painful journey. Having ran several marathons before, I agree with their views.
It is not difficult to find the reasons for our society’s dismal divorce rate which has accelerated past the roof during the past few years. The high unemployment rate among the older executives, stressful lifestyle and outrageous standard of living have contributed largely to this problem. Depression and suicidal thoughts tend to be associated with this group.
High Divorce Rate Prevalent In Developed Countries
Having a high divorced population can only be bad news for the country socially. Children from dysfunctional families tend to end up as juvenile delinquents as single parents find it tough to balance both work and family commitment on their own. Men particularly find it tough to adjust to being single all over again, cruelly cut off from their children and often having to rent a small HDB room on their own. Some continue to live a life devoid of any meaning after a divorce and many entertain suicidal thoughts at their darkest moments.
In fact, the modern highly-esteemed lifestyle of most developed countries has directly contributed to the demise of many of our marriages. We all know that the more developed the country is, the higher will be the divorce rate. Modern women who have benefitted from the country’s economic prosperity, have evolved over the decades and will not hesitate to live independently of their husbands if they find that the relationship is going nowhere.
Our fast paced materialistic society and the constant focus on acquiring wealth have also eroded the priority placed on relationship building. Couples belonging to the modern nuclear family unit spend more time at work than at home often resulting in disastrous consequences for their marriages. People are often ignorant of what constitutes a good marriage when they could find quick self actualisation from their work.
Just like when one prepares for a marathon with regular scheduled running, cross training, speed running and proper dieting, a marriage needs all the right ingredients for it to survive and thrive in the long haul. Without proper conditioning and training the couple, like the marathon runner, will find the journey tough and arduous and will give up mid way through the course.
In their book, “The first 90 days of marriage”, Eric and Leslie Ludy wrote about the challenges of marriages: “The ups and downs of married love are too much for the man and woman with a weak tensile rating…Marriage brings out a whole host of challenges that a single person can’t even comprehend…To have a successful marriage, you need to build up the strength of your inner life.”
They went on to write about how to build up tensile strengths by giving up their own individual desires so that their partners can enjoy each other’s sacrifices. It sounds like a cliche and a very difficult process for many of us to follow as we are all so conditioned to do things to please ourselves. I believe many of our marital difficulties arise from couples wanting to do things their way without ever learning how to compromise. Over time, such attitude chiefly contributes to the break up of a relationship. Our Asian men with deep seated egoistic values will face many challenges here especially in the area of giving in to our spouses. After living in a masculine-bias family setting for many years while growing up, many men from Asian cultures fail to realize that in a modern day relationship, it truly takes two to tango. The olden days’ practice of a man making all the decisions for the whole family will not hold ground anymore now.
However, this unique practice of self sacrificing so that our partner may reciprocate is certainly worth a try for those who are going through difficult relationships right now. Our high marital attrition rate reveals that a radical approach is needed to arrest the downslide here. I will highlight this more in the following chapters.
Men also play a huge part in forgetting how to romance their wives. The main complaint of most wives is that their husbands have thrown away their courting charm altogether once they have tied the knot. It is as if they have married a totally different person from the one that has wooed them with flowers and toys while they were courting. Man, when courting their potential life partners, tend to treat the whole dating game as a mission and once the gal is caught, they then move on to their next mission – often their career. Newly married women sometimes felt cheated that their men are not the romantic flower-sending men that they were before marriage.
Too many of our children are also growing up without any dominant parent by their side. Sadly, they grow up seeing their maids more by their side than their parents. Many eventually grow up without any sound social values incalcated in them due to a lack of regular proper parenting. Parenting simply needs a lot of time which the modern nuclear families have little of.
Those who could not balance their time and priority well enough face the consequences of a chaotic home front. A relationship, without the required communication and nurturing, always face the strong chance that it will falter away eventually. It is like purchasing a pot of plant but we simply leave it at one corner without any watering, fertilizing, trimming and tending. The plant, like our relationship, will wither away slowly but surely.
The often-heard reason when a marriage breaks up is: “We grew apart eventually” – a sure sign that our relationships have largely suffered from the after-effects of neglect and apathy.
Painful Effects Of Divorce
Divorce not only break the hearts of those who love us but more importantly it leaves behind a legacy of hurt for our children. Studies have shown that many children from broken families eventually end up as juvenile delinquent as they fail to cope with life in a broken family. Many children I know also sadly never get to see the other parent as the one who has custody often makes it difficult for them to meet up. They end up carrying a lot of emotional baggage with them while growing up.
A property agent friend, who recently divorced after a 15-year marriage, told me that his ex-wife moved away immediately when their marriage broke up. He also could not get his three young children on the phone. He has not seen his children for the past 3 years since the divorce. He has since recovered from the break up after wallowing in deep depression for two years. His advice for me: “Seek help early when you sense that your marriage is in trouble. Put away your ego and pride when you live with your spouse.”
I have heard too many heartrending stories of bitterly and acrimonious separation from friends who recently divorced and often wondered how they can love each other so much before when they say “I do” on their wedding day.
Lives were destroyed and dreams shattered when a relationship ended. They say that divorce is like having the same feeling as someone passing away. Children often are the ones that suffer the most when their parents fall out. They have no choice here and in the innocent minds of most young children, a happy family unit always include a father and mother. Though growing up children do successfully cope with a dysfunctional family, many experience unhappiness and tend to vent out their frustration through rebellion in their teen years.
How We Can Help
If you have a specific problem and need a listening ear, do email me at [email protected]. I will try my best to answer your enquiry.
We are here to help and support one another so don’t be shy.
Gilbert’s Listening Ear is for those who may be facing certain problems in their lives.
Gilbert has worked in the counselling and social service sector for the past 7 years. He has a passion for those who are suffering and will try his best to provide a listening ear even though he may not have all the answers to their problems.
Last year, he started the society, Transitioning.org, and has provided counselling and support group activities for those who are unemployed. He has also given talks to the jobless at Care Corner Counselling centre, Singapore Mental Health Association (SAMH), Executive Counselling & Training Association (ECTA) among others. His blgosite has also been featured on local and international papers such as the Straits Times, Today, Channel News Asia, Sin Min Daily, BBC, Readers' Digest and others.
His book, "How to survivie unemployment", was successfully launched in 2009 March.
In his latest venture is a blog to support divorcees and single parents as he feels that they are often misunderstood and alienated. The site is at www.steadymarriages.com and as usual online/face to face counselling services are provided free of charge to those who need it.
You can email Gilbert at [email protected] if you wish to share a problem or a circumstance you’re facing in your life. Letters will be selected to be published here on TOC with Gilbert’s response.