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When things fall apart: Red flags in a failing marriage

When things fall apart: Red flags in a failing marriage

Winifred Ling, spoke with thehomeground.asia about failing marriages. Read on to find out her thoughts in the article below.


 

In Singapore, the law states that there is only one reason for divorce to be granted – the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. Currently, this must be proven by one or more of five facts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation of three years with consent, or separation of four years without consent.

A sixth fact was recently introduced as a proposed amendment to the Women’s Charter, divorce by mutual agreement of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

This amendment enables couples to take joint responsibility for the breakdown of their marriage. Mr Ivan Cheong, a partner in family and divorce law at Withers Khattarwong, notes that the changes would benefit more couples who wish to go their separate ways amicably, and do not want to have to find fault with the other party’s behaviour to obtain a divorce.

“Often, the act of having to list out the faults of the other party as a means of seeking dissolution of the marriage increases animosity, and may result in each party trying to pin fault on the other,” says Mr Cheong.

Currently, grounds for divorce must be proven by one or more of five facts: – adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation of three years with consent, or separation of four years without consent. (Photo source: Canva)

While Mr Cheong welcomes the development, he adds that he doesn’t think divorce rates would increase simply because of the introduction of the option. “This option does not make it easier for parties to get a divorce, or render divorce as the default option simply because parties have minor disagreements in their marriages”, he says, pointing out that certain safeguards will be put in place.

So, how do you know when it is worth fighting for your marriage, or when it is truly time to think about splitting up?

Red flags in a marriage

The late American author and journalist Mignon McLaughlin once said, “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person”.

But what if that fails to happen?

Dr Edmund Wong, principal family life educator, and Ms Chang Mun Lan, senior family life educator at TOUCH Integrated Family Group, says that some common problems that married couples go through include unrealistic and unmet expectations, unmanaged conflicts, relationships with in-laws, financial matters, and personality or cultural differences.

These recurring problems could even get worse, if left unacknowledged.  Here are some warning signs to look out for.

Common problems for a breakdown of marriage including infidelity, feelings of neglect and abandonment, and disagreements over parenting styles and finances. (Photo source: Canva)

1. Total breakdown of communication

Arguments happen in all marriages, even healthy ones. But there may be situations where the couple can no longer spend time together without constantly getting into arguments and would rather be physically apart from each other as much as possible, says Mr Cheong.

“It’s a major red flag where couples refuse or are unable to talk civilly with each other, preferring to spend as much time away from the other spouse as possible and where they start keeping separate households, either by living physically apart or in separate bedrooms.”

2. Lack of physical closeness and companionship

A lack of physical intimacy and physical affection, including hugging, kissing and holding hands, can be signs of greater problems to come. It could start off with reasons such as busy work schedules, being preoccupied with the children or household matters, or even a major event such as the loss of a close family member.

However, these could easily lead to spouses getting habituated to the momentary dry spell, and start feeling increasingly distant from one another. Over time, either spouse may begin to experience abandonment issues.

3. Being emotionally checked out

Another major red flag is a lack of awareness, interest and knowledge in what your spouse is doing. Ms Winifred Ling, a couples therapist and relationship coach with Winslow Clinic, Promises Healthcare, says that when you have checked out emotionally, you are “living a parallel life and see nothing wrong with it”. The person may feel alone in the marriage and yearn to regain independence by cutting off emotional connection with his or her spouse. “You stop making the effort to take the initiative to be kind. Instead, you engage in a ‘waiting and comparison’ game where you refuse to be the one to reach out to your partner but you want your partner to make the first move’.”

In such cases, Ms Ling adds, the couple has forgotten why they share a life together – and they engage in negative communications such as criticisms, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

If issues in a marriage are left unchecked, the marriage may eventually suffer from emotional distancing, poorer communication, increasing conflict and dissatisfaction. (Photo source: Canva)

4. Violence or abuse

Abuse does not necessarily have to be a slap or a kick in the stomach. Besides physical abuse, there may be instances where a spouse controls, bullies, or even threatens the other party. Some signs include blaming the other for everything that goes wrong, throwing things when angry, constantly yelling at the other to make him or her feel small, threatening loved ones, or controlling the other party’s expenses, as well as who he or she goes out with.

5. Presence of a third party

Infidelity is a clear warning sign that the marriage is on the rocks. But third parties can come in other forms. Addiction – be it social media, alcohol, gambling, video games and so on, can easily become a third party in the marriage. You may find that your scrolling through Facebook and Instagram is putting a dent in your couple-time and relationship, or that you are constantly sneaking or making excuses to get a drink. If these actions make you feel guilty and make you feel like you are cheating on your spouse, it’s a huge red flag and a sign that your relationship needs help.

Research shows that couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before getting help. (Photo source: Canva)

Is it time to say goodbye?

There may be situations where staying in the marriage is more detrimental to the psychological and emotional health of both individuals. Ms Ling explains that it can be exhausting for the couple to be “living a fake life”. “The dishonesty and inauthenticity will take a toll on them emotionally,” she says.

In addition, it can also affect other members of the family. There may be cases where the couple fights so much that the mental well-being of the children is compromised and they grow up in a high-conflict environment. “Some parents may also feel guilty about giving the wrong impression to their children of what a marriage should be,” Ling adds.

It remains to be seen whether the introduction of the option for couples to mutually agree to divorce will have an impact on divorce rates. But experts seem to agree that the change would be beneficial in that a long-drawn, acrimonious divorce process could be avoided. With the new option, the two parties would file as applicant and respondent, compared to the current proceedings where they would file as plaintiff and defendant.

Mr Cheong says he had previously received feedback from parties and other family lawyers that “having to recount past conflicts and play the ‘blame game’ by finding fault with the other party’s behaviour as a reason for the breakdown of the marriage causes further animosity between the parties.

Even more importantly, NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser is of the view that a simplified track would surface what could have ended up hidden. He says, “It reduces the acrimony or the prospect of having to put up with a broken, through apparently intact marriage.”

He also adds one could argue that a broken marriage would lead to a divorce in any case, the only difference is not in the “divorce statistics, but in causing further hurt and pain”.

Recognise when you need help

But it doesn’t necessarily mean that your marriage is doomed, even if you have ticked off one, or more, of the above warning signs.

Research has shown that marital relationships can be repaired if both parties are willing to put in the effort to make things work, by addressing the hurt and pain, understanding each other’s perspectives and taking active steps to hear each other out.

Relationship coaches and marriage therapists can help assess the health of your relationship and help you develop better relational skills. (Photo source: Canva)

Dr Wong and Ms Chan add that marriages need consistent effort and nurturing. They recommend a marital health check on a regular basis, for instance, once every two years, or in preparation for transitions in life, such as parenthood or career changes. It could highlight the areas of growth in the relationship and guide couples towards areas that may be causing tensions, and help nip any potential issues in the bud.

Research shows that couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before getting help – by which time a lot of hurt and resentment has built up. Ms Ling urges couples to seek help at the first sign of trouble. “This can be as early as the first year of marriage when you notice that there are perpetual issues that keep surfacing and you simply can’t find ways to resolve them.”

If you think a divorce is the best option for you, seek professional help in guiding you through the process. Look at the motivation and reasons for the split and assess if the situation is salvageable or not, she says.

“Divorce doesn’t just affect the couple, it affects the extended family as well”.


*This article was first published on thehomeground.asia

Winifred’s “Rules” for a Flourishing Marriage

Winifred’s “Rules” for a Flourishing Marriage

Written by: Winifred Ling, Couples Therapist and Relationship Coach

*This was first posted on her blog.

I made an analysis of the 10 Rules of Marriage that I found on the internet recently and received several requests for proactive and positive rules that couples can abide by.

Based on what I understand and practise as a relationship expert, I came up with Winifred’s 10 “rules” that I hope will encourage you to invest in your marriage or relationship. These rules are derived from the principles used in Gottman Method Couples Therapy as well as Applied Positive Psychology that I am skilled in.

While I call them “rules”, they are not cast in stone. Pick and decide with your partner on the rules that are most relevant to your current stage of relationship. Let’s dive in and look at each of them.

  1. Be a safe harbour to each other

What this means is that you will be the person that your partner will turn to for connection, support, comfort and love. There is intimacy and closeness when you can be your real and authentic self. You also prioritise each other when you make decisions. For this safe harbour to be strong, you make effort to safeguard the relationship by setting clear boundaries on rules of engagement with the opposite sex. You don’t take the marriage for granted. For couples who share the same faith, pray and grow your faith together.

  1. Adopt a growth mindset

Be willing to learn and change, recognising that there are skills that each of you can learn in order to deepen your relationship and connection. Instead of seeing your partner from your own perspective and forming your own conclusions, entertain the possibility of discovering new things about each other. Continue to work on being the best version of yourself for each other. Cultivate self-awareness so that you can continue to reveal your true self to your partner.

  1. Listen, summarise and validate

The first rule in listening to each other is that you’re not both talking at the same time! Unfortunately, I observe the contrary a lot in my couples. After a while, both persons are talking at the same time and no one is listening. Always take turns to speak. To ensure that you are truly listening, make sure that you are able to summarise and validate the point or position of your partner to his/her satisfaction. Always check to see if you’ve heard each other’s side of the story correctly. This is the foundation of good communication.

  1. Practice gratitude

Much research has shown the importance of gratitude not only in the formation of a new relationship but also in the successful maintenance of these intimate bonds. Additionally, the experience of gratitude enables you to feel closer to your partner thereby leading to a greater satisfaction in the relationship. When you are grateful for your relationship, you’re less likely to compare yourself or your partner with someone else. Learn to focus on what is good in your partner and the relationship will become stronger and deeper. Verbalise your gratitude to your partner frequently to minimise the feeling of being underappreciated.

  1. Do small things often

It is more important to show your care and love through tangible actions frequently rather than doing a grand gesture once or twice a year on special occasions. You strengthen the emotional connection between the two of you when you do small acts of service and love to your partner by sending a message to encourage him or her on a challenging day or to share in the joy of small wins. Identify your partner’s love language and show your love accordingly in a way that he or she can receive and appreciate. Thank each other regularly, affirm the virtues you admire in one another and be willing to apologise first to repair any regrettable incidence.

  1. Build a healthy love bank

A “love bank” is a collection of what makes you feel connected, cared for and valued by your partner. The concept is similar to a normal bank account where there are deposits and withdrawals. When you build more positive interactions with your partner, your emotional love bank account flourishes. You feel safe and secure. Even if you have a “withdrawal” (for example, a small argument), it doesn’t feel too threatening. You know that you have sufficient amount in that will not result in a deficit. When you notice that your partner or you are getting more annoyed and easily triggered,there is a danger that you may need an overdraft. For example, things that don’t usually bother you about your partner’s behaviour, irritate you now. Pay attention to it and put in effort to increase the emotional connection. Ways to increase your love bank include understanding your partner’s inner world, showing fondness and admiration, and turning towards his or her bids for connection. Repeat #3, #4 and #5. Be mindful not to turn this into a game of reciprocity where comparisons are made on who’s done more.

  1. Approach conflict with curiosity

The ability to regulate conflicts is critical to the success of a relationship. When you address your differences adequately, they are less likely to snowball into a massive conflict. When you find yourself in a different position from that of your partner, be curious and ask questions about his or her position so that you can deepen your understanding of your partner. What happens more often than not is an assumption is made that your partner is  making your life difficult by being oppositional or disagreeable. This perception is detrimental as you begin to assume the worst in each other. Those who are conflict-avoidant often find it challenging to regulate their own emotions and the emotions of their partner during conflicts. It’s important for them to learn the skill to call for a break so that they can self-soothe before continuing with the emotionally-charged conversation. When you are curious and re-frame your conflict as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of each other, the differences become less daunting.

  1. Be playful and laugh a lot

Recall the time when you first got together: there were easy conversations, plenty of laughter and fun. As you progress to different stages of the relationship, responsibilities and burdens will increase. As such, it is easy to slip into a routine and forget about having fun together. Cultivate and utilise your sense of humour as it is a good way to connect with your partner and to lift the mood when the going gets tough. Watch comedies, share jokes and funny stories so that you can laugh together. If you have kids, laugh with them too. Life is hard and it will be harder when we take everything too seriously.

  1. Support each other’s dreams

Couples who decide to be committed and marry each other usually have dreams in mind. When you are not intentional in having such an important conversation with your partner about their dreams, it is easy to be consumed by day-to-day tasks and activities that you forget the big picture. Take time to find out and revisit your partner’s dreams regularly. Initiate such conversations when you’d like to take a new direction in your life. You can enhance your relationship by creating shared meaning and dreams. Common ones include building a family and home together, finding a cause that’s meaningful for you to support, creating impact through the work that you do either professionally or in the community you serve. Discussion of such dreams is important as it will affect the decisions that you make as a couple and family.

  1. Accept influence and compromise

It is impossible to always find agreement between two individuals. Therefore being able to accept influence and compromise is key to the success of the relationship. Accepting influence is about developing your ability to find a point of agreement in your partner’s position. It is not about insisting that you’re right or finding evidence that your partner is wrong all the time. In accepting influence, it doesn’t mean that you need to change into someone you are not. You need to have a good sense of who you are at your core, and be sure to protect it so that you are not coerced into becoming someone else. If you make the decision to be the person that your partner needs you to be, accept your responsibility for that decision rather than blaming it on your partner. The challenge in accepting influence is really about relinquishing your control and preferences some of the time to prioritise the needs of your partner.

 

I’d really love to hear what you think of these “rules” and which might be the ones that you will focus on cultivating and practicing. Feel free to email me your thoughts and questions.

If you find this blog post helpful, you have my permission to share it with your friends and family.

Relationship Fortifying Versus Relationship Recovery

Relationship Fortifying Versus Relationship Recovery

Written by: Winifred Ling, Couples Therapist & Relationship Coach

As a couple therapist, the question I sometimes get is, ”Is my problem serious enough to warrant a therapist?” 

I like to address this question in this article. 

There are 3 key reasons why you’d want to see a couples therapist/relationship coach

  1. When you have issues in the relationship that you’ve tried to solve but you’re unable to.
  2. When you want to do a health check for your relationship
  3. When you’d like to enhance your relationship 

Prevention is better than cure and this applies to relationship as well. If you’re in a committed relationship and not married yet, nothing should stop you from finding ways to strengthen your romantic competence. 

The majority of couples that I see now in my clinic are those with troubled marriage or also known as ‘relationship recovery’. Increasingly, I have more couples who decided to seek help and they are in under category 2 and 3. It’s highly encouraging for me to see this trend as younger couples are less affected by the stigma of seeking help.

In enhancing your relationship, what you can expect is the identification of possible conflict areas, assessment of your communication and conflict management skills, emotional regulation skills as well as the strength of your relationship. The former framework of therapy is based on looking at the problems and trying to fix them. What was missing is how to focus on what is good in the relationship and magnify and fortify those strength? This is equally important and it’s also more positive. 

For ‘relationship recovery process’, the types of cases that I see include infidelity, being stuck in conflicts, poor emotional regulation which leads to avoidance of conflict and rebuilding trust and commitment. 

There is a certain transition in life where relationship coaching or therapy is highly recommended. This is as follows:

  • Pre-marital: Before you make the lifelong commitment, you want to be ensured that your chances at staying married is as high as possible. You want to know what the non-negotiables are and learn skills that make the process of integrating your life smoother.
  • Transitioning to parenthood: While bringing a baby into a family is a happy occasion, it brings about a lot of stresses to the marriage. 2/3 or 67% of couples who transition to parenthood suffer a decline in their satisfaction of marriage. Help and support is available for  you to learn how you can mediate this and continue to keep the spark in the marriage alive. 
  • Couples who have suffered child lost or have unsuccessful attempts at assisted reproduction. 
  • Couples who are planning to adopt: You will want to know what are the expectations that you have of each other and what sort of rituals of connection you can establish so that you don’t lose sight of your own relationship.
  • When you have a child with special needs either physical, intellectual or mental: This additional stress could make or break the marriage and often times, couples place so much focus on the child that he/she ends up neglecting the partner. What you want to cultivate is the mindset “we against the world” rather than “I am alone in this marriage”. 
  • Empty nest: There is an increase in marital break-ups at this stage because they have waited for their young children to grow up. The many years of emotional disconnection and busyness of life in caring for the children may have caused neglect to the marriage but it is possible to breathe a new lease of life to the marriage so that you can enjoy your golden years meaningfully. 

Ultimately, relationship is hard work. You will need to consistently invest in it just like how you would a plant. You will need to Create an environment that’s conducive for the relationship to thrive; learn the skills that can help you connect better with your significant other and be intentional in what you want in the relationship. 

Can a sexless relationship be happy and healthy?

Can a sexless relationship be happy and healthy?

If you’ve stopped having sex in your relationship and it’s bugging you, read on.

According to research, Greece is the most sexually active country in the world. Amid the white-washed buildings and servings of moussaka, every mature citizen there is reported to be having sex at least once every two days. Brazil comes a close second, with Russia not far behind. Across the globe, we are conditioned to believe that we should all be having as much sex as possible. But what if you’re not having sex and are in a sexless relationship?

Sex in a relationship comes with undeniable health benefits that extend well beyond the bedroom. It’s proven to lower blood pressure, increase immunity, lessen pain, improve sleep, ease stress, and much more. Yet despite the positive attributes, not everyone couple are getting down to it. There are varying definitions of a sexless marriage or sexless relationship, but it’s most quoted as being any partnership where sexual intimacy occurs 10 times or less within a year period.

couple-enjoying-book-on-bed-importance-of-sex-in-a-relationship.jpg

Ebb and flow

Perhaps you used to be a do-it-daily type of marriage. Maybe a few times a month sufficed. There are couples who are happy to not have sex for their own reasons such as illness, early stages of motherhood or not being in the same country. If there has been a change in your sexual frequency as your relationship has developed, that’s also perfectly natural.

“Sex ebbs and flows over time and as we age, but the reasons it starts to stall are many and include everything from health issues to lifestyle factors,” says Andrew Da Roza, psychotherapist and sex addiction specialist at Promises Healthcare. “It can result from a great many combinations of variables such as sexual dissatisfaction, an emotional disconnection with your partner, poor communication, work stress, or simply a lack of privacy, space and sleep.”

Andrew also highlights how human beings are essentially a paradoxical bunch. “We desire nurturing and supportive relationships that give us a sense of safety, security, familiarity and predictability. Yet we also seek novelty, excitement, mystery, unpredictability and a journey of transcendence in relationships. From this perspective, it makes sense that couples can come to a ‘sexual standoff’.”

It’s here that things get complicated: without sufficient communication, side-effects of a sexless relationship for a couple can include anger, frustration and resentment in one or both people. “A lack of sex can perpetuate feelings of rejection, low self-esteem and insecurity that you’re no longer attractive to your other half,” says Winifred Ling, couples therapist and relationship coach at Promises. In the worst case scenario, should one partner feel they’re not getting their needs met, it can lead to them seeking sexual satisfaction elsewhere.

Get back on track

While this sounds pretty grim, the good news is that your sex life can be revived if you both want it. As with all relationship issues, communication is key. “Choose a time to talk when you’re both calm and in a good space to identify how you’re feeling about the lack of sex,” suggests Winifred. “Be open to speaking out sensitively and honestly — broach when and how often you’d like sex to take place, what’s good in your current sex life and what needs to be improved.” If this is tricky to do together, seek a neutral third party in such as a psychologist or councellor to facilitate the dialogue and provide a safe space for discussion.”

Of course, once you’ve spoken you’ve got to walk the talk. “Your actions have to be consistent with your words,” says Winifred. “The worst thing is when one partner feels invisible and alone in a relationship even though you’re physically together. Revive loving feelings in a sexless relationship by remembering what you love about one another, and affirm each other through words and actions such as hugs and touch. Show kind and generous gestures regularly (a kissy face emoji or a quick message keeps the connection going). Do the small things often to show you care and see your partner.”

Also, be mindful that sex doesn’t always have to be limited to intercourse, and sexlessness doesn’t have to mean a loss of intimacy. Physical intimacy, including cuddling, oral sex, manual stimulation and sharing sexual fantasies, contribute to bringing you closer which can then lead to a more fulfilling sex life.

“Ultimately, no one should tell you what to do in a relationship,” says Winifred.  “So, if you’re having less sex than you think you ‘should be’ and are fine with it, there’s nothing to be worried about. What makes for a happy and healthy sexual relationship is meeting the needs of both partners and bonding as a couple. Only you get to decide if you fit into society’s definition of a sexless relationship or not.”

If you are having communication problems, issues with sexual arousal or painful sex within your relationship, it might help to seek support from a trained professional.


*This article first appeared on The Soothe’s website.

Photo by Julian Myles on Unsplash