1 Set a shared vision and mission statement
What are you striving towards in your marriage and what is your purpose for being married? “Get together with your spouse to come up with a shared vision and mission statement or even a statement of core values for your marriage,” says Claire Nazar, marital communication skills trainer and council member at Families for Life. “This helps you to build a sense of ‘us’ and the future you’ll have together.”
Both of you should come away from the discussion with the same idea of what you want and need from your marriage. Working towards a common purpose and goal strengthens your marriage and makes it more resilient.
2 Set the ground rules
You both need to be specific about your expectations for your relationship, and set up realistic boundaries. “The set of rules helps to minimise conflict in the household,” says Claire.
You can start with pertinent issues like balancing family and work, keeping the spark in the marriage alive and managing finances. According to a 2016 poll by Families for Life, these are the top three issues that Singapore couples typically struggle with. Make sure there is compromise and that you’re meeting each other halfway.
3 Understand your spouse’s needs
“You and your husband have different personalities and you will love and feel loved in different ways too,” says Claire. “Learn how to love him in the way that he prefers.”
Let your spouse know what your love language is. There are five: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Now, strive to apply this knowledge in daily life.
Let’s say Hubby needs affirmation through words. Elvira Tan, marriage specialist at Focus on the Family, suggests taking a minute or two off your busy day to drop him a text that reads “I love you” or “Can’t wait to see you tonight”. “This tells him that you are thinking about him,” she says.
Claire adds: “It will make him feel appreciated and help you to see the relationship from his perspective.”
4 Carve out we time
While there’s a shared laundry list of financial and household responsibilities to take care of after work, you still need to make time to connect emotionally with each other too. “This is so that you have the opportunity to share light-hearted moments and on a deeper level, have meaningful conversations with one another,” says Claire.
Intersperse more serious, practical discussions with deeper more emotional conversations. You can even create a schedule for when to address different topics, so that you don’t mix heavier household matters with heartfelt conversations.
Elvira also suggests finding a common hobby. “You already spend enough time apart when you’re at work. It’s important to spend time doing something you both enjoy.”
5 Work as a team
Marriage is a team sport, and you and your husband have to contribute for it to succeed. Elvira says this includes getting to know each other’s friends, presenting a concerted front to the kids and managing different tasks around the house, such as cleaning or paying the bills.
“You can even work on different aspects of the same task,” adds Claire. For example, split the workload when planning for a date or a short getaway, instead of relying on one person to do everything.
She explains that working together to achieve the end result of a task can help you both foster a stronger bond and provide a sense of accomplishment as one unit. “In doing so, you respect and recognise each other’s contributions and strengths to the marriage, and make up for each other’s weaknesses,” Claire adds.
6 Never pick a fight
When you’re upset with Hubby, it’s tempting to try and get back at him with equally nasty words or actions. “When you try to inflict the same pain you are experiencing, you won’t achieve empathy or sympathy, and certainly not intimacy,” warns Claire. Over time, this will only wear down the relationship.
Give yourself a one or two-minute timeout to figure out how you want to respond, and think about the consequences of that response. What also helps is reminding yourself about the good times you’ve had with your husband. “After thinking it through, you might find yourself silly for wanting to react in that way,” says Claire.
7 Listen when dealing with conflict
Fights happen when you fail to understand one another. And often, they’re rooted in issues buried beneath the surface. Take for instance, a common source of conflict: money.
“Conflict over money is rarely about money,” says Elvira. “For example, if he’s overspending, it’s probably because of some underlying unmet emotional need that he is trying to fill. Figure out how you can help him manage them.”
Most important, says Elvira, is to “listen in a loving manner with a desire for greater emotional intimacy”.
8 Be humble
“There is no room for ego in a marriage,” says Claire. “You must be willing to apologise and to ask for forgiveness when you have said or done something hurtful.”
If you just can’t admit wrongdoing or are unable to back down from a fight, this means you’re putting yourself first in the relationship. To overcome this, think of ways you can empower your spouse. He’s your lifelong companion and will always need your support.
And here’s the most important advice of all: never criticise your spouse in front of others, especially your own parents. You can always correct him in private later.
9 Talk openly with your in-laws
If your in-laws are an integral part of your lives, you need to have an open line of communication with them to ensure you’re always on the same wavelength. This way, you will spare your spouse the mental stress of being caught in the middle between his parents and you.
Always make the extra effort to do something nice for them, says Elvira. “Do so even if your actions may go unnoticed.”
10 Build a network of support
Don’t keep your marriage isolated. Involve friends and family who can support it and keep it healthy and strong. Claire explains: “Like-minded couples and family members can draw from their personal experiences to share about matters ranging from family planning to pregnancy to parenting, as well as tips to communicate more effectively with your other half.”
Older couples, in particular, are a treasure trove of advice and experience. They may even help you to pre-empt various marital challenges so you can be better prepared to face them.
Also consider attending marriage talks and workshops with your spouse, such as Families for Life’s Marriage Convention in February, a series of seminars and workshops that caters to couples at various stages of their marriage. These help you learn more about your other half and your marriage, and how you can be a better spouse. For more information, visit www.familiesforlife.sg.
Or, you can take part in Celebrate Marriage Challenge, organised by Focus on the Family, and supercharge your marriage. For details, visit www.family.org.sg.