Regina Chua seemed to have it all – a directorial job, a six-figure salary and a picture-perfect family – but, in fact, her marriage was slowly crumbling. The 48-year-old tells Jeanne Tai how quitting her job saved her relationship – and why it wasn’t an “unfeminist” decision.
Image: Gabe Palmer/ Corbis
“I still remember the day I resigned from my job. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I was at the top of my game then – I was 37, earning a six-figure salary and travelling the world as a regional marketing director.
And yet, overnight, I was suddenly jobless, with no clue what to do with myself. The only thing I was certain of was that I had to focus on the one thing I’d neglected for years: my husband.
Just months before, my spouse of 12 years, T. M., had dropped a bombshell – he suggested we separate.
He reasoned that we’d been living parallel lives for years. ‘Doesn’t it make sense that we separate so we can lead our own lives?’ he asked. I was shocked to see T. M., usually so calm, looking uncharacteristically upset. ‘What do you want for our future?’ he pressed me.
It was days before I came to the tough decision to quit my job and mend my marriage.
The job that started it all
T. M. and I met at university and got married three years after graduation. After leaving school, I cut my teeth at an international advertising agency. I rose fast and was headhunted by various multinational firms.
When I was just 29, I nabbed a job as regional marketing director for a Fortune 500 company. I was posted to my company’s Beijing office, a move that would change my life – and marriage – irrevocably.
We had two young kids by this time, so I decided that I alone would relocate to China. I maintained an apartment in Beijing and flew back to Singapore two or three weekends a month to see my family.
During the workweek, I could be anywhere in the world – Hong Kong, New York, Philadelphia. My work involved so much travelling that flight attendants soon knew me by name. ‘Good to see you, Reg,’ they’d say cheerfully as I slid into my seat. I spent seven years like this, zipping around.
But I was never tired. If anything, I thrived – I loved my work. T. M., however, had some misgivings. Back then, he was a regional marketing manager and travelled every two months. He was worried that our kids were being left alone too often.
I didn’t feel that anything had to change. We had a capable domestic helper and could work around our absences, I argued. Seeing my insistence, T. M. scaled down his career; he took on a Singapore-based role to stop travelling.
I know now that as my career was rocketing, my marriage was unravelling. We were practically living in different countries. T. M. would listen politely when I spoke of my life abroad, but he couldn’t relate. And I didn’t find his stories exciting anymore. In one month, I could have visited Thailand, Malaysia and China. The furthest he would have gone was from our home to Orchard Road.
I would moan about Singapore being such a boring place, never thinking how T. M. must have felt. And yet, when he suggested holidays to the US, I said no as I already travelled there frequently for work.
Th ings got so bad that T. M. first mooted the idea of separating in 2000 – three years before the bombshell that prompted me to quit my job. I dismissed it, thinking he was overthinking things.
Our marriage was fine, I insisted. The conversation died there. But the truth was that we’d lost our connection. My weekends back in Singapore were so hectic we barely had time for each other. I remember him saying baldly to me once: ‘If we didn’t have our children, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.’ True enough, on most of our evenings together, we’d sit reading in silence.
A reality check
In 2003, T. M. brought up separation again – this time, he was serious.
It forced me to do some soul-searching. I had to admit that my priorities in life had been my career and children. While I’d told myself that T. M. ranked close behind, my actions over the years showed otherwise.
I had taken him for granted. I’d always assumed I’d been a superwoman – that I alone was responsible for my success. I had never appreciated how T. M. had downsized his career to keep our family together.
We sat down a few days later and agreed that we wanted to make things work. It was painful, but I decided to quit my job. Not having a name card felt awful, but I knew that if I didn’t give it up, my role would only grow bigger.
Over the next six months, T. M. and I went back to basics and just talked. We went on movie dates and discussed the shows afterwards. We chatted about everything, from the simplest things, such as what we did that week, right up to the loftier stuff like our dreams.
Marriage to business
Six months after I resigned, I started a training consultancy, Discipline Dynamics. It happened organically after a former client called me to do consulting work. I got more referrals and, pretty soon, I roped in T. M. as my business partner.
Working together drew us closer. We decided that, with my sociable nature, I would initiate contact with clients. T. M., being more practical, would handle the details of implementing projects. This synergy spilled over into our marriage – we started to appreciate how our differences could complement each other.
23 years on
T.M. and I celebrated our twenty-third anniversary this year. At the restaurant we went to, our waiter couldn’t believe we’d been married so long – to him, we looked newly in love.
I’ve never been happier than I am today. Running the business is a full-time job, but the difference now is that I consciously put T. M. before my career. We share our schedules and try to have lunch together on most days. And weekends are our weekends together.
Was it ‘unfeminist’ to give up my job for my man? I don’t think so. I see myself as a new-age feminist – a woman who is driven to succeed, but who believes that having a partner to share her success with is even better I feel no shame in saying I am a wife to my husband first, then a mother to my kids, and, lastly, a consultant to my clients.”
This story was originally published in Her World magazine September 2014.