How many of us have been schooled on relationships before entering into marriage? The answer is close to none. We typically either learn from watching our own parents or standout influences in our lives.
“So, the first big problem is that we refuse in the first place to do due diligence by knowing what marriage or living together means, and what we need to know and do before committing to such a big responsibility,” says marriage counsellor Leonardo Talpo of Leonardo Talpo Family-Work Relationships.
As a result, some of the common milestones that married couples set for themselves and their expectations of each other can test their ability to transition to “we” without compromising on individuality.
“If a couple is unaware of their own coping patterns, relies on them too much and does not take time to communicate and reconnect with themselves and each other, they may only realise at a later point, that they find themselves living a life that they did not choose or want,” says counsellor Sylvia Sivanesan of Think Psychological Services. “It’s the little things that count the most. No grand gesture can ever be the ingredient that saves a marriage.”
Rule No 1: Learn to Quarrel
Disagreements are inevitable in a relationship. But they need not be toxic and painful, says Sylvia. The earlier you find your own groove to manage disagreements, the better."
Start by putting judgement aside, says Leonardo. "Remember, your emotions cannot find solutions; you will be keen to discuss solutions when you feel understood and respected. It is learning the fundamental skill of negotiating expectations for each other's benefit with interest and respecting the differences to find a final solution."
And do not sweat the small stuff, says Sylvia. "With our busy lives, it is common place to put too much value on what is the "best", 'most efficient" way of getting things done. With our focus on efficiency, high performance and perfection, we run the risk of being trapped in a mode of over-analysing and criticising anything that isn't perfectly done." (Got into an argument? Don't do these 7 things)
It is important that couples make a deliberate attempt to switch out of this mode and "prioritise the person over the task," she adds.
Sylvia says to ask yourself instead, "Is this comment that I want to make really necessary? Is this comment worth spoiling quality time with my partner?"
She suggests viewing each disagreement from the perspective of an opportunity for discovery, where a couple can learn more about each other and about themselves so they can have a chance to grow together.
Rule No 2: Hit refresh! Whenever, wherever
Beware of complacency setting in. Thoughts such as, "Of course he knows I love him, I don't need to say it again" are an all too familiar routine that couples fall into, say experts. When a couple has been with each other for a few year, it's very easy for them to fall into a pattern. The romantic interludes of courtship and the honeymoon phase of a marriage take a back seat.
"We become very self-centred and 'intellectually lazy', emotionally detached and we start taking things for granted" says Leonardo. Whenever you sense that happening, "shake the boat and go back to fundamentals," he suggests, and do the things that made you decide you wanted to spend the rest of your lives together.
It is also important for couples to check from time to time if they are on the same page of rules and values when it concerns external relationships - with each other's families, and friends of the opposite sex, for instance - and ensure they are still aligned as far as important matters are concerned, says Leonardo.
Rule No. 3; Spend quality time
You don't need to plot in "date night" on your calendar for that to happen. It's the intimacy and love that matters: A kiss, hug and surprise gift (however small)can all make a big difference, Leonardo says.
And intimacy means enjoying time together and sharing the challenges and successes. This cannot be quantified by time, "but the quality of time spent and message of love that you are able to receive," says Sylvia.
"Create a space where you can both share the impact of the day on you. The details of the stories are never the point, but rather how fulfilling or draining, comforting or unnerving it has been for you. Its helps to have a loved one acknowledge your experience and encourage you to self-soothe, celebrate or just be present and connected to the experience of your day," she says.
And keep the mobile phone out of this sacred place!
Rule No. 4: Communicate clearly, always!
As a couple begins to evolve in their relationship, so does their manner of communication: They are at a stage when specifics can be discussed openly. It is most important to attend to concerns when they are small; at a stage when they are still manageable for the couple to work through themselves, without the need for counselling.
"A big part of what it means to have good communication between a couple is to be able to inform the couple when they feel that their needs are not met," says Sylvia, adding that it is important to also recognise that our partner is not responsible for meeting all of our needs. "Instead, as adults, we can actually meet our own needs, and our partners can support in that process," she says.
Rule No. 5: Take charge
Image: Fabio Formaggio/123rf.com
A good place to start is with some self-love. "As an adult, we no longer need to depend on someone else entirely to meet our needs," says Sylvia. "If we start to feel our own needs are no longer met, it's time to start thinking about how we can love, respect and comfort ourselves," she says.
Once you lose sight of your own needs, there's nothing else anyone can do to make you feel loved.
"We often get caught in the daily grind and lose track of ourselves, forgetting to pay attention to how we are growing and what we are learning," Sylvia comments. "We might find that one day we are caught unaware and and realise that our life does not reflect who we are on the inside. At this point, it is often easiest to blame those closest to us, that we lost track because of them. However, if we didn't understand what was happening to ourselves along the way, how can we expect our partners to?"
Text: Sandhya Mahadevan
Images: Pexels and Unsplash, unless otherwise stated
This article was originally published in The Singapore Women's Weekly.