Arthur Ling and Chang Chee Siah may be veterans in marriage coaching and counselling, but they will be the first to admit that their 23-year marriage isn’t always a bed of roses.
“When I get triggered, I shut down and withdraw immediately,” says Chee Siah, recalling a time she felt she wasn’t valued by Arthur because he commented that a drink he purchased for her was ‘expensive’.
“He went ‘what did I do?’,” she jests.
While the couple can joke about the incident now, it certainly did not feel like a laughing matter back then. But whenever the two hit a bump, they fall back on their shared values on marriage to weather the storm. Here is some of their top marriage advice for couples to maintain a thriving relationship.
It’s not about our differences—it’s how we manage them
If any one party is upset and will potentially say hurtful things, a time-out is necessary, says Arthur, who is also the Executive Director of Fei Yue Community Services and a member of the Advisory Panel on Parenting by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.
When both parties are calm, it is then an appropriate time to do what he and Chee Sian dub the “recovery conversation”. During this time, couples should share each other’s needs and how they are not met. It is also crucial to identify the trigger—the exact word or action—that set off the initial unhappiness.
It is also important to explain why the word or action is triggering, or your partner will only see 10% of the iceberg—Arthur’s euphemism for the cause of a quarrel.
Marriage comes before children
It is common for spouses to sweep their issues under the carpet once children come along. “It’s easy to lose sight of our partner’s needs,” says Chee Siah, who found out she was pregnant—with twins, no less—two months into their marriage.
But couples need to remember that the marriage is also for the children, she stressed. “The environment needs to feel safe for them to grow up in,” she stressed.
There are three actions that you can do to show your partner comes first, says Arthur. Once a day, do a 10-minute check-in with your spouse. Once a week, go on a date. And once a month, you can talk about more serious issues, he explains.
Marriage is healing work
Conflict is unavoidable in a marriage because we each carry our unique set of issues into the relationship, says Chee Siah. Fights bring to light some of the issues we need to work on. This is why marriage preparation courses are important for couples to start on the right foot, and to be equipped with the tools to handle challenges that come their way.
Take responsibility for your emotions
“No matter how many years of marriage we have, we can’t expect our spouse to know every thought of ours,” says Arthur. He emphasises that everyone should verbalise their needs so a recovery conversation is possible.
Arthur and Chee Siah concede that mastering these techniques takes time and practice. “This is why when Fei Yue offers marriage prep programmes, we offer a follow-up practice. It can’t just be intentional; we need to practise how to communicate in this way,” he says.
The content of this article was adapted from an interview from CNA938 Family Ties. For more marriage tips, visit www.familiesforlife.sg or check out #AskFFL on the Families for Life Facebook page