Demoralised, frustrated, discouraged, helpless… I experienced them all in the quest to fulfil my role as a dutiful son, husband and father at the same time. On this journey, I hurt my wife and mum the most. I knew something was not  quite right. Some of the words that came out from my mouth were not what I really meant in my heart. Well intentions were often undermined by irrational outbursts.

In our ten years of marriage, I can count the number of cold wars that we had with our fingers. I recalled in a few out-of-control situations, I yelled at my wife and demanded her to give in to my mum. On the other hand, I had also showed total disrespect to my mum by shutting her out during those extended exchanges with my wife.

I favour facts. They are indisputable and how I wish every fight is simply just to ascertain who has his/her facts right. However, in reality, people do not fight over facts. We fight over our differences in views. During those exchanges, both my dear ones were factually right. Yes, the children need to have their meals. However, the contentious part is whether the children should have their meals before or after their baths, what is the right amount of staple (1 or 1.5 bowls) food is to meet their needs, whether the TV be on/off during mealtimes, etc. Who should I side? My self-righteous spouse or the insistent elderly?

I ploughed through the Internet, books and consulted friends for answers. I got some relief but there is still some sense of unsettlement deep down in me. I feel certain aspects within the family could be better, e.g. I wished my wife and mother could see eye to eye for everything, I wished they could resolve their conflicts amicably on their own, I wished the relationship with my loved ones could be better despite the underlying differences between us.

I have my flaws. I have my weaknesses and emotional soft spots, and when triggered will lead to an emotional turmoil. The consolation is I am willing to be humble and learn from my mistakes and others' wisdom. I acknowledge that certain issues within the family cannot be resolved. (In fact, according to Gottman Institute,
69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems. All relationships including healthy and strong marriages will experience them) I am willing to compromise during a fight. I am willing to apologise if I am in the wrong. All these because I love my wife, parents and children more than anything else and I want to play my part to create a harmonious and safe family environment that all of us can look forward to coming back at the end of a day. Nothing else matters. 

Like me, if you love your family and yearn for more cordial and happier relationships, please read on to avoid the mistakes that I made. (Inspired by my encounter with Dr Huang Wei Jen, aka Dr Love, and with some help from the healing conversations with my wife and mum, and a tad of reflection). 

I was Biased and Took Sides

During one of the after-fight healing conversations, my wife confided that she felt hurt and betrayed when I interfered during the fight, sided with my mum and demanded that she give in even though my mum was in the wrong. (The situation was my mum left a tailor's scissor in the open area that was accessible to the kids, which is a big safety breach. I intervened because I thought the fight was getting a bit out of hand when it turned into a yelling match and the children were within ear shot!)

When you intervene in a fight, take one side and react in a biased manner, you add fuel to the argument, creating pandemonium. From my experience, it is almost equivalent to disregarding all the presented facts and worst of all, invalidating the feelings of the other party. It literally sends the message “Your views/feelings are not important at all from this point onwards” to the other party. Cumulatively, this “Robin Hood trying to save the day” action can have a long-term damaging effect on the relationship with your loved ones that supposedly thrives on trust, love and open communication.

Suggestion: Both the palm and the back of the hand are flesh. Taking sides will only create more resentment, lead to disharmony among the family and hurt your loved ones more. I know it is easier said than done, but we must try our mighty best to resist taking sides no matter how tempting it is. Instead of taking sides, there are a few good ways to break up a fight which you might find useful (minus the pepper spray, please).

Bringing Up the Past

If there is ever a contest to crown the pettiest man on earth, I believe my wife will nominate me for it. I am guilty of this. I brought up the past to educate my dear ones and tried to lead them to see my point. A couple of times, I was sure I did that as an attempt to win the argument. However, it was at the expense of my loved ones' feelings be it intentionally or unintentionally.

This is another source of fuel in an argument - bringing up the past not only opens up old wounds, recycling previous arguments does not help in the resolution of the current problem at all. Reminding the other party who is already heated up of the wrongdoings he/she was guilty of 2 years ago would most likely throw the conversation off topic and infuriate your loved one.  The impact is worsened if there were prior agreements not to bring up those unhappy incidents. Trust me, I have tested and proven its ineffectiveness in resolving conflicts and facilitating safe and open communications. All it does is raise the heat of the fight and blood pressure of the other party.

Suggestion: Stay with the current dispute as much as possible and train yourself not to bring up the old scores. If you do, as soon as you notice, STOP! Call for a time-out or a cooling period. Using what your loved one revealed during vulnerable moments against them will backfire and could actually inhibit deep and truthful sharing in the future. Remember that the outcome of every fight should be a win-win situation for all and the process should not be a competition of who has the best memory, a shouting match or putting our loved one down.

Using Personal Attacks

If you would agree, some fights really are just not that easy to avoid and our natural instinct is to react, instead of respond in those situations. The former usually produces hurtful and regrettable actions. Imagine you have had a lousy day and come home only to be reprimanded at the doorstep for not running the agreed errands that seems most trivial at that moment as compared to the horrendous day that you had just gone through. What would you do? I played cheat and lobbed a personal attack against my wife. “Couldn’t you get the stuff yourself? You had the whole day at home. You are so lazy.” I retorted in one of those out-of-control situations.

According to Dr Huang, we tend to show our worst sides in intimate relationships. “When you make me sad, I must make you angry” is a common phenomenon in intimate relationships. Can you recall one such incident?

Suggestion: Imagine someone throwing high beams from behind while you are driving till the point that you are boiling mad. You hold onto to the steering wheel irritably. You are eager to give a death stare once the driver speed past. As soon as his car reach your side, you see the driver waving. Instantaneously, you wave and smile too because that is your ex-army buddy. Does this "going to explode yet having the ability to defuse yourself" sounds familiar?

To recognise, regulate our own and manage others' emotions requires conscious effort and practice. Regular reflections and penning down my thoughts seem to work well for me. With more reflection and practice, the more often I get it right. With hindsight, I would reflect on the difficult situations I faced and ask myself a few questions. What would have been more appropriate in terms of my response or behaviour? What were the triggers for the emotional outbursts? How would I feel if I were the other party on the receiving end? If the same situation occurs again, how could I react in a more positive way so that all our meets are met? Here is some useful information on
developing your Emotional Intelligence/Insight. One important rule that I always try to stick with - If I do not have anything constructive or positive thing to say during a fight, I will keep my mouth shut.

Managing our emotions may sound simple but it is not easy. Until now, I still find it hard to control my emotions whenever I see my girls jumping mischievously on the bed or sofa! Of course, what motivates me to improve myself? It is my drive to stay as a positive influencer and intrinsically happy in my life. Also equally important, the drive to be a role model for my children. Motivation is needed for a change. What is yours?

Being Negative and Egoistic

Whenever cold wars break out, I tend to distance myself from my loved ones. I would stop talking and resort to nodding/shaking my head when my views are needed. On the front, I would appear nonchalant, however, deep inside I am struggling with my emotions.  However irrational it may sound, questions such as "would I be insulted or criticised further, would I be seen as the losing party and lose face if I approach my loved ones for a peace deal first" repeatedly float in my head. Being negative, I also try to find ammunitions for the next fight by scrutinising my loved ones for their weaknesses. Naturally, I always find what I wanted to look for. The explorations lead me to see more weaknesses and blind spots in them. With the benefit of hindsight, I realised it took me longer to come out from the woods when I was being negative. 

Suggestion: Again, tested and proven and I strongly believe it is the case for all of us. Dwelling on the negative gets you nowhere. The moment you start to think of winning over one another in the family, you have already lost it. You may win the dispute but create irreversible damage to the relationships. Remember the adage “You may win the battle, but you'll lose the war”.

Choose to be positive AT ALL TIMES. Don’t take the little things for granted. For me, I am quite lax with hygiene and thankfully my wife is strict in this area. She takes care of the little things like ensuring all the necessary items, i.e. diapers, full water bottles, healthy snacks are in for our outings. Thanks to her constant reminders (aka nagging in my previous mindset), our children seldom fall sick and if they do, they usually bounce back quite fast under my wife’s supervision. I’m grateful to my argumentative mum for making my oatmeal every morning and also to my dad who never fails to volunteer to look after the kids for me when I need a short nap. Deliberately take stock of the positive things happening around you and choose to see the good things in people. I am sure you will see an improvement in your life and that of your loved ones too. ;)

A Word of Encouragement

Even though you feel like the only one striving to improve the relationships in the family and maybe discouraged, please hang on like how I do. Don't lose heart when you try and do not see things improving. There is nothing wrong with you and the rest. Keep on trying as you will never know which of your actions will bring enlightenment to the rest. When you feel like giving up, ask yourself "If tomorrow is your last day on earth, how would you handle the current situation or what really matters in life ?". If you need a reference, I hope you find inspiration in my story.  Trust me, you are doing yourself and loved ones a service. Let time tell.

Learn more about Our FFL Contributor Tan Chin Hock:

Tan Chin Hock is a bit of an adrenaline junkie - a former commando, no less! He is dedicated to empowering and advocating for strong families. With his passion for self-care and healthy living, he leads by example and encourages others to prioritize their family relationships. Through his social enterprise, he aims to inspire and uplift the less resourced communities through photography. Join Chin Hock as he combines his unique experiences and unwavering commitment to promote the importance of strong families and making a positive impact in today's world.

Read more of Tan Chin Hock's articles here.

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