Life Lesson #22: What does it take to keep a marriage going?

I have friends married for the second time and they tell me, “It’s not easy raising kids and keeping the marriage going. Please share your wisdom!”

I’m embarressed to say that I don’t have much advice to dole out, and happily married for 18 years is hardly an accurate description of our union. I’m still scratching my head, because those successful marriage cliches like “don’t go to bed angry” or “go on date nights” are easier said than done. In the first 10 years of our marriage, I didn’t even have time for proper meals, let alone go out for fun?


I don’t know how we made it through all those years with 6 kids thrown into the mix. It must be God’s grace.

The odds were stacked against it.

We’ve had (more than) our fair share of arguments revolving around the usual issues of differing parenting styles, chore division, financial burdens, plus we were young. Young, immature and saddled with a child. And then some more. The responsibilities and obligations kept mounting, and statistically, this marriage would never work.

Seeing our brood, people tell us how fortunate we are, and automatically assume that it must have been a textbook marriage. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

We all know what the experts say. Get married for the right reason, find common interests, communicate, communicate, communicate. I totally agree that all of that makes things so much easier.

But relationships are complicated matters. What if most of it doesn’t apply to the both of you?

Friends who know us find us really amusing as we are poles apart in so many ways.

Common interests? The hubs spends hours on the golf course, while I do yoga with some mummy friends. I enjoy watching deep, meaningful movies, while slapstick comedy or battling it out on screen with the kids is his preferred form of entertainment.

He fills our travels with activities while I prefer to simply stroll around and absorb new cultures. When we were up in the mountains of Switzerland, his aim was to make it to the top and take lots of jaw-dropping pictures. Me? I stopped halfway, and I just had to sit there for an hour, letting the vast expanse of the snow-capped mountains envelop me. It was such a profund experience, being transported right into the palm of creation, listening to the sound of silence. When we regrouped, he was ecstatically showing me his amazing crisp shots while I was trying to explain my experience. We both could not comprehend the other.

Time and again, we hear how important communication is in a marriage. Well, the hubs is a man of few words, and when my friends with caucasian husbands sweep them off their feet with words alone, I do wish he was more eloquent. But I guess there are different levels of communication, no? I understand the hubs, without words.

We don’t share the same religion, and in the early years when I saw happy couples in church with their offsprings, how I wished we had the same faith as surely, life would be easier.

I love to read and ponder things. He loves to tinker with gadgets and machines. He cooks, and I eat. Well, maybe marriage experts meant complimentary interests?

doesn’t this make you hungry?

In today’s world with social media encroaching into our days, one unfortunate effect is the “if only” syndrome. Suddenly, we are privy to other people’s private lives. Well, the polished parts, mostly. If only we could afford luxurious holidays like the Tans, we would be happy and smiling.. If only you would buy me big, expensive gifts, our marriage would be blissful.. If only, if only.

Over the past two decades, our circumstances have changed in so many ways.

We tried to build a business together, in the hope of giving our children better opportunies, but it failed, and we went through tough times with no money in the bank and several mouths to feed.

We used to live all crammed together, 7 in a room (before Kate was born), together with my in-laws. Now, we have a nice place to live in, with lots of space. And if one day all of these were taken away, I doubt it would matter very much.

Material possessions do not make a marriage fundamentally any better. Yes, perhaps for a brief moment. Soon enough, whatever unhappiness or discontent that was there, will still be there.

Over the past 18 years, we have been through so much. How did we make it this far?

I think it was simply these. Trust, shared values and commitment. A promise to stick together. To try, and try again. No matter how hard the going got.

Happiness can be here. In good times or in bad. In a big house or a small room. In health or in sickness.

Look around us. The institution of marriage and family is being threatened. Raising kids and keeping a marriage going are probably 2 of the hardest things to do.

But they are worth it, aren’t they?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Other life lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Life Lesson #2: Don’t over-sacrifice
Life Lesson #4: My bucket list
Life Lesson #6: Passion vs Family


~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Life Lesson #20: Will you teach your girls to find a rich husband?

Over Chinese New Year, the prying aunts were at it again, asking the single women when they were going to get married.

We may be so used to these obnoxious questions that none of us batted an eyelid, but to the listening children, they are forming their own views of societal norms of marriage via the discussions of trusted adults around them.

As parents, are we conscious about what messages we are conveying to our children?

Are we aware of the remarks we may have carelessly said without realising the impact they are having on our children?

Have we sat down and thought long and hard about what we want to teach our children about this very important matter?

I remember having a discussion with some mummy friends. I was griping about how miffed I was at my parents for buying #1 a pair of designer spectacles costing $500.

Here I was trying to teach them the value of  money, and there they were, spoiling them rotten. When I chastised my mum, she quickly pointed to my dad, “It’s your dad, not me.”

My dad looked baffled and said “The salesman said this is a special lens and the frame is very light. Since it helps her see properly in school, I don’t mind buying it for her.”

I expected the other mums to feel the same way as I did, but was surprised that we were split into 3 camps.

Some agreed that we shouldn’t let our kids get used to such luxuries and expensive items when they are young, especially since they are not earning their own keep. Others felt that if it were the grandparents spoiling them, that’s ok, as kids seem to understand that grandparents love and dote on them boundlessly.

I was surprised that the rest felt that there was nothing wrong bringing our girls up to enjoy luxuries as they will be used to that level of comfort and will expect no less from their future husbands. One friend mentioned that her mum taught her to marry a rich man so that she would not have to struggle like her mum did.

I was even more taken aback when a majority of the mums agreed that it is wise to teach our girls to find well-to-do husbands as that is being pragmatic, living in an expensive city like Singapore. They gave examples where after divorce, it is easier to bring the kids up when you have a higher alimony.

I left the discussion with a million thoughts swirling in my head. Have I been making comments too flippantly which are not aligned with the values I want to inculcate in them? Sometimes I joke with #1 that given her very expensive taste, she has to either earn a lot of money or marry a rich man.

I had never considered what all the listening kids might be extracting from statements such as these. Marriage = source of funds?

I pondered these questions and discussed them with close friends. I asked them what advice did their own mothers give them about marriage and we discovered that many of us in my generation did not have proper discussions with our parents and were not given sound advice about marriage and finding a life partner.

Instead, these were the more common refrains heard:

“Marry someone who loves you more than you love him”

“Marry wealthy man” (translated)

“Don’t marry xxx (race)”

For some, the closest advice they got regarding dating/marriage was, “Don’t get pregnant! or to the guys, “Don’t get any girl pregnant!”

And this one, “Don’t marry someone like your father!” we all laughed about, but isn’t it sad that many of our mothers felt this way? Possibly because that generation did not ‘wash their dirty laundry in public’, all that was seen was the false appearances of blissful marriages.

This topic became quite intriguing and I was curious about how couples ended up tying the knot. The more I asked around, the more I realised that in the void of good advice from our parents, many of us actually married for the wrong reasons.

Some were swept off their feet because the man was very handsome and owned a house and a nice car.

Some married caucasians because the romance of migrating to a foreign land was exciting while others “wanted a cute ang moh-looking baby”.

Some got married because they couldn’t wait to get out of their parents’ home and some did it because they have been together for many years and their friends were getting married one by one, so it was a natural progression to the “Which HDB should we get” discussion.

Some were pressured by parents or grandparents to tie the knot and start a family.

Now that we are married and wiser, we all agree that it is important to teach our children to seriously consider their choice of life partner and not just the circumstances surrounding the relationship before making such a huge commitment.

It is choosing someone you will want to spend the next 50 or more years with, raise a family with, and grow old together with. Isn’t that the most important decision they will ever make in their lives?

As parents, we know that a broken marriage is never easy for the children. It is important to guide them towards building strong and fruitful marriages and the first step is in providing them sound advice in finding the right spouse and teaching them that marriage is much more than the champagne and flowers on the wedding day or the ring, for that matter.

Being in a good marriage will bring them (and us!) much happiness, while being stuck in a miserable marriage becomes emotionally draining.

Neither do we want them to grow up thinking that something is wrong with them if they are not married by a certain age, nor feel the pressure to ‘just settle down’ because it is expected.

We all have diverse opinions of marriage and suitable life-partners, but as parents, it is good to start discussing with our children what are the ingredients of a healthy marriage before we let slip comments which have been ingrained in us by our own parents.

Although as life would have it, no matter how you try to guide your children, they will probably follow their hearts and give us sleepless nights with their choice of partners we might not approve of.

And we thought the ‘terrible twos’ or the defiant teenage phase would be the last we had to worry about.

What would you teach your child about marriage and finding the right partner? I would love to hear your views.

Other life lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Life Lesson #2: Don’t over-sacrifice
Life Lesson #4: My bucket list
Life Lesson #6: Passion vs Family
~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Life Lesson #3: Marriage is no fairy tale

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. It conjures images of smiling couples, flowers and hearts. On the streets and on Facebook, we are filled with messages of love. But is that what marriage is? Is it only about the sweet things and the good times? Lately, this topic has cropped up quite a bit around me, and sadly, the picture is not all pretty.

#1 recently went for a self-awareness camp. There was a sharing session whereby they were free to share their family’s problems to encourage compassion towards one another. She was very surprised that the majority of her classmates had parents who were either already divorced, are separated or are not on good terms.

It is a very somber and disturbing trend. Sometimes couples hang on for the sake of their kids when they are young, however, it is no easier for teenagers to go through their parent’s divorce. It is a time when they are searching for their identity and are looking to their parents for security and a role-model.

Some of us grew up with fairy tales and have high expectations of what marriage should be. We get the erroneous impression that after a big and beautiful wedding, we will settle down to Happily Ever After. Could that be why weddings are getting bigger and more beautiful? Perhaps Disney should do society a favour by launching a new series depicting the realities of married life, and equipping the princesses with conflict resolution skills. I’m sure it will go a long way to moderate young girls’ expectations of marriage.

The hubs and I did not have a wedding celebration at all although my SILs did throw #1 a huge party to celebrate her birth. (Speaking of which, she’s turning sweet 16 this year, can I count on you guys to throw her another huge party? haha… My, my, how time flies.) Oops, digressed. Where was I? Yes, parties.. and marriage. Perhaps when our marriage makes it to the 25 year mark, then that’s something to celebrate! 

My single friends look at us married ones and think that once they find the right guy, they can settle down, have a few kids and live a blissful married life. Simple. Ask any married couple, honestly, how true is that? I would say that if you have found and married your soul mate, you are extremely blessed.

In fact, I advise my single friends to solve their issues with their man before getting married and having kids. In the early years of marriage, it’s the honeymoon period. Thereafter, the daily issues, disagreements, and differences start to surface and it’s easy to think that the grass is greener on the other side. We see other couples looking very happy and wish our husband was more caring, more understanding, more generous, more whatever.

The reality is that they are also probably looking at your marriage and wish they had a marriage like yours! There is so much that goes on behind closed doors, and I’m sure every marriage has it’s challenges. Just as we need to pick up skills in parenting, we need to pick up skills to improve our marriages by reading or attending conventions to learn better ways of handling our marriages.

When I meet up with close friends, the subject invariably revolves around marriage and children, and the sad thing is that we see a lot of marriages facing tough times. Times when you question if you have married the right person. Times when you want to walk out the door but stay on because of the children. Times when you have to deal with an infidelity.

The answers are never easy and the vicissitudes of married life may sometimes seem too tough to face. In times like that, we need good friends to turn to for support, and perhaps a faith to see us through.

The truth is that marriage is not a bed of roses. And love is more than an emotion. It is a commitment. A commitment to forgiveness, a commitment to patience, a commitment to communication, and so much more. Before we even try to change our spouses, we should look at our own shortcomings. It is also helpful to recognise each other’s love language, be it words, deeds, gifts, touch, or time.

#4 made this pancake for me when she went for breakfast with her friend. Even with all it’s imperfections, I treasure it a lot. Would be a great way to think of marriage, wouldn’t it? 

S I N C E R E  H E A R T
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 


Here’s wishing one and all a very happy valentine’s day. May we all strive for a stronger marriage because only then can we have strong families. 
Other life lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):

Life Lesson #2: Don’t over-sacrifice
Life Lesson #4: My bucket list
Life Lesson #6: Passion vs Family
Linking up with: 

~ www.mummyweeblog – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~