Monday, June 30, 2008

Marriage – an unsettling experience

The Sunday Times on 29 June 2008 had a column with the same title as above from consultant therapist Anthony Yeo from the Counseling and Care Center.

I reproduce it here:

People believe that June is a good month for marriage. Somehow this is the month for weddings, and with the recent series of activities in conjunction with enhancing family life in Singapore, marriage is certainly in the air.

Weddings are usually much celebrated events often attended by enthusiastic guests, including single or unattached adults.

Along with the carnival spirit infused into the celebration are those well-meaning married guests who inevitably accost singles with the inevitable “So, when is your turn?” query.

Single adults know all too well what this means and often respond with polite responses such as “You’ll know when it comes” or “I guess it’s not time yet”.

Somehow we tend to believe that marriage is for everyone and, all too often, unattached adults are singled out as targets for prospective coupling in marriage.

There is also a commonly held notion that to get married is to “settle down”, in contrast to being unmarried suggesting that the latter is to be saddled with an “unsettled” state of life.

Somehow there is a prevailing idea that this “unsettled” state is synonymous with being uncertain, fickle-minded, frustrated or incomplete.

With all the earnest drive to promote marriage in Singapore, singles tend to be unsettled by the idea that fulfillment and happiness in life is to be expected preimarily in “marital bliss”.

This prevailing idea seems to defy my observation of the many couples who have sought help for martial conflict.

Each time I encounter married people afflicted with marital woes, I am reminded of how marriage tends to be an unsettling experience.

I have also been left with the unsettled feeling, wondering why so many had chosen to be married when they could have had a less stressful life if they had stayed single.

Of course, the other unsettling feeling is the painful journey I traverse with those who have the courage to go their separate ways.

As I ponder over this issue, I sometimes wish that marriage was not held in such high regard, with less focus on the romantic ideals of a peak experience that marriage seems to promise.

Those who contemplate marriage would do well to confront the reality that marriage can be an unsettling experience rather than one where couples live happily ever after.

The way I see it, marriage promises to be unsettling as couples need to be prepared for a lot of adjustment to living with someone quite unfamiliar to oneself, learning to adapt to each other’s idiosyncrasies, growing together as partners in life and coping with all the demands that marriage and family life brings.

It is also prudent to be aware that romance, if it is ever experienced, is not everlasting and may in fact fade months after the honeymoon is over.

Conflicts are inevitable and there will be many issues to be negotiated, such relationships with the in-laws, work-home relationships and friendships with those outside of marriage.

The more I work with couples with marital conflict, the more I am concerned that marriage should not be entered into lightly. It is also fallacious to believe that life will be incomplete and unfulfilling if a person is not married.

There is more to life than marriage and no one should be made to feel deprived of what life offers if the choice is to be single.


One of the reasons given by scholars who study marriage to explain rising divorce rates and marital dissatisfaction is that now, more than at any other time in history, people have much greater expectations of marriage (and romantic love if I might add), and what it means for their lives. This is consistent with Anthony Yeo’s remark on his wish that perhaps marriage should not be held in such great esteem, otherwise it might lead to dashed expectations for many couples.

The best book (well, the only book actually) that I have read on marriage as an institution is Marriage: a history. This book gets a “5-stars” rating from me, so to speak, so I recommend that everyone go read it.

[My internal rating system ranks interesting and readable books at three stars, with the fourth star given for books that cover truly important material, and the last, fifth star given only if that important material is relevant to everyone.

2-star books for me are usually books that aren’t particularly interesting or useful, but could still be casual reads. 2-star books also include books that cover important material, but may be either of narrow interest or just not very readable.

I don’t have a 1-star rating. If the book really is worth just 1 star, I probably would have put it down way before the ending, in which case I can’t rate it fairly at all.]

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