I went to marriage counselling to support my husband
By Lisa Twang, Feb 04, 2021
When it comes to love, we often think of the warm, fuzzy parts: the feelings of fulfilment and deep joy. But there’s another side of the coin — the hard work, sacrifices, and tears that go into every relationship. It’s through our actions that our love is tested and strengthened.
In our Valentine’s Day series, The Things We Do For Love, we shed light on what it takes to keep the love going between couples, a mother and a child, and even for ourselves, with self-love.
We begin with 33-year-old Sandy Cheng (whose Dayre account is @sandydandy) and Fitri Khamis, who celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary this year and have a two-year-old daughter, Eli. Having gone through marriage counselling, they feel it's important to normalise talking about it, to change perceptions that seeking counselling means your marriage is failing.
Here, Sandy shares what she and Fitri (whom she affectionately calls Fit) learned after they sought counselling to deal with their mental health struggles and differences as a couple, so they can keep their love burning stronger than ever.
When I first told my friends Fit and I were going for marriage counselling, they were very concerned and thought it was a sign that we were in deep trouble. But it helped Fit and I get past deep-seated resentments that had built up in our relationship, and gain a new appreciation for each other. It reminded us of why we love each other, and how we’re both willing to work to support each other through tough times.
I’ve always felt that when it comes to marriage counselling, there is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s like having a tune-up for your relationship. Talking to a professional can give you a different perspective, and help you make rational decisions about your behaviour in relation to your spouse.
As an interracial couple, Fit and I had to overcome many obstacles together. My Chinese Taoist family took four years to accept that I was dating a Malay Muslim guy, and another four years to accept that I would convert to Islam and marry Fit. Over time, they’ve seen how much I love Fit and how good we are together. This helped them understand why I was willing to open my heart to a new religion and adjust my lifestyle for our relationship.
Those eight years of dating helped build a foundation for Fit and I as a couple, as we grew more mature and committed to each other.
Over three years of marriage, we became closer as a couple, and then had our daughter Eli. She brought us so much love and joy, but we also went through a dark period after she was born.
Fit and I have a lot in common; we’re both Geminis, and are easygoing, adaptable and impulsive. We have a lot of passion for life, and like to give our best in everything we do, whether it’s in our relationship, work or parenting. However, Fit and I also come from different backgrounds, and deal with our problems differently.
I grew up in a very boisterous family, where there was always laughter, chatting, and the smell of home-cooked food. In my family, we’re used to talking openly to each other. But Fit’s parents are divorced, and his family tends to be more quiet and reserved. When he has problems, he tends to keep them to himself because he doesn’t want to trouble me.
This wasn’t a major issue while we were dating, but after marriage and a kid, our responsibilities grew, which put even more pressure on Fit. When he struggled to cope, he wasn’t used to opening up to me about it.
Since Fit doesn’t always express his feelings with me, I didn’t fully realise he was going through a hard time when Eli came along. Fit was feeling frustrated over family issues, like struggling to accept my dad’s stroke (Fit had always looked up to him as a father figure), and dealing with his parents’ financial matters, such as helping them sell their flat. His frustration grew and he became quite down, and didn’t know how to deal with these feelings.
While Fit struggled with family issues and the pressure of being a new father, he found it hard to support me in caring for Eli, and this created a deep resentment in me.
It’s quite common for wives to feel like their husbands aren’t helping them enough with their babies, and that the workload at home isn’t equal. Fit wasn’t neglecting his responsibilities: he couldn’t do more for us because he was burdened by stress. He wasn’t his usual self: he had trouble getting out of bed in the mornings, lost a lot of weight, and looked gaunt and tired. He withdrew from me, and I didn’t know how to help him with what he was going through, which hurt me.
I watched my girlfriends’ husbands be very hands-on with their kids, and I wondered why Fit couldn’t do the same. I envied other mothers whose husbands seemed to dote on them more.
I started to slip into postnatal depression, and was crying nearly every day after my confinement ended. I felt helpless, like I was caring for Eli mostly on my own: the breastfeeding and the late nights were really hard on me. I was angry with Fit about why he wasn’t helping me with cleaning our home or playing with Eli more, so I could rest.
During the Circuit Breaker period last year, we hit the lowest point in our marriage, which finally pushed us to seek help through counselling.
Confined to our four walls at home 24/7 with nowhere else to go and a one-year-old toddler, we quarrelled a lot more. Fit and I both work full-time (he’s a media specialist, and I’m a community manager), and the stress of working from home with an active toddler really got to us.
During Phase 1 of the Circuit Breaker, we hardly had any time to bond with each other: while Eli was sleeping, we had to work, and got no break. Our schedules were so unpredictable, and the tension at home kept building as we struggled to manage without help from our parents, who weren’t allowed to visit us.
Back then, I had a lot of anger and resentment towards Fit. I felt that he wasn’t listening to me when I asked him to consider my feelings, and he felt that I was complaining about our problems without offering any solutions.
We argued so much, and felt like we were going in circles. Not knowing what else to do, I suggested marriage counselling a few times. After a while, Fit told me, “Don’t just talk about it: if you’re serious, let’s do it.”
We asked around for recommendations and got to know about Focus On The Family, which provides counselling services. We started our counselling sessions together on Zoom, and later, I had a few sessions on my own. It was a relief to finally start talking about our problems openly, and have our counsellor listen to us and empathise.
In marriage counselling, we learned how men and women usually deal with their emotions differently. This taught us how to understand each other better as husband and wife.
Our marriage counsellor told us men tend to focus on the facts: the ‘where’, and ‘when’. But women are more concerned about feelings, or the ‘how’: how you feel about things, and how you handle that feeling.
We realised that we didn’t really talk about how we felt when we were going through our problems. For example, if we quarrelled about how Fit never helped with washing the dishes, he felt frustrated, but didn’t express that frustration. His main intention was to stop our fight, and would focus on finding ways to get the dishes done. Meanwhile, I felt angry that he wasn’t acknowledging my feelings when we quarrelled.
Our counsellor taught us to open up about our feelings. She asked Fit: “How do you feel when you know your wife is crying, and hurt because of what you said?” We had to change how we communicated: I needed to reassure Fit how the practical things would get done, while he recognised my feelings and tried to be more sensitive with his words.
Through marriage counselling, I also learned to focus on what I could change, instead of harping on what I couldn’t change. I had to let go of my anger at Fit for not helping me more when Eli was a baby.
When our counsellor asked us, “What do you bring up whenever you quarrel?”, I realised I always came back to this issue. I told Fit: “Eli’s baby days only happened once in a lifetime, and it’s a time in my life I will never get back. I felt like I wasn’t being taken care of by you back then, and like I was short-changed.”
Our counsellor reminded me that I couldn’t turn back time, and that what happened in the past wasn’t as important as what was happening now, and in our future. She encouraged me to look forward, and chart our path towards making our marriage stronger.
I realised Fit’s personal struggles made it hard for him to function as usual, and underneath everything, he still cared for me and loved me. I became more understanding, and would ask him to share his troubles with me and not keep things to himself.
We both learned not to be defensive when we quarrelled, and would remind each other to practice what we learned in counselling: to be more patient, loving, and to always talk through our issues.
One night, after we’d been through counselling for a while, we broke down and unleashed all our pent-up frustrations. It happened on the spur of the moment: we whispered our feelings to each other while Eli slept with us in the room, and prayed together for our marriage.
After talking to each other so openly again, after feeling stuck for months, we felt so much closer to each other. It was like a weight had been lifted from me. We stopped having a fixed schedule of what to do at home, and would pitch in as and when we could, which worked better for us.
In total, I saw our counsellor six times: we had three counselling sessions as a couple, and I had three more solo sessions too. Our counsellor told us we’d made good progress, and could now manage on our own.
Now that we’ve gone through marriage counselling, Fit and I are stronger than we were before. We’ve agreed that we’ll do whatever it takes to make our relationship work, even if we still struggle at times.
I wouldn’t say we’re a perfect couple now, and know how to resolve problems straight away. Sometimes we still quarrel, or fall back into our old habits. We’re a work in progress, but we’ve learned to be less selfish, and not feel the need to win the argument every time.
We’ve picked up the skills to communicate better as a couple, and are practicing them so we can enjoy our married life more. I remind Fit that I need to hear him say “I love you” to me sometimes, and to share his feelings with me. And he reminds me to let go of little frustrations, and take action to solve our problems.
If we feel like we need more help with our marriage in future, we’re happy to go back to counselling again to get back on the right track.
As we grow and evolve, the way we love our partners also changes. Our hearts expand to take care of our spouses, and our families.
Thinking back, our first year of marriage was also rough, and we quarrelled a lot. I felt that Fit wasn’t giving me enough attention after we were married, while Fit thought I was asking for too much from him: he was his family’s breadwinner and had to take care of me, his father, and sister, on top of his work.
Gradually, Fit and I found a balance between having our alone time and doing stuff together, like having daily dinner chats and trying calligraphy.
Now that we’re parents, we’re learning to find time for each other again, even while caring for Eli. I’ve realised that this is what it means to love: when one of us is falling behind, the other will carry him or her.
I feel like our love is now like beef stew: over time, it’s become richer and more tender.
When we first started dating, our love was like spicy mala, with lots of fireworks and passion. Now it’s taken on a different character, and we’ve grown more mature. We know we’re building a strong foundation for our marriage, and we want to make it work.
I’m still grateful every day to have Fit in my life. He’s encouraged me to chase my dreams, like starting my home-based baking business, and supported me when I was down, such as when I lost my grandma. Fit has made life more fun, making me laugh at random moments with his silly antics and dry sense of humour.
I feel like being with Fit has helped make me the woman I am today, and that he’s brought out the best in me.
I want to keep practising what I’ve learned: to let go of my anger, put aside my pride, and be there for Fit when he needs me, knowing he will do the same for me, because of the love we share.
Pictures provided by Sandy.
My name is Lisa, and you can find me at @lisatwang on the Dayre app. On my personal account, I’ve written about my own mental health struggles with anxiety, and how I met Sandy and bonded with her at Dayre’s Mum Talk two years ago.
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