More seniors are getting a divorce. This is a worrying trend given the huge impact that it will have on housing, finances, and well-being of the individuals and families. The retirement years are supposed to be the golden years, where couples enjoy the fruit of their labour and live out their dreams. Divorce isn’t something that one would expect to happen at this life stage. Yet, this is what is happening and the trend is likely to persist if no one heeds the warning signs.
What is the underlying problem that could have led to this?
Marriage is like a plant that needs to be nurtured in the right environment. In our modern society, although we proclaim the importance of family, our hectic lifestyle often takes over and becomes the reason for inaction. When the children are young, the attention goes to them and it is shared with our work commitments. Couples who are more intentional in their approach carve out time to strengthen the connection with each other, enhance their communication and conflict regulation skills. Without this conscious intention and effort, the quality of the marital bond suffers.
The greatest obstacle to building a happy and lasting marriage is ignorance; ignorance that there are skills that one can cultivate to build a more resilient marriage. There is also a massive stigma around seeking professional help. More often than not, getting professional help is the last resort rather than the first line of defense. What many fail to realise is that early intervention is always a better option where constructive work can be done to smoothen the kinks in the marriage. Just like one does not only send the car to a mechanic when it has stopped moving but send it for regular servicing to ensure its working condition. Marriage is so much more important than a car, is it not? Why aren’t we investing more in it?
The following are some possible solutions to this problem:
· Encourage help-seeking behaviours, e.g. Normalise couples therapy/relationship coaching
· Educate young people on what makes a good relationship and impart the skills of communication, emotional intelligence, conflict management and positive psychology.
· Cultivate growth mindset and resilience
· Reduce the divorce rate by implementing pre-parenting programmes to help young couples who are transitioning into parenthood.
There are certain transitions in life that make the marital bond more vulnerable. These are the transition to parenthood and empty-nest. Research has shown that relationship meltdowns happen in two-thirds of all couples when a baby arrives (Gottman, Gottman, Pirack, & Partemer, 2014). In 2018, the largest proportion of divorces happened to couples who had been married for five to nine years (30.1%) followed by those married for 10 to 14 years (18.5%). For Muslim divorces, those who have been married fewer than 5 years and between five and nine years made up 56.7% (30.1% and 26.6% respectively) (Singapore Department of Statistics). Evidently, more support needs to be rendered during this critical period. While there is exhortation for couples to have more babies, the emotional support is lacking.
A couple of years ago, a woman in her mid-thirties came to see me. It was momentous because as I listened to her story I felt a deep sense of helplessness and anger. A mother of two children (under the age of 4) was devastated because her husband insisted on a divorce. She was completely blindsided as she didn’t think that their marriage had reached that level. Her husband had found another love and was adamant in leaving. She felt tremendous guilt towards her children who ended up being the collateral damage. As a mother, I empathised and my heart broke with her. The saddest part was the realisation that there were many more parents and children in similar boat.
After that emotional session, I resolved to find ways to educate people on the challenges that couples who transition to parenthood might face and the importance of early intervention. As a nation, we need to realise that relationship health is a public issue because the impact of divorce and marital deterioration is ubiquitous, extorting significant mental and physical health costs on individuals and society.
There is nothing more painful than being in a marriage where one is invisible and ineffectual. This is one of the key reasons that I often hear in my practice. The emotional intimacy is what joins the couple together when they first said, “I do.” Repeated violation of trust when one or both partners fail to honour the vows leads to a deep resentment and disillusionment. “What is the point of talking when we end up fighting all the time? Why bother when the other person doesn’t care about me anymore? Why should I subject myself to this pain when I can cut the loss and end it?”
Dreams are shattered when divorce happens. It is a hard decision and no one takes it lightly. It is driven by a deep hurt, isolation and fear of repeated injury. When this pain is attended to earlier in the marriage, the probability of success is much higher. Therefore, there is a strong urgency to normalise help-seeking behaviour when it comes to maintaining the health of marriage. Deep in our hearts we know that what is most important is not wealth or power but the people who will be standing by us when we are successful. Let’s invest in what matters. Strong marriages lead to a stronger society.
The article was first published on LinkedIn on September 5, 2019