These high-stress points after you say “I do” can be unexpected threats to your marital bliss. CLARA HOW tells you how to tackle them, for better or for worse.
<b>PHOTO</b> ANGELA GUO
MILESTONE 1 Having Your First Home
“I only realised how many things I had taken for granted when I moved out of my parents’ home. Now, I have to look after not just myself, but also another person. Even something small like staying up to cook him dinner, only to realise he’s too tired to eat, makes me feel like I’m not being appreciated.” – Clarabelle Lee*, 30, married for six months
Constantly spending time with the same person in the same space means you have to learn to live with his quirks – even if some of them infuriate you. Because even if those peculiar aspects spark a row, you can’t just storm oﬀ to your respective homes the way you used to when you were dating.
During this stressful transition period, it can be helpful to think of living together as a joint business venture, says Neo Eng Chuan, principal psychologist at Caperspring. “Think of it [and run it] in a functional way. This means you put issues on the table, clarify expectations, provide clear direction and assess results – the way a business does,” he says. This will go some way to preventing resentment from building between you and your husband.
Another way to reduce the potential for tension is to agree on some separate spaces in your new home, says Vanessa von Auer, psychologist at VA Psychology Center. This could be as simple as having your own cabinet for your toiletries.
MILESTONE 2 Bringing Your Newborn Home
“I didn’t realise that having to be at the beck and call of a tiny baby would make me feel so alone. Everyone tells couples to ‘look to each other for support’, but it’s so much harder in reality. My son prefers to be carried and fed by me, so I feel like I’m carrying a heavier burden.” – Camille Ko, 34, married for four years
At this stage, the couple is not just husband and wife, but also father and mother. And one of the biggest problems in this phase is assuming that your partner “should know” what to do or how you’re feeling.
The thing is, while your husband may know who you are as a wife, he’s still getting to know you as a mother. It’s your job to fill him in on your new emotions and what he has to do to accommodate them, says Benny Bong, principal family and marital therapist at The Family Therapist.
Eng Chuan agrees. “Many times, people don’t take steps to clarify exactly what it is that they need,” he says. “When they articulate a need, the scope of the problem narrows and becomes an issue that can be resolved, rather than a negative and unhappy emotion that leaves the other partner guessing.”
MILESTONE 3 Employing Your First Live-in Helper
“On one hand, I knew I needed the help. On the other, I felt guilty about not being able to do it all. Women tend to feel very responsible for the household and when we hire a helper, we can feel like we’ve failed. My husband and I also had to have a very honest talk about whether I’d feel jealous if he was left alone with another woman in the house.” – Leanne Cho*, 34, married for seven years
It’s stressful enough being a mum, without having to hear of “super mums” who do it all. Don’t measure yourself against others, says Eng Chuan, who suggests that you instead adjust your perspective. “Frame it such that it’s not about the helper providing [care for your child, but rather, providing] help in ancillary areas so you can focus on caring for your child.”
And when it comes to potential insecurities, an open discussion like the one Leanne had with her husband, however diﬃcult, is necessary, he says. In fact, some concerns can be easily addressed if the two of you agree on the profile of the helper. You could, for example, pick someone who is much older.
MILESTONE 4 Your First Money Spat
“It’s a very common thing for one partner to be handling a greater portion of the finances; the other person is then seen as the carefree one who doesn’t pull his or her weight. But it’s also about the little things, such as how much money we should put into red packets, that open a can of worms and make you question your spouse’s values and how much he or she cares about the family.” – Leanne
Money is always a sensitive issue, because our attitudes towards managing finances reflect our personal values. When disagreements about spending arise, Eng Chuan says it’s important to look at the bigger picture – and that means understanding how one’s attitude towards money is shaped by one’s growing years.
So don’t be afraid to talk about money. “When you’re starting out in a marriage, there are a lot of financial commitments, so you and your partner need to tell each other what your values towards money are and what you prioritise when allocating finances,” says Eng Chuan.
“What’s important,” he adds, “is understanding the other person, [voicing] your concerns, having a discussion, and then coming up with a compromise that both of you can stomach.”
MILESTONE 5 Your First Disciplinary Tussle
“My husband is the disciplinarian of the family and he reprimands our daughter in a way that is harsher than I’d like. As someone who was brought up in a female-dominated household, I believe that the parenting approach should be gentler. I would prefer to ask my child about how she feels and why she did what she did.” – Glenda Wong, 41, married for 10 years
When you and your husband are at loggerheads about disciplining your child, it is vital that neither of you use the child against the other party, says Benny. Many times, this is done subconsciously and born out of frustration.
“Parents sometimes use the argument ‘but your child agrees with me too’ to be more persuasive,” he elaborates. “But this should never be the case – the two parties should work through their diﬀ erences as adults and put up a united front.”
For example, when your child asks you for something that you have not discussed with your spouse, answer with “let me speak to Dad about this first” to avoid agreeing to something that your husband wouldn’t agree to.
*Names have been changed.