Skip to main content

How to Really Love Your Spouse (Part 2)

This month we celebrate our 12th Wedding Anniversary. Marriage has not been easy; but despite the ups and downs, I know that I love my wife deeply, and there are 10 precious principles I have held close to my heart. 

A stolen kiss in Helen, Georgia, 2018. Taken by our younger son and aspiring photographer E. After 12 years, I still love my wife deeply and we still go on many adventures together!
1) Listen to her heart. Consider important what she considers to be important.

2) Nourish her soul. Feed her with memories and experiences she will cherish.

3) Allow her to be herself. Do not seek to change her to be someone she is not.

4) Encourage her to pursue self care. Clear her schedule and make it happen.

5) Love is in the small things. Small surprises, gentle touches, little acts of service. Love her in the here and the now.

6) Believe in her. Encourage her to pursue her dreams. Walk with her during moments both happy and sad.

7) Respect her friends and family. They matter to her and should matter to you too.

8) Marriage is forever. Choose to look at the big picture rather than on small differences.

9) Consider her needs above those of your children. The spousal relationship is at the heart of the familial relationship.

10) Remember that without God, nothing would be possible. He is the cord that binds your marriage together.

I have discussed the first five principles in a previous article. I will now share my thoughts on Principles 6 to 10. 
Washington D. C., 2018. We have had many adventures during our 12 years of marriage. This photo was taken almost towards the end of our epic 40-day road trip to the Eastern United States. 
6) Believe in her. Encourage her to pursue her dreams. Walk with her during moments both happy and sad.

From my vantage point as a counsellor, I have observed that not enough people support their spouses. I have met a number of women, whose husbands look down on them because they are seen to be doing valueless work such as cleaning the house and washing the laundry. And there are an equally significant number of husbands, who tell their wives that they are stuck in dead-end jobs and would like a career change, only to be dismissed by their spouses, who tell them that it is more important to earn money than for them to chase an elusive dream. From my perspective, I feel both these groups miss the big picture of what it means to really love your spouse.

For if you want to really love your spouse, you need to believe in her. You need to listen to her heart; to understand and her innermost wishes and dreams, and then you need to believe in her. Believe that her desires can become a reality. Encourage her, affirm her, walk the journey with her. 

Sue and I talk a lot; sometimes she complains that I talk too much - that all the three boys in our family expect her to listen and don’t give her enough peace and quiet. We spend many hours talking about our life, our family, and about the people in our heart. 

I first met Sue while we were both serving in youth ministry in church. She will tell you that her first impressions of youth ministry were of a bunch of noisy boys, who had disrupted her monthly humanitarian trip to one of the neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia, where she was involved in food distribution and medical work. Another memory for hers was on Youth Sunday, when she saw a bunch of young people jumping on stage. They were leading a time of worship, and their hearts were on fire for God. At that moment she could not have imagined being one of those crazy young people. But she was drawn to the love that they expressed for God; and she wanted to nurture them to love God. And so she joined youth ministry. She would never have known then that the person she was to marry was a mentor to those crazy young people jumping on the stage. And he was also the leader of that bunch of noisy boys on her humanitarian trip.

And so we talked for hours about the young people under our care; how to help them, nurture them, and how to help them develop their relationship with God. It has been that way for years, many happy moments sharing about what matters most to us; about the people closest to us.
Sue and I have shared our lives with some very precious young people. It's such a joy when those you love get married and begin their own journey of a lifetime!
And there are the sad moments too.

Looking back, the first half of 2010 was one of the saddest moments in our marriage. We had gone through a couple of rounds of fertility treatment, and had our hopes dashed each time. Both of us yearned to have a child to call our own, and each round of fertility treatment represented a fresh hope. But to have our dreams crushed each and every time was like enduring a roller coaster of emotions. I knew that no matter what, that I had to cling on to Sue as we experienced each heart-stopping moment, and each time when we felt we were being flung into the air, I knew I had to be strong for her, to be there to catch her and hold on to her. 

Looking back, we still regard 2010 to be one of the most difficult years in our marriage. But we were thankful that we had each other to hold on to; and we were thankful that at the end of the day, it was God who was the safety net in our marriage.

7) Respect her friends and family. They matter to her and should matter to you too.

As counsellors, we always tell our clients that who we are as a person is inadvertently shaped by our family of origin. We are shaped by the physical makeup of our family - whether we are born into a single child home or into a large family with four or more kids; by the emotional makeup of our family - whether we come from a stable two-parent household or a tumultuous divorced family setting. And that does not even take into account cultural factors such as ethnicity, religion and philosophical differences etc. 

As marriage counsellors, we know that extended family issues account for many of the problems faced by a couple. And while Sue and I seemed to come from families of similar cultural origins - Peranakan, English-speaking, Christian backgrounds, there have still been many differences in the practices of both families. And this has contributed to various tensions. However, at the end of the day, I am thankful that both our families love each of us deeply; and we continue to work out our differences knowing that no matter what, that our extended family loves us, and has our best interests in their hearts.  
Sue's extended family has become my family too. There may be differences in terms of family culture, but I know that at the end of the day that all of them love us very very much!
8) Marriage is forever. Choose to look at the big picture rather than on small differences.

As Christians, we are of the perspective that once we make the marriage vows to each other and to God, that these vows are binding, and that they are irrevocable. We have therefore stated clearly very early in our marriage that no matter what happens, that we would never consider divorce as a “way out”. That said, we are aware that there are several perspectives on divorce, and questions are raised as to whether couples should divorce if there is sexual immorality or abuse. To these questions, I can only say that divorce was not God’s intended purpose for any marriage, but that He has permitted divorce in various cases, and that any couple facing a difficult situation should seek help as soon as they can. 

When you rule out divorce in your marriage, you begin to look at points of connection rather than points of disruption. You consider the big picture of what you want your marriage to be, and focus on ways that will help you to get there. This is in contrast to zeroing in on the differences in your marriage and finding ways to “prove” that your spouse is more “wrong” than you are. 
My special birthday "cake". When you focus on the big picture of what you want your marriage to be, all the differences become small in comparison.
9) Consider her needs above those of your children. The spousal relationship is at the heart of the familial relationship.

Consider this scenario. A man meets a woman and falls in love with her. They go on dates and spend lots of time together. Then one day the man gets down on one knee and asks the woman to marry him. She says yes. They spend the next year planning their wedding together. They get married. The newly-minted husband and wife enjoy the next few years together as a couple. They go on long holidays together. They visit many new places together. Then one day she gets pregnant. Both husband and wife are ecstatic. The husband spends the next nine months caring for the wife, making sure she gets the best nutrition and bed rest. And on one eventful day, the child is born. Now both husband and wife spend all their waking moments caring for the child. And as the child grows older, they look for the best kindergarten, the best enrichment classes, the best Primary School, the best tuition teachers. And the wife even takes a year off work to help the child prepare for the all-important Primary School Leaving Examinations, the PSLE. 

If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because this is not unlike what happens to many families in Singapore. Once children come along, husband and wife devote all their waking moments to their children. In some cases, the woman takes her role of being a mummy to an extreme, sometimes neglecting her role as a wife. This can lead to husbands feeling neglected and they then seek solace in their work, or they end up seeking emotional and physical intimacy elsewhere.

From my perspective as a counsellor, I believe it is crucial for us to consider the needs of our spouses before those of our children. I often share in parenting talks that if the spousal relationship is strong, this builds a foundation for a strong family. I counsel a number of kids from broken families, and they tell me they wish their daddies and mummies still love each other. Kids choose to forget their past familial hurts and focus on the happy memories spent with both parents. It is therefore imperative for us to remember what it was like during our dating days, and choose to love our spouses in the way that they appreciate. 
Our special "teh tarik tower". Taken during a celebration of our wedding anniversary in Batam, Indonesia. Every year without fail we go away without our kids to celebrate our love and recalibrate our marriage goals.
10) Remember that without God, nothing would be possible. He is the cord that binds your marriage together.

No one is perfect. When we get married, we bring our imperfections into the marriage. Two imperfect people do not make a perfect marriage; in contrast, marriage brings out the imperfections in each person. Having been married for more than 10 years, I can say that it is not easy to remain married. There may have been times when we could have decided to walk away and go back to our separate lives. But because we firmly believe in the eighth principle - that marriage is forever, we have not even considered such an option. Moreover, as Christians we believe that without God, nothing is possible. We believe that when times are difficult, that we should not walk away from each other; we should instead turn towards God. For when we turn towards God, we will focus once again on the source of our hope; and that would cause us to again choose to focus on our commonalities and not our differences.
God has brought together our family. We love our two boys very very much, and they are so precious to us.
I wrote a song years ago when I first proposed to Sue. I then added a verse on my wedding day. This year, I added one more stanza:

"Oh my Dear
I know it's sometimes difficult
When we walk this road of life
There are times we make
Each other sad
And times we make
Each other mad
But I know my Dear
The girl I love
Is 'ever in my heart
You're the one I met
The one He prepared
To walk with me all the way

And we'll
Walk together in this life
Through the years
Come what may
I'll be there though it's tough
And yes I know, you'll be there too.

Dear, walk together, hold my hand
Keep our eyes on God above
For we both know
He'll be our strength
He'll keep us walking
Together hand in hand."

After 12 years of marriage, we become more circumspect in our views about love and romance. But at the end of the day, we need to remember that only God is eternal, and our only hope is if we continue to focus on Him as the source of our love.

This is an article in 2 parts, with the first part discussing Principles 1 to 5. It is intended to be one of my chapters in an upcoming book on honour. Part 1 of my article can be found here.

You can also read my article on How to Really Honour Your Child here.


Popular posts from this blog

Malacca with the Kids: March 2015

Malacca has always been our go-to place for a short getaway. Most of the time, it's been without the kids. We love soaking in the ambience of Jonker Street and strolling by the river. Of course, the food never fails to draw us back to this laidback town with its sleepy atmosphere. The facade of Malacca has, however, changed over the years. Imposing mega malls loom over two-storey shophouses. I would probably have not brought the boys along as the streets are narrow and traffic seemingly never ebbing, but when I googled "Malacca for Kids" this time round, there were quite a few options for the kids to enjoy. Of course, the main reason why we decided to go was because we were attending my dearest  cousin's wedding dinner. This brings back memories of how my cousins and I used to hang around at Chinese restaurants. We would be so thrilled to be on an actual stage... And our choice of accommodation was largely influenced by the water play area which our hot

Setting Up a Finnish School in the Home

The issue of private tuition has again come to the forefront after a senior education official pronounced in parliament that the Singapore education system is "run on the basis that tuition is not necessary". Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Education, added that schools provide "comprehensive levelling-up programmes" as well as remedial and supplementary classes to support weaker students. In the days that followed, mainstream and social media agencies were abuzz with reports from parents and students alike, many of whom disagreed with Ms Indranee's assessment of the education scene. They argued that private tuition is already a multi-million dollar industry, and that its very existence disputes notions that tuition is unnecessary. From the perspective of an educator in Singapore, I can understand the comments made by the Senior Minister of State, especially since it is the responsibility of the Education Ministry to teach our school childre

"Monkeying Around": A Review of My Gym Singapore

Our 2/1/2-year old son E has always been an active child. When he was an infant, E would crawl around and get into all sorts of mischief, until one day when he discovered that he could climb on  his poor Daddy, in an inspired moment of pretend play - Daddy was his mountain and he was Sir Edmund Hilary - the first person to scale Mt Everest! It was therefore with great excitement that we we heard that Parenting on Purpose had been invited by My Gym Singapore  to participate in a series of four classes. We agreed at once; knowing that our little boy would thoroughly enjoy gym class - this was also a chance for our exuberant toddler to work off his energy and hopefully fall fast asleep after getting home. Our little son having a swing of a time at gym class.  My Gym  has an interesting educational philosophy that emphasises building self esteem in children. This is an excerpt from the company's website: The philosophy that guides My Gym’s programming and breakdown for clas

Schooling for Gold: a Parent Reflects on Singapore's First Olympic Gold Medallist

50.39 seconds. The (less than) one minute of time that made history for the small island nation of Singapore. Millions in Singapore and around the world watched as 21-year-old Joseph Schooling defeated his long-time idol and heavily-decorated Olympian Michael Phelps, the man described as "the most-decorated Olympian of all time". Indeed most of the international news footage had been previously focussed on Phelps, given that the American is expected to retire at this year's Rio Olympics. The New York Times even ran an article with the headline: " Somebody (His Name’s Joseph Schooling) Finally Beats Michael Phelps"! For Joseph Schooling, it could not have been a prouder moment, as he not only bagged Singapore's first and only Olympic Gold, it was also a race that proved he had not only matched, but also beaten his childhood idol. Indeed a 2008 photograph of 13-year-old Schooling standing side by side with Michael Phelps has been spreading like wildfire o

Hong Kong for Kids: Our Dorsett Wanchai Experience

It was only a few months back when we had our lovely holiday experience in Hong Kong. We had then stayed in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, a lovely place located at the northern tip of Hong Kong island, near the world-famous Ocean Park. Most people have asked us why we chose Hong Kong as a destination for our kids given the island's reputation as more of a food and shopping paradise. We shared with them that there is actually more than meets the eye to this territory known affectionately as the "Pearl of the Orient".  The view from Stanley, one of our favourite spots in the beautiful city of Hong Kong. Rooms in Hong Kong are small, and we had a hard time looking for a place to stay that could meet the needs of our two very energetic children. We settled for the Cosmopolitan Hotel, given that it was one of the few hotels that had affordable prices for its Family Quad Room, a large room that could accommodate all four of us comfortably. We were pleasantly surprised when we r

A Safe Space: Adventures in Fostering

Fostering challenges traditional notions of what a family is and what a family should be. At the end of the day, what is your idea of "family"? The younger child seemed a little troubled during bedtime. "Mummy..." he said. "Yes Darling," replied Mummy. "It will be very sad when R has to go home to the tummy mummy and daddy one day."  "Yes, Darling. It will be very sad." "But it's all up to God, right?" "Yes it is. You know that R's tummy mummy and daddy can't take care of any child right now? That's why R is with us." "Yes I know. R is with us just for awhile. Not like Kor Kor and I. The four of us are a forever family." "Yes we are. So how will you feel when R goes back to the tummy mummy and daddy?" "It will be sad, but it will be all right." The older child, who was a silent participant in the conversation, decided to speak at th

The Father I Will Never Be

We recently went on a holiday to Fraser's Hill, one of the less-visited places in Malaysia. For Sue and I, this is a place that is filled with memories. It was, for her, a childhood oasis, a place where her family would visit year after year, and build many precious memories together. It was, for me, a special place where I visited with a band of dear brothers during our university days, and where we set a stake in the ground, to declare that we wanted to surrender all of our days to the glory of God. It was, for Sue and I, the location of our honeymoon, the place where we enjoyed our first few days of marital bliss; the place where we chiselled our marriage covenant and planned for our future as one.  This is how I remember Fraser's Hill. Shrouded in mist and somewhat mysterious; a grand legacy of days gone by. I remember my first visit there as a single young man, not yet a quarter of a century old, but yet imbued with the desire to be the best father I could be sho

The Insecurities of a Homeschooling Dad

Social media can be very deceiving. We scroll through the news feeds of people we know (or of celebrity bloggers and content experts), and assume that they are living perfect lives. With every holiday photo they post, every food picture presented, or every insightful article they write, we slip into social media envy and  assume that our friends are enjoying the time of their lives. And many people assume that of me as well. They seem to think that I am living the dream life with a wonderful job and wonderful kids. And when I meet people at my various engagements, I seem to get the nod that I am the model citizen of social media society.  A recent holiday in Disneyland. After long queues under the hot sun, we were quite the "model" family! There is some truth to this. At this moment, I can say that there is no other job I would rather do; to be my own boss and to conduct training workshops for others, sometimes with my wife; what more could a man ask for? And my kids? T

Parenting Your Child for Marriage

It's not often that the Father of the Bride gets to speak at a wedding. Oftentimes, the only words are in response to the question, "Who presents this woman to be married to this man?" In that instance, it is normally a mild-mannered man, one who shuns the attention of the moment, who barely manages to whisper out the refrain, "I do."  A precious photo of a very special couple.  This was completely not what happened at a wedding I was at almost three weeks ago. In response to that question, the Father of the Bride seemed to have an entire speech prepared for the Groom, "I present to you the key to my daughter's heart, " he declared. "I have protected her heart all her life until this point, and now I am handing over this responsibility to you." And with a firm voice, he presented this solemn reminder: "Remember that you will not be able to do this on your own, but only with God's help, and by spending time with Him daily.&

Running the Race of Shame

Every muscle in my body protested. Every inner voice in my being screamed from the recesses within. "Don't do it!" they yelled.   "You will make a fool of yourself!" they taunted. "Why are you so stupid? Why do you want to prove to the whole world how stupid you are?" "You know that you are a colossal failure. Now you want everyone in the world to see what a loser you are?" It was deafening deep within. But I did what I could to ignore the deep shame and hurt that I felt from within. The voices of shame can be deafening even in the presence of an external quietness. "The next event will be the Parents' Race. Will  Mark Lim please proceed to the reporting area?" This was it. There would be no turning back now.  So I dragged myself to the starting line, and mingled with the other homeschool dads who all looked eager to race. "I haven't done any running since I was in National Service," I remark