Outreach, Welfare

Saving marriages, one at a time

As fewer Singaporeans are tying the knot in Singapore, more married couples, on the other hand, are calling it quits.

According to figures released in July 2017 by the Department of Statistics, divorces and annulments in 2016 rose 1.2 per cent from the previous year, with a significant number of couples ending their marriages as they hit their 40s.

Unions also lasted shorter, and close to 30 per cent of divorces were among those who have been married between five and nine years.

This trend corroborates the most recent casework figures compiled by Methodist Welfare Services’ (MWS) three Family Service Centres (FSCs), namely Covenant FSC in Hougang, Daybreak FSC in Yishun, and Tampines FSC. Marital troubles, they reported, are one of the top presenting issues among their clients.

Ms Connie Ng, director at Daybreak FSC, said, “Financial pressures, parenting conflicts and extra-marital affairs are top reasons why a marriage breaks down. For a couple whose marriage is on the rocks, it is likely the marital foundation is already weak because they have been avoiding facing their issues and discussing their values, fearing that that would lead to more arguments.”

Referring to the Family of Origin Theory, she explained that the core values we hold are first learnt through our families, and are carried on when we start our own. While conflict and disagreements are inevitable when two different family dynamics come together, a major life event or transition, such as the birth of a child, job loss or taking on the duty of a caregiver to elderly parents, could worsen the situation. A potential clash of separate family backgrounds and upbringing could stress the couple out in their decision-making, and hamper honest communication. Not all can withstand this test.

Caseworkers at Daybreak FSC often help couples who face crises caused by such stressful life events. However, Connie stressed that disagreements are not necessarily bad. In fact, it is healthy for a couple to talk through their problems.

“Conflict avoidance is not a good starting point. When your views are not heard, and you are constantly giving in, the relationship becomes lopsided. It is important for couples to communicate with their partners, and collaborate to resolve issues,” Connie added.

At MWS’ three FSCs, clients facing marital problems are closely guided through different stages of the counselling journey. The caseworker tries not only to understand their troubles, but also to help uncover other underlying issues.

This paves the way for them to develop self-awareness, take ownership of their issues, and set their own counselling goals.

Connie emphasised that each couple’s counselling journey is different. Some cases are closed after just two to three months, while others go on for years.

Factors such as sharing the same faith and therefore a common value system can also help the couple to resolve their issues more quickly. Certain couples may require more intensive sessions to first develop personal awareness before they move on to make adjustments, when they begin to interact and collaborate with their spouse.

Regardless of the type of marital issue presented, MWS’ caseworkers focus on opening and strengthening communication lines between couples, so that when the next life transition takes place, they will have a ready set of tools to draw from.

“Marriage thrives,” explained Connie, “when there is trust, commitment and a common ground for shared values to grow.”

“A couple’s marital foundation is continually strengthened when they communicate openly and support each other in fulfilling their needs at each life stage, be it welcoming a new member to the household or entering their golden years together.”

MWS runs three Family Service Centres serving clients with multiple issues; FamilyWorks Community Services helping young and/or single-parent families within Punggol; and the MWS Family Development Programme aiding families trapped in chronic poverty. To support our efforts to help families and couples in distress, or for more information on how you can benefit from our marriage/family-related services, please email ce@mws.sg.

Beneficiary Case: A Better Husband & Father

To Mr Lim (not his real name), the role of a father meant being a breadwinner. Every day, he spent hours at the office, working tirelessly to ‘bring home the bacon’. His wife resented his absence from home. Upset that the household lacked paternal presence, she pleaded with him to spend more time with the children. This led to endless arguments that threatened their marriage and family harmony. Through months of counselling sessions at Daybreak Family Service Centre, the couple learnt to facilitate understanding between each other, and are now moving towards positive change. Mr Lim now realises that being a good husband and father means being a more involved one.


By the Methodist Welfare Services Communications Team