To split or not to split?

It’s not my role to judge the merits of their reasons but I do wonder if the vows “for better or for worse” are now understood as “for as long as I can tolerate you” or “until it’s no longer good”.

The young couple’s question was as stark as could be: “Mr Bong, do you think we got chance or not?” Sitting in my office, they were looking for an answer to whether they could

salvage their marriage or should throw in the towel. Their fairytale romance and two-year marriage had run into some disagreements and conflicts. When the couple voiced their intent to split, the husband’s mother suggested consulting a marriage counsellor.

Both were graduate professionals in their early thirties; they appeared well-matched in presentation and personality. I observed them interacting congenially about their problems: they were agreeable when accused by the other of their faults, and even exchanged playful banter and light

humour without any sarcasm. Their muted laughter stood in marked contrast to the heated words and cold glares of most other couples when they first undergo counselling.

Thus was my dilemma. While not wanting to dismiss their issues and disappointment with each other as trivial, these paled in comparison to complaints of abuse or infidelity. I had to muster as much empathy as I could. But the question about their future together kept popping up.

Then, from the depths of I know not where, my response emerged. I told them that in more than 25 years of counselling couples, I had come across some horrendous stories of marriages.

My prognosis, which I kept to myself, of these couples’ marital recovery was bleak. Yet, some of these couples found it in themselves to carry on, to accept, and even to be reconciled.

On the other hand, there were couples whose issues looked not too intractable. They shared with me good reasons which gave hope of their being able to overcome their difficulties. Yet, some of these couples decided to end their marriages.

I went on to say that I had learned that the severity of their problems was no predictor of which couples persevered and stayed married and which did not. A key factor was how willing and determined they both were to work on their issues. So the answer lay not with anyone else but with themselves.

Hearing this, the couple looked crestfallen. I wondered if they had hoped for a verdict that their marriage was a lost cause. Or, if marital counselling was just a last stop before moving on to divorce.

Let me be clear here that, unlike what I could see of this young couple, there are marriages which are so destructive that they practically corrode those within with a mix of toxic emotions and actions. The emotional and spiritual bonds have long died. The spouses, and children too, are hurt and lingering damage is done.

Such marriages aside, some clients have told me in recent years that they want a divorce because they “have drifted apart”, that “it’s time to move on”, that after many years of being married they have discovered that “our personalities just clash”. There are also those who say “it’s time to cut our losses while we are still young”.

It’s not my role to judge the merits of their reasons but I do wonder if the vows “for better or for worse” are now understood as “for as long as I can tolerate you” or “until it’s no longer good”.

For my young couple – as well as those considering marriage and those already married – there is no easy answer. It all hinges on how committed they are to not only staying together but also working on their marital relationship in their lives together.

Picture by imtmphoto/

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Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.