Happily never after?

September 13, 2016

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We are saddened to read about the increasing numbers of people going through second and third divorces in Singapore. (Link: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/happily-never-after-again)

“What counsellors say these divorcees have in common is this: the tendency to blame their spouses for the unhappy marriage without realising their part in contributing to the marital breakdown.

So they repeat the same problematic behaviour or take their emotional baggage from their first marriage with them to their subsequent unions, which could lead to another split.”

When couples decide they no longer want to remain in their marriages, they seek the help of lawyers to sort out the legal issues. As divorcing couples may already have experienced months of conflicts and pain in the relationship before the decision to divorce, the legal dissolution of the marriage does not necessarily bring about closure for them emotionally and psychologically. There are also possible lingering questions as to what went wrong. Depending on the contributing factors leading to the divorce, it is easier for partners to blame the other as being at fault. Seldom is there time for reflection on what went wrong and consider contributing factors from both parties. Opportunities to learn from mistakes made are missed with the possibility for them to be repeated in future relationships.

There is a place for divorcing couples to seek counselling as part of the process to end or close their marriages. This is why EMCC encourages and provides Marriage Closure Therapy. The counselling sessions provide a space for them to ‘grieve’ over the loss of the marriage and other associated losses, and to develop awareness of what was amiss and changes that need to be made bringing about healing for the individuals involved. This may help prevent repeated problems or patterns being brought over to the next or other relationships.

The Choice to End Well

May 19, 2016

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James and Denise (pseudonyms to protect their identities) approached EMCC to mediate their divorce. The couple had come to EMCC as Denise was feeling angry and hurt that James was walking away from their marriage. The couple was recommended to undergo Marriage Closure Therapy (MCT) to address their emotions and positions in order to move forward.

As a result, James and Denise took ownership for the breakdown in their marriage and saw the need to work out the relationship from a new position as co-parents. Although the marriage had ended both parties saw a need to continue to build trust in the relationship as they continued to be co-parents to their son. They were also guided to reassure their son of their love despite the change in circumstances.

After MCT, the couple returned to mediate the terms of their divorce with a different mind-set, one that was more collaborative and forward-looking. They were more prepared to discuss their needs for the future. The result was a mediation process that was more efficient and respectful and ultimately resulted in a divorce settlement.

The First Mothers’ Day Without My Mother

May 5, 2016

I’ve been wondering how this day could feel like – the first Mothers’ Day without my mother. Is there anything to look into? Make plans for a celebration, or prepare a gift to bring to her? No, no need. Nonetheless, she lives in my heart.

It has been over 4 months since her passing, 131 days to be exact. Interestingly, there are still moments when I startle as if I have forgotten to call her or run an errand for her. Such are the flashing memories of a dear beloved person who has lived in my heart since I was born. Mom was the one who had looked after all my needs, from the time when I was a baby to the day I got married and officially transferred the responsibility of caring for me to my wife. Indeed, she had been that “other woman” in my life.

There are too many incidents to recount, of her sacrificial love and care that ensured I could be well, stay well and continue to do well in life. Caring for me when I was ill in my younger days, waking up early to cook our lunch so that we would have a hot meal in school, drawing the last dollar to buy my band uniform or pay for my driving lessons, stretching herself with great joy in helping to look after 9 grandchildren of hers… These can only be summed up as total dedication to give her best and all to her family!

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Taken on Lunar New Year 1996, Mom had her full brood of 9 grandchildren with her. A very happy moment.

I must remind myself today that Mom was always good to me and my siblings, stretching herself beyond all circumstances so as to allow us to achieve the best that we could be. I thank God for her who nurtured me into who I am today. I am thankful for the final 8 years of her life, though diagnosed as suffering from dementia, which saw her deteriorating into a very different – actually very difficult and unreasonable – old lady, when she lived with me and I took her to day care daily. It was reliving many younger-day memories of being together, but most of all seeing her freed from her filial piety duties to choose Jesus for her own eternity, that brought me my greatest joy as her son.

Till we meet again on the other side of eternity, Mom, may this Mothers’ Day (and every one from now) be a blessed and glorious one because of the love you have left in my heart!

Indeed, the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world.

 

Ben Chan
General Manager, EMCC

Written to record my deepest appreciation of my mother for all that she has been and done for me through her years of selfless giving.

What mediation cases can teach us about handling everyday conflict

April 25, 2016

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Divorcing couples fighting for custody, families torn apart by grabs for inheritance money… Maybe we think conflicts that need to be settled by professional mediators must be really serious and not very relevant to our own little everyday conflicts. What could we possibly learn about conflict management from these “extreme cases”?

1. Do not ignore the emotions and relationships that are influencing the conflict
As a mediator, I’ve noticed that it is often the urgency of an issue needing to be settled, and not the emotional wound, that brings disputing parties eventually to the mediating table. Emotions and relationships can wait, but issues cannot.

Or so they think.

Although mediation is about making settlements that are mutually agreed upon by disputing parties, it is also about their emotional and physical needs and, more importantly, the relationships of the parties. In our enthusiasm and haste to get past the gridlock and onto practical solutions, we sometimes forget the history of interactions that bring parties to the breaking point in their communication with each other.

As a mediator, I see disputing parties with festering emotional wounds that eat into them like ulcers. Parties come to mediation falling into a sullen, determined, implacable, hard-nosed silence. They are thought to be emotionally bankrupt, but their disengagement speaks emotional volumes – it is a silent protest and a banner of their staunch indomitability. Any discussion with such parties is impossible and futile. In such circumstances, issues can wait, but emotions and relationships cannot. They need to be addressed for any effective conflict resolution to take place.

It’s the same in everyday conflict situations. The emotions and relationships behind the issues make conflict a lot more complicated than simply working out how to solve a problem. Someone who seems disproportionately upset about their spouse forgetting an anniversary might have other baggages and insecurities. The incident might be the last straw in an already deteriorating relationship. It would do us good to be conscious of addressing these “soft” factors when we’re in conflict with those around us.

2. Fight honourably
In a dispute, mediators are called on to help parties reach agreement in a collaborative, constructive and informed manner. The following six elements speak of the value of mutual respect, which definitely applies to our own conflicts.

  • Disclosure: Each party is to fully and honestly disclose all information and writings relevant to the mediation discussion.
  • Voluntariness: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink. Parties may withdraw from or suspend the mediation at any time, for any reason. The personal space and respect accorded to parties are reassuring and attractive, especially to those that feel sidelined and disrespected in the conflict.
  • Confidentiality: Mediation discussions, written and oral, stay within the mediation chambers. It respects the privacy and pride of individuals, who do not wish to air their dirty laundry in public.
  • Interests rather than positions: It’s important to uncover the real interests and needs driving the conflicting parties’ positions, so that more options can be considered and outcomes can fully accommodate and satisfy all parties.
  • Reality-testing: Objective criteria, such as real world behaviour, data and trends, are used to test the positions and options of parties, to move the conflict away from the premises of emotional and personal biases, and towards solutions that are practicable.
  • Respecting individual experiences: As discussed earlier, although emotions and memories are often dismissed as irrelevant to discussions on practical solutions, acknowledging the impact they have on the dispositions of parties is essential.

Most times, it is not so much about completely resolving the dispute, but about fighting honourably, with a modicum of self-respect, and double the amount of honour for the other party.

3. Prevention is better than cure
We often say that mediators work ourselves out of a job once we help regulate parties’ communication patterns through the work of building trust, self-awareness and mutual understanding among the disputing parties.

Ultimately, although telling parties how to fight is helpful, I would rather advise them on how not to get to that point in the first place.

  • Regularly discuss your differences. This will help parties to stay in tune with each other’s lives, preventing negative emotions from pooling and memories from souring in the unknown recesses of their hearts. This will also help to prevent a firewall of discontent and intransigence in future conflicts.
  • When addressing regular conflict, be honest with yourself and the other party without running the other party down. Take responsibility when it is due as it helps to invite open discussion of the issues.
  • Communicate respect for each other in regular situations. Take care to listen and acknowledge each other’s points of view. Avoid criticism and defensiveness.

Shore up your relationship with enough goodwill and it will last you through many a conflict. A deficiency of goodwill in the relationship can bring you to the mediation table, over anything at all. Even everyday spats over what to eat for breakfast.

(Written by a Mediator at EMCC)

The biggest question I had as a mum

March 1, 2016
Mother's choice

“I held my child for the first time and wondered if I really loved him more than myself”.

I clearly remembered that day was 21st December 2015. My husband Tim and I had just returned home from the hospital. We had just become parents to our first child Samuel. As we both stepped through our front door, I knew that our lives were going to change in a huge way.

Tim saw to unpacking the bags while I carried Samuel to his room. He was sound asleep in my arms as I placed him down gingerly in his cot afraid to awaken him. I had yet to learn how to deal with the wailing cries of a new born baby even after a period of hearing similar cries in the hospital. After laying him down, I simply stood beside the cot and watched. As I watched Samuel sleep peacefully, it was a moment of realisation that I was now responsible for another human being other than myself.

Honestly we didn’t think we would be parents this soon, and we weren’t exactly prepared for parenthood. We knew that parenting would require sacrifice. Tim had his first brush with “Sacrifice” when we agreed that he would have to convert his “dude” room to become the room for our new child.

I left Samuel to his nap and proceeded to the hall where Tim was catching a breather; sipping on his cup of Joe. I proceeded to plonk myself beside him and laid my head on his shoulder.

I muttered “You know Tim, when I held Samuel for the first time at the delivery room, I wondered to myself if I could love him more than myself?”

He replied: “Yeah I think you just did.”

I turned to him with a puzzled look, “What do you mean?”

“Well…you saw to our son before you saw to yourself when you stepped in through the front door,” said Tim.

I thought to myself, maybe Tim was right. Maybe I was taking baby steps to  learn to love my child more than myself.

Two months passed and we were getting the hang of this parenting gig. I started considering the idea of returning to work. Don’t get me wrong, being a stay-at-home mum is great. I could talk about the benefits and challenges of a stay at home mum but I’ll leave that for another time.

But at times I wished I was back to my job as a veterinarian. I thought to myself, “You mean all those years of vet school just so I could stay at home looking after my kid?”. I was good at my job, and wished my life would not just revolve around my family.  I missed caring for the animals and talking to their owners, and my extroverted personality was craving for connection with other people.

Tim had a great career too. He was a manager at a big marketing firm. We were fortunate enough to be able to support the family on one source of income, whether on Tim’s or mine. So I decided it was time to bring up a discussion of different possibilities: both of us working, or either one of us staying at home.

We found the time to discuss this late one night as we sat on our bed after the end of a long day. I looked Tim in the eye and said, “I love our family but I miss my career and I want to have both of them in my life.”

Tim has always been very understanding, and this matter was no exception. He did express concern over how we could resolve this dilemma though. “As much as you enjoy your work, so do I, and I don’t think I could stay at home all day to look after Samuel,” he admitted.

Sighing, I told him what was really bothering me about the whole thing: “I just feel like I’m not being sacrificial enough. Aren’t I as a mother supposed to love my kid more than I love myself?”

He thought for a moment, held my hand and said, “You know, I wonder why we don’t expect the same from dads. But anyway, it won’t do Samuel any good to have either of his parents so unhappy or resentful about having to be at home all day.”

We were silent for a little while as we reflected on what we could do. Remembering the days before our wedding where we sat down with our pre-marital counsellor and came up with a list of shared dreams and goals that we wanted to achieve in our marriage, I said to Tim, “One of the shared goals we made those years ago was to establish a happy and stable family that we could come home to every day. I really want to achieve that.”

Tim looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, “Of course. So do I. Let’s see… how do we do that in this situation? Maybe we can consider getting a helper to look after Samuel during the day?”

———————————–

The struggle that women face due to societal expectations for them to give up their careers for family is very real. I was so thankful that in my case, Tim and I could discuss the issue with open minds, keeping our shared goals in view, and with both of us having equal influence in the relationship. I was so glad he didn’t once assume that if anyone were to give up their career it would be me.

Because of all this, the final decision was not the most important outcome. What mattered was the understanding we gained of each other as we talked about it, and the assurance that it gave me: that I was not selfish for having dreams like any other person, that loving my child more than myself did not necessarily equate to giving up my career to be a stay-at-home mum. I hope other women will be able to gain such assurances as well, whether their decisions are similar to mine or not.

 

A Loving Mum.

A combined response to tackling incivility at home

February 10, 2016

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This is a response to an article posted in TODAY Online – “How incivility in the family can affect work performance”

The research carried out by Assoc. Prof. Sandy Lim and her team on the causes of incivility and its effect on work performance is very timely and the results of the study are not surprising either.

In 2010, Singapore embarked on a ten-year programme to boost our economy’s productivity (i.e. to increase by 2-3% a year on average between 2010 to 2019) with the ultimate aim of reducing income inequality (i.e. to raise wages by 33% over the decade). The government hopes to achieve these targets through tightening foreign labour supply, encouraging automation, retaining higher-skilled workers and the national SkillsFuture workforce training initiative. Simultaneous to these economic levers is a growing appreciation among policy-makers and businesses on the importance of employee well-being and the strategic role that human resource management plays in increasing business performance and productivity. This has led to national campaigns to promote work-life harmony, active parenting etc.

Yet, as Prof. Lim has described in her article, work-life harmony is not an isolated concept about the employee alone. An employee’s well-being and ability to achieve work-life harmony are also dependent on his or her ability to manage stresses in his immediate community, particularly his or her family. This will mean that ‘various types of stressors at home, ranging from being treated uncivilly, to divorce, to illness or deaths of family members’ can affect work performance too. We agree with the government that to take care of business and national productivity is to take care of the employee. We go one step further, by agreeing with Prof. Lim, that taking care of the employee is not simply to take care of him alone, but his ability to manage stresses in his immediate community (e.g. his family) as well.

1. Employees

Some may not be comfortable with the blurring of the work-family divide, as keeping the spheres separate may be necessary to encourage objectivity and business-centeredness in the workplace. Employees are encouraged to bear personal responsibility for their family affairs and ensure that they do not spill over into the workplace. Employees should also seek help on their own accord before reaching their breaking points and disrupting their work performance. However, as Prof. Lim has pointed out, it is difficult to draw neat lines especially when the employee is a human being with a human heart.  Further, employees may find it difficult to extricate themselves from complex family dynamics and situations enough to gain insight, awareness and be inspired to any course of action before their struggles overwhelm them.  This is where the employers can step in to help.

2. Employers

In addition to staff welfare policies on health and personal growth, employers can also set in place educational programmes for their employees to teach them to improve relationships and manage conflicts at home. Suitable interventions such as family counselling or mediation can also be provided where necessary. The growing awareness of Human Resources (HR) importance to business productivity is encouraging, but as Prof. Lim has posited, and to which we concur, HR for the individual employee is not a concept about the individual, but the individual in his community. Thereby advocating a more holistic approach to employee welfare.

3. Government

In the same vein, a more holistic approach to national workforce policies, particularly those relating to employee welfare, is supported. Welfare for the individual employee must not only consider his personal aspirations, but his relational aspirations as well. (i.e. not just the employees’ life, but also the quality of the employees’ family and community relationships).

Humans are relational beings, and so are our employees. Difficulties faced at home and in their community would naturally make a significant impact on their work productivity. With HR, businesses and the government working together to encourage improved relationship and conflict management, Singapore will not only have happier and more productive workers but (more importantly) stronger family units as well.