Relationships: A marriage counsellor's advice for a happy marriage

A husband and a wife embracing in front of their modern home
Marriage is actually the true beginning of the relationship. (Photo: Getty Images)

KUALA LUMPUR — These days, a happy marriage seems to be as extinct as the dodo bird, so it may surprise you to know that the divorce rate in Malaysia actually fell by 19 per cent in 2021.

This suggests that the vast majority of marriages may survive, despite appearances.

Traditional family values are at the heart of Malaysian cultural attitudes toward marriage, which frequently promote gender-specific roles and a strong familial emphasis on children. These values however, have changed a lot in the past few years.

I decided to ask a licensed marriage counsellor, Ms. Vishnu Priya Ravi Chandran, who is also the President of MY Confidential, an association of private counsellors, about her thoughts on these points on what makes a happy marriage.

An infographic from Department of Statistics Malaysia about Malaysia's marriage and divorce percentages in 2021

Really commit to your marriage

What does it actually mean to be committed to your marriage?

Vishnu mentions that while the advice given to us by the older generation on how to have a happy marriage is still the same, how we apply this advice has changed.

While your wedding is a long-term commitment, you need to take a minute and think about what you want to accomplish in the short-term.

"We tend to plan our lives 20 years ahead when we should ask ourselves what our five-year goal is. Having a five-year plan helps keep things more realistic and is easier to commit to," she commented.

When your relationship is going well, it's simple to stay dedicated to it.

However, as a relationship develops, it's okay to say, "I'm dedicated to this relationship, but it's not going very well. I need to resolve, make some sacrifices, and take the necessary steps to keep this relationship moving."

Don't compare your relationship to other couples

We often look at other couples on social media or in public and compare our relationship to theirs.

Ms Vishnu explained that it is important to remember couples have different priorities and views at various stages of their marriage.

"In the first year of marriage, for example, also known as the adjustment year, you start learning about each other's habits, and have to learn to adjust to a new life with that person.

"That stage is very different as compared to a couple who are in their 10th year of marriage where the honeymoon phase is a distant memory," she said.

So before comparing your relationship to others, look at where you are in your relationship and what you can do to get to the next milestone.

Take things one step at a time, read relationship enhancement books and seek professional counselling if needed.

A heterosexual couple, gazing at each other at a dining table. The man looks a little shy as he momentarily breaks eye contact and looks at the ground while smiling. She touches his arm to reassure him.
Setting the expectations needed from one another is a crucial step in maintaining a good marriage. (Photo: Getty Images)

Setting the expectations in a relationship

Most of us grew up watching enough Disney cartoons that we romanticise the idea of marriage and think it’s all about having a princess or knight in shining armour.

Reality is very different from that fairy tale.

As part of an Asian society, Malaysians have societal and gender roles that they learn from a young age.

Still, throughout the past decade, these roles have changed drastically as women have equal opportunities at work and in education.

Vishnu refers to the millennial generation as the "lost generation".

We are a generation that was raised with Baby Boomer values in a structured environment, but we're now struggling to balance these values with more modern and contemporary ideas in an independent and unstructured society.

"A good example is how today's modern woman is financially independent and has the freedom to make her own choices, but often when it comes to marrying, she still expects the husband to take on most of the financial responsibilities and take care of the family. On the other hand, men feel that since women have equal educational and career opportunities, they should be helping out financially and putting in the same effort as they do," Vishnu explained.

So, it's important to ask the big questions; discuss money and finances, children and parenting, residential plans and conflict resolution and make sure you agree on those before saying 'I do'.

Huda Hekmat is an educator, content writer, and Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. She is currently doing her masters in Educational Psychology. When she isn't teaching, writing, or trying to armbar her fellow gym mates, you can find her reading a thriller, watching a stand-up comedy, or on the hunt to find the best nasi lemak in KL.

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