Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea

Interview & Article by: Emelia Kwa, a trainee at OTP Law Corporation.

For more information on Project Restructure, give us a call at +65 62213009

Published: 28 February, 2019

Interviewee’s name has been changed to protect the identity and privacy of all parties involved.

“I don’t really know how I survived” are not the words you’d expect to hear from someone speaking about their marriage. However, in Peter’s case, what he expected to be a fairy-tale romance turned out to be a lot more complicated in reality.

Peter’s story is not uncommon – every marriage has its challenges and couples may find themselves struggling to make sense of the difficulties and changes they are going through. However, as Peter’s case demonstrates, being aware of when to seek help or advice can be helpful in getting you a better outcome than you expect.  

MARRIAGE

While marriage is often thought of as a union of two people, what we tend to forget is how that union also brings together two different sets of families. It can be helpful to have in-laws involved as caregivers for the children, but at what stage should parents be left to handle their children independently?

The lifestyle and culture of a family

In Peter’s case, his mother-in-law was a very hands-on grandmother. While he appreciated how she had her grandson’s best interests at heart, she often crossed the line when it came to giving Peter and his then-wife independence. For example, she was constantly in their home, taking care of both the grandchild and mother, despite the complaints of the confinement nanny that her work was being interfered with. The final straw came when she made derogatory remarks about Peter’s job and manhood for wanting to be work from home so that he could tend to his child who was ill at the time. This led Peter to push his wife into a tight corner between him and her mother.

Ultimately, although the mother-in-law did apologise genuinely for the incident, the damage had already been done. It was clear from the events leading up to the incident that the mother-in-law wielded a lot of control over the family and would not hesitate to assert her authority as a grandparent into their family’s lives.

Handling day-to-day disagreements

Situations like Peter’s may seem familiar to you. After all, raising a family can quickly escalate into a complicated process. It can also be difficult for spouses to decide how best to handle the situation since they need to please both their partner and their parents.

Should you find that your day-to-day disagreements are escalating out of control and with no improvement over the long term, it may be appropriate to think about seeking external or professional help.

RAISING CHILDREN

Most parents are concerned with the long-term interests of their child: what type of education should they receive? What career path will they take?

It is high time that parents recognise to prepare for another critical aspect of their child’s life: their health.

Peter’s first-born had unfortunately suffered from several health problems, leading to him being born pre-maturely. This meant there were additional costs to raising him on top of the usual preparations made for a child. Couples preparing for childbirth should therefore be aware of how they can best prepare for such emergency or rainy-day situations. Things like savings, baby bonuses, insurance, etc. can be helpful in dealing with medical emergencies and will go towards giving parents an ease of mind.

MATERNAL BLUES

Peter also made an astute observation about having children – that while everyone acknowledges the role mothers play, the moment the child is born, all attention shifts to the baby’s needs. As it turned out, his wife suffered from post-natal depression but they were unaware of this until after the divorce.

Post-natal depression is a very real and serious issue but is also something that can be treated. Mothers who experience post-natal depression must recognise that there is nothing wrong with them. It is high time we acknowledge that everyone is at risk of being exhausted emotionally and mentally, especially after something as physically tiring as giving birth and childcare.

What should be done then?

Pregnant mothers should first seek guidance on preparing for the childbirth experience, the postnatal period and how to manage their baby.[1] Their family members should also give them support and reassurance after the delivery of the child and help over caring for the infant.

Where mothers or their family members suspect that postnatal depression may be developing or has arisen, it is crucial to give these mothers support to seek treatment.[2] A mild depression may be treated with acknowledgement, support and reassurance. In contrast, moderate or severe depression may require more long-term treatment, such as therapy or medications. Since most mothers may be concerned about potential side-effects when nursing their child, treatment can be carefully selected to put the mother at ease.

REPAIRING TRUST IN A RELATIONSHIP

Marriage is ideally between two people who have complete love and trust in each other. Realistically speaking, every marriage has its challenges, and one common hurdle is managing the self-esteem and confidence of each party in the relationship. Where one party is going into a relationship with insecurities or trust issues, this may make the resolution of other issues further down the road harder to resolve.

In addition to the stresses from an over-bearing and over assertive mother-in-law, more trust issues started to wedge between Peter and his wife. Unbeknownst to Peter, his wife was suffering from postnatal depression and he couldn’t distinguish her behaviour of being overly sensitive, over reacting and unreasonable as symptoms of depression, instead he held it against her and they had countless quarrels and almost every day.

She once caught him looking too long at photos of attractive candidates who submitted resumes for positions in his firm. The more she accused Peter, the more defensive he got even though he technically had not committed any wrongs. It got to a point where he was questioning himself – was he really as guilty as his wife made him out to be? This sense of guilt haunted him as he still had to be in contact with a particular new hire who happened to be very attractive in order to mentor her.

All of this culminated in Peter trying to reassure his wife by explaining that while he may have been attracted to the looks of the new staff, he did not and would not act on that attraction. He had also apologised for even taking a second look at that candidate and for getting defensive, and reassured her that he appreciated her keeping him in check. However, this worked against him as his wife did not believe him and instead took it as further confirmation that an affair did happened.

The accusations and quarrels became unbearable for Peter. Out of resentment and an eroded emotional attachment over the many heated arguments they had (whether about the affair or his mother-in-law, etc.), Peter eventually purposely had the affair. In his mind, he did it out of spite since his wife kept insisting that he had already done so.

Could all of this have been avoided? Maybe – there may have been problems in communication between Peter and his ex-wife as to how they handled the situation. While such quarrels are indeed very personal and private in nature, it may have been better if they had sought a counsellor or third party to intervene and talk things out for them. This may have helped them resolve their trust issues and work towards communicating with each other better (instead of simply pointing fingers or harbouring suspicions).

HANDLING DIVORCE

Once again Peter’s mother in law intervened and forbade his wife to speak to him or reconcile. Ultimately, Peter felt that he was forced into getting a divorce on the basis of the affair. So, Peter gave up in trying to plead with his mother in law and ended up not seeking legal representation and agreeing to everything his wife wanted. This led to it being resolved in about 2 months (very quick in the normal course of things) and him giving her $4,000 or more in maintenance and their matrimonial home, amongst other things.

While Peter thought that being generous in divorce settlements may have helped soothe their relationship over, it led to other problems for him. He soon found himself in a huge debt and thus had problems maintaining his business. He also did not know how best to handle the situation as his ex-wife would only speak to him about their children and money. She would also threaten court proceedings if she was not given any increases in maintenance that she asked for.  At his most desperate times, he considered suicide often.

Money, money, money

Eventually, Peter sought the help of Credit Counselling Singapore, who helped him work out how best to manage the maintenance due and he debts he had. They also managed to help him get the amount of maintenance reduced on the basis that his ex-wife was earning a reasonable amount.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, or are unsure how to manage your assets or debts, you too should seek professional financial advice on how things could be resolved.

Figuring out how to parent alone

Luckily for Peter, his ex-wife and mother-in-law were both keen to allow him access to the children. Still, they continued to question about how good a parent he would be. His ex-wife would monitor about the children’s welfare via the domestic helper and Peter found parenting a chore and had been tempted at times to relinquish his rights as a father.

In such situations, seeking legal advice or going to court can actually be beneficial in helping one take stock of how parenting arrangements can be made. This is since mediation and counselling is mandatory for parents with children under 21 years of age, and the mediator/ counsellor can help parents manage their expectations, emotions and arrangements with regard to the divorce. In highly acrimonious cases, a parenting coordinator may also be appointed by the court to help parents arrange care and access for the children. Both mediation and having a parent coordinator can also result in reduced legal fees and less time spent in court.

Additionally, raising a child is a lifelong affair – at times, it may be difficult to know how best to answer your child’s questions on difficult issues (e.g. “Did you have a wife?”, “Is your wife my mummy?”, etc.). Speaking to a parenting coordinator or counsellor can help you better handle such questions and over time, navigate the difficult path of parenting.

Finding support during and after a divorce

Going through a divorce, learning how to parent and managing one’s career are all highly stressful situations. This is even more so when they all occur during the same time frame. Peter thankfully had the support of his boss, 2 friends and religion to tide him through those rough waters.

Should you need advice and need some support, OTP Law Corporation has its doors open every first Thursday of each month for Project Restructure Open House for you to talk privately with one of our affiliates. 

IN CLOSING

From his experience, Peter leaves the following advice:

  1. Couples should try to discuss what roles they wish to handle during the marriage (whether as parents, household issues, etc.) without the interference of other people (e.g. in-laws, etc.). Both parties should be agreeable and happy with their roles. They should also try to address expectations they have of the relationship and their roles.
  2. Men should take care not to let their pride get in the way of handling disagreements. While some men see themselves as the head of the family, they should not let this “authority” stop them from admitting their faults or helping their family. Remember that being “right” does not always resolve the situation and that it is a blessing to serve your family.

Being in a relationship may not always be a bed of roses, but seeking advice can help make it a smoother ride.

[1] https://www.singhealth.com.sg/patient-care/conditions-treatments/postnatal-depression-mental-wellness

[2] https://www.singhealth.com.sg/patient-care/conditions-treatments/postnatal-depression-mental-wellness

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