To solve or resolve

Oct 2015    

A renowned couple therapist once stated that most problems faced by couples are not resolvable. This was baffling, given that it was said by someone whose career was in helping couples with their problems. Was this a statement of resignation, which came after years of facing the stark reality of seeing numerous failed relationships in spite of going for counselling? Or was it meant to be a ploy to boost the sales of his book or his model of therapy?


Every counsellor or therapist will admit to sometimes feeling like the problems of their clients seem immovable and insurmountable. Many couples coming in for counselling may state that they do not see things changing, even with external help.


So are couples in such troubled relationships doomed to live out the rest of their marriage in some form of marital purgatory? And is their only other option to free themselves and end their unhappy marital union?


Two couples come to mind when I am thinking of this dilemma. Both have been married for more than 12 years and the parties had known each other for a good number of years before marriage.


One couple delayed marriage for a long time and the other married against the advice of their pre-marital counsellor. Both had conflicts prior to marriage and right through marriage. Their marital conflicts did not involve betrayal and infidelity, and thankfully did not become violent. But their conflicts were frequent and without any satisfactory resolution.


Both these cases appeared to involve couples who had strong personalities. Neither party felt mainly responsible for causing the problems in their marriage and were not about to negotiate nor compromise readily.


The marriage presented a contest of wills. This contest played itself out in a whole host of different topics, from household expenses to the types of extra-curricular activities their children took, to relationships with their in-laws. In this battle of wills, no one seemed ready to give any quarter.


The expert therapist I referred to earlier would say many of these conflicts are unresolvable because they are rooted in the personalities of the couple, like a marriage between an extrovert and an introvert. They are fundamentally different individuals and neither is better than the other nor inferior to the other, but the great differences in personality and character resulted in greater marital conflicts.


I do not entirely agree with this observation. Differences in personality need not sound the death knell for such marriages. If couples are willing to reach a compromise, then the differences would not be so contentious and may even prove beneficial by adding some diversity in the relationship.


The late Mr Anthony Yeo, whom many recognise as the ‘Father of Counselling’ in Singapore, once said that the goal of counselling is to help clients either solve or resolve to live (more effectively) with their problems.


Coping with one’s problems is not avoiding dealing with the problem. One needs the patience of Job to quietly forebear and tolerate circumstances that he or she is unhappy with. It is usually undertaken when one believes that staying the course, as in living with a difficult spouse, fulfils other goals and objectives, such as maintaining marital stability at home for the children.


As Christians, we have the added option of calling upon our Lord to help us shoulder this burden. We can also take comfort in the fact that our Lord knows each of our struggles and, even if He does not seem to be removing them, He is not indifferent to our suffering and will give us the strength to bear with it.


Picture by Tom Wang/

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.


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