MARITAL STRIFE: Stresses of modern life, including juggling a career and parenthood is leading to more divorces, especially among newly-wed couples, recent studies have revealed. Audrey Vijaindren talks to experts who believe that safeguarding a relationship is more important now than ever before
COUPLES with young children are now 41/2 times more likely to go their separate ways at the three-year mark instead of after seven years, a study by parenting website Netmums revealed recently.
More than 20 per cent of couples who split up saw their relationship fall apart after they had been together between two and four years, almost 12 per cent split up within a year.
Having children was cited as the main culprit, with parents suffering from exhaustion caused by the birth of a new baby or looking after young children.
Almost half of the 1,500 parents questioned said having children had driven them apart while only a third said it brought them closer.
Of those surveyed, 15 per cent "never" went out as a couple after having children and 14 per cent were able to go on dates with their spouse only one night in a year.
Integrated Psychology Network consultant psychologist Valerie Jaques believes that although children are not the cause of marriage breakdowns, having them often results in stress, physical tiredness and heightened emotions.
"If research is saying that couples are giving up too quickly, this could be because their threshold for pain is very low. This generation of young people have been brought up by parents who provided them with everything.
"They were never in want, before they could feel discomfort, their needs and wants were provided for. As such, their expectations for provision of feel-good feelings are much higher than the previous generation.
"As a result, taking care of children becomes too difficult and stressful, as there is this great need to provide material things which moves people to work harder and aim higher in their careers. This results in poor work-life balance."
The tired individual who has no time to take care of his or her own needs has to stretch even more for their child's needs, she says.
"In the end, they don't have much energy to meet the expectations of their marriage partners.
"Also, the pace of life was much slower before and this allowed more time to develop friendships and support systems. How many marriages have enough fun and balance these days?
"Many couples are not even living in the same town due to work constraints. Some live in different countries, some are in weekend relationships, some are married to their jobs and come home only to sleep, and some are committed to their bosses and expect their spouses and children to understand."
Senior family law practitioner Pushpa Ratnam believes that although most divorces in the country happen in the sixth and seventh year of marriage, problems often start at the very beginning.
"Even in the eyes of the law, divorce is not allowed in the first two years of marriage. This is because there are sure to be teething problems in establishing real commitment with each other in the first few years of marriage.
"Problems in a marriage are somewhat similar to cancer, they start small and then spread rapidly. Unfortunately, many Malaysian couples fail to iron out problems at the very start of their marriage, instead they rush into having children believing that it'll improve their relationship.
"After two or three children they realise that they've grown further apart and the problems they had in the beginning are magnified.
"If it's a good and strong relationship right from the start there's not much to worry about, but if the foundation is not strong, anger and resentment build up year after year."
She says being a housewife can make matters worse as women are stressed with managing the entire household without much help from their working spouse.
Unlike Westerners, however, Malaysians don't use children as an excuse to get a divorce.
"In my 20 years of practice, I don't recall a single person telling me that they got a divorce because of the stresses of having a newborn baby in the house. If nothing else, children are often the reason many Malaysian couples hold on to a troubled marriage. I suppose it's a cultural difference.
"Many husbands and wives are willing to put up with each other's nonsense to keep the family together. I've seen this even when autistic children are involved.
"Parties have more tolerance for one another knowing that they have children. Strangely, this seems to be the opposite of what's happening in countries like the United States."
However, couples shouldn't stay together just because they have children, Jaques stresses.
"Couples should not live in misery for the sake of the children, as they unconsciously transfer this misery to their children.
"In turn, these children feel that they are to blame for their parent's unhappiness.
"However, this must not be taken lightly. If there is misery then the miserable one must communicate this to the partner and seek supportive help through counselling, if necessary.
"Often, when people try to talk about these things, emotions get in the way and defensiveness comes in.
"Being in a neutral environment and learning skills of listening and understanding with improved communication allows misery to turn to joy. This will further enhance marriages and build relationships.
"However, many people don't want to get help in the early stages. They rather pretend and live in denial of their misery until it is too late.
"It becomes too late when defences are very high, level of trust in the relationship is very low and the willingness to reach out is hardly there.
"Trying to salvage a marital relationship at this point is extremely difficult, even though it is not impossible. It requires a long time to work through. Unfortunately some people don't have the patience or don't want to remain in pain while working this out.
"As such, they make decisions to end the relationship," Jaques says.