The proposal of marriage could be something worthy of Meg Ryan in her heyday, or maybe something as pragmatic as a means to an apartment. Regardless of whether the start of the path to marriage is rose-petal strewn or merely concrete, striking a balance of romanticism and practicality is the railing needed to support you on that path.
Says Dr Adrian Wang, consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre: 'The main question to ask yourself and your future spouse is, 'Are you ready for this? Am I the person you want to spend the rest of your life with?'
This is not a foolproof way of guaranteeing success in marriage, he adds, but couples need to realise that love also means a strong commitment to try to make it work down the road - come what may.
Love and feeling good about a relationship are universal expectations before marriage, says psychological counsellor Mala Khare.
In Singapore, couples also often face social expectations that their upbringings are compatible, she says, and that one's partner is accepted by family and friends. This is especially so of inter-faith and inter-racial marriages.
Many relationships contain the seeds of eventual break-up from the very beginning, adds counsellor Khare.
She says: 'Trust, care and mutuality are the cornerstones of any healthy long-lasting relationship. Is it easy to care for the other, offer support, and resolve differences without blame? Can they manage conflict, which is inevitable in any long-term relationship? Are they making room for personality differences or are they convinced their marriage will be better only when the other changes?'
Counsellor Jonathan Siew with Care Corner Counselling Service has more questions that a couple should ask of each other and themselves before they start entering their details on the Registry of Marriages website.
Why do I want to get married, and why to this person? What have been the greatest difficulties in the relationship so far? Have these been resolved and, if not, why not?
Each partner must understand the other's background and emotional coping style, says Ms Khare. Even more importantly, has each understood his/her own? Living together as husband and wife needs different skills compared with going out together as boyfriend and girlfriend.
Most couples go into marriage happily, says Mr Siew, but some may have concerns such as getting along with the in-laws, whether the marriage will last and whether they can sustain the loving feeling in the marriage.
In fact, marriage is a time of transition which can test a relationship, Ms Khare believes. She says: 'Lack of clarity of the new roles often creates confusion. Shifting from the role of girlfriend/boyfriend to being a spouse can be overwhelming if one had not prepared for the inevitable inclusion of other accompanying roles such as daughter/son-in-law, sister/brother-in-law and so on.'
Planning and setting goals that excite both not only help reinforce skills such as communication, negotiation and conflict resolution, but they also clarify new roles in the union, advises Ms Khare.
As Dr Wang notes, there is more to a marriage than the wedding, and being on the same page will help unite the couple once the honeymoon bags have been unpacked and the wedding pictures mounted.
It is easy to get caught up in work demands, says Dr Wang, so you have to be aware of time management. 'Spending time together develops good communication and helps you understand what your spouse needs from you. So you really have to set aside time to do the simple things such as going for dinner, watching a movie or going for a walk.'
And have sex. After the honeymoon period of not being able to get enough of each other, sex often gets demoted to the end of a long list of to-dos.
Mr Siew says that the need for sex varies from person to person, therefore it is not a problem if both are not too inclined to engage in sexual intimacy.
But for couples who do want to get physical, obstacles will come in the way of regular sex, and they need to be mindful of this.
'If both partners have the desire to get intimate and yet feel too tired, it's good to intentionally make plans such as freeing themselves of other activities on a Saturday night and just spend time together,' he adds.
Couples should be mindful that while sex is required for baby-making, that is not its only purpose.
A rigid plan to have sex, even when they may not be in the mood for it, can lead to stress.
Dr Wang agrees. 'Over-planning to make a baby takes the whole fun out of it. I think it's sad if you have to have sex based on your body temperature or a certain time of the month.'
Ms Khare says that, as in other areas of a relationship, it is more important to work on incompatibility than to demand 'my way or no way' in the bedroom.
'An often asked question is whether it is okay to be attracted to someone else when one is in a committed relationship. It does not become a matter of concern if the partner is assured that the attraction will not be acted on,' she says.
She adds: 'Sexuality is reflective of the emotional health of the relationship, so emotional connection with effective communication to find mutual pleasure is the source of a good sex life.'
To enrich a relationship before the wedding day and then throughout marriage - in sexual and non-sexual ways - Ms Khare suggested people add five more Cs to their list of five they already work so hard for (club, condo, car, credit card and cash): care, commitment, communication, changeability and conflict management.
THIS IS THE SECOND OF A FOUR-PART SERIES SUPPORTED BY THE NATIONAL FAMILY COUNCIL
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