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Relationship Tests (And How 5 Couples Dealt With Them)

It’s natural for couples to have ups and downs in their relationship. What’s important is overcoming the hurdles together. We speak to five couples who did just that, and passed their relationship tests with flying colours.

By Azlinda Said

Relationship Test #1Relationship test #1: Gaining family acceptance
When 30-year-old teacher, Wendy Tan, first started dating James Lee five years ago, her parents disapproved of their relationship. They felt he was too young for her – James is three years her junior – and worried that he wouldn’t be able to provide for their daughter as his career had yet to take off. “Her father actually called me up and asked me to stop seeing Wendy. He said that I wasn’t worthy of her,” recalled James, a designer. “I was stunned, of course, and tried to convince him otherwise, but he hung up on me.”

Despite the disapproval, the couple persevered and thought of ways for James to win over his future parents-in-laws’ hearts. They tried everything – from treating the Tans to lavish meals during special occasions to sending them on holidays. But Wendy’s parents remained unmoved, until Wendy’s grandmother suddenly passed away two years ago. Wendy and her parents were too distraught to settle the funeral, so James took it upon himself to help them out, despite being swamped at work. His selfless care towards Wendy and her family during that difficult time was the turning point in the relationship, and broke the impasse with Wendy’s parents. “When the funeral ended, Wendy’s parents walked over to me and gave me a tight hug. The father then shook my hand, thanked me and said, ‘Welcome to the family’. I was so touched and relieved that I think I cried,” laughed James.

The couple tied the knot last year and is now awaiting their first child. Looking back on how their relationship has evolved, Wendy believes that the turbulent journey they both went through in gaining her parents approval has made them a strong couple.

Relationship Test 2Relationship test #2: Understanding what women want
“Alfie was a slob when I first met him and was clueless about how to make a woman happy. It took me a long time to ‘straighten him out’ and to teach him how to be a better boyfriend, if not the best,” said Marlisa Ariff, 27. The retail merchandiser has been dating 29-year-old barista, Alfie Hamid, for four years now. “On our first date, I remember thinking how untidy he looked – he didn’t shave and wore a creased shirt – and I was a bit upset that he didn’t put more thought into dressing up and impressing me. To me, a guy who puts effort into how he looks and everything that he does will take the effort to care for his loved one too. I also like confident men, and Alfie didn’t exude confidence on our first date. But because we got along well, I decided to continue seeing him,” explained Marlisa.

Alfie added: “Marlisa was the first girl I had ever dated so I initially felt awkward around her. But she was honest with me from the start – she told me she liked men who make her feel secure and can take care of her, both emotionally and financially. She said I wasn’t the typical guy she would consider dating but she liked me enough to give us a shot.”

As Alfie really liked her, he was willing to do anything to make her happy. “I guess Marlisa may come across as demanding to some people, but I like her straightforwardness – she is an open book and I needn’t guess her feelings. This lessened any conflict, communication-wise,” he said.

On the matter of personal style, Alfie now dresses up for special occasions like birthdays, weddings and work functions, and grooms himself better – changes that even his family and colleagues have noticed and appreciates. He is also more adept at buying gifts for his girlfriend. “I used to buy what’s easiest and what I thought she might like. But I’ve learnt that a meaningful gift isn’t about cost – it’s about the thought you put into getting that gift. Marlisa has always been good at that and over time, I have picked up some skills too,” laughed Alfie.

Relationship Test 3Relationship test #3: Bridging the communication gap
Account executive Karen Ooi and her engineer boyfriend Deva Joseph aren’t two peas in a pod. The 28-year-olds have different tastes in almost everything, from music (he loves retro music, she likes classical) to food (anything spicy for him, Western cuisine for her) to the kind of holidays they enjoy (she prefers beach resort breaks while he loves exploring off-the-beaten tracks). What’s more, Karen is the talkative sort, while Deva’s quiet. His reserved nature proved to be a problem in the first year of the relationship. “I was initially attracted to his quiet and reflective nature, but over time, I became frustrated with him, especially when I needed his opinion and he wouldn’t offer any, or he’d end up giving short replies,” said Karen.

The couple contemplated breaking up barely two years into the relationship but decided not to give up too soon. On his end, Deva agreed to try and improve his communication skills. It was a constant uphill battle for him, until one day, Karen stumbled upon his stamp collection while at his place. “We both are avid stamp collectors but never knew that we shared the same passion till that day. Things changed after that, because Deva found something that he could talk about more than I could,” said Karen, amusedly.

The couple now spend time comparing stamps and even go on vacations to places with stamp museums or exhibitions. They are also communicating better, and not just about their “old-fashioned” hobby either. “I am a man of few words. I prefer to listen than talk. But finding that common ground with Karen brought me closer to her. I now feel like chatting about more things with her – like how my day went or sharing my frustrations when we argue – and I am constantly reminding myself that communication is a two-way street,” said Deva.

Relationship Test 4Relationship test #4: Money, money, money
Kerrie and Mark Sng learnt the hard way that money matters can make or break a relationship. The secretary and car salesman got hitched when they were 23 years old and had problems balancing their accounts in the first three years of marriage, resulting in almost daily quarrels and divorce threats. Things got worse when their twins came along. “It was a difficult period for us. I remember getting huge migraines every night just trying to think of ways to make more money so that I could support my family,” said Mark.

But all that is in the past. The couple, now 33, no longer fight over money. While it’s partly because they are now earning more, their financial woes took a huge turn for the better when they both signed up for a workshop on money management and learnt how to better manage their household income. “Being young, we were spending beyond our means and not prioritising our needs versus our wants. That took a toll on our marriage, our relationship and our dreams. One time, we ran out of milk powder for our kids and when I asked Mark to buy a tin on his way home, he said he didn’t have enough cash. I ended up borrowing money from a friend to tide us over. After that episode, we both wised up and decided to take control of our financial health,” recalled Kerrie.

The Sngs are now prudent spenders and are slowly building a nest egg for retirement and their children’s education. “It feels good to have money when you need it, even for frivolous stuff like ice cream or impulse buys at the mall. I’m glad that Kerrie and I stuck it out despite the challenges. We have learnt so much and are now not only better spouses but also better parents,” said Mark.

Relationship Test 5Relationship test #5: Overcoming insecurities
Given the nature of their jobs, lack of trust was the biggest obstacle in Mimi Osman and Rauf Johan’s relationship. The air steward and stewardess had clashing work schedules and a wide social circle, both in Singapore and overseas. When they first got together, each of them felt insecure every time the other was away for work. “I would demand that he constantly update me on his whereabouts and movements, and to call me each night before he sleeps. I also forbade him from hanging out with his female colleagues while he was overseas,” said Mimi, 30.

Rauf, also 30, asked the same of Mimi. “Both of our previous relationships fell apart from distrust and we unconsciously carried over that emotional baggage into our current relationship. It was unhealthy for us. But luckily, we managed to overcome our insecurities and are now happier.”

How did they do it? “It took something as basic as whose turn it was to top up the petrol for the car that we share to trigger us into scrutinising the relationship and its flaws. We then realised that we couldn’t continue dating if we mistrust each other. It forced us to have a long heart-to-heart about our expectations, needs and what we could do to gain each other’s trust,” said Mimi. “We decided that it was unfair to dump our past issues onto each other so we left them behind and started afresh. We also tried to take leave from work at the same time, so that we can spend more time with each other on home ground. That was four years ago. Now, trust is no longer an issue for us and our relationship is stronger for it.”