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You don't have to sacrifice who you are, but you shouldn't "settle" either. IMAGE: PEXELS/@conikal

From Independence To Interdependence: 11 Ways Marriage Changed Us

Getting together with someone is not about hitting the delete button on who you are. But how do you keep that awesome "me" alive in the midst of the beautiful chaos that is an "us" in a relationship? Just in time for 11.11 Singles Day, two of our writers share 11 pointers on how they stay true to themselves in their respective love stories.

1. We’re learning to balance “me time” with “we time”

Diane: As someone who needs a lot of alone time, I thought that getting married would be a bit of a shocker. But so far it hasn’t been too big of an adjustment because I chose someone whose temperament is pretty similar to mine! Our idea of a good time is staying at home, in silence, partaking in our own work or hobbies because we get to be ourselves until we catch up at the end of the day. I guess my suggestion to all the singles out there would be to look for someone with similar lifestyle habits! Or if you’re more adventurous than me you can go with “opposites attract” and choose the yin to your yang bah.

Nicholas: You’re talking about me, right lol? My wife is all about embracing the beauty of nature on vacation, while my happy place is exploring the city or visiting football stadiums. Take our honeymoon, for instance. We planned a mix of activities she'd adore and ones that I would want to do. And we did them together. Lifelong relationships, in my book, are a delicate dance of give and take. The key is knowing your limits and being clear about what you truly want.

Diane: I guess it’s not so much about sacrificing your own hobbies or interests to accommodate the other person, but to be open to what they like and what’s important to them - you might like it too! - and to also know when to put aside some of your “me time” so that you can be there for them when they need you.

2. We’re learning the difference between being co-dependent and interdependent

Nicholas: This is an important topic for me. In my past relationship, I had a significant other who always wanted to do things together all the time. And I would feel guilty if I wanted to go and do my own thing. I didn’t know at the time how unhealthy that was.

Diane: Yeah, there’s no way your spouse can fulfil all of your needs! At the same time, you’ve made a lifelong commitment, so you need to be there for each other - you can’t be completely independent the way you were when you were single. I've only been married for a year and a half so while I can't say I'm an expert, but I'm learning to tackle my own problems and insecurities instead of dumping them all on my spouse. And at the same time, I'm also learning to let him in when I'm feeling vulnerable. 

3. We’ve learnt to accommodate another person’s eating habits

Diane: Ah, the eternal question that married couples grapple with every day: “Eat what?”

Nicholas: At least when I say “anything”, really anything! I’m cool with whatever she wants to eat. And she’s more than happy to suggest what to eat. It’s definitely ok to have different makan preferences. It’s whether your better half is very strict about not wanting to eat certain foods.

Diane: We couldn’t be more different. I like angmoh food, he likes Chinese food. He eats at regular hours - I eat at weird hours. But at least we don’t have differing food restrictions.

Nicholas: For my wife and I, she knows that I don’t like some foods, but we are both game to try something new. I think we should always think about our better half and try to accommodate their meal habits and favs. Can’t be I force my wife to eat pizza all the time, and she won’t stuff me with some Chinese veggie dish for every meal.

4. We’re learning to embrace our other half’s hobbies

Nicholas: This is where my wife and I differ the most. She would very much prefer watching Netflix while I am on a quest to become a Pokemon master. If there is a major tournament coming up, I’ll let her know, and she plans something on her own. It’s the same in reverse. We have a shared calendar that we update to show if we have our own plans (includes date nights too).

Diane: As a teenage bookworm, I dreamt of meeting my soulmate in an indie bookstore. PSYCH, the last book my husband read was Twilight when he was in NS. He's also way more sporty than I am, so our hobbies have almost no overlap. When we first started dating, we tried partaking in each other's hobbies, but now that we're married, we've just accepted that I'm not ever going to enjoy running 10k at 6am, and he'll probably never read Pride and Prejudice. But he has his running buddies, and I have my book club, so while we can appreciate each other's passions, it's also nice that we each bring a different flavour into our relationship.

5. We’ve learnt to balance individual fun with shared responsibilities

Diane: I can see differences in hobbies and habits becoming a problem when they encroach on your household responsibilities. The other day, I read a news story about spouses who get “arrowed” with all the housework and childcare while their spouse trains for a marathon. As someone who actually did marry a marathon runner, the possibility of this never occurred to me - and thankfully it hasn’t happened yet - but I’m mindful that once we have kids, we shouldn’t pursue our hobbies or insist on our habits (like “I’m not a morning person!”) at the cost of our responsibilities to each other.

Nicholas: At that point, the little ones come first, but don’t forget each other! Cannot put everything on one person. In my house, we have our own household duties, but sometimes we might do a little extra when the other person is busy or coming home late from work. It’s the little things that keep the spark going.

Diane: Agreed. My final piece of advice? As long as you can afford it, outsource whatever you can. No one gets a medal for doing all their house chores by themselves. If hiring a part-time cleaner once a week means you’ll have extra time for date nights or working on your relationship, just do it.

6. We’re learning what it means to inherit a new family

Diane: Being single is simple because you only have to deal with your own family. Acclimating yourself to a new family is…not for the faint of heart, regardless of how nice your in-laws are!

Nicholas: You can say that again. It's a whole different ball game from those early days of dating when you nervously meet your significant other's parents for the first time. Suddenly, they're not just your partner's mum and dad; they're your lifelong family. Adapting to this new dynamic was a journey for me - learning the quirks, preferences, and the dos and don'ts of my in-laws. Thankfully my wife has my back and has prepped me. I’m not so nervous anymore, but there’s still a slight tinge. How about you?

Diane: Honestly, I still get nervous about possibilities like, would we ever cohabit, what are our boundaries with grandparents (once we have kids), who will take care of whom should one of our elderly parents become sick. I didn’t need to think about any of this when I was single!

7. We’re learning to be transparent about our finances….

Diane: You should definitely talk about money before settling down, especially if you have very unequal incomes, because that will affect the percentage that you each pay for shared expenses (cannot be that it’s 50/50 when one person makes double the amount that the other does).

Nicholas: Wah, now we’re into very sensi territory. For my wife and I, we contribute a joint account which is used for house-related expenditures, like buying some new furniture for the house. We also have our own individual accounts for our own spending, like if I want to buy new Pokemon cards.

8. …and our expected standard of living

Diane: If I could do it all over again, I would’ve brought up things like lifestyle standards instead of just making assumptions. Condo or HDB? Would we both be okay holidaying in Japan and Taiwan every year instead of going to Europe? Do we always see ourselves with a car or can we go car-less one day should the COE become unaffordable? That kind of thing. Because at least that will inform where your savings go, especially the “fun” savings.

Nicholas. Hard agree. You don’t want later after marriage to find out that all along what your partner wanted is completely different than what you thought. Confirm unhappy marriage or wasted deposit for BTO. If it makes it easier, list them down and discuss these monetary issues before tying the knot.

9. We’re learning to work on ourselves first

Diane: Someone once asked me how picky you should be when choosing your other half. After a few years of marriage, my answer would be that you should be selectively picky. You can close one eye for things like height or even personality, to an extent. But you should be picky about your other half’s character! It’s not even about whether they’re an introvert or an extrovert, but how they treat the people around them.

Nicholas: Think about it this way - do you want to spend the rest of your life with someone that you don’t like? I’m not saying that things will change; of course they do. I did not think I would have wanted to be with a Type A person, but as I got to know my wife, she hides a playful side, her sense of humour always makes me laugh, and she always puts me first. In the same way, I also learnt how to be more patient, understanding, and generally less of a madman. We work on ourselves and still do, and we’ve grown so much as a couple.

Diane: This conversation has also shown me that when it comes to hobbies and habits, it’s normal to have differences. But I still firmly believe that having similar character and values can supersede those differences - it sounds really boring, but it’s stuff like integrity, how generous they are, to what extent are they a person of their word, that has kept my marriage afloat! And that's stuff my husband and I needed to figure out about each other over time.

10. We’re learning how to juxtapose individual goals with shared dreams

Diane: Wah, this is a toughie. Even if you and your spouse are the best people in the world, it might not work out if you want totally different things in life. For example, if you value family more than anything, but your spouse’s highest priority is their career, you’ll eventually have to confront your differences, e.g. if your spouse received a lucrative job offer abroad. What if you want to stay home near your parents? Not that you need to immediately agree in EVERYTHING, but just that you need to communicate these hypotheticals before settling down and to also know once a difference becomes a dealbreaker.

Nicholas: You give in too much, you’re not going to be happy. And don’t try to convince yourself either. Both my wife and I have separate wants in our lives, but we do share some big dreams together. Like getting our first home, or planning our dream holiday. We’ve talked about all of these and more when things between us got really serious.

11. We’re learning how to handle conflict

Nicholas: What I’ve learnt is that the key is communication - talk! Speak to each other and have honest conversations, really get to know your better half. If you’re going all-in in your relationship, you’d better be prepared.

Diane: I’ll share one of the wisest pieces of advice I've received: attack the problem, not the person! Think of marriage as a shared ‘project’ that you and your spouse get to work on together. Your strengths will cover each other’s weaknesses, so choose someone whom you can see as a lifelong collaborator.

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