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Why more young couples fail at marriage? Emotional immaturity, say experts

A study released on Monday by the Ministry of Social and Family Development found the divorce rate for grooms aged 20 to 24 twice as high as the rate for those 25 years and older. JUDITH TAN (juditht@sph.com.sg) speaks to a divorcee on why his marriage ended

She was a marketing and public relations student who was popular and outgoing.

He was in the engineering course, geeky and introverted.

But they became a couple in their final year at the polytechnic.

"I never thought someone as pretty as her would go for a guy like me," the engineer, who wants to be known only as John, 36, tells The New Paper on Sunday.

"We dated and then one day, she told me she was pregnant."

They got married two months after their graduation. He was 24 and she, 21.

"Our friends and relatives were shocked at how fast we decided to get hitched but we had no choice," he says.

Their daughter was born five months after the wedding.

JOB

John wanted to provide as best as he could for his young family. He got a job as an aviation technician instead of continuing his studies.

"I worked hard to make ends meet, often working long hours," he says.

His wife was a stay-at-home mother for three years. "She was looking after our daughter, and I guess she felt neglected.

"Her friends, who were working, dressed up and went to parties. She felt left out and got angry," says John.

That resentment caused a rift between them and they quarrelled all the time.

John recalls: "It was so bad that my aunts suggested having a second kid might help bring us closer."

It did not. Things got worse after their son was born.

By then, John had signed up for part-time courses, hoping that a degree would mean more income.

It was at the same time his wife decided that she wanted to help out with the finances.

He says: "She got a job with a PR agency, leaving our kids in the care of my mother and my aunt. She became much happier and was easier to live with."

But six months into the job, she started keeping long hours.

"Sometimes, she would come back at 2am, smelling like she had been smoking and drinking.

"Sometimes, she didn't come home at all," he says with a sad tinge in his voice.

That was when he suspected she was seeing someone.

"She would be smiling at her phone. She even lost interest in the children.

"Then one day, I checked her phone and found lovey-dovey messages.

"We had a big fight and she said she wanted out (of the marriage), that she didn't love me any more," John says.

He tried to salvage the marriage. He suggesting they try counselling.

But three sessions later, she remained adamant that she no longer loved him.

"I was so angry that I told her I would file (for divorce) on grounds of adultery," he says.

But he relented after she promised him full custody of the children.

Today, John is engaged to his 30-year-old girlfriend,"who simply adores the children", now aged nine and 13.

"They have nothing to do with their mother. She didn't even bother to visit, call or write after the divorce.

"She just left. I hear she is happily married," John says.

"Maybe if we had time to get to know each other and not rush into marriage and family, then who knows? Things might have turned out differently."

"For couples who lack the emotional tenacity, the strain on their marriage can lead to divorce as they think that would be the best solution to their problems."

- Ms Claire Nazar, a council member of Families for Life

Emotional immaturity leads to vulnerable marriage

Marriage is about helping each other achieve dreams and happiness, say psychologists and marriage counsellors.

But younger couples here tend to rush into the union when they are emotionally immature, often leading to different expectations and resulting in friction, they say.

A recent study by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) found that men who marry young face a greater risk of divorce.

The divorce rate for grooms aged 20 to 24 is twice that for those 25 and above.

BRIDES ALSO YOUNGER

Ms Claire Nazar, a council member of Families for Life, says in marriages with younger grooms, it is likely that the brides are also of a younger age.

"For couples who lack the emotional tenacity, the strain on their marriage can lead to divorce as they think that would be the best solution to their problems," she says.

Psychologist Daniel Koh says that it is a mistake to think that children will bring such couples closer.

Younger couples also place a lot of emphasis on sexual love.

"To them, their individuality is the most important thing. They often lack affectionate love, which is the glue to any marriage.

"They also compete with peers so they are not left behind in the rush to get hitched," he says.

Ms Nazar says it is crucial that all couple are equipped with the necessary skills to tackle their problems and come out of them stronger.

"We welcome MSF's move to launch the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Programme," she says.

"Such programmes will better prepare these young couples to take positive steps to build up their marriage foundation.

"They will also be able to identify negative attitudes early on to minimise future conflict."

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