Friday, January 1, 2021

Time is Never Enough To Enjoy Love

Michelle and I celebrate our Wedding Anniversary today (1 Jan 21). For many years, my practice is to give her a bouquet of roses, one rose for each year of our union. This morning, I proudly and joyfully handed her a bouquet with 39 roses.


We have known each other since we were 14 years-old, started courting at 17 and married when we were at a “ripe old” age of 23. In a wink of an eye, 48 years have passed us by. The adage, “Time flies when you have good company” is entirely true.


In our circle of friends, we are known to prefer spending time privately as a couple. Since our children became independent, we started to do recreation, dine, go for holidays and many more things  just with each other. It is not that we do not spend time with family and friends, but just that we spend a lot more time as a couple than with them.


Over the years, friends have asked us several questions:


“What do you have to talk about with each other after so many years together?”

“Are you ever tired of each other since you spend so much time together?”

“What makes you want to spend so much time with each other?”


Michelle and I often discuss our thoughts on these and we always come to the same joint conclusion – we enjoy each other so much that we want to spend more time privately as a couple, before our time is up!


This is not to say that we do not have or do not value friendship. On the contrary, Michelle and I have a circle of friends whom we can trust and assuredly rely on when we need them. And, they us. But, we do not spend more time with our friends than we do with each other.


We made this decision deliberately. The reasons for this grew stronger as our marriage grew deeper.


In the early days, we spent most of our time with our children and friends with children of the same age. By the time the children became teenagers and began to spend time with their friends, Michelle and I decided to invest in ourselves and to build our marital relationship instead of just enjoying good times with friends.


It was the best decision we made and we have reaped and continue to reap bountiful harvests, especially now that all our children have left home to build their own families.


The recent Circuit Breaker lock-down to manage COVID-19 in Singapore forced many couples and families to spend time wholly and strictly at home. No friends to meet, no social gathering, no shopping or leisure activities outside home. An unprecedented amount of time was spent with spouse and children. Many found the forced presence of their spouse in close proximity for an extended period both intimating and stressful. Tempers rose, quarrels increased and relationships strained.


Every day for 3 months during Phase 1 & 2 lock-downs, Michelle and I realized how much we truly enjoy spending time just with each other. Confined to our home, we had lunch with Chinese tea every day, dinner with wine every evening and deep conversations about what matters to our hearts. One of the subjects we talked deeply about was how do we cope when one passes on before the other.


We were reminded of what my uncle and aunt, who loved each other very much, told us years ago. Even after more than 50 years of marriage then, they were actively expressing their love to each other, and rather visibly.


When they entered into their 80s, they told us that they had started preparing for their eventual “separation”. They started to sleep on different beds so that one can ease the pain of missing the other.  They also started engaging in activities separately and with their friends so that the remaining one would not be lonely.


While I admired their love for each other,  I really could not appreciate their joint decision to detach from each other.


Later, we found out that they were not the only truly loving couple who have such thoughts. Their reasoning was that since death will eventually part them, they rather not be overly intimate as they grow older. They thought that each should build a circle of friends, who will be there for them when they are widowed. In their minds, if they did not spend more time to build friendship, then they might not have friends to support them later. As a result, they begin to spend equal or more time with friends than with each other.


While we respect our uncle’s, aunt’s and friend’s choices, Michelle and I hold a different view.  And this is purely our very own view and a reminder to ourselves only.


We are mindful that we will be separated by death at some point in time. While death is a certainty, yet when it will come, we do not know. This means that we do not know how much time we have left with each other.


For this reason alone, we decided that we will spend as much time as we can, to be there for each other, to do things, to enjoy, to meet challenges, to serve, and just to be together before we are separated. And when the time comes, the living one will have no reason to lament that he/she did not spend enough time with the one lying in the casket. We do not want to give an emotion-filled eulogy because the dead cannot hear.


Are we concerned that we will have no friends by then? Absolutely not, because we know we have friends who will rally around us when that time comes. And even if we are wrong on this belief, we will live on with memories of the best times we have of our life.


To Michelle, my God-given Lover for Life, thank you for being my partner and fellow sojourner, who always cares to co-create a meaningful and fulfilling life we now have. Happy anniversary and many more roses I will give you!




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Monday, October 28, 2019

My Son Left Us!

Michelle and I had anticipated this life-changing event for many years. It finally came upon us on 26th October 2019. That day marked a significant milestone of our lives. 

We woke up to an empty nest!

After 31 years, my son moved into his own home. Our 2 daughters had moved to their marital homes 9 and 4 years earlier. Although we had anticipated this day many years ago, we still felt a little emo when we woke up that morning.

For me, it was not a bad feeling, just a tinge of strangeness. For Michelle, it was tougher - as she missed the 2 girls years earlier when they moved out, she is missing him. She said, "We have been living with him for 31 years and now he is not staying with us anymore." 
But thankfully, all those feelings quickly changed to a sense of success, fulfilment and joy.

Success because all 3 of our children have finally set up their own homes - they have become husband, wife, mothers and yet still remain as son and daughters. Fulfilment because Michelle and I have fufilled one of the major responsibilities of our lives - bringing up our children and releasing them to live their own lives. And finally, joy because we are once again in a couple's private world (两人世界) - we can do more of what we love to do together.

I have heard couples lamenting about having an empty nest. After years of living with the children, they found it tough to deal with living just with each other in an empty nest. With no children to care for anymore, they did not know how to joyfully and maeningfully spend time together. Focusing on the children had somewhat deflected many relationship issues that they were having in their marriage. Children became the glue to their marriage and they labored tirelessly to bring them up, often times neglecting their own needs to love each other.
Now that the children aren't their focus anymore, they get irritated with each other as their flaws became the focus. Frustrations drive many couples to escape each other  by spending as little time at home and with each other as they can. Then the problem execerbates, often ending in what has been appropriately termed, the Empty Nester Divorce. That would be so sad - the couple spent the prime of their lives building the family and bringing up their children, and when the children leave, there find that there is nothing to hold their marriage together anymore.
The good news is that there are many empty nester couples who find deeper love and meaning to their marriage and their lives during this period.

What makes the difference?

I believe that it boils down to preparation. Yes, preparation to enter this inevitable stage of life.

I thank God that He gave Michelle and I the sense, more than 20 years ago, to put in deliberate effort to prepare for that day. When our children were growing up, we were made aware that we are only stewards of these gifts from heaven. They will grow up and they will leave home one day. We agreed then that we would spend as much time as needed to bring them up, yet not foregoing time to build our marriage. I remember that we took time off for ourselves frequently, going for short vacations and having couple dates, as much as we going for family vacations and enjoying family-centric actitivies.

We have had many conversations about "releasing" them when the time came, and to let them build their own nest without our intervention and interference. While we may not be entirely successful in not intervening (parental love transcends time and space ... lol), we have joyfully released them.

Now, what about the empty nest?

Michelle and I choose to term it as our Golden Nest. When we were younger, we had many responsibilties to fulfil - as parents, careers to build and savings to grow. Now, we are, and have been for some years already, blessed with time and financial stability.  These blessings allow us to do what we love doing together. Michelle and I enjoy time with each other, at home, traveling, serving God in various capacities, helping friends and spending regular time with our grandchildren.

More importantly, we enjoy each other. We talk lots. We do lots of fun things together -  ballroom dancing and having Pilates every week. We love to travel together, alone - just the 2 of us so that we can truly spend undisturbed time together.

Michelle and I would not be able to do all this without first building our relationship over the years. We have prepared ourselves way before the nest became empty. We decided to build a Golden Nest instead waiting to receive an empty one. 
We are now excited that we are finally having our very own Golden Nest!

You can too! 
You just need to be decisive, delibrate and prepare by building your marital relationship constantly and you will surely enjoy your very own Golden Nest as you journey towards a Maximum Marriage.
Steven Chan

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Saturday, October 5, 2019

Do you believe that marriages are made in heaven?

Recently, I had the privilege to solemnize the marriage of a cross-cultural couple. Mark, a handsome Indian, born and raised in Austria with an Indian father and an Austrian mother and Jisoo, the beautiful bride, who has the look of a K-Pop star, is of Korean heritage.

Mark and Jisso, at the Solemnization Ceremony.
They met while working in Tokyo. After dating each other for some time, Jisoo decided that she had found the man who will share her love of Kimchi Jjigae for the rest of her life and Mark felt that he had found the one who will join and support him to go through life's adventures.

Recently, they came to work in Singapore and decided to make permanent their commitment to each other by entering into marriage. 

The Chinese often quote this phrase, 姻缘是天注定的, which means marriages are decided by heaven. To some, this seems to mean that a marriage is fated, since the gods have decided for the couple to be married.

I am pretty sure that there is an Indian and a Korean saying that has a similarly auspicious meaning.

The French had also been using this phrase, and from as early as the 16th century. They say, "les marriages au sont ciel," which commonly translates as marriages are made in heaven.

A little different from the Chinese, the French allured to the idea that marriage is more than just the physical & emotional union between a couple, there is a spiritual connection too. 

I agree wholeheartedly with this French idea.

Whether you believe in God or not, when you commit to another person in marriage, you have chosen to enter into a wholesome relationship with that person. Such a relationship does not only include the physical and emotional bonding of your body and soul, but also a spiritual bond.

Even in this 21st century when many couples take marital commitments more loosely than it was intended to be, surveys done by marriage experts, such as Dr Gary Rosberg show that "58% of the women, of over 700 couples surveyed, ranked Spiritual Intimacy as their top sex need" (Reference [1] below). 

A woman feels more secured and thus becomes more committed to support her husband, if he constantly connects with her spiritually.

Now, coming back to Mark and Jisoo, for whom I quoted "les marriages au sont ciel" in my short message during the solemnization, I told them that even if they believed that their marriage is made in heaven, they will have to work hard to make their marriage meaningful  and enjoyable, so as to fulfill their vows, which ended with "I vow to love you, until death do us part."

The reason that prompted this post was how Mark and Jisoo had demonstrated that they are committed to working hard to make their marriage better, and they did that right during the solemnization. While both articulated their vows to each other in English, so that I and the rest of the guests can understand and thus be their witnesses, Mark did a Korean version and Jisoo did a German version (which is Mark's mother tongue).

Mark and Jisoo clearly struggled reading out the vow in a language that they aren't familiar with. But in their actions, I can see how much effort they had put into learning another new language, just to say their vow in each other's mother tongue. I saw the delight in their parents' eyes when they heard the vows spoken in their native language. 

Before concluding the solemnization, I offered them two simple tips to grow build their Maximum Marriage:

Tip#1 -  Do not look to each other to be the Mr or Ms Right. Instead, be determined to be the right person for the other.

Tip#2 - Every morning when they wake up, deliberately think of what they can do that very day to please the person lying beside.

So, indeed, if you want to have a meaningful and enjoyable marriage, and move from simply being husband and wife to be lovers for life, then work hard daily to please each other and grow your love for each other. Practice the two tips daily and I assure you that your marriage will grow stronger and stronger. 


Reference [1] - The 5 Sex Needs of Men and Women by Dr Gary and Barbara Rosberg, page 115.

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Monday, April 1, 2019

My Grandson's First Sleepover Affected Our Marriage

My 4-year old grandson had his first sleepover with us last Friday.

A few months ago, he had his maiden sleepover with his paternal grandparents. I asked him then, when would he do the same with us. He said, 'I will sleepover at your house after I come back from my Japan holiday.'

He came back 2 weeks ago and kept his word; something we all are proud of and can learn from this young boy.

To welcome him, we bought a tent and rigged it up in my backyard, pretending that we were  camping (grandparents go to extremes to captivate their grandchildren.) We didn't sleep in the tent eventually because it was terribly humid that night.

He slept later than usual that night because he was excited.
As he sat on our bed fighting to keep his eyes open, he uttered, 'I miss mama.' I told him that I know and that it was well as we were with him. In less than 2 minutes, he went into a deep slumber, with a face filled with satisfaction of a great day with grandpa and grandma.

Sleeping between us, he rumbled through six different positions, which kept Michelle and I awake throughout the night. At first, he was sleeping parallel to us, then on Michelle's stomach, then on my chest before heading to my thigh, and finally back to parallel.

All three of us woke up early the next morning, and we were greeted with the best smile ever from our little Samuel. It melted our hearts. His angelic smile made us we forget how sleepy we actually were.

Then little Samuel said, 'Gong gong, we hibernated together last night.'

My jaws dropped in pleasant surprise. But to test that he really understood that word, I asked, 'So where did we hibernate together?'

'On your bed,' Samuel replied in a split-second.

'Wow, he has a vocabulary beyond a 4-year old,' I thought to myself. It must be that Mama and Dada had taught him well. We are so proud of them too.

Through my grandson's first sleepover with us, my heart tells me that Michelle and I are truly blessed. With all our children all having their own family and home, Michelle and I are still celebrating life and enjoying it. We have no empty nest, but a golden one!

Is this Maximum Marriage or what?

We believe that it is.

Just 2 days ago, a prominent person asked me what gives me energy every morning when I wake up. Without hesitation I answered, 'My marriage.'

I think both of us were surprised (yes, this was probably the first time I have actually declared this).

He asked me how is that so. I explained that I am so happy every night to lie beside Michelle and to be able to wake up with her beside me every morning. So it must be that my marriage gives me the energy to live life every day. This is in context that God is in the center of my and Michelle's life.

With our experience, we truly believe that you can also have a Maximum Marriage of your own. It did not come as a miracle. We made effort to build our relationship  through our 37 years of marriage. It was not smooth sailing all the way, but we kept at it and even had to plow through many challenges to be where we are now. It was painful many times, but it is worth every ounce of energy that we had put in to build our marriage.

You can too....


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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I Lost the Thrill of Love for My Valentine Long Ago

As many couples prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day, I want to confess that I have lost the thrill of love for my Valentine. I vaguely remember it to be around the 6th year of our marriage, just after the birth of our second child. 

It had nothing to do with the infamous seven-year itch, but there were some similarities. 

I remember clearly thrills of love when I first dated Michelle and probably into the initial years of marriage. Those thrills came right from the day I decided to pursue her. It was the first time in my life that I was pursuing a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Moreover, she was indeed a very pretty and attractive young lady. Even the thought of her thrilled me then.

It gave me such highs to just hear her voice, to catch a glimpse of her pretty face and to be able to hold her hands. In the early years of marriage, the thrills of love came from our passionate and frequent lovemaking. My “love” for her was just insatiable.

Then it came! The change was gradual and subtle. It didn’t happen over a day, a month or even a year. Having dated her for more than 7 years, and then being married for more than six years probably was too long for the thrills to be sustained.

Looking back, Michelle and I are glad that it happened so early in our marriage.

Have we become simply functional as husband and wife? Are we holding on to our marriage for the sake of our children? Are we just waiting for the empty nest to come and then we can separate, as many couples do?

The truth is this - Michelle and I learned that the thrills of love did not and cannot truly satisfy us. While they gave us much excitement, excitement is neither the norm for marriage nor for life. While we have enjoyed much thrills of love with each other, they were not true love.

True love loves when there is no thrill, when the day is normal or even sub-normal in our marriage, when the children are difficult to manage, when you or your spouse is feeling down or angry for no good reason, or is unreasonable and making it difficult for you to show love.

If Michelle and I had depended on the thrills of love to keep our marriage going, we would have given up many times over - there were countless times one of us felt down and made ourselves unlovable and in that state, irritated each other so much.

Timothy Keller in “The Meaning of Marriage” described the relationship where one enjoys the marriage as long as he or she receives benefits but move on to another person when the spouse cannot offer the thrills of love anymore as a consumer relationship.
In the same vein, he described true love as a covenant relationship, in which one continues to love despite not feeling the love for, or being loved by your spouse, and even if your spouse does not seem to deserve your love.
This puts meaning to the vow which many couples make at their our wedding, which most commonly includes ….. “ for better or for worst, till death do us part.”

To me, this simply means that I have to love Michelle, even when she is unloving or unlovable. My love for Michelle must have nothing to do with her love for me.

You may be thinking out loud or even exclaiming, “Come on Steven, how can that be? How can l love someone who is not reciprocating my love and how can I love if I do not have feelings of love for him or her anymore?”

Well, this was what I vowed to Michelle on the day we married, and I must keep my word because that vow I made was unconditional. It was and still remains a covenant!

If you need a reference, then reflect on how Jesus Christ loved (and still loves) mankind with a love that has nothing to do with the love of men for Him. When He hung on the cross to die for our sins, He simply continued to love despite being rejected by those around him for whom He was dying. That  is exactly what covenant love is.

Truth be told that after knowing each other for more than 47 years, and in which 37 of those years were spent in close proximity, 24/7, as a couple, Michelle and I still have bad habits which many times make each other unlovable and even “ugly”.

Yet, we are still happily enjoying our relationship and are forging toward to become lovers for life. We attribute this to being serious about the vow we made to each other, before our parents, relatives, friends and more importantly, God our Heavenly Father.

My love for her has nothing to do with her love for me. And her love for me has nothing to do with my love for her. Our love for each other is based on a covenant we made before God. This is the only way to fulfill our “….. for better or for worst, till death do us part” vow.

I highly recommend that you let go of the thrills of love and begin to truly love each other.
So instead of wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day, may I wish you the wisdom and strength to love 
your spouse with a covenant love, and forge ahead to become lovers for life!

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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

I Married An Incompatible Woman

1 January 2019 marks my 37th Wedding Anniversary.
I have a confession to make and it will probably shock you - Michelle and I are  incompatible!
This has been a fact from the time we first met 45 years ago. But for many years, we denied it. However, the inevitable happened and over the years living together, our incompatibilities showed up more and more.
When I first knew her, Michelle was a soft-spoken, pretty, very meticulous and neat 14-year old beauty and she still is all of that! I was boyish, unrefined, untidy but pretty smart (I think). She spoke proper English and I preferred spewing words in Hokkien, which was how fellow students in my boy’s school conversed.
After completing our ‘O’ level examinations, she went on to take secretarial studies and became a efficient and attractive secretary. I opted for technical studies at the polytechnic and took up a career as an Army Officer.
Through our courting days and early years of marriage, we found that we really did not have much common interests - I was a “sand-and-sea” person who loved the outdoors (that was why I became a career army officer), she was dainty and would avoid the sun and salt water at all cost, so as to preserve her face and the color of her skin (she went on to become a beauty therapist and still is one today).
Even our family background was significantly different, from the number of siblings to the occupation of our parents and the type of food we ate growing up.
Somehow, either we chose not to see the incompatibilities or maybe we were just too attracted by the excitement of our first opposite-sex relationship in our lives, that we forge ahead, rather blindly, in our love adventure.
 In 1982, we married each other in spite of our incompatibilities.
Today, 1 January 2019, when most people are celebrating the beginning of the New Year, my 3 children with their spouses and our 2 grandchildren joined us over lunch to celebrate our 37th Wedding Anniversary.
In spite of our incompatibilities, Michelle and I do enjoy each other very much. I told her that I was attracted by her beauty when I first courted her, and quickly add that she still attracts me in the same way today. Now, I am so glad that she avoided the sun and salt water at all cost when she was young - I am the true beneficiary of that discipline.
I asked her, what of me attracted her that she decided to marry me. She cannot recall. So my conclusion is that despite my imperfections, I was simply attractive to her.
So, what about our incompatibilities?
Well, we have learned that no 2 persons can ever be compatible; we are all unique. In a marriage, both parties must have the expectation that they are incompatible to begin with, and then work on one self to live with, give in to, and build up a relationship that can overcome the incompatibilities.
Michelle and I learned that once we made the decision to give up our demand to satisfy our self, and to be deliberate about becoming the right person for the other, only then did our love conquer our incompatibilities. We grew in love and allowed love to cover all of our flaws and shortcomings.
For those of you who think that you have married a compatible spouse, I am happy for you. But I will still caution you that you had married while he or she was compatible. People will change over the years, and your spouse can become “incompatible” as your marriage progresses.
So my point is this - the earlier you accept that your spouse is unique and different from you and that incompatibilities are inevitable, the sooner you can enjoy your journey towards Maximum Marriage. You do this by making a deliberate choice to be the right person to your spouse, instead of looking to your spouse to be the right person for you. With this mindset, incompatibilities will become complementary traits that will make your marriage exciting and enjoyable.
On every anniversary in the last few years, I would post an article about how we had enjoyed each other in another year of our union. Accompanying each of those posts was always a photograph of the rose bouquet I presented to Michelle, 1 rose for each year of our marriage.
Today, I presented a bouquet of 37 roses to her.
As I did that, I saw a vision of giving to my dear Michelle, bouquets with 50, 60 and God-willing 70 or more roses ….. that is my deepest desire for our Maximum Marriage.
You can enjoy your marriage too. Give up your demands for self-satisfaction, make the decision to be the right person to your spouse and you will always enjoy and celebrate love in your marriage!

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Thursday, November 22, 2018

About Opening the Car Door and Pulling Out the Chair for My Lover

Many people notice that I always open the car door for my wife to get in and then close it after.

Similarly, I will pull out the chair at the table for her to position herself to sit, and then push the chair in place.

I do these two acts especially at public places. So, quite a number of male friends asked me if I was merely trying to show off my gentlemanly gallantry. They complained that in the process, I am sabotaging them as their wife would expect the same treatment.

I must admit that I am really trying to show off.
No doubt about that.

But what they missed is that I am not showing off my gallantry. I would not bother to as it gives me no gain.

Truth be told, I do those acts with one deliberate intention, and for an audience of one - Michelle!

In his ever-green book on marriage, Courting After Marriage, Leadership and Relationship guru, Zig Ziglar greatly inspired me when he shared the core reason for always opening the car door and pulling out the chair at the table for his wife, whom he affectionately called the Redhead.

The reason was simple - Zig wanted to show to the Redhead that she is the most precious person in his life. By simply opening the car door and pulling out the chair for her, he was shouting to the world and to his wife, that she is so important to him that he wants to honour all the time. And by doing it in front of people, Zig is affirming her place of honour when the people begin to comment that she must be very precious to him, and that made her feel even more loved.

Michelle will attest that I do not just open the car door and pull out the chair at the table for her in public spaces. Because my reason is to honour her, I do the same when no one is watching. I open the car door for her in our garage. I pull out the chair for her at home and even when we are dining alone.

I do that because I choose to honour the most precious person in my life. And my reward is that I began I love her even more, and she reciprocates her love all the more.

Men, honour your wife. Start by simply opening the car door and pulling out the chair at the table for her. You will be surprised by the transformation in your marriage. It is a proven way to grow your Maximum Marriage.

And just one advice for the wives - when your husband opens the car door and pulls out the chair at the table for you, look into his eyes and say, "Thank you!"

God bless.


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