So what’s new? Singlehood and rising divorce rates are trendy stuff in the developed world. Our Ministry of Social and Family Development has just released a new set of figures showing that we are happily still behind the Kiwis and the Britons. Some praise our Asian values, conveniently forgetting the strong deterrent in the form of a jointly-owned HDB flat. Nevertheless, our figures are “impressive”. According to Today:
And at the 15-year mark, 20.3 per cent of couples who exchanged vows in 1998 had gone their separate ways, which was also nearly twice the rate for the 1987 cohort (12.3 per cent).
And it would seem that age (maturity) is a factor in determining the stability of a marriage. According to Today again:
The Ministry of Social and Family Development’s (MSF) report on the stability of marriages across cohorts released today (April 6) also showed that men who got married before they turned 25 were twice as likely to end the relationship.
Almost one-tenth of them from the 2008 cohort went through divorces within five years’ of marriage while one-third of the marriages in 1998 involving grooms aged 20 to 24 did not make the 15th anniversary.
The report compiled data on all weddings registered here where either the bride or groom is a Singapore citizen or permanent resident. The last time similar statistics were released was in 2004.
Nothing in Singapore is too private or personal for the government to get its fingers into. Indeed, children from broken homes may end up as a burden to society. It’s something I’ve observed in horror through the decades when Thailand was my second home. However, the prevailing issues in the Land of Smiles are far more complex than those in Singapore. The blame on modernisation and Western influence doesn’t really hold there. The more rural and “traditional” they are, the more likely Thais are to treat marriages (many unregistered) or relationships lightly. I’ll come to that in another book/blog entry, but let’s face it. Any concerned government would wish that it could do something about the stability or instability of marriages and being very Singaporean at that, the MSF has come up with preventive measures:
In the wake of the trends, the MSF said it will roll out a new marriage preparation programme next month — only six months after it started a free two-hour seminar for soon-to-weds.
The new programme, which will span 12 hours over two days, is a more comprehensive version, covering 12 topics including communication, conflict management, commitment and problem-solving.
That’s as Singaporean as you can get. The programme is optional – for now. 12 hours of lectures and workshops. With an early start to sweetness of dating, the bitterness of breakups and all the exposure to horror stories on social media, our young people don’t need anymore reality checks. They are probably far more cynical and cautious than their parents at the moment they exchanged vows at ROM. Chances are, they’ve already travelled overseas together and know their partners’ habits intimately. Chances are, they are connected to their future in-laws on Facebook and know their partners’ friends, colleagues and social circles a lot better than their parents could have ever hoped to back in their time.
Furthermore, with so much resources and virtual support groups available online, our young people can also access information on conflict management and problem-solving. The problem does not lie with the lack of knowledge, information or communication. It doesn’t matter if you teach them for 12 hours or 12 years. You can’t teach them anything they don’t already know. You can’t preach commitment to them when there is one thing that distinguishes their situation from their parents’ – they have a plethora of choices, options, alternatives and opportunities. My mother only found out quite recently that many single people are far from lonely/empty and many unmarried people are not really single.
When no children are involved, divorce is no longer as devastating to the individual as it used to be. Prevention is like vaccination and it only works for a particular pathogen. The problem with marriage is that you won’t know what kind of pathogen your spouse is going to evolve into 10 years after marriage. How are you going to prevent yourself from getting sick from an unknown pathogen from the future? How can you predict if she would transform from a sweet angel to a monster/control freak? How can you predict a most faithful lover would transform into a playboy once he has earned enough to afford that sort of lifestyle? You can’t, but you do have options and opportunities for a new lease of life after breaking up.
What if our MSF finds that the problem persists? Enhance the programme from 12 hours to 24 hours? Make it compulsory? Wait a minute. I have a better idea. If losing their HDB flat is not deterrent enough, why not make divorcing couples bid for a COE? That will not only make the figures look good (limited supply of divorce COEs), couples may find it so lecheh (troublesome) to get divorced that they may decide to stay together and fight till one party cannot tahan (tolerate) anymore and voluntarily foots the bill for the COE.
© Chan Joon Yee