Health and wellness

Married for more than 10 years? Use this app to check if your relationship is on rocky ground

Couples with a higher risk of friction are those married for over a decade, retirees whose children have flown the nest, and those who find it hard to communicate ‘sexual needs’, a community organisation says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 February, 2018, 9:26pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 February, 2018, 10:48pm

Married couples who have been together for more than a decade should regularly assess the health of their relationship, as cracks can appear from years 11 to 14, according to a community organisation.

On Sunday, the family service unit of Caritas Hong Kong launched a “marriage checkup” Android app to help couples assess the health of their relationship. The iPhone app will be ready by this week, it said.

Questions include how often they express their feelings to each other; how often they have sex, argue or discuss career-related life decisions; and how many times the thought of divorce has crossed their minds.

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A low score would immediately bring them to a page advising them to sign up for couples’ therapy or to book a free 30-minute counselling appointment.

The organisation’s head of service, Eliza Lam Yee-wan, said: “The high risk groups are those that have been married more than a decade, or about 11 to 14 years.

“They have been married for quite some time and are facing more pressures from children and economic factors. At this stage, it’s important that they get support.”

She added that those with grown children who were nearing retirement or had already stopped working were also prone to friction, as they began to spend more time together without the distractions of the past.

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Caritas – the social service arm of the Catholic diocese – said on average, about one in five of the 5,000 new counselling cases it sees each year at its eight support centres were related to marriage problems.

Counselling helps, as shown by a survey conducted by the group and the Caritas Institute of Higher Education between March 2016 and September last year.

Close to nine in 10 of the 440 married people who attended either counselling services or marriage support events said they were able to reduce marital conflict and repair relationships, while the rest reported no change in things, with a small number saying matters had gotten worse.

However, Lam agreed that the survey had a built-in bias, as those who sought counselling would already be inclined to make their marriage work out.

She said that common causes of marital problems included couples not listening to one other, being unable to accept a partner’s flaws, being overly combative or provocative, lacking sensitivity – men in particular – and being half-hearted in exchanges.

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The biggest benefits of seeking help included overcoming depression; enhancing capacity for consensus-building; improving marriage satisfaction, understanding and mutual appreciation; and learning how to communicate and enjoy life with each other, she added.

Dr Anna Ng Hoi-nga, an assistant professor at the institute who helped conduct an in-depth qualitative study on seven couples who sought counselling, said some had described counselling as helping to “melt the ice” or akin to “finding a bottle opener to let out pent up air in a bottle”.

Ng noted that many misunderstandings between couples festered to the point of mistrust or hate. In many cases, their problems were also rooted in sex.

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“Many couples face such problems, especially if one of them has a health issue. Couples can find it difficult to communicate their sexual needs,” Ng said.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, the number of local divorces increased continuously between 1991 and 2016, with the crude divorce rate doubling in that period to hit 2.34 per 1, 000 people in 2016.