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Wedding Essentials

Before young couples say 'I do'

They will have to attend marriage preparation course, which will cover topics such as financial planning and parenthood
The Straits Times - September 4, 2011
By: Fiona Low
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Before young couples say 'I do'

Young couples aged between 18 and 21 now have a specially tweaked marriage preparation course that covers topics pertinent to them, such as financial planning and parenthood.

The mandatory course for these so-called 'minor couples' also covers standard topics such as communication strategies, conflict resolution and intimacy issues.

From this month, such couples will have to go for a marriage preparation course before they can take their vows. This was not a requirement previously.

Commenting on these specially chosen topics, counselling expert Tan Soh Hiang said younger couples 'tend to be less mature and have less inner resources to cope with the changes and difficulties that surface during marriage'.

Ms Tan, counselling manager at Focus on the Family, explained that the frontal cortex of the brain which is responsible for making judgments is still developing in people in their early 20s.

There are 14 centres approved by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) to provide such marriage preparation courses for young couples. Each course will last between eight and 14 hours and cost $280 to $480, depending on the centre and the needs of the couple.

The principal therapist for the marriage preparation programme at Family Life Society, Ms Theresa Bung, said: 'Financial planning is important for younger couples as they could still be schooling and are not financially independent.'

The centre manager at Care Corner Counselling Centre in Toa Payoh, Mr Jonathan Siew, said: 'Often, minor couples get married because of pregnancy, and as a result they may face disruptions in their studies and social lives. They may feel a sense of loss and be angry.

'Counselling on the expectations of parenthood will help them to deal with the pressure and adjust to the changes in their lives.'

To help younger couples cope with the stress of getting hitched, some centres are even offering programmes that deal with issues of violence.

Counsellor Jonathan Lee, from the Care Corner Family Service Centre at Woodlands, said: 'Violence is more common in younger couples because they may not be mature enough to find healthy ways to cope with the stress so they turn to physical means to release pent-up anger and frustration.'

Of the five centres contacted, one said they had received a few inquiries from minor couples since the new regulation was announced. All the centres currently do not have clients below 21.

This new ruling from the MCYS is designed to help young couples better prepare for marriage and reduce the risk of divorce. Over the last three decades, the marriage rate of both males and females in the 15 to 19 age bracket has dropped drastically. The marriage rate for females in that age group fell steadily from 18.4 to 2.8 per 1,000 unmarried females from 1980 to last year, while the number fell from 1.7 to 0.7 for males in the same category.

However, divorce rates have been climbing steadily in the same 30-year period, for both men and women in the 20 to 24 age bracket.

The figure rose from 7.6 to 24.9 per 1,000 married females in that time, while the figure for males rose from 5.9 to 27.2.

Counsellors attribute these problems to adjustment issues that could plague newly married couples.

'Living together and having a responsibility towards each other is very different from dating. When they spend 24/7 together, differences in personality, values and family background start to surface,' said Ms Tan.

This is especially difficult for younger couples who are already facing a host of other frustrations.

The lack of family support is often another pitfall for these couples. 'Young couples may get married without the full support of their parents. This could be a huge emotional burden for them,' added Ms Tan.

However, some minor couples do not agree that such counselling is necessary.

Housewife Mabel Lee, now 24, got married when she was 18 years old. She did not attend any marriage preparation course and is still married to her husband, a teacher, now 36. The couple had their first child one year ago.

'I got married because both my husband and I were sure of our relationship and we felt that we were ready to settle down,' she said. 'Every relationship is different and I don't think that a one-size-fits-all course can prepare you for marriage. At the end of the day, it is most important that your relationship is strong.'

The new ruling will affect Singapore citizens and permanent residents who are marrying under the Women's Charter. It will apply when both parties are above 18 years old but below 21. Minor couples below 18 years old are currently already required to attend marriage preparation courses in order to obtain a special marriage licence from MCYS.

Minor couples who are getting married under the Administration of Muslim Law Act are similarly not affected as they are already required to attend marriage preparation programmes as well.

Minor couples can choose to attend courses by MCYS-supported service providers or from religious or commercial organisations. The ministry will provide subsidies of up to $350 for minor couples if they attend courses by MCYS-supported service providers.



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