updated 10 Apr 2014, 23:33
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Tue, Mar 25, 2014
The Straits Times
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More take classes for marital bliss
by Priscilla Goy

A growing number of soon-to-be-married couples are going for classes to learn how to live happily ever after.

More have signed up for secular marriage preparation classes over the last few years, checks with the Ministry of Social and Family Development and several voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) have shown.

The ministry, for instance, has given rebates to more couples who complete marriage preparation courses by groups it supports. It has issued more than 500 rebates on average each year over the past few years, up from 350 in 2005 and 250 in 2001.

Three of the four VWOs whom The Straits Times spoke to also saw attendance for such courses go up by 35 per cent to 66 per cent last year from 2011.

VWOs say the increased interest stems mainly from a greater awareness of such classes, which typically give couples tips on resolving quarrels, communication skills and sexual intimacy.

Focus on the Family Singapore's marriage preparation course had 113 couples last year, up from 68 in 2011.

Its head of research and development, Ms Shelen Ang, said the increase could be due to greater awareness through publicity efforts or word of mouth.

Mrs Chang-Goh Song Eng, head of Reach Counselling, agreed that awareness was a factor. About 100 couples took part in its course last year, an increase of about 60 per cent from that in 2011. She said this was a "pleasant surprise".

"The couples are well-read and can easily get information online. Their choice to spend time and money on such courses shows their desire to learn."

Fees for these courses at 24 VWOs range from $100 to $470, with government rebates of $70 available for application.

There are also organisations which offer classes imbued with religious values, but participants do not qualify for these rebates.

Another reason for the higher attendance could be insecurity, said Care Corner Counselling Centre manager Jonathan Siew.

"I think more couples feel uncertain about their future, possibly due to the divorces they hear about, and they want to make sure their marriages work." The number of divorces has been on a general upward trend in recent years. There were 7,234 divorces in 2011, up from 6,527 in 2006.

The increased number of couples at marriage classes could simply reflect a growth in marriages here, which have risen from 26,081 in 2009 to nearly 28,000 in 2012.

Some VWOs say the increase in attendance could be even greater if they had more resources.

Care Corner enrolled 35 couples for its course last year, up from 26 in 2011. Mr Siew said the VWO had received more enquiries about the course but could not run more classes. It had to cap the class size at seven couples for each workshop.

Fei Yue Community Services has about 80 to 90 couples each year in its course in the past three years. But Fei Yue's deputy director Arthur Ling expects more couples this year, as its classes are held at a bigger venue. Seventeen couples took its course in the past two months, up from 10 in the same period last year.

Observers say it is important to prepare for marriage.

"Many misunderstandings come after couples get married," said Mrs Sarojini Padmanathan, a member of Families for Life, formerly the National Family Council, which helps promote resilient families.

It is better for them to start working on their differences before getting wed, she added.

Civil servant Tan Chee Guan, 26, said the marriage preparation course he took has helped.

"My wife and I better understand each other now. We have fewer fights, and we get over our arguments more quickly," said Mr Tan, who took the course last year.

Financial consultant Fung Chun Ping, 27, and his wife also took lessons. He had anticipated conflicts as he is a Catholic and his wife is a Buddhist.

Asked what lessons he has learnt, he said: "Sometimes I write letters after we argue, as that helps to put things in perspective rather than letting the conflict escalate and we may say hurtful words in the heat of the moment."

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