A problematic trend identified in a government study shows that recent marriages appear to be breaking up far more often than those in the past. For example, by the 10th year of marriage,
16 per cent of those who had married in 2003 had their unions dissolved, an astonishing double of the 8.7 per cent for the 1987 cohort. This would suggest a certain impatience over resolving thorny relationship issues, compared to the ability of those married longer to navigate pitfalls better.
What keeps trends in perspective is the fact that the rise in Singapore's marriage dissolution rate is in line with similar trends in developed countries. However, it is important to address threats to marriage before incompatibility or other reasons drive couples apart irrevocably. The new marriage preparation programme to be launched by the Ministry of Social and Family Development next month should aim to fulfil this objective effectively for younger couples. It can do this by taking a comprehensive look at issues such as commitment, communication and the management of conflict, which lie at the heart of enduring marriages.
That counselling and enrichment programmes do make a difference is shown by the study itself, which has found Muslim marriages bucking the general trend of recent marriages failing the test of time. Some of that success is attributable to community initiatives in marriage preparation and counselling programmes for couples contemplating divorce. Given that the stigma once attached to divorce is less of a deterrent today, the community must do all it can to impress on vulnerable couples that divorces break up not just marriages but families, hurting children in particular and perhaps rending extended kinship ties. Singaporeans must not let the expediency of divorce obscure its considerable social costs.