Hong Kong is often referred to as the “marriage graveyard” due to some of the unique stressors we all face in our lovely metropolis. But it doesn’t have to be death and destruction when you find that special someone. We catch up with relationship counselor and founder of MindnLife psychology practice, Dr. Quratulain Zaidi, to find out how to avoid letting your relationship crack under the pressure of it all.
We do a lot of investing in Hong Kong, and there is no shortage of investment advice. How well we invest can have a tremendous impact on our future and the legacy we leave. Why then, doesn’t everyone spend the time and energy to learn about investing in their relationship? Studies have shown that couples who invest in building long-term relationships are healthier financially, mentally, and physically. While living and working in Hong Kong is exciting and affords amazing opportunities and experiences for personal investment, it can be a minefield for adult couples, especially for those in the ‘Growth Set’ – their late 20s to early 40s.
The Growth Set have a unique cacophony of stressors unrivalled by any other stage of life. Career focus, finding the right partner, and starting a family are hard enough, but are exacerbated by Hong Kong’s long working hours, crazy wages (and even crazier living expenses), and the universal drive to get ahead and impress the right people.
All of this can take a toll on Hong Kong relationships, so how can you grow strong together instead of letting your relationship crack under the pressure of it all? It helps to start out by understanding what scientists have defined as the Four Stages of Love …
Stage 1: Infatuation (Falling in Love)
Your eyes locked across the room and you started to bubble inside. No matter if it leads directly to the bedroom or you keep it cool, the same hormones are hard at work. It’s literal chemistry. Oxytocin, Cortisol, and Testosterone (even for you ladies!) rush through our bodies creating the euphoric excitement and giddiness when people are first falling in love. Sexual desire, longing, and attaining gratification are the goals specific to this stage.
This stage doesn’t last forever in any relationship, but some people want this feeling forever and falsely believe that the cooling down of this stage signals the end. But the desire to be in this euphoric state long term (amazing as it would be), doesn’t lead to a committed relationship. This infatuated love, however wonderful it is, unfortunately has a maximum life span of two years. In fact, when you start to feel Stage 1 cooling off, it’s a good time to ask yourself about where you are heading …
- Do you respect them personally and professionally?
- Are they your personal brand of cool?
- Do you still see them as almost perfect in every way?
- If you answered ‘yes’ to all three of the above, you are barrelling into Stage 2. Answered ‘no’ to two or more, and it’s probably time to say farewell.
Stage 2: Romantic Love and Attachment
Research shows that hormone levels normalise after 12 to 28 months of being in a relationship. Things get more comfortable and the relationship shifts toward acceptance, commitment, and developing better communication. For those people who are in love with Stage 1, this is when they might begin to feel that the relationship may not be working. However, for those who stick together, the rewards are great.
Deep emotional and sexual recognition is being developed and honed. Life plans and goals start to align, and couples begin to feel more comfortable making plans in the long term. Thinking shifts from ‘me’ to ‘us’ and major decisions are made together. Stage 2 is exciting in its own way, and common territory are the ‘big decisions’ including moving in, marriage, and having children.
Stage 2 isn’t all a bed of roses, though. Insecurity and fear can still run high, and it’s a critical time to negotiate through the ‘deal breakers’ if you haven’t already done so in Stage 1. Jealousy, smoking, kids, religion, geographical mobility only scrape the surface of the major issues on which couples must see eye to eye. Disagree on a deal breaker and it’s exactly that – a serious impediment to ever moving through to Stage 4. And remember, it’s important not to ignore a deal breaker in Stage 2, or think you can change your partner, because you are only setting yourself up for heartbreak later.
Stage 3: Dealing with Conflict or Crisis
This is a difficult phase where relationships are tested. While Stage 3 is compulsory to building a solid relationship, you can’t plan for it or schedule it, and by definition it will happen at ‘the worst possible time’. This stage is so critical because it tests your mettle as a couple, building the final patterns and confidence in each other as life gets real. As people and as humans, we will all face many types of difficulties, and you need to know your partner is there by your side.
This is where living and working in Hong Kong can be especially tricky. Added environmental and external stressors such as moving to another country with your spouse, becoming a ‘trailing spouse’, separation from (and having no immediate) support network, long work hours, or extensive travel requirements can become huge sources of fragility and disconnect for one or both partners – but they don’t have to!
If you can rise to meet this challenge head on and work to maintain intimacy and care for each other’s needs – mastering conflict and crisis – you are well on your way to the long-awaited Stage 4! And remember, it’s OK to ask for help, especially if you’re facing a challenge without precedent in your relationship. Call a professional and learn about great tools and insights to help you push through and grow successfully as a couple.
Stage 4: The Beginning of a Stable Long-term Relationship
Holy Grail? Sort of, but the real work is just beginning! Relationships at this stage are an art – a beautiful medley of shared goals and priorities, core values, work ethic, trust, and intimacy. These last two being the most common challenge for most couples who find themselves in my office.
Life gets busy, routines are established, and left unchecked, relationships can become as exciting as dry toast. A lot of couples report when they come to seek help in my office, that they have lost that ‘connection’ or ‘closeness’ with their spouse. The spark is gone, and maybe they have even started to feel like siblings – eek! Most of the time, however, this is temporary, and it happens to everyone during Stage 4. Keep in mind that Stage 4 could last the rest of your life so it won’t all be fireworks and cotton candy!
Awareness of the shift in intimacy often comes as a surprise, but it’s important to recognise that the stressors are outside of the relationship instead of assigning personal blame or failure. Here are some key tips to working through the challenges in Stage 4:
- Learn to deescalate conversations and manage conflicts better – together
- Create time to check in with each other on the state of the relationship – discuss things that are working and things that can improve without blaming the other person
- Make an effort to thank one another – even for the little things
- Create small rituals of connections in the relationship, for example: how you greet each other and say goodbye, how birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated, carve out regular one-on-one time – even if it’s just a coffee on Tuesday mornings
- Continually learn about your partner
How To Keep the Love Alive
No matter which stage your relationship is currently in, with the right work and personal investment, you can work together to build happy, healthy, and successful lives – together! In fact, although it may seem counter-intuitive, this investment is more important the longer you have been in your relationship.
Research shows that emotionally intelligent couples remember all the major events in each other’s history (not necessarily with encyclopaedic knowledge of dates and participants, but the emotions and events that shape us), and continuously update their information as the facts and feelings of their spouse’s dossier changes. If, as a couple, you don’t start off with a deep knowledge and understanding of each other, it’s easy for a marriage to lose its way when lives shift so suddenly and dramatically.
Here’s a quick list of questions to ask each other to reconnect. If it helps, make it a game. Write each question on an index card and shuffle them. Set a ‘reconnection date’ each month where you have at least 90 minutes uninterrupted with your spouse. Select one question at random each month and explore it thoroughly, for each of you, together (12 months, 12 questions) and repeat.
- How would you like your life to be different three years from now?
- Do you see your work changing in the future? How?
- How are you feeling about your jobs these days?
- What is the most exciting thing happening in your life right now?
- Have any of your life goals recently changed?
- What are some of your life dreams now?
- What are your goals for us as a family?
- What goals do you have just for yourself right now?
- What have been the highlights and low points of the last year for you?
- What adventures would you like to have in your life right now?
- If you could have a superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?
- How do you want to be remembered? For what accomplishments or characteristics?
Best of luck, and always remember – there’s no substitute in life for a solid relationship.
Read more! Check out more of our articles on dating, love, and relationships, or get lost in one of our Top 10 ‘Alternative’ Love Stories for Valentine’s Day.