Relationships

“We fought so many times, we thought we would break up”: But God was the third cord that held their love story together

Salt&Light wishes you a Happy Valentine's Day!

by Christine Leow // February 11, 2022, 7:36 pm

2022-02-09 (2) NEWER

Charmaine Wee and Alex Yeo on their wedding day in October 2021. A work partnership turned into a lifelong one. All photos courtesy of the Yeos.

A lovely scent wafts from the kitchen. Dinner is being prepared.

Waiting to be tossed is a sumptuous salad that includes portobello mushrooms, dried figs and, because it is days from Chinese New Year, mandarin oranges.

There is a Bolognese red wine sauce ready to be heated. Adapted from jaunty celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s beef stew recipe, it took several tweaks to perfect.

“Until I met her, I had never had meals with everything laid out so nicely.”

“It’s one of the reasons I married her,” quips Alex Yeo about his wife’s spaghetti sauce.

Dessert is chilling in the fridge – a luscious Earl Grey lavender speculoos tart made from scratch.

We are in Alex and Charmaine’s new home. The newlyweds are discussing pasta portions – Is this too much or not enough? – with an ease and sweetness that is charming to watch.

When we sit down at the table that has been beautifully set, the atmosphere is both cosy and classy.

Says Alex: “Until I met her, I had never had meals with table settings and everything laid out so nicely like this.”

The dinner that Charmaine and Alex prepared from scratch for the Salt&Light interview.

Charmaine explains: “I used to house-sit at my aunt’s place when they travelled and I would host dinners there.

“They let me use their stuff – things in the fridge, stock – and they encouraged my interest in cooking and baking. My mum’s a really good cook and baker. So, it’s in the family.”

This is a picture of domestic bliss. But it was a bliss that was hard-fought for.

It started at work  

The couple met, unremarkably enough, at work. Both were volunteers at H.O.P.E. Alliance Singapore, a community-based organisation dedicated to helping those with mental health issues recover.

“I had my first mental health encounter when I was 12.”

Alex was running a tuition centre with a friend and had been roped in to help with human resource matters and finance because of his experience in the mental health sector.

Things with Charmaine were a little more complicated.

“I had just come out of IMH (Institute of Mental Health) where I was warded for a month,” she says matter-of-factly.

It was not her first stay there. She had been struggling with mental illness for seven years at the time.

“I had my first mental health encounter when I was 12. Before my PSLE, I broke down.

“I couldn’t stop laughing and my granduncle who is a GP had to treat me.”

Alex and Charmaine (standing, centre) with Charmaine’s family and Alex’s sister (standing, second from the left).

In her 20s, she suffered from depression, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and then schizoaffective disorder. The mental illness combines symptoms of schizophrenia (hallucination and delusions) with mood disorder (depression and mania).

“I would have bad days and he would ask, ‘Are you okay?’”

Charmaine, who had been in advertising and project management before, but was not working then, was asked to volunteer as the project management director at H.O.P.E. Alliance.

“It was a sort of a work-as-therapy thing.”

Because the social enterprise was just starting up, work was intense and Alex and Charmaine found themselves spending “an incredulous amount of time with each other”.

“We were not interested in each other then,” Charmaine assures.

Alex had just gotten out of a long-term relationship and, significantly for Charmaine who has been a Christian since she was in her teens, he was not a believer.

But he always showed her a lot of concern.

“I would have bad days and he would ask, ‘Are you okay?’ And I confided in him a few times.”

God gave Yeo (left) a vision of vines that prompted him to set up a website with Wee to connect people to mental health resources.

Alex loves Charmaine’s compassion and Charmaine was attracted to Alex’s kindness to others.

Adds Alex: “I would check up on her. I don’t take partnerships lightly. I have worked with people and have seen how they can be hurt and I just don’t want to hurt people.”

“She was very vocal about her faith.”

Chimes in Charmaine: “He would give me advice and I would be like, ‘Have you read the Bible? What you share with me is very aligned with the Bible. How do you know these things?’

“He would say, ‘I just do. I just have the impression that this is the right thing to say or the right thing to do.’

“And I would tell him, ‘I think God has been talking to you this whole time.’”

Says Alex with a chuckle: “She was very vocal about her faith.”

God in the picture

But Alex was not just not a believer, he was anti-Christianity.

“I was very heavily influenced by atheist speakers because I had been interested in Science and some scientists were very anti-religion.   

“So, I was very negative about Christianity. I thought Christians were highly delusional.”

It was Charmaine who got him to go to church.

“I was very negative about Christianity. I thought Christians were highly delusional.”

Their very different working styles – Alex is a “big picture guy” while Charmaine “needs to process things” and would often feel that he moved too fast – resulted in a lot of frustration on her end.

To have “smoother work relations”, he decided to go to church with her. Just once.

“I thought I would go to her ‘territory’ as a way to build connections.”

It was an answer to Charmaine’s prayers. “Vincent, the founder and managing director of H.O.P.E. Alliance, and I had been praying for his salvation.”

When Alex visited her young adult cell group cluster meeting, he refused to enter the church hall. Instead, he sat at the reception area.

Alex Yeo and Charmaine Wee founded Mental Connect to list resources for those seeking help for mental illness, especially Christian resources. Photo courtesy of Charmaine Wee.

Although he knew it was important to Charmaine that they had the same faith, Alex did not want to be a Christian just to woo her. He wanted to encounter God on his own.

“There were 100 to 200 people there so we were using a microphone and Alex could hear the cell group cluster head singing in tongues,” recalls Charmaine.

Alex said: “Things were going south at work and in my life. Hearing the tongues touched me at an emotional level.”

Interest piqued, he talked to Charmaine about tongues and started to doing his own research, watching video after video of sermons.

While Alex explored the Christian faith, he also developed feelings for Charmaine.

“The heart of my prayer was for his salvation.”

“She’s easy to love. The first thing that drew me was her compassion for people. It’s very real, to the point that she burns out even.

“She’s smart, has her own goals – I like people with their own goals. (And I like her pasta sauce!)

“As we spent more time together, these things came out more and more.”

But it was important to Charmaine that they were of the same faith.

“I went home and prayed, ‘If this guy is who You want me to be with, You have to move in a way that he knows You are real.’

“The heart of my prayer was not so much to be with him but for his salvation. I believed there was a purpose to our becoming so close.”

Alex would say the same prayer soon.

“It was a miracle. It took me an hour plus before I realised that it was the answer to my prayer.”

One day, at the home of Charmaine’s aunt for a party Charmaine was hosting, Alex found himself alone in a room with a picture of Jesus.

“I knelt there and prayed, ‘If You are real, show me You are real.’”

The next day, on the way to work with Charmaine in a ride-hailing car, the driver suddenly turns to Alex and says, ‘Bro, I don’t know why but the Lord told me to tell you not to look at others – focus on yourself, do the Lord proud.’”

Says Alex: “It was a miracle. It took me an hour plus before I realised that it was the answer to my prayer. It was my first direct encounter with God.

“Charmaine said she saw a smile on my face that was so bright after that.”

It happened that Alex had scheduled a solo backpacking “restorative trip” to Thailand shortly after. “I had planned it a long time ago.

“As I think back, I think it was like how people used to tell me about God moving even when people didn’t know Him.

“I knew the trip was going to be special – for me to get to spend time with Him and get to know Him. He had arranged it that way.”

The extended time with God with Christian books and sermons sealed Alex’s decision to be a Christian.

Alex returned with another decision. “When I came back, I asked Charmaine to be my girlfriend. I gave her a commitment ring.”

Rocky road to the altar

Asked what she likes about Alex, Charmaine recounts a definitive incident that happened even before he became a Christian.

“We were at a fast food joint having a meeting.

“An old uncle was trying to clear the trash behind Alex. He kept bumping into Alex while Alex was trying to explain something to us.”

“When he gave me the promise ring, he told me, ‘This is a serious relationship with the idea for marriage.'”

After a while, Alex stood up, turned to the uncle and told him to step aside. Then, with his bare hands, he pushed the garbage into the bag, tied it up and handed it to the man, but not before offering to take the bag out.

“I was very taken aback – in a good way,” says Charmaine.

“It takes another level of kindness to do that. There was no (personal) benefit. It was a pure act. I was deeply moved. That was what caught my interest.”

Two weeks into their relationship, Alex asked to meet Charmaine’s care team – her therapist and her psychiatrist – and went with her for her counselling sessions.

The sessions then became couple’s therapy sessions. They still see him now.

“When he gave me the promise ring, he told me, ‘I’m not going to force you to marry me but this is a serious relationship with the idea for marriage,’” recalls Charmaine. 

“God always comes in to send the right vessel to help us.”

Alex also attended training at Caregivers Alliance Limited (Singapore) to learn how to care for and support Charmaine.

But that is not to say their 18 months of courtship was easy. 

“We fought a lot. Many times, we thought we would break up,” admits Alex.

Planning for the wedding raised many triggers, especially since the couple was renovating their new flat at the same time.

“I would think, ‘Why am I the one doing everything? Is this the way it’s going to be from now on?’” says Charmaine.

“I followed you to all your (wedding dress) fittings …” interjects Alex.

“I was there too!” Charmaine says with a hint of indignance.

During their courtship, their quarrels would be so bad that they often thought they would not make it as a couple. Since then, they have learnt how to give each other space to resolve their own feelings before coming together to talk things through.

They fought over the speed at which things were done. “I told him to take care of the financing of the house because I didn’t know how to take out a loan.

“It took him forever.”

“It was the first relationship we had where we put Jesus at the centre.”

In June 2021, just months before the wedding, they had a major falling out over attending their church camp.

“I wasn’t comfortable attending at that time. I was in a bad space,” says Alex.

Says Charmaine: “To me, all the more you need the camp to encounter God. The fight was so bad I almost called off the wedding.”

What made them think they were meant to marry if things were so tough?

“God always comes in to send the right vessel to help us. It always comes through, to the point where I became convinced that God was in the relationship,” replies Alex.

Charmaine agrees: “I would worship and seek His wisdom. And God would always send someone to talk sense into me or God will tell me or help me change my mind about something.”

Alex proposing to Charmaine at The Projector.

The couple says their prayer throughout has always been that God be the third cord in their relationship.

“It was the first relationship we had where we truly surrendered and put Jesus at the centre.

“That was when I truly saw the power of God in our relationship,” says Charmaine.

Just as they thought the quarrel over the church camp would be the one thing to end their relationship – “I told God, ‘You can still close the door. We are fighting so much. Do I have to marry this guy?’ – God intervened.

“I heard the Lord say, ‘Be free to marry him. I have blessed this.'”

Charmaine attended a women’s ministry session as part of the church camp and the pastor’s wife shared her burden about marriages failing.

“She said, ‘It takes the two to have the heart to want to make it work. If they have the heart, then God can make it work.’

“It struck a chord in me. I thought: I guess we were not too far gone.”

As Charmaine worshipped God, “the presence of God was so strong in the room”.

“I was crying and I heard the Lord say, ‘Don’t worry. Be free to marry him. I have blessed this. I have ordained it and called you to be together for my purposes’,” Charmaine recalls, tearing.

Wholeness from brokenness

Last October, Alex and Charmaine tied the knot. Their happily-ever-after is not without some kinks.

His parents did not attend their wedding. The seven-year age gap between the couple – Charmaine is 38 and Alex is 31 – along with the fact that she is a Christian were too much for them to accept.

Their disapproval weighs heavily on Alex. For Charmaine, she has chosen to bless her parents-in-law through her actions.

Alex’s sister (right) was the only immediate family who attended the wedding.

“I make things for them or I encourage Alex to spend the day with them.”

While the age gap does not bother Charmaine – “I’m so immature and he’s so mature” – it does colour the couple’s decisions.

“So, instead of BTO, which would take a longer time, we decided to buy a resale flat,” says Alex.

“Age does make us think of fostering or adoption as well.”

“I learnt to put my desires aside. I have found some peace.”

Charmaine is hesitant about having children for other reasons. “I’m scared. I don’t know how the kids will turn out because of my mental health issues and Alex has severe migraines.

“Recently, I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidism.”

The condition is characterised by an underactive thyroid which results in a lack of thyroid hormones produced. This slows the metabolism and can cause fatigue, weight gain and an inability to tolerate cold temperatures.

“Sometimes, after one round at the supermarket, I’m exhausted,” says Charmaine.

Alex adds: “I never imagined that at such a young age I would be thinking of potentially not having kids.

“It was a big question for me during the dating phase. But I came to the conclusion that having a kid is a big responsibility. If we’re not ready for the kid, then it’ll do no justice to the fella.

“I learnt to put my desires aside. It has come to the point where I have found some peace.”

Meanwhile, the couple has been using their journey with mental health to bless others.

Charmaine and Alex in Nepal on a mission trip to visit Little Bells Promiseland, an orphanage supported by Promises Healthcare.

Alex, who used to have suicide ideation, now works in Caring for Life which aims to create communities to support those with suicide ideation. Charmaine is with Promises Healthcare, which offers psychiatric and psychological care. Together, they are strong advocates of mental well-being.

They started Mental Connect, a website that serves as a directory for mental health resources, including Christian ones, while they were still dating. They also minister as a couple to people struggling with their mental health.

“The difference is ‘till death do us part’. I made a promise that I will do what it takes to make it work so I will try my darndest.”

“Some are from church. Some approach me. I see them because God has placed it on my heart to do this. So, those that He sends, I try to help,” says Charmaine. 

“I was thinking that Alex and I make a good match. It is more than both of us being Christians – our goals, our viewpoints about God and how we serve Him, we are equally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14). We had talked about these at length. It was one of the first few things we did when we got together.”

And how has marriage changed the relationship?

“We’re calmer now,” says Alex.

Charmaine adds: “The difference is ‘till death do us part’. I made a promise that I will do what it takes to make it work, so I will try my darndest.  

“Since we’ve been married, Alex has moved my heart to fall more in love with him. So, effectively, I love him more now than when we got married.”


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.

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