Relationships - Together we can
by Aparna Jacob
Alternatives to marriageSunjoy and Puneeta Roy admit having married under societal pressure. Otherwise the couple belive that "marriage as an institution is obsolete".
They argue: "What is it that you can do in
Make it workCommunicate
Listen, listen, listen. Listen patiently. And try to understand what your spouse is saying.
Avoid bashing those ideas even if you think the person is in the
Intimate matesIn its truest form, sex is not only connected to a sense of pleasure, but also to love and commitment. The ultimate sexual experience is a deep and satisfying union that is emotional, spiritual and
Let us, for a while, put on hold the modern cynicism we are prone to. As the following stories will testify, love followed by the bliss of matrimony can strike anytime, any place. Even in the hostile times we live in.
Meet Rajat and Dola Banerjee, journalists who, notwithstanding the pressures of long hours and deadlines, managed to embark on the assignment of a lifetime. Together.
"We worked in the same office and I used to send Dola messages over LAN," laughs Rajat as he looks fondly at his wife of nearly five years. As they grew closer, common interests and mutual concerns cemented this bond. It didn't need any thinking to realize that marriage was the sure conclusion to their relationship of two and a half years.
"Not that he ever formally asked me to marry him," puts in Dola between attending to their adopted nine-month-old daughter, Gourika. They plan to eventually have a child, biologically. But for now, their world is perfect. Shalini and Vikram Mehta met as majority of couples in India do-through relatives.
and Anku Pande Shalini was immediately drawn to Vikram's simple, earthy attitude. Vikram sought a wife who was educated and independent, someone like her. The two gave their consent within an hour. After the brief courtship that followed, they were married in 1998.
Today, their relationship has matured into one of deep understanding and companionship. The birth of their son Aryan a year ago was the fruition of these qualities.
The last century has proved to be a graveyard for institutions such as the state and religion, believed to be cornerstones of most cultures.
The term 'marriage', unromantically enough may be taken to denote the action, contract, formality or ceremony by which the conjugal union is formed.
But, to the bafflement of many and the credit of most, matrimony survives as the source of strength and joy to people around the globe. As a ritual, matrimony is ancient. The word is derived from the Latin 'maritare', which means union under the auspices of the goddess Aphrodite-Mari. The Vedas also exhort: "United your resolve, united your hearts, may your spirits be one, that you may long together dwell in unity and concord!"
According to Pt R.K. Sharma, a noted remedial astrologer based in Delhi, the Vedas have also stressed that the mutual spiritual unfolding of husband and wife is the central purpose of marriage. Man and woman are soulmates who, through the institution of marriage, can direct the energy associated with their individual instincts and passion into the progress of their souls.
The importance assigned to marriage can be seen in the elaborate and complex laws and rituals-associated primarily with fecundity-surrounding it. These assert a familial or communal sanction to the mutual choice, and an understanding of the difficulties and sacrifices involved in making what is considered a lifelong commitment.
Most counselors assert that spouses in a happy marriage are more productive on the job, are physically healthier and experience less emotional stress than their unhappily married counterparts. A married couple face a lower cost of living since the expenses and the household chores are shared by two people.
They also raise happier, healthier, more confident children who go on to have happy marriages themselves. The initial parent-child bonding is most elemental in the shaping and development of a personality.
"Just as children suffering from vitamin D deficiency grow up with distorted limbs, so children deprived of parental love develop rickets of the soul", says Rashna Imhasly Gandhy, Delhi-based psychotherapist and author of Psychology of Love.
She warns that there is no differentiation between child and parent at the pre-ego development and so the world of the parent is that of the child and a 'conflict ridden' relationship permeates through to the child.
Being drawn into the battle lines very early, they can get caught in biased views of life without having a chance to develop their own 'self' or own inner voice.
The socio-economic advantages accruing from such an alliance are, however, hardly sufficient to sustain the bond between two individuals.
And, in an age of short-fused personalities, the escalating divorce rates come as no surprise. Admittedly, the institution is not without its flaws.
For instance, with nuclear families being the norm today, you are locked in with a single person. Marriage requires that you give up a great deal of freedom because many decisions have to be taken jointly.
"Unfortunately, the fact that most couples find marriage a claustrophobic arrangement is the reason divorces are on the rise," comments Bhavna Barmi, clinical psychologist at Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre in Delhi."
At the same time an increasing number of people are also trying hard to make their marriages work with morals, ethics and marriage once more in vogue."
Unlike the western civilization where love precedes marriage, in India the assumption largely is that love between the partners comes after marriage. Arranged marriages are still the norm though the number of love marriages is steadily increasing.
Observes Barmi: "Everyone admits that compatibility is the key. Therefore love or arranged, it's imperative that the couple get to know each other before marriage."
These mixed trends point towards one fact-in today's fast-paced world, men and women need each other more, not less. A good marriage can offset the loneliness of life in crowded cities and provide refuge from the hammering pressures of the competitive workplace.
Divorce today is ubiquitous and as simple as a trip to the nearest courthouse-a sad truth augmented by the fact that couples today work longer hours, travel extensively and juggle careers with family and such forces tugging at the relationship.
Sunjoy and Puneeta Roy Modern marriages are battered with financial concerns, the vicissitudes of childcare, the changing role of women and the usual Sturm und Drang of modern life. Succumbing to the 'I want out' syndrome thus seems the easiest thing to do.
Dr Rajan Bhonsale, who runs the Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Mumbai with his wife Minnu Bhonsale, observes: "Almost 80 per cent of marriages both in India and the West are in turmoil today."
Dr. Bhonsale adds, "Many couples may seem outwardly happy but they have nothing in common any more. Other couples may have a sick dependency on each other, based on fulfilling individual needs. But in both cases, they are at least emotionally divorced."
Manisha's marriage of eight years was fast crumbling before her eyes. The exuberant Manisha was reduced to a shadow of her former self. Her tendency to discuss and analyze experiences and emotions wasn't reciprocated by her husband.
Estrangement crept in until Manisha began retreating into a 'shell'. The communication breakdown was making her emotionally sterile. Recognizing the harm it was causing her, she called it quits.
"Emotional, temperamental and sexual incompatibility are leading crack-builders in a marriage," says Barmi. "Though couples may be aware of difference of opinions and interests during courtship, these get magnified only when you spend a lot of time with each other as after marriage."
Physical proximity is perhaps the most obviously important factor in sustaining a marriage. Over 20 per cent of her cases, Barmi reveals, pertain to sexual incompatibility, which could also refer to seeking too much. Many women allege that their husbands want to have sex several times a day. The sexual relationship is often an indicator of how well the couple is faring on the marital front.
"I see many marriages pulled apart because of the inability to sacrifice individual needs," comments Minnu Bhonsale. "And after the early romance has worn off, it's easy to lose sight of those special endearing qualities of each other in the daily grind of the mundane and dreary."
Anjali and Sukhdeepak Malvai Sad but true, things as commonplace as doing the dishes can lead to incessant and stinging bickering. Rajat speaks of a friend in Chennai who constantly complains that his wife is a bad housekeeper. The shabby state of their home is a bone of contention between the two.
"But, if he has a problem, he can clean it himself." feels Rajat. All issues should be understood by both individuals, which depends on how mature they are.
A lesson learnt the hard way by Dipti Priya Mehrotra, a divorcee: "I was 26 when I married a fellow activist. We were totally unprepared to take on the burden of running a household and looking after a child. Our work and interests suffered and we were constantly competing like rivals about who gets to work more. Working out basics is essential to keeping a marriage going."
Not taking into account the grit and grime that constitute it, walking into matrimony with unrealistic expectations can often break its spine. Especially in the case of love marriages, where disenchantment sets in when unrealistic images are dashed.
Puneeta Roy, married to ad film-maker Sunjoy Roy for a happy 16 years, recounts: "After being married to Sunjoy for four years, I realized that the very things that attracted me to him had started annoying me."
Sunjoy and Puneeta also warn against having too many expectations from the other: "Give because you want to and not because you expect quid pro quo. The minute you start expecting too much, it's doomed."
But Puneeta concedes: "In a marriage one partner invariably begins to cling to the other for emotional support, stifling him or her." Rows are expected when two individuals come together. But these can often be heightened, sometimes irreconcilably, by the difference in their backgrounds.
Ramon Chibb, who has been married to Anku Pande for the past four years, advises: "If you are marrying into a different community, you have to be sure because it is not as hunky-dory as it sounds. Anku is from the Brahmin community where rituals are very important. Although she doesn't believe in them, they are so ingrained in her that we began to notice the differences."
Often, society isn't very accommodating of couples from diverse backgrounds. As in the case of journalist Sultan Shahin, a Muslim married to Pragya, a Hindu. They fought against it together and have been married 23 years now.
"We m ight seem to have a lot of differences," says Sultan, but these societal and political problems did not interfere and break their marriage. Given the Indian scenario of 'marrying not the person, but his or her family', the matrimonial ship often sets sail, cargoed by the hopes and expectations of families and friends involved.
Arpita Anand, counseling psychologist at Max Healthcare, Delhi, speaks of couples who approach her not because their relationship is in jeopardy but because interference from the in-laws is creating problems. True, it would take more than the centrifugal forges of society to rip apart the fabric of a marriage woven with the threads of trust and commitment.
However, specific concerns intrinsic to such relationships, like varying preferences-the way the kids should be brought up, their religion and food habits, conflicting personality types of the couples and dissimilar intellectual levels-could still pose a threat. But problems that beset cross-cultural or inter-caste marriages are the same as those faced by others.
Fidelity would still remain the fundamental contract in the marriage, tied to issues of honesty and faith. A couple in their early 40s found their marriage on the rocks. The husband had had a couple of extramarital affairs.
When his wife found out, she was disturbed. But he later took great pains to reassure her and rid her of her insecurity. Counseling helped salvage this marriage.
Pragya and Sultan Shahin This was a lucky instance. But forgiving an errant spouse over the demands of your own bruised ego is easier said than done. With women increasingly becoming self-reliant, such compromises need to come from both sides, not just the wife as it traditionally did.
As Arpita points out: "Women have a greater sense of self-esteem now, demanding good relationships, including their marriage. They have other people and their jobs to fall back on. It is true that a lot of marriages are breaking because women today are much more independent."
Disagreements over money (if one person is frugal and the other is a spendthrift), laziness (if one partner is not willing to put in the effort required to make a marriage work or keep the household functioning).
A particular kind of illness, particularly psychological one like depression or anxiety, can also mar a marriage. Arpita adds substance abuse and physical and mental abuse to the list.
"In cases of physical or mental abuse, the partner being abused should leave to retain her health and sanity," she argues. If violent abuse begins within one or two years of marriage, there are greater chances of the marriage breaking.
With some irredeemable reasons riddling marriages in 30 per cent of the cases that come in for counseling experts concede that the couple must part ways.
The Bhonsales insist that a crucial part of counseling involves understanding when to let a marriage go. For instance, marriage with a substance abuser is doomed, unless the addict is determined to change.
Admittedly, following rules and regulations for a 'perfect marriage' is as good as a shot in the dark.
However, a few basic tenets, tried, tested and largely commonsensical, are highly recommended. For starters, both partners must adhere to a realistic definition of marriage.
Being together 24/7 means understanding each other, acknowledging your habits and peculiarities and trying to accept those of your spouse.
Know that there will be a new revelation every day, that emotions will go swish-swoosh and that your partner will change over time.
In fact, the longer the marriage, the better you know how to accept and handle these surprises that infuse novelty in the relationship.
Hold on to each other and wait for the relationship to come a full circle. Love still conquers all. If there is genuine love, it can overcome quarrels, depression, work pressures, children and even sexual conflicts.
However, "most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved rather than that of loving, of one's capacity to love," warns Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving.
Even if marriage as a concept is losing its relevance today, we still need love that is sympathetic, passionate, tender, nurturing and erotic.
Be it a love or an arranged marriage, it is strong if tended by selfless love. And if given the time, love is sure to bloom, as it did in the lucky instance of Ella and Sandeep Nanda.
The two were introduced by their families and approved of each other within minutes of their meeting.
While most relationships tentatively commence with friendship, their's began with fights, fears and frustrations despite two months of courtship. Today, the two deeply value the mature love that has gradually grown and are best of friends.
According to Ella: "The trick is to keep at it and persist till it works." Yet, occasional fights are good.
For Cosima Klinger Paul and her husband Solil Paul, having a clash sometimes is important to expunge one's frustrations and truths and to set new limits.
"It is like throwing up to clear your system," as Solil puts it. Sultan Shahin philosophises that every person is in the world to learn a lesson. What we are here to learn in this life is the area where we will face problems, conflicts and failures.
So, it is important to have a dialogue on all thoughts and feelings to tide over differences that are bound to surface.
The coming together of two individuals involves conflicting of what spiritual teacher Aparna Jha refers to as 'projections' and 'shadows', which are controlled by the ego.
The shadows involve anger, insecurity, greed, malice, every kind of resentment, bitterness and general instability.
The projections normally are of great stability, calmness, joy, peace and happiness, of great maturity, serenity, great wisdom and generosity.
In certain relationships where the shadows completely consume the personality, it becomes difficult to carry on.
If you do continue, which is extremely negative in nature, it will cause a great deal of negative karma to follow. Transcending the shadows and arriving at the Self is what Aparna recommends.
Of those who pursue spirituality, Rashna says sometimes people live the 'split archetype' where they escape to ashrams or churches for refuge.
Back home, they are unable to integrate the teachings and live them. Here, the spirit splits off into pride, and is not connected to the heart, leading to 'soul hunger'.
In such cases she has noticed the uninvolved partner harbor as much resentment towards the 'spiritual teacher' as there is towards an 'extra-marital' partner, with part of the soul life of the involved partner being lived away from home.
With 'soul starvation', she says, "it looks for other outlets, other partners and material goodies but remains a bottomless pit which can never be filled", leading to depression, meaninglessness and substance and material addictions.
Research shows that couples who have sustained their marriage usually have a positive and pragmatic view of marriage.
Cosima met Solil at a camp in Himachal Pradesh, a state in northern India, and within eight months of dating, they decided to marry. Cosima came from Austria and was 39 and Solil was 43 at the time.
The first question, she specifies, was not whether she would marry him, but whether she would be ready to move to India for him because he did not want to move out. And she did.
Giving each other their space is a requisite in our times. As more and more women become self-reliant and aware of their individuality, they are beginning to demand their space. For instance, Sunjoy always introduces Puneeta with 'meet Puneeta', never as 'my wife Puneeta'.
"He acknowledges the fact that I am my own person with my own identity," explains Puneeta. Communication, as counselors never tire of stressing, is crucial to marriage.
After her divorce, Manisha met Sandeep Choudhary, who was facing similar problems in his marriage. Since the two of them were intellectually inclined and were analytic by nature, they felt they had finally met their match in each other. According to Manisha: "Unless it is a union between two equals, it can be frustrating".
Joss B.P.M. Van De Ven, a Scientologist and auditor at the Dianetics Centre in Delhi, concurs: "There should be some parity of intellect and sanity between a husband and wife for them to have a successful marriage."
For Sukhdeepak Malvai, the communication between him and his wife, a reiki master, is often from the mind. He doesn't need to inform her he is unwell. She senses it. 'Talk it out' is the mantra most couples follow and often conversations are gently steered to a point where they can point out the problem and make amends.
"We are always talking… we have excellent communication skills", says Anku. "I do all the talking, he does all the listening," she quips.
Rajan and Minnu Bhonsale Good communication rules out the commotion that a third party intervention can cause. Sultan Shahin strongly believes spouses can always sort out their problems.
"My marriage probably has no problems because I have convictions and she has faith," he says.
For the Roys, it is also about one person relenting at some point of time because two big egos cannot co-exist in a marriage. "Because people are always trying to get heard, they are always in conflict," feels Puneeta.
Although it is not true that love marriages are usually the ones that go bust, what makes them delicate are the expectations attached to them.
Says Rajat: "Since expectations are low in an arranged marriage, they work better." When early in the relationship, Dola told him that she had no expectations, which sounded rude to him then. Now he concedes that if one builds unnatural expectations, the person is more vulnerable to disappointments.
Aparna Jha recommends detachment from the personality. "Detachment, stemming from your sense of self, maximizes your ability to care, to love, to understand other people. This happens because you are not attached to your own personality… making space for other people and understanding them better."
Even Cosima and Solil married with no expectations. Cosima recalls: "In the initial years itself, I remember him telling me, 'please don't try to change me'."
When both the partners are ready to adapt to each other, the two grow and evolve together.
"Don't hold me responsible for your happiness or unhappiness," was also what Sunjoy told Puneeta.
It was some time before she realized that it was her own expectation that dictated her happiness or disappointment, easing things. The ideas of evolving together and providing space to grow resonate with one more facet of marriage: that spirituality can go a long way in leavening and reconciling a marriage.
Says Dr Bhonsale: "Marriage can work only if it is seen as a spiritual partnership, where each helps the other to grow." Where there is genuine love, priorities of your love precede everything else in life. Marriages tend to be haunted by ghosts from the past.
"That must not make it a compromise out of the fear of being rejected or to assuage childhood wounds or merely to fulfil your sexual desires," stresses Bhonsale.
For Sandeep and Manisha, spiritual compatibility is imperative because other forms of compatibility rest on it. Practising yoga, meditation or reiki can help you curb negativity born out of criticism, unreal demands, grudges and cursing.
Empathy, hearing the other one out, ignoring inconsequential idiosyncrasies and adding humor to reconcile differences are some other things one needs to look at.
At Engaged Encounter, run by the Catholic Church in Mumbai, regular pre-marital workshops held for couples cover aspects like encountering the self, spirituality and the sacrament of marriage as well as the relevance of communication, unity in marriage, morality and sexuality.
Father Ferrando, director of the programme, feels that only if a person loves himself can he love another.
For the Bhonsales, being on the path of that inner journey helps achieve the honesty called for in a relationship.
This can help you be the kalyan mitra (noble friend) Buddha spoke of, who has the other's well-being at heart and can mirror mistakes without any hidden agenda.
Such couples constantly provoke each other into thinking at a deeper level, their way of effecting growth orientation. Sukhdeepak and Anjali share their energy as part of being together.
For Sultan Shahin, what is important is the appreciation of personalities and complementing each other, "filling the gaps for each other''.
People who treat marriage as a commitment as against a tide of emotions tend to take it seriously.
As Fromme states in his book: "The miracle of sudden intimacy is often facilitated if it is combined with, or initiated by, sexual attraction and consummation. However, this type of love is by its very nature not lasting."
As a dream interpreter, Cosima feels that the messages dreams convey can also provide a balance because everything that needs to be understood is within you, we just need to listen to the Self.
She has never dreamt of her husband, she points out. Happily married? Yes, she says: "If I don't dream of him, it means everything is all right."
She believes everything is in the psyche of both the persons. For instance, if a couple wishes for a baby, both of them will dream of it.
Having come from a joint family, Rajesh Bhola, who worked in Life Positive's design department for a few years, had numerous problems dealing with monetary and emotional pressures when he and wife Madhu moved into their own house, giving rise to a lot of matrimonial disharmony.
He succumbed to alcohol addiction and smoking. Madhu gently coaxed him into attending Asaram Bapu's satsangs, bringing peace back to their household.
Today, he is all praise for her, and is glad that he followed the spiritual path she showed him. For Minnu also, when you care, you tend to be creative in making the relationship work.
"I know what'd make Rajan feel special, so when he comes home tired, I press his shoulders…or when I come home from classes, he will please my finicky sense of cleanliness by clearing up any mess."
There are certainly no sure-fire rules. But working towards sustaining a marriage is worth attempting. Consistency is the key to every achievement.
And for all the offerings that a marriage bestows on society, on your children and on you, there is a need to live up to it. There is one truth about all relationships-the more you invest in them, the better you help them grow. Marriage? Ditto.
-With inputs from Suma Varughese
Photographs by Martin Louis.
Subject: Nice article - 30 May 2012
Nice and inspiring article.
Subject: in-laws issue - 16 April 2012
My marriage is badly struck by my in-laws, they keep control of everything.. despite my being so qualified, i have been so submissive... still my MIL managed to put hatred for me in my husband‘s heart. I am sticking here just for my son, else there‘s nothing left between us.. no More...
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