By Aparna Jacob
September 2002 With exploding egos, stressful lifestyles and altering attitudes, the image of enduring marriage is crumbling. However, traditional prescriptions of love, communication and respect for each other hold good today, when men and women need each other even more than ever before
They argue: ‘What is it that you can do in a marriage that you can’t do outside it?’
A view endorsed by Dipti Priya Mehrotra who finds marriage a confining institution.
A social activist, she has been exposed to the most gruesome underside of marriage—dowry demands, bride burning, physical and mental abuse by in-laws.
Her own unsuccessful marriage shattered any remaining illusions of marriage as a way to be happy.
Dipti is critical of the so-called ‘lasting marriages’, which are seldom more than an arrangement of compromise: ‘‘Most marriages will go on smoothly for a long time if the set stereotypical patterns were adhered to.’
She continues, ‘Society should give individuals space to ask real questions like ‘what really makes me happy?’ and ‘what is love?’’
‘Marriage thwarts you, stops you from exploring other relationships and tapping into other sources of love and affection.
Why limit yourself to one human being? By doing that we’re overloading this relationship’, says Dipti.
It’s worth considering that ‘a primary commitment to a man reflects only one opportunity for intimacy in a world that is rich with possibilities for connectedness and attachment,’ as spiritual gurus exhort.
She suggests that the answer perhaps lies in reworking the institution of marriage, away from the rigid roles specified by society.
It’s not necessary that a live-in relation will be mutually respectable. Any relationship between two individuals should give them enough space to develop and mature.
‘‘To navigate that delicate balance between separateness and connectedness and that we confront the challenge of sustaining both—without losing either,’’ as Harriet Lerner puts it.
Defining sexuality within the narrow parameters of marriage is another irksome factor. This led to the trend of cohabitation, popularly referred to as live-ins.
Same-gender couples who are not legally allowed to marry avail of this option. Open marriages where sexual promiscuity is of little significance are on the rise.
Women’s lib has seen a rising number of women who choose to remain single, adopt a child or conceive through artificial insemination or other means.Make it work Communicate 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 wrong. Save the criticism for later. Also, talk, talk, talk.
Tell the person everything you feel. To expect your partner to understand everything without being told is expecting too much. Give Space Made-for-each-other doesn’t imply binding each other.
You are two different people who need some personal space to develop as individuals.
Not only will it keep both zestful, it will also provide you with a lot more to keep your marriage bustling and breathing. Fight fair Fight your battle with your partner. It will only clear things up. But make it fair.
Trying to win a fight is not the solution. The idea should be to curb your anger and solve differences without letting arguments go out of control.
Don’t forget to throw the egos out of the window. Avoid role playingThe husband can cook and the woman can earn.
Just because you are married, you don’t have to get caught into a daily rut of being husband and wife.
It is a partnership, not ownership. Be patient What you thought was endearing about your spouse when you were only dating, is probably the reason you are fighting.
Or you have discovered things about the person you think you would rather scoot for hell than witness.
Learn to work around them because expecting perfection from anyone is unrealistic and can get too demanding. Get intimate Get intimate With pleasure, good sex also conveys love and commitment.
It is a way to bond in private where you are leaving aside alien factors ravaging your relationship. Think positive There are pros and cons to every heartfelt relationship.
What you need to do is look at those positive aspects of your relationship that can further strengthen your marriage.
Simultaneously, work on the weaker points so they don’t surface too often. Empathy Get over ‘you said’ and ‘you did’. Look within and try putting yourself in the shoes of your partner.
It will give you a whole new perspective that you might need to work upon even if it means sacrificing your preferences. Accept If you think fighting over his alcoholism is the way out, you need a shift of paradigm.
Accepting the person for who he or she is, is more likely to change the person, lending security and belief to your love. Fine-TuneEverything has its tiding and ebbing. That doesn’t imply you stop working on yor marriage.
You need to continue to foster love and resoect for a lasting bond. Make a journey of joyful growth. Money affairs ‘When money is tight, couples fight’.
The earning partner should not feel in control of the house for the support he or she is providing.
And the spendthrift should hold his reins if the other has sleepless nights over managing the finances.
Not enough? Resort to financial counselling.Intimate mates In 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 physical. Sex undeniably plays a vital role in a marriage. The richness that can be experienced through sex will follow when the other essential ingredients—represented by commitment, love, union, pleasure and oft times even the possibility of procreation—are in place. Harriet Lerner in The Dance of Intimacy, correctly says: ‘‘It is when we stay in a relationship over time—whether by necessity or choice—that our capacity for intimacy is truly put to the test.’’ Strong emotional bonding often precedes warm and intimate sex. Neglecting either aspect could lead to problems, such as the man looking out for better sex, or the woman nagging her way out due to sexual frustration. Dr Bhavna Barmi points out that sex has the power to salvage a marriage. ‘‘Physical proximity is important in sustaining a marriage. Often, despite marital discords, if the sexual relationship is good, the marriage survives,’’ she says. Sex is a healthy form of releasing frustration and resolving conflicts. The saying ‘‘All fights should end in bed’’ is true. Ramon and Anku second this. ‘‘If you have a fight then sex works a lot.’’ However, most couples insist that sex, though important, is only part of the larger picture. Shalini and Vikram, who choose to call it love-making rather than sex, testify that it helps them bond better. Ella and Sandeep give physical intimacy top priority in their marriage. ‘‘We make it a point to spend at least half an hour together each day. It’s important to make those little moments special, by holding hands, taking a walk together, touching, talking about the day before going to bed.’’ After 13 years of marriage, sex as an act is not as important for Sukhdeepak and Anjali. But the couple have a deep physical connection, even if simply touching. For Sunjoy and Puneeta, sex is an expression of oneself, a means of communicating with each other. But Sunjoy insists: ‘‘Sexual fidelity is of no consequence in a marriage. If you love each other, you can have a fling or a one-night stand. As long as the basis of your relationship remains strong, it won’t be affected.’’ Both of them have had affairs. But they believe that fidelity is not the be-all and end-all of the relationship. There’s more to a marriage, including a basic foundation of trust and honesty. Says Sunjoy: ‘‘Marriage gives you an avenue to explore your sexuality. But you need not restrict yourself. If you feel the need to explore and understand your sexuality, you should go ahead.’’ Counselors like Arpita Anand and Barmi insist that sex does not have a causal relationship with marriage. It’s not that because the relationship is not good that the sex is not there, or that the relationship is sour so the sex is not good. But if sex is a problem, then it can certainly have a negative effect. Over 20 per cent of the cases referred to counsellors have to do with sexual incompatibility. Barmi generally recommends that couples have sex on a daily basis in their first year of marriage, then slow down towards the 30s to twice or thrice a week and to once a week when they hit their 40s.
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.
|Ramon Chibb |
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 spo
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