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 Alternatives to marriage Sunjoy 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 Otherwise the couple belive that ‘marriage as an institution is obsolete’.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 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 th
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