Are you right for me?

Madhavan and Paro came from differing backgrounds yet fell in love when they met in college. Parents from both sides, were against their relationship. They cried, argued and fought trying to make their parents understand the importance of their relationship. At times, they were also willing to pay heed to their parents’ concern only so they could use the opportunity to reiterate that they were baseless and both of them were perfect for each other. Neither of them were willing to elope since they wanted their parents’ blessings so after six years of bitter battle, their parents finally relented and they were married with much aplomb.

But 8 months after marrying with everyone’s blessing and societal approval, they filed for divorce on grounds of incompatibility!

Initially I thought perhaps the parents on either side were at it again and making life difficult for the couple but on close interaction found that it wasn’t the case. Irrespective of the many “I told you so” remarks floating around they broke up solely because they couldn’t live with each other!

Similarly another couple fell in love and married against parental wishes. They probably wouldn’t have married at all if there was a neutral someone who had simply asked them to look inwards in terms of what they truly wanted from each other, from their relationship – someone who nudged them to see that they were not right for each other as was starkly evident to outsiders. Unfortunately, no one did. Today, their every day is enmeshed in bitter arguments and adjustment issues. Even the birth of their child didn’t help matters.

When I began writing this post, I was thinking of discussing parental beliefs and viewpoints – how important these tend to be when deciding if a life partner is right for us. Consciously or otherwise, they are indicative of our future life. However, what I found truly intriguing was the underlying issue of how couples unanimously stood up to the world as one yet were unable to uphold that stance when face to face with each other!

Why?

In these cases, is it because for the longest time, their relationship solely meant adjusting and compromising to their respective families instead of addressing each other’s emotional needs? The battle with their parents took up so much mental space leaving them with hardly any time to talk about their expectations from each other, their personal beliefs, fears and goals, their future together amongst others. These are hardly issues when one is dating as then conversations mostly centre around likes, dislikes, enjoying moments of togetherness and physical intimacy. The physical intimacy phase is also one where the intention is to please rather than being vocal about being pleased or pleasing oneself.

Every person is unique and invariably upbringing, value systems, financial backgrounds, personal internalized conflicts influenced by respective families all determine and play a significant role when choosing a partner. Sometimes people look for partners who are totally different from themselves or their parents or their experiences as they feel that it will help to change their lives. After all, we’re all looking to live different lives. On the other hand sometimes we’re drawn to certain qualities or habits that unconsciously or at deeper insight are actually the kind of relationships we’ve seen growing up simply because we believe that we’re capable of changing them. Our future will be better and we will live different lives!

4cd1adc1775c3ce544bfe2a2612075c2But the irony of the situation is that the constant justifying to parents can take a toll on the personal relationship. I believe that some times having to justify also pressurises couples and puts them in false positions – someone might highlight a valid negative point which the couple might have overlooked or ignored but feels forced to take a side to keep up a front. Some times couples feel defensive if they’ve realised the same yet don’t know how to discuss it with their partner. Yet again something said during these arguments might have hurt the other partner – so although on the face of it things might seem ok but the person might be unable to forgive or forget how it had made them feel. And invariably it finds a way into future discussions and arguments!

It is crucial to try to understand our partners but more importantly we should first get to know ourselves better. If we don’t respect our own wants, needs and desires then we risk having to live someone else’s lives or their expectations. During such times, the power of love takes a backseat and we start regretting marrying the person we love. As seen with the second couple, although they’re not keen to divorce because of their child, that hasn’t meant that they’re civil to one another.

Thomas Merton in No Man Is An Island says “the beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

Choosing the right partner is such a challenge and much has been written about how to pick them. So perhaps at times, it’s easier to just accept that something didn’t happen SIMPLY because it wasn’t supposed to!

Marriage is Not a 50-50 affair

I was recently reading the guide to intimate relations that Reader’s Digest had published in 1999 and it brought back memories. I was going through a rough patch some years ago – seriously questioning why I had married and what was making me stay in the marriage. That’s when a close friend said, ‘marriage is a 50-50 partnership. Each of you need to be equally involved to make this work – that’s the vow you took when you married and you can’t back out of it now’.

Well his comment at that point in my life made me rethink if I was being selfish, just thinking about myself – addressing only those issues that mattered to me, impacted my life instead of looking at the alternative view – my husband’s? So I took a step back, tried to curb my instinctual reactions and made an effort to re-look at the good things we had going as a couple.

The rough patch passed or did it? In some ways it had but then again sometimes I’ve felt that those issues that we’d shoved under the carpet had ways of raising their ugly head once in a while.

Its much later in our lives together, that we both realized and more importantly accepted and acknowledged that marriage is NOT a 50-50 affair.

When my husband took up photography as a hobby, we enjoyed spending time together. I accompanied him on his travels and it was fun. He shared his thoughts on photography with me and wanted my inputs on the images he took. He inherently likes to delve deep into anything that interests him – in this case he researched on cameras, lighting, exposure, Photoshop, lenses etc – he slowly developed his expertise to the extent that his friends looked up to him for his opinion and advice. He would talk to me at length too about the different facets of photography – some of which I enjoyed but realized very soon that I didn’t share the same passion for photography. I didn’t totally understand the concepts behind the making of a photograph although aesthetically they appealed to me. I couldn’t converse with him with the same authority and soon got bored. I truly wanted to share his pleasure but it did take us a long time to realize that some joys are solo activities.

Similarly I loved to read and write, watch crime serials, play word games or Sudoku – none of which required interaction with others. When we’re on a holiday I like to carry a book along and believe in lazing around. My husband on the other hand prefers to check out local spots, take photographs, enjoy the local cuisine, and meet new people. We each looked at a holiday in different ways. It’s taken us some time to accept, accommodate and let go – allowing each other the option to do different things and at other times accommodating the other’s view do something’s together. I still regret the time when my friend offered me the opportunity to travel with her to Hong Kong – I declined as my husband was busy working and couldn’t accompany us. I believed that as a couple; we should always travel together (except when travelling on work). But years later, as I still regret that decision I now know that I should have gone ahead – travelling without him for fun didn’t mean I loved him any less nor did it mean that there were no feelings of ‘togetherness’!

After our daughter was born, we took the joint decision that I would stay home with her and work either part-time or on projects from home. Of course it meant that he was completely responsible for bringing in the moolah – a real pressure especially since we’d lived life king size as DINKS for a long time. The decision felt right for some time, rather most of the time except when I was physically and mentally drained looking after my daughter and desperately needed a break, when people only insisted speaking to me about motherhood and child upbringing, when I felt lost without the work ‘anchor’! On the other hand he too had his own battles to deal with, used to be equally tired after a long day’s work and needed ‘me’ time to unwind and relax. Although tempers flared often, the point was that apart from regular work, he too did a lot of other things around the house, shared many a responsibility. I too had help at home which helped hugely when I was working on projects from home. So our expectations from each other and our new roles in life needed to be revised.

The idea that an equal marriage had to mean identical experiences for us wasn’t true as it ignored our personal preferences. It’s a trap to assume that a marriage can be a 50-50 in all spheres, all the time. It only leads to unrealistic notions as no two people are identical in emotions, interests or responsibilities. Nor can two people divide their skills in some identically ‘fair’ way.

What is important in marriages is the spirit of 50-50, with the flexibility of give and take. Emotional equality where both partners felt equally loved, shared in family decisions and contributed equally to the family’s well-being – that perhaps is the kind of equality that really works.