While I am theoretically a big believer in preparation, and it makes sense from a logical perspective to be prepared for life’s most important decisions, I have also embarked on some of the most important decisions in my life spontaneously, based purely on instinct and without much preparation. Maybe it’s just luck but they turned out ok (so far).
I agreed to marry V within three months of meeting him. I asked one practical question: “Can you afford to buy a house?” Then, my friend prompted me to ask others such as “how much do you earn?” “where will we live?” etc. But I would have happily married V anyway.
The church has made it mandatory for couples to do a marriage-prep course where they raise such issues as budget, attitude to child-rearing, household chores etc., those gritty details over which many marriages stumble. V and I skipped this and we never really discussed many of these important issues beforehand. It just turned out that we are on the same page on many of them. When we aren’t, we fight, we work through it, we compromise, sometimes grudgingly. Sometimes it is literally a battle of the wills and cunning negotiation. Luckily, none of them have been deal-breakers, maybe because we realised that what we have is more precious than even principles.
So yeah, I went into my marriage with little real thought and preparation. But I did pick up some tips from here and there that have been useful and that’s why I value shared experience.
1. My brother-in-law told me that the first year of marriage would be the worst. If you can get through that, you’re set, he said. The first year of my marriage was not the worst because half of it I wasn’t even in the same country as V and the other half, we were besotted with the idea of being in the same place. However, the second year of marriage, where the real adjustment started, was hard. It helped me to know that others had been through this phase.
2. The lady who told me “do your own thing”. She was an older Muslim aunty, so if she can carve out a space in her marriage to “do her own thing”, I’m sure we all can. This is related to the idea of not expecting your partner to be everything at all times.
3. The priest at my cousin’s wedding who advised the couple to not only pray together (well he was a priest) but to also play together. V and I have recently started playing scrabble on my phone and I can definitely say it’s made our marriage stronger, despite the fact that I am always losing and I get quite grumpy when I lose. But overall it’s fun and it keeps the lightness and the playfulness in our relationship alive. Our helper watches us fighting over scrabble with much amusement every evening.
And here’s what I picked up from this book:
a) The idea of windows and walls in a marriage:
The windows are the aspects of your relationship that are open to the world – that is, the necessary gaps through which you interact with family and friends; the walls are the barriers or trust behind which you guard the the most intimate secrets of your marriage. What often happens, though, during so-called harmless friendships, is that you begin sharing intimacies with your new friend that belong hidden within your marriage… you throw open a window where there really ought to be a solid, weigh-bearing wall…Not wanting your spouse to feel jealous, you keep the details of your new friendship hidden… you have just built a wall between you and your spouse where there really ought to be a free circulation of air and light. The entire architecture of your matrimonial intimacy has therefore been rearranged
This raises the question of emotional fidelity in a marriage. While most of us agree on sexual fidelity (Gilbert articulates why: once trust has been shattered, piecing it back together again is arduous and agonizing, if not impossible), what of emotional fidelity? At the end of the day, isn’t the emotional aspect of a marriage most important? Why then do we make such a brouhaha about sexual infidelity but ignore the emotional cheating that we might do on a daily basis. And it also raises questions about friendships outside the marriage. Should your partner, while not being expected to fulfill all your needs, necessarily fulfill the major emotional ones?
No easy answers but I do sense the truth of this principle of walls and windows. Which is why although I am sometimes tempted not to tell V important things, because he doesn’t give me the required attention, I force myself to. I guess that at the end of the day, your husband should be the one you want to tell your important stuff to, even if you don’t do it.
b) To expect to compromise in a marriage:
Somehow, Bauman suggests, we have mistakenly come to believe in our culture that if only we manage our emotional lives correctly we should each be able to experience all the reassuring constancy of marriage without ever once feeling remotely confined or limited. ..But perhaps this is an unrealistic aspiration? Because love limits, almost by definition.
There was this post about how marriage should not involve compromise. Or how one should not feel that one is compromising. Well, I think that’s just semantics. I don’t think there is a marriage around that has not seen compromise, whatever you may choose to call it.
Recently, when I was ranting on about how V insisted that we give Benji his last name, my sister-in-law pointed out that we should come to a decision on these things and then let go. There is no point holding a grudge forever. Well, irritated as I am with her supporting – albeit in a sideways manner – her brother yet again, I do recognize a grain of truth in her statement although I am not ready to take her advice yet and would like to hold on to the concessions I afford V as bargaining chips for the next time we go head-to-head on something.
c) The idea of human relationships as Schopenhauer’s Porcupine:
Humans, in their relationships were like porcupines out on a cold winter night. In order to keep from freezing, the animals huddle close together. But as soon as they are near enough to provide critical warmth, they get poked by each other’s quills. Reflexively to stop the pain and irritation of too much closeness, the porcupines separate. But once they separate, they become cold again…
I definitely see this in all human relationship, but more so in romantic partnerships. It has become commonplace to bemoan “the chase” or “the games” that are played in romance, but I have come to realize that these are some instinctive version of a mating dance and it might not be possible to reinvent sexuality altogether to exclude them.
My friend’s dad told her, as a woman, to never let her husband completely know her, to always keep an air of mystery. This sounds calculating but it works. Think of the difference between a cat and a dog, and which you’d rather be. It’s not that cats don’t demand and get attention; it’s just that there’s more finesse in how they do it. I do love dogs more but I have to admit that there is something tiring about having someone constantly fling themselves at you slavering all the time. I guess one has to strike that fine balance between being a cat and a dog.
As Gilbert says, each marriage has its own porcupine dance of “automony and cooperation”. The point is that this dance is a work in progress that probably continues for a long time into the marriage.
d) That it’s not always a bad idea to plan for the worst. If we’re ok with the idea of drawing up a will, then why not a prenup?
Imagining the failure of love is a grim job but we did it anyhow. We did it because marriage is not just a private love story but also a social and economic contract of the strictest order… we did it because we knew that ti’s better to set your own terms than to risk the possibility that someday down the road unsentimental strangers in a harsh courtroom might set the terms for you. …If you think its difficult to talk about money when you’re blissfully in love, try talking about it later, when you are disconsolate and angry and your love has died.
I know the idea of a prenup is still controversial in India. But maybe we can start with not just assuming that our marriages will last forever, and in so doing, plan for a future that maybe separate, as Gilbert says, “God forbid!” Thinking of a worst case scenario, doesn’t mean willing it to happen; if you draw up a will, you’re not wishing your partner’s death are you?
That’s all I have for now. But those of you who are married, especially those who’ve been married for a while, would love it if you share your tips for making a marriage work in the comments.