Marriage – Living it | How to keep it happy?
Here are the answers, which I hope cover all aspects of this matter.
1. What are the characteristics of a happy marriage?
Truth, Caring, Mutual respect are what I call my three Cardinal Principles of happy marriages. Please notice that I am not using the word ‘love’. Love comes out of these three things. What is called love is usually physical desire. The shape or size of someone’s body is not the inspiration for love; it can be the inspiration for infatuation and lust but not love. For love to happen, the lasting kind that is, the kind that grows with age and the longer you spend time together, you need truthfulness, caring and concern for one another – putting the needs of the other before your own; and mutual respect. Without respect there can’t be any love. One needs to respect one’s spouse, appreciate their strengths, make them your role model, icon and be proud of them and proud that they are your spouse. That kindles love in the heart which grows with time because the reasons for respect also grow with time. Physical attraction reduces with age. It is programmed to do so. Nobody grows more beautiful with age. You mature with age, grow wiser, more mellow, more patient and forbearing and more worthy of respect. The love that comes out of that also grows with age. Truth is to express feelings as they are and not to have any pretensions. Caring is to treat the other with concern because you know that with you s/he has no barriers or safety nets. Respect is to acknowledge the value of the trust that is placed in you in allowing you into that inner most of places in the heart in which nobody else has been allowed before. To treat that privilege with the respect it deserves and never to abuse it for any reason.
2. Is there a formula to be happy in a marriage?
Marry someone you believe is worthy of emulation; someone you can look up to and learn to forgive them. The formula of an unhappy marriage is to marry someone who you believe you can change. That is a sure recipe for disaster. When you marry someone who you think needs to be changed you are accepting that they are not good enough as it is. Also in most cases you would not have asked them if they want to change and that too to your preferred model. And then you will lo and behold that they have other ideas about changing and your marriage will be the casualty.
The second part of the formula is to be forgiving. We need to forgive one another. What tends to happen in many marriages is that we expect the other person to forgive us but we hold them to standards that we are ourselves unable to live up to and become curiously blind to this unreasonable stance. That doesn’t work. Good to remember the saying, ‘Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.’
Share in each other’s lives. Take interest in what the other does. Don’t be nosey but learn and add value. Conversation is both the key to a happy marriage and a metre to judge its health. Marriages that are getting sick start to lose conversation. When there is nothing left to talk about after 10 minutes and when your idea of spending time with your spouse is to sit in front of the TV or to read the newspaper in the same room, then you can safely say that your marriage is falling sick. In happy marriages there is a desire for the company of the other. Not for the company of others. You hurry home because your spouse is there. You don’t hit home and bounce off to the club to sit with your cronies or to some other place to be with other friends. You want to spend time with your spouse not because otherwise s/he will complain but because you genuinely want to do it.
3. How do you make a marriage work?
By working at it. We use this term, ‘Make a marriage work’, but we forget that a lot of it is actually ‘work’. It takes effort, time and energy, is measurable and produces results. Making breakfast for your wife is work. Offering to do her errands is work. Taking the trouble to look nice when your husband comes home instead of like animated laundry is work. Going to the airport to meet his flight is work. You get the drift? Doing what does not come naturally or doing something that is important for the other even if you don’t like doing it, is work. And all of it produces results in terms of appreciation and love. Never complain if your spouse is not spending time with you. Firstly it is pathetic and undignified to do so. Secondly I have a rule: never tell someone to do for duty what they won’t do for love. And thirdly, that they seek someone else’s company is a message for you; so act and examine yourself and see why this is happening and correct yourself and things will change. People seek what is enjoyable. So if your company is more a pain rather than enjoyment, naturally they will go elsewhere. As I say, ‘If I wanted to marry a nag, I would have married a horse. At least it would have carried me from place to place.’ Nag is a gender neutral term. There are male and female nags and both are equally painful. As I’ve said earlier conversation is a good indicator about what is happening to the marriage. Giving instructions, complaining, informing and gossiping is not conversation. Sharing of thoughts, hopes, aspirations, fears; good listening, compassion, understanding, laughing and crying together about issues that are shared; that is what I mean. Finally companionable silence is also an indicator of a good marriage. You don’t have to be talking all the time. It is the quality of the companionship, the quality of the silence. You will know it without anyone having to explain, let me assure you. But pay attention to it if it there is tension or boredom in it. The key is to want to share, time, thoughts, aspirations, fears and to want to listen to each other with caring and respect.
Do senseless acts of kindness
Give gifts, flowers, sweets. Not on birthdays and anniversaries – that is mechanical and with Outlook and smartphones you don’t even have to remember. The machine reminds you. Give gifts all through the year. It does not have to be big always – though sometimes it must be – but it is the thought that counts. Rasoolullah(SAW) said that gifts increase affection for one another and indeed they do. So give gifts to each other. Remember to do this especially if you have been traveling or away mentally with work for a while. Gifts are the adhesive of a good marriage. The key to remember in all this is that it must be something that you are sharing with your spouse alone. Gift wrap the article, tie a ribbon, put perfume on it, announce it with flowers – use your imagination to make it special. Remember it is not about the article. It is about creating memories. Her gift is not one you pull out of a sack of gifts for the whole family. It is something that only she gets. It is something she gets when there is no reason for it. It is something that she got when nobody else did. It is the exclusivity of it that gives the message, ‘You are special.’ And that applies to the man as well. Remember, men also like gifts, even more than women. So give it to him with an open heart.
Couples that play together, stay together – says the proverb. Games, entertainment, sightseeing, holidays, picnics – you think of what play means to you and do it. Whatever fun-thing you enjoy doing together, do it. And do it regularly. If you play a competitive sport together – say golf – remember to lose regularly. It is not for the competition that you are playing and to make it a competition is to defeat its very purpose. Remember that sometimes you may not be enjoying it equally but that is worth the pleasure of seeing the smile on the face of your spouse. It’s all about that smile anyway. Be genuine. A cosmetic smile is detectable a mile away. Performance is not the key everywhere and one place where it is not, is in a marriage. The ‘Performance Appraisal’ for a marriage is a joint statement which spells the success of the marriage, not of your personal performance. Otherwise it will be like saying, ‘Operation successful but the patient died.’ In our fast paced lives today, we don’t seem to have the time to simply, ‘be’. We are conditioned to look for ‘results’ for everything. This is highly stressful and detrimental to a marriage. A marriage is for sukoon, tranquility, harmony, peace and many times that translates to – just being together without any ‘result’.