Marriage is another name for adjustment
They are not called ‘compromises’. They are called ‘adjustments’. It is not the semantics of it but the attitudes that language indicates and dictates. We make compromises when forced to do so. We willingly adjust to things so that we can enjoy them more. One of the things that most young couples don’t bargain for is the aspect of sharing ownership, time, and privacy that marriage brings with it. Nobody told them about it, and they didn’t think about it when they had stars in their eyes. Honeymoons are in hotels and sharing a hotel room is different from sharing your own bedroom and your own cupboard. Changing from ‘I’ to ‘We’ is often a difficult process. Small things can become the cause of friction, sometimes degenerating to serious conflict.
Some people are neat and orderly by nature. To others any form of ‘order’ is an ‘attack’ on their freedom, individuality, and free spirit. Some people are early risers and early sleepers. Others like to stay up late and wake up when the sun is well up in the sky. Some eat breakfast, others don’t. Some are more stylish and fashion conscious than others. Others carry their what-the-dog-left-on-the-doorstep look like a mark of their individuality much to the disgust of their spouse. Some people like surprises, others hate them. Some like to take decisions, even bad ones. Others like to leave options open for as long as they can get away with it. For some the idea of relaxation is to be alone or with the one they love, all by themselves, sitting often in companionable silence. For others relaxation is to have at least five other people in the fray while managing two others on the phone. Some people love parties, especially where they are likely to meet new people. Others hate parties, especially where they are likely to meet new people. Some focus on the rules, regulations, systems of things. Others see the same things in terms of feelings and emotion. All this would have been fine if difference was seen as merely different. But it isn’t. It is seen as ‘right’ (my way) and ‘wrong’ (any other way). This conditioning is culturally universal and ingrained. We all have it but most are not conscious of it.
Many of these are temperament traits, which those who are familiar with Myers-Briggs Type Theory will recognize. Irrespective of your familiarity with the theory I am sure you will recognize yourselves, your spouses, family, and friends in these descriptions. The question is, what should you do about the fact that you may discover after marrying someone that you married someone very different from yourself. We seem to know instinctively that difference means problems and so we unconsciously play down our differences before marriage. We try to be very accommodative, forgiving and flexible to almost anything just so that the marriage happens. Unfortunately, this lasts for all of two weeks into the marriage. Then the reality of difference kicks in. And ‘kicks’ is the right way to describe it. Difference in a marriage is far from intellectual. It is real, in the face and with you every day. You have to deal with it, or it will create trouble. It is interesting to note that in many cases people marry others because the different temperament seems so attractive from the outside. For the one who leaves things open as long as they can, the strong decisive nature of the spouse is the essence of manhood. For the one who is sedate, orderly, and structured, the spontaneous, effervescent spirit of the spouse is like a breath of fresh air. Sadly, in both and all similar cases, this does not last long. Difference attracts but doesn’t sit well. Most often and for most people difference becomes a source of irritation, aggravation, and conflict.
Happily, there is a solution and that is to understand difference to be precisely that i.e., difference and to consciously refuse to see it as good and bad. Then to ensure that you don’t criticize your spouse’s different way of being or doing as long as it is not illegal, immoral or likely to drag your good name in the mud. If it will not land you or her/him in jail, leave it alone. Let them live the way they like to. Learn to ignore and learn not to engage or comment on or react to everything. Easier said than done, I know. But if you know a better and easier way, tell me about it.
Having said that, decide on what is important to you. Don’t make compromises on issues of principle. Explain to your spouse why you won’t compromise, and wise partners will respect that. But issues which are important to the other and which you can live with changing, change. Remember the point about concern for the other? It is good to remember that everything is not a test of your masculinity or femininity. By ‘giving in’ to something you don’t lose face; you win hearts. So do it unless it is something that goes against your fundamental values. At this point let me remind you that marrying someone with a different Aqeeda, religious perspective or religion is almost always a recipe for disaster except for people who are not committed to their own religion. If you are committed to your faith, then ensure that you marry someone who is equally committed and has the same perspective about it as you do.
It is a very good idea to have some frank sharing of thoughts on what is important to you. When this is happening, simply listen. Don’t justify, agree, disagree, or argue. Just listen respectfully and then decide what you love, what you can live with, what you can change in yourself and what you need to talk to the other person about. Most couples, in the courtship stage are too busy on appearing their best and get into a pretense mode that has no relation to what they are really like. Acting can’t be sustained and the mask comes off sooner than later with predictable results. Speak to each other frankly and then decide if you want to get married. During this conversation speak clearly and tell them what the non-negotiables for you are. Don’t try to be politically correct or polite or hide or play down things that you really feel strongly about.
Maybe it is something to do with practicing your religious beliefs, or about family values or that your Mom will live with you or that the cat shares your bed or whatever. No matter what it is, if it is important, then say it. That is far more positive and far less painful than having your spouse discover it later. Some things may seem ‘silly’ to you but if they are important enough for the other person then they will cause you serious trouble if you don’t respect them.
- When does one know that a marriage is not working? And when should people do something about it?
A marriage is ultimately an agreement between two people to live together for mutual benefit. When you find that there is no mutual benefit and that the living together is causing more grief than joy then you know that it is not working. Then you must ask yourself three questions:
- Am I willing to make it work?
- What will it take to make it work?
- Am I willing to do what it takes?
If the answer to all of them is in the affirmative, then get on with it and work. If not, then it is time to call it a day. The important thing to do even if you decide to divorce is to remember the first three rules: Truthfulness, concern for the other and mutual respect. Ensure that you don’t do anything that is not scrupulously honest and completely above board. Show concern that the other person should not leave with bad feeling. The divorce is bad enough. Don’t add negative baggage to it. Show respect for each other. You deserve it and your marriage deserves it. Part company if you must but do it in a way that is respectful and honorable.
- What are the Core Responsibilities of the spouses? Are they different for the man and woman?
In my view it is the Core Responsibility of the man to work and earn a living and take care of the financial responsibilities of the family. It is Core Responsibility of the woman to make the home a place of beauty, grace, and harmony and to focus on the raising of the children. I know this may sound old fashioned to some but just take a look at what the result of the Yuppie and Puppy culture is, and you will come back to the basics soon enough. Having taken care of the Core Responsibility, naturally the man must help around the home, take care of children, water the garden, wash the car, mow the lawn, take out the garbage and not sit in front of the TV with his feet propped up and a bowl of popcorn at his elbow – or whatever passes as its equivalent in your culture.
Similarly, once the Mom has taken care of her Core Responsibility then it is good if she waters the garden, washes the car, mows the lawn, takes out the garbage and does not sit in front of the TV with her feet propped up and a bowl of popcorn at her elbow – or whatever passes as its equivalent in your culture. I am sure you understand what I mean. Dividing responsibilities is a very good idea. Do it whichever way you like, but do it. Role clarity is essential for a happy marriage and role conflict causes the maximum stress. It is essential for one of the spouses to be dedicated to the raising of children, teaching them life skills, manners, tools of thinking, decision making and the core values of life. Today in the Yuppie and Puppy cultures the idea of raising children seems to be to feed them, ensure that they are washed and dried and entertained. This thinking is the root of all evil. Food, a dry bed, and toys is what your dog needs, not your child.
Children need a jolly sight more than food, clothing, and shelter if you want to develop a human being who will be your legacy to the world. I believe parents need to dedicate themselves to that because it is critically important. I’ve met many parents who struggled very hard in the early stages of their lives and who say to themselves (and to everyone else) with great feeling and tears in their eyes, “I will never allow my children to face the hardship that I had to go through.” When I hear this statement I say to them, “Please change the wording. Say, ‘I will never allow my children to build resilience, character, and strength. I will never allow them to have the power that I have, to succeed.’ Say this because in effect that is what you are really saying.” For many of them this statement of mine is a shock. They had never thought about their view on upbringing of children in that light.
If you protect your child and don’t allow him to enter the fray of life and compete, to get his nose bloody and hands dirty in the struggle, to cry with frustration in the night at his failure and then learn to dry his tears and work out new alternatives but to come running to you and you lend him your shoulder and box of tissues for his tears, then remember you are the worst enemy of the child. You are programming him for failure. You are writing the script to destroy his life and to make a parasite out of him who will never have the respect of the world and will forever live in a state of mediocrity laboring under a battered sense of self-worth which in many cases comes out in the form of aggression and overpowering control on his spouse who is the only one on whom he can vent his spleen. Struggle builds strength. Opposition teaches how to fight in the struggle of life. Difficulty teaches how to win. If there was no Goliath, David would have remained a shepherd boy. Many parents don’t understand this and are the architects of their children’s destruction, tragically with the best of intentions.
Many parents equate expense with quality. They give their children the most expensive education which insulates them from the realities of life and so they never learn to fight the real battles. They give them the most expensive toys which teach them to define human value in terms of material worth (the ‘best’ kids are those who have the best toys). They insulate them from poverty, deprivation, lack of resources and thereby they ‘protect’ them from being exposed to the power of drive, ambition, single minded focus on achieving big, ambitious, scary goals. They build walls between their children and the people who they must in the end, deal with. People who will one day, work in their organizations and decide their fate. People who need to be inspired, led, cared for, and supported. And therefore, people who must be understood. Not simply in order to do good and be charitable but because the success of the business and family depends on the development of these people, the great multitude. The fond parents forget or ignore the fact that one day the time will come for the soft little molly coddled pussy cat to enter the jungle of the real world without any of the tools it needs to survive, much less to lead others.
Children must be supported but not protected. They must be advised but not told what to do. They must be allowed to take their own decisions but not without the benefit of the frame of reference of the value of honor, fairness, responsibility, accountability, nurturing, and trusteeship. They must be allowed to feel, to cry in the night for the hardships that others undergo, to build friendships and relationships that span the boundaries of color, race, religion, nationality and much more difficult, social order and prejudice. They must learn that to be poor and to be honorable are not mutually exclusive; just as to be rich and to be honorable are not the same thing and don’t happen automatically. They must learn that virtue is a state of mind. A stance, a decision, a position that one takes, not because someone is watching but because of one’s own sense of one’s identity. They must be taught the value of learning and to value those who provide it. Children who are not taught respect for their teachers are deprived of the blessing of knowledge. Today this is a prevalent disease with many of the young and ignorant. Remaining ignorant is a choice, a life threatening choice.
I do because of who I am. And I become, because I do. They must learn that our actions define us. They must learn that people will define them based on both what they owned and what they contributed. But they will honor them only for what they contributed. Because we are remembered, not for what we had but for what we gave. Only when they are taught to focus on contribution from their earliest childhood will they be able to fight the force of consumerism that is focused on consumption. Blind, self-centered consumption that in the end will consume us all if it is allowed to proliferate unchallenged. If you don’t agree, use condoms. That is far better than producing children who are a nuisance and a painful reality in the lives of others.