Many, if not all, of my young friends seem to be extremely keen on getting married as soon as possible. How do you think the world has so many people? Which reminds me; I recall an incident from my time in Guyana. I was in the Officer’s Club in Kwakwani, and the barman gave me my usual drink, ‘Lime soda’. One of my Guyanese friends, in a totally exasperated voice said to me, ‘Man! Yawaar, you don’t drink, you ain’t ga no gurlfrien, you ain’t married. Tell me, if alladem Inians laka-yo, den how dema mak so many babies?’ What does that mean? Read it a few times. If possible, aloud in a singsong voice and you will figure it out. If you don’t, email me. A lov Giyaana baad man!
Since you want to commit matrimony so desperately, I thought it may be useful to share with you some tips of what makes a ‘happy marriage’. This is meant for both victims and aspirants. What’s my claim to fame? I have been married for 38 years as of this writing. Nobody gave me this advice when I got married. But I lived and learned, many times, the hard way. This is my sweat, tears, and blood, sanitized and pasteurized to remove all nasty smells. Has that time been happy? Well, let me put it this way, ‘If I had a chance, would I do it again?’ ABSOLUTELY YES. Was it constant happiness throughout? I suggest you try the cannabis in Mass. Whatever you are smoking seems to be making you delusional?
Before I go into the tips, let me say to you, ‘Define happiness. What according to you is a happy marriage?’ Then ask yourself, ‘How much of that depends on me? What can I do to make it happen?’ It is as simple or complicated as that. Really. I am not joking.
For a marriage to be successful, it must transform into friendship.
1. Harold and Charlotte Pease. Harold is 94. Charlotte is….we don’t mention ladies’ ages. They have been married for, well, let’s say, ‘A long time’. They are my role models. Whenever I need a boost, I visit Harold and Charlotte. I get to eat Charlotte’s supreme carrot cake or muffins and wash that down with homemade (Dunkin Donuts) coffee. And listen to some great stories and go home with Harold’s fresh veggies. But best of all, I get to see a beautiful marriage at work. That’s what I go there for. Find people like this to spend time with. They teach you without saying a word, lessons worth their weight in gold. We humans in modern societies lost wealth without price, when we opted for nuclear families, bereft of the elderly. No parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents. That was one of the big lessons that I learnt from my visit to the Amish. They kept their wealth. Humans learn from other, older, wiser, better humans. Find them. In more ways than one, for me, they are Harold and Charlotte.
Total trust is the platform on which every good marriage runs. It is the foundation of the house in which you live in harmony, valued for what you are – not criticized for what you are not. Marriage is based on total trust as in best friend. Define BF. That BF must become your spouse or more accurately, your spouse must become your best friend. It is not something you do by compulsion. But something you love to do. Something that is an aspirational goal for you, and you achieve it and ensure it remains intact. What are those qualities? Some of these may be, she/he has my back. She/he will take the bullet for me. She/he is always in my corner, even when I am wrong. Sure, privately correct them. But never, ever, in public. That is an iron bound rule. Praise in public. Criticism in private. Laugh with. Not at. Mocking is disgusting and destructive. And that is not only in marriages. That’s a good rule in all relationships. Protect people’s dignity always. That is why I call a successful marriage a ‘friendship’.
Big rule in friendship: You are a friend despite the other’s shortcomings. Not because of their strengths. Do you know why dogs are called, ‘Man’s (and woman’s) best friend’? Because they don’t love you because of what you are, but despite it. Don’t feel insulted. To be called a ‘dog’, is the highest honor for a friend. Of course, you won’t understand that if you never had a dog. Not everyone is that fortunate. If your spouse is your best friend, you have a happy marriage and can stop reading at this stage. Go buy them an ice cream instead. Ice creams go a long way to keep marriages happy. It is the single most important human invention.
2. Understand that marriage is not a company, firm, or transactional relationship which must answer to a Balance Sheet or a P&L Account. It is a Savings Bank account. It is not about asking, ‘What am I getting out of this?’ It is about asking, ‘What did I put into it?’ Remember that you can only draw what you put into it. No OD facility in life. I am amazed at how many people approach a marriage as if they are score keepers, sometimes in a boxing match. Believe me, in a marriage, if you are transactional, if you count, if you keep scores, you ALWAYS LOSE. I am all for metrics and measurement in everything in life, except in two relationships. Your relationship with AllahY and your relationship with your spouse. They are not transactions. They are based on trust. Total trust. Trust depends on what you put in. Not on what you take out. So, keep investing. The return is priceless. Trust is an absolute value. Like integrity. One begets the other. Trust is like pregnancy. Either you are, or you aren’t. There are no grades to it. You can’t be slightly pregnant. Neither can you be partially trustworthy. Trust takes time to build and can be lost in an instant. Once it is lost, it can never be regained. You may be forgiven. But you will never be trusted again. So, think very carefully before you do anything which can break trust. It is simply not worth it.
Trust is critical because in a marriage there are no façades, no playacting, no safety nets. A marriage where you feel compelled to guard your words, to not speak from your heart, to fear retaliation, is not a marriage. Trust is the reason the little child who the father or mother throws in the air laughs as he flies. He laughs because he knows that his dad or mom will never drop that catch. Trust is critical because when there is no safety net, no armor, the wound is fatal. Ask if that is what you want.
3. Be willing to live even with diametrically opposite preferences, opinions, and positions, except in matters of belief and values. If in doubt refer to Point #1. My Myers-Briggs consultant friends will agree that opposites attract but don’t sit well together, unless you consciously remind yourself to appreciate difference and not criticize it. Best friend, remember? That means you see difference as something exciting, not as something irritating. It means that you respect – yes, I said that – respect your spouse for their opinion. It means that you may not agree with them but will defend to your last breath, their right to hold that opinion. It means that you will not try to convince them to change their mind. It is not conveying your reasons for your opinion that is the problem. It is your trying to force them to accept those reasons which drives you apart. This means that many times, silence is the best option. I don’t mean that cold silence of the glacier that foretells the blizzard in the offing. You don’t know what that means? That means you are not married. Get married and you’ll know.
Where you feel the need to speak about your reasons, do only that. Speak. Not argue, browbeat, preach, or force. This is the single biggest reason why marriages go sour. It is the tendency of each spouse to try change the other into a personal-compatible model. If you haven’t seen the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ based on George Bernard Shaw’s wonderful play, ‘Pygmalion’, please do. And listen to Harrison Ford, playing Prof. Henry Higgins who speaks for many men who go thorough marriages bewildered, to say the least. Do watch the whole play but this clip is so beautifully illustrative. Women have the same problems, believe me. https://youtu.be/Doz5w2W-jAY
4. Get clarity about the meaning of ‘Primary Role’, in the marriage and what you need to do to fulfill it. Your primary role is what you are accountable to your spouse for and which they have the right to question you about. Decide that on the morning after. Yes, during your honeymoon. Otherwise, it will be the source of endless confusion, suspicion, and dissatisfaction. Division of labor is the key to performance efficiency. It is a sign of respect for and trust in the other. It is the essence of sharing and builds closeness through appreciating each other’s contribution. Mutually agree on primary roles and keep each other informed. You may help one another in their primary role. Indeed, you must. But only after you have fulfilled your own role.
5. Talk behind their back. Tell others about what you appreciate in your spouse and what you are thankful about. Word gets around and it will come back to them. Nothing better than to know that your spouse has been speaking well of you behind your back. Thank your spouse. Show your appreciation. Say it like you mean it. Mean it and say it. And if you have any difficulty, imagine life without it. As I always say, ‘He/she is not a mind reader and even if they are, they like to hear it from you. So, thank them.’ Say thanks, give gifts, hug, kiss, many times a day. Thanking opens our eyes to what we have, to enjoy it even more, to cherish it and value the person who provides it for us. Thank not only on this or that day, but every day, and many times each day. And then sit back and enjoy how good it makes you feel. It is about you as much as it is about them. Appreciation motivates. People like to do things for those who appreciate what they receive from them. It is a beautiful, virtuous cycle. Make sure you keep pedaling. Thanks, makes the heart grow fonder which is great for any marriage at any stage. Start now. Stop reading and go do it.
6. Willingness to forgive – and more importantly – Willingness to seek forgiveness. Maybe the most important word in a marriage is, ‘Sorry!’ Shall I say, ‘Especially if you are a man?’ Okay I said it, so sue me. There is the story of the son who went to his dad and said, ‘Daddy, I want to get married.’ His Dad yelled, ‘Say Sorry!’ The poor bewildered son asked, ‘Sorry? What did I do? I didn’t do anything.’ His father yelled, ‘Say Sorry!’ This went on, until the son in sheer exasperation said, ‘Okay, I am sorry.’ ‘Ah! Now you are ready to get married’, said his father.
Jokes apart, just ask yourself, ‘Which is more important? The argument or the relationship?’ It is not always that serious, but sometimes it is, and you lost out. This takes confidence. It needs you to be self-assured enough to know that your self-worth is what you and not anyone else thinks it is. Accepting your mistake only makes you stronger and more worthy of respect. Saying sorry and ‘losing’ an argument shows that your wisdom exceeds your grace.
For the other side, don’t insist on an apology. Don’t rub their nose in it. Be gracious about accepting an apology. Try it and see. It is not easy to apologize. So, appreciate it when it comes. If you don’t demand it, you will win hearts. Leave a person his self-respect. Leave a door open. You can’t defeat someone who has nothing to lose. Strip them naked and you just made them invincible. Don’t do that unless you don’t care about the relationship. If so, leave gracefully. Not because of an argument.
By all means, insist on an apology in a case where you have evidence (your hurt feelings are not evidence. Hard data is evidence) to believe that making your spouse apologize is essential to drive home a point. But remember that every such point driven home is yet another wound which will bleed and suppurate and become septic with time. There is only that many septic wounds that a marriage can sustain, so let wisdom prevail.
Do not attempt to change, rework, remake, reform, re-anything your spouse. Your spouse didn’t marry you to be changed. He/she is your spouse. Not your patient to be ‘cured’. You may cure them right out of the marriage. Never marry anyone to change them. Marry them if you like them as they are. If not, don’t marry them. They are not a WIP. Otherwise, you will have to say RIP to your marriage. Please forgive that horrible pun. Couldn’t resist it. Be happy to live with difference, to accept it, appreciate it, celebrate it. Never to resent it. (WIP = Work in progress. RIP = Rest in Peace – usually found on gravestones in cemeteries).
7. Be in the job of creating memories for each other. Because that will be your legacy and the only thing which will remain with you one day. Forget justice, think abundance. Forget rights, think duties. You will be questioned about your duties. Not about your rights. If both spouses fulfill their duties, their rights will automatically be fulfilled. See your happiness in the eyes of the other. And know that is what will make you happy. Same rule for life. Happiness is not a destination. It is not a possession. It is not the result of owning stuff. Or going from sensation to sensation, holiday to holiday, food to food. It is not the result of self-indulgence, no matter what our sick, materialistic society tell us. Happiness is not in malls or discos or bars. It is not in sex or yelling yourself hoarse cheering teams who neither know nor care if you live or die.
Happiness lies in making others happy. Happiness is in alleviating their pain, fulfilling their need, consoling their grief, comforting their anxiety. Happiness is to focus on the other. To surprise them by doing more than they expected. Happiness is in being grateful for our blessings and expressing that gratitude to the One who gave them to us and to those through whom we received them. Happiness is in delighting in her smile. Happiness is in smiling. Happiness is in doing things together. Even the ones you don’t particularly like to do. Happiness is in understanding what he/she doesn’t like to do and not insisting that they do it to please you. After all what happiness can lie in the displeasure of the other?
Happiness is in conversation. Not get this, get that. But conversation sharing hopes and aspirations, fears and apprehensions. Describing experiences. Telling stories. Remembering family and friends. Reliving the joys of life. Consoling each other’s grief. Conversation is a meter. It is the lifeblood of a relationship. It is flowing water, which if it stops and stagnates, dies and stinks. Happy marriages have lots of conversation. When conversation stops, it signals danger. Happiness is in companionable silence together because comfortable silence is also conversation of another kind. Happiness is in taking pride in one another. Happiness is in sharing. Happiness is sometimes in not sharing – fears – and being the pillar of confidence, while you pray for help.
Happiness is the gestures that nobody else sees or even understands, except her. It is the words of endearment that are not in any dictionary except his. It is laughing at his jokes for the Nth time as if you heard it for the first time. It is being his HD memory and answering the question about the name, the incident, the experience, before he can even complete his question. For my Hyderabadi friends, do you remember your Dad or Grandfather ask, “Ajee (or Yedekho) uska kya naam tha?” And your Mom or Grandmother says, “Suresh”. You see stars. How does she know who he is asking about? That is happiness. That is a good marriage. Finally, and most critically importantly, it is to maintain the charade that he is still important, powerful, influential, the ‘Man of the House’; though nobody knows it better than he, that he is not. It is a charade alright. But it is a very important charade.
I have seen both. I have seen men/women treat their wives/husbands like dirt when they are old and weak. They shout at them, they mock them, they ignore them. And he/she withdraws into a shell. His/her last days become a torture. The same man/woman who dedicated his/her entire married life to his/her happiness. All forgotten. At the same time I have seen the opposite, most importantly in my own family, where till the end, though his strength, his wealth, even his memory and intelligence went the way of all mortal things, his dignity remained. Maintained and defended by a woman who was faithful. For faith is far more than marital fidelity. Faith is to honor what was received and enjoyed at a time when there is no force that demands it. What you can’t see is the dua that goes up from him/her. A dua that has no price.
Now you continue the story.