By Eva Bell
At the speed with which the marital knot is unraveling, married couples may soon find themselves in the minority. The Consumer Culture is based on self fulfillment. So the ritual of marriage becomes cumbersome. They believe that living together with no strings attached is a more convenient option than the bonds of marriage.
Living with someone ’till do us part’ and with no regrets, is proving to be an incredible feat. So for those who contemplate marriage, it is important to understand the meaning of marriage. It is an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman, which contributes to ‘oneness’ when they become two interlocking parts of a whole,’ as described by Harriet Lorner a psychologist. Failure to understand this concept is what drives couples apart.
“You have to develop a ‘we psychology.’ Think of yourself as a pair, not individuals. You retain individuality but add to the identity of the other, and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts,” says Dr. Paul Popenoe a marriage counselor.
Understanding and relishing the mystery of oneness physically, sexually and spiritually is what will predict the stability and longevity of marriage. “It is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day,” counsels Andre Maurois.
A lasting marriage is not smooth sailing. Those entering marriage with the romantic notion that married couples never quarrel, will be in for a big surprise. Perfection is never possible. Though love is supposed to be the binding force in marriage there are times when feelings of love fluctuate. One might even temporarily dislike one’s mate. Love needs to be fortified with friendship just as passion must be tempered with humour.
According to American Relationship researcher John Gottman the four horsemen of Marital Apocalypse are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stone walling. It is therefore important to develop qualities of patience, tolerance, resilience, understanding and maturity because oneness may not always be satisfying and fulfilling.
Love is patient and the lack of it can be destructive. Patience is the ability to restrict one’s self in anger or frustration if there is a quarrel, or if the spouse is not paying attention or if the marriage has fallen short of one’s expectations. Patience is the fruit of the spirit. “Be patient bearing one another in love.” It needs practice every day.
Arguments must be managed effectively. Resilience is a skill that prevents unity from breaking down. One must be like the eagle which when a storm strikes, allows the wind to carry it above the storm. The capacity to surmount a quarrel and bounce back when tempers are cooled needs practice. If there are issues, they should be tackled one by one. Unrelated issues should not be dragged into the argument. Every argument provides opportunities to understand each other better. Differences are part of marriage. It is the spirit with which the couple handles them that will make them value their unity. Tertullian observed that a couple committed to each other will face difficulties side by side; they will be a consolation to each other; they will never shun each other and never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts.
A couple must develop conflict management skills without being aggressive or hypercritical. Those who wage silent war against each other are four times more likely to die prematurely. When feelings are bottled up they can erupt from time to time or result in tension headaches, high blood pressure and other illnesses. Spouses must make allowances for each other’s faults. Perfection is not humanly possible Even when quarreling one must not destroy the other’s self esteem. Respect is at the heart of lasting marriages. Forgiveness is liberating. It reinvigorates the relationship.
Every human being has basic needs. Couples will do well to keep this in mind.
• Attention. This need is universal. By listening to each other, talking to each other and complimenting each other, this need is met. There should be regular conversations between the couple.
• Acceptance is another need. Trying to change a person to suit one’s likes and needs is nothing short of arrogance. In most cases it is futile. Affection needs to be demonstrated in word and deed.
• Appreciation boosts the other’s self esteem. Praising each other for work well done will encourage the better performance in future. “I can live for two whole months on a good compliment,” says Mark Twain.
• Activities: Developing common interests, doing things together and sharing each other’s interests makes bonding stronger.
Good communication between spouses is one of the most important ingredients of a lasting marriage. Communication can be through words, deeds or body language. When bodies touch, oxytocin is produced which causes physical and chemical bonding. Spending time talking to each other and discussing issues related to home and family have strong bonding effects. Physical contact is a simple way to nurture tenderness. Nearness is important even if there is no sex. Happy couples sleep less than a few inches apart. At the University of Hertforshire, psychologist Richard Wiseman asked 1000 couples about their sleeping patterns. 94% of those who spent the night in contact with each other were happy in their relationship compared to 68% of those who slept apart.
Sexual faithfulness is an important element in marriage. “Sexual faithfulness is not just a favour you bestow on your spouse. It is a privilege to bless yourself with,” says Michael Cohon. Sexual intercourse not only brings pleasure but is a way of communicating a deep, spiritual commitment to each other. In a solid marriage, spouses honour and validate who the other person is. It is not merely physical but there is psychological and emotional involvement too.
The marital space is inviolable. It is accessible only to the couple. They should guard against extraneous intrusions into this space. In today’s world young people are looking for partners who will make life more interesting and contribute to each other’s growth. This process is called ‘self expansion.’ “If your partner is helping you to become a better person you grow happier and more satisfied in the relationship,” says Dr. Lewandowski of Monmouth University, New Jersey.
A successful and lasting marriage requires falling in love with your partner every day. “A true acceptance of each other’s individuality and separateness is the only foundation on which a mature marriage can be based and real love can grow,” advises M. Scott Peck. Love creates an ‘us’ without destroying the ‘me.’
Marriage being an important building block of society must be preserved. It must be a daily act of faith and will help to build a healthy society.
Eva Bell is a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. She is a freelance writer, and her articles, short stories and children’s stories have been published in magazines, newspapers, on the Net, and in several anthologies. Website: http://www.evabell.net.