the ‘I do’
By Ayesha Inoon
makes a good marriage? A strong marriage is one that is built on
a foundation of love, trust, mutual respect and understanding, many
couples will tell you. It is open to change and tolerant of imperfections.
But at a time when casual affairs and ‘open’ relationships
are becoming increasingly common and divorce rates are climbing,
how do couples stay together happily?
With all the excitement of falling in love with the man or woman
of your dreams and the thrill and romance of getting engaged and
planning for a wedding, many couples forget the true essence of
what marriage means. A wedding is only the gateway to the long path
that the couple must travel together.
many couples get married with the best of intentions, they are often
unable to envision what their relationship will be like on a routine
day-to-day basis. The reality of living with a less than perfect
spouse and facing the conflicts, crises and hassles that are part
of married life can be difficult to handle if you were expecting
a story book ‘happily-ever-after’.
is only when you live under one roof that you begin to notice the
flaws and weaknesses in a person,” says Anne Abayasekera,
who has been a family counsellor for over thirty years. She adds
that, sadly for most couples, as they begin to notice such flaws,
they forget the qualities that attracted them to the person in the
first place, which are still there.
at Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, which provides free pre-marital and marital
counselling, say that discussing important issues like money, children,
sex, and in-laws before marriage will help set the stage for a smoother
relationship. It is important, they add, that a couple seeks guidance
from parents, religious organisations, or counsellors to help them
prepare for their life together.
communication - both before and after marriage - is the key to understanding
each other, they say. Couples must learn both to talk and express
their needs and feelings as well as to listen and comprehend what
the other has to say.
and understanding the common issues that every marriage is faced
with and how to handle them will help them meet the challenges of
their everyday life and build a satisfying, long-lasting relationship.
When Deepthi* first got married, she expected her husband to completely
take over the responsibility of the household. Although she too
was employed, she had been brought up in a home where money was
something provided by the man. Her husband on the other hand, wanted
her to share some of the expenses, which she resented.
to Sumithrayo, money is one of the primary areas of conflict in
a marriage. Attitudes towards money may vary according to one’s
upbringing. One spouse may be a compulsive spender, the other more
careful. A husband may expect his wife to handle the household expenses
because his mother did so.
Many decisions in relation to money, such as buying/renting a house,
saving, and how the money should be spent, have to be made in a
marriage. Clearly communicating one’s views about finances
before, and after marriage, will help to avoid conflict.
who has been married for five years says, “My husband and
I have always been careful right from the beginning to maintain
separate bank accounts and savings accounts. When one of us is short,
and needs to "borrow" from the other, we're always scrupulous
about returning the money. This doesn't mean we nit pick over who
is spending how much...what it does mean is we don't get into conflict
over how we spend. For instance - My husband is a heavily into technology
and will spend huge amounts on a new computer or camera. I can't
see the point in it, yet it's alright with me because he's using
'his' money. The same applies to my spending.”
Good and beautiful sex has a lot behind it, say counsellors at Sumithrayo,
and a strong marital relationship stems from sexually satisfying
each other. A mutually satisfying sexual relationship, however,
does not just happen automatically, they say. As with everything
else in one’s personality, a partner's sexuality is individual.
Each person should approach the sexual relationship with respect
and understanding for the other.
the ways in which men and women approach sex are quite different.
Sex and emotions are more closely connected for women. Sex does
not begin in bed but is the culmination of the love and tenderness
a couple shows for each other throughout the day, say Sumithrayo
counsellors. As with all other aspects of marriage, openness in
expressing one’s needs, likes, dislikes and feelings will
contribute a lot towards a gratifying sex life.
“When we were first married we lived with my in-laws,”
says Ansir*. “It was helpful in a way since we did not have
to worry too much about housekeeping. But they were continually
asking questions, making suggestions such as ‘where are you
going’, ‘why don’t you do this’, ‘why
are you late’ etc. My wife and I would end up quarrelling
over who was right- her parents or me. We had no freedom to do what
we wanted, and in the end we had to move out after a big argument
over a small issue. I wish we had done it in the beginning as it
would have saved a lot of unnecessary pain.”
we like it or not, by marrying someone we automatically form several
new relationships. Your relationship to your spouse will probably
be affected in some degree by how well you get along with his/ her
family. It’s important, say those at Sumithrayo, to remember
that your spouse will likely reflect the values, attitudes, personality,
and behaviour of the rest of the family.
they say, a new couple should try to live on their own from the
beginning, thereby establishing their own independence, which would
also give them a sense of responsibility. Husbands and wives should
respect each other’s families and try to treat both with fairness
as well as kindness, and avoid running to their parents whenever
there is a conflict in the marriage.
They also caution that issues such as a husband supporting his parents
financially should be made clear before marriage so that a wife
will not find fault with it later.
Today the roles of a husband and wife in the home are not as clear
cut as they used to be. Especially when both parties are engaged
in earning a living, it is only fair that chores too should be fairly
divided. Even when the wife is a home-maker, it is important for
the husband too to get involved in some of the house-work, and also
to show appreciation for what she does in the home.
Many men still feel that housekeeping is a woman’s job, says
Mrs. Abayasekera. Most men are in high-pressure jobs where they
may even have to work on weekends, and they feel that the wife should
be grateful for the advantages and ‘perks’ they enjoy
due to what the husband earns. However she says, wives often say
that they would rather have the time and attention of their husbands.
Children are another issue which needs to be carefully discussed
prior to marriage, says counsellors at Sumithrayo. The choice of
whether to have children soon or after some time, the number of
children desired, etc. are things to be considered beforehand. Ideas
about child-raising may differ according to the way one was brought
up. While children can bring a sense of joy and fulfillment to many
couples, they are also a tremendous and costly responsibility.
arrival of a baby, however eagerly anticipated, can cause a temporary
upheaval in a marriage. It is a time which requires much understanding
and patience on the part of a husband, who will suddenly find all
his wife’s time and energy taken up by the little one.
the husband in the care of children, from changing nappies to playing
with them will bring about a closer bond between the couple, counsellors
say, while stressing the importance for couples to occasionally
make time for each other, away from the children, such as dinner
dates or maybe a weekend out of town.
Abayasekera, who has seven children, says that they always knew
that her husband came first for her. Knowing that their parents
have a loving relationship gives children security, she says.
Disagreements, differences of opinion and misunderstandings are
inevitable in any marriage. The way in which we handle these conflicts
can determine our relationships. Never criticize to hurt, says an
official at Sumithrayo, and try not to raise your voice! These things
may be hard to remember when tempers are flaring and emotions are
running riot. But keeping calm, and trying to resolve things in
a mature way should be a priority.
allowances, meeting each other half-way, and above all, being able
to say ‘I still love you’ at the end of the day are
the characteristics of a strong marriage, says Mrs. Abayasekera.
in the middle of the argument we take 5 minute ‘time-outs’,”
says Nalini. “These little breaks give tempers a chance to
cool and rationality a moment to make itself heard.”
also warn against sulking or carrying a grudge for several days,
which can cause a festering wound. Sometimes it may pay to ‘agree
to disagree’. Also, forgiveness is a virtue one cannot do
without in marriage. The ability to forgive one’s partner
as well as oneself will go a great way towards healing rifts.
“My husband used to spend time with his friends once in a
while,” says 25-year-old Shafna*. “At first I hated
it-I thought they were taking away my precious time with him, and
I’d nag him about it. Later, he convinced me to also see my
friends. I realised that made me happier and better able to connect
to my husband afterwards. Now we both take time to do our own things
apart from the time we spend together, and it really works for us.”
Space and freedom in a relationship are very important. Both husbands
and wives need to cultivate their own separate interests and friendships.
enriching one’s personality in this way, a spouse will be
able to contribute more to their relationship, and also avoid getting
into a rut where you are completely dependent on your partner for
“A couple should be really good friends, and not just lovers,”
says Mrs. Abayasekera. “When you know that you have a friend
and ally in your partner, together you can face whatever life may