What makes a marriage tick?

"I know my marriage is doomed but what behavioural traits can lead to happy married life?," she asked.

Sameera Rashid January 05, 2013
Mess created by the construction of the Rapid Bus Transit System (RBTS) is testing the nerves of Lahorites these days. After braving several bumps on pot-holed roads, my car was stuck in a nightmarish traffic jam on Jail road.

To vent my anger, I banged at the car's steering, shouted loudly at the hawker selling coconut, and, then, mercifully, fixed my gaze at the horizon to empty myself of pent-up anger and frustration.

The late autumn sun was low in the sky and kites were flying around it in concentric circles. The rhythmic flight of the birds, silhouetted against an orangish glow, stirred a medley of emotions in my heart. Ridding me of accumulated negativity, the beautiful scene restored my emotional equilibrium, which I sorely needed to meet a dear friend of mine. She had separated from her husband, and had agreed to meet me after my grave insistence to discuss the future of her marriage.

As I entered the lounge, my friend mumbled a weepish hello to me. I had difficulty in recognising her- her beautiful, hazel eyes were covered with dark circles and her hair, which used to cascade down to her shoulders in dark waves, was arranged in a tangled, messy bun on the top of her head.

Slouched on the sofa she said,
“This is my bad luck that I got married into this household. The whole world seems unreal and so completely unlike my own. You are lucky enough to have a wonderful husband.”

A bit taken aback about why she thought my marriage was perfect and hers couldn’t be, I said,
 “Well, I tend to disagree with your last observation. No doubt, fate is important but happiness in marriage it not entirely a matter of chance. After my marriage, I readied myself to rearranging messy rooms, reading drenched newspapers after finding them on the washroom floors and living in a smoke-filled house, but putting up with that stuff could not have brought happiness, if I had not learnt to creatively manage relationships. A good marriage, or, even, a functional marriage, depends for success on a number of factors, but, generally speaking, positive attitude can put all marriages on the right track.”

On the defensive now, she said,
“I have always behaved properly; left my jobs to bring up kids, but my mother-in-law, and my husband always look for an opportunity to find fault and pick up quarrels. If one of the kids gets a C in their exams, then, it’s my fault; if the food is not cooked to their taste, it becomes an occasion for fighting; if I get a new suit, it makes my sister-in-law envious and if I visit my parents, it causes tension in the house. I have reached a point where I cannot do more to make this marriage work.”

Trying to make her understand my point I said,
“No, I believe you can make your marriage work by learning a set of behavioural traits. I am not suggesting that you are not good-intentioned but living amicably with any individual or a group of individuals is largely a learned behaviour. We even learn to live with our parents. Often, kids might find their parents controlling and dictatorial; and, similarly, parents might grumble that their kids are lazy, disobedient and self-centred.”

Confused, she replied,
“Ah, but parents love kids unconditionally and kids, in return, learn to love parents.”

Realising her confusion and seeing how her mind was struggling to understand, I thought about the simplest other relation, that we have to learn to live with. I said,
“And what about our siblings?” I asked. “Remember that kids learn to live with their siblings. We develop close relationships with our siblings through accommodation, trust, empathy and respect, and that is done through trial and error.”

While biting her nails, she asked,
“I know my marriage is doomed but what behavioural traits can lead to happy married life?”

Giving her question some thought, I reflected upon myself and then said,
“Well, there is no fixed formula for a happy marriage; it is not akin to the making of a smart phone or a super fast sports car, but certain habits can reduce marital frictions. The list is not long but requires mental and emotional effort.”

The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them- Ralph Nichols

“Listen actively to what the other person is saying. You should recognise the emotions on the other side and see the dispute from his point of view. But empathy can only be acquired by transcending emotional and psychological boundaries.”

If you judge people, you have no time to love them- Mother Teresa 

“Don’t judge people. Open your ears to grievances of people without passing any judgements. The fear of being judged often impels people not to express their fears, insecurities and longings freely, leading to the creation of void or vacuum in a relationship. And vacuums – an eerie feeling of loneliness and nothingness- can kill any relationship.”

An idle mind is a devils workshop- George Q

“Pursue hobbies and develop a niche interest. Even if you have quit your job to raise your children, you must stay engaged in different activities. Pursue different hobbies; read books, write a diary, listen to new musicians and composers, grow flowers, make cushions and maybe paint or draw. Life is about constantly learning and consecutively unlearning what we have learned before. Opening up to new interests- art, music, literature and even ideas- can offer us new perspectives. Often, we are trying to empathise with people but completely fail in that effort because we don’t have the capacity to listen to different viewpoints. To pursue variegated activities means that we must remain inquisitive and enthusiastic about life.”

A careless word may kindle strife, a cruel word may wreck a life, a timely word may lessen stress, a loving word may heal and bless – Author unknown

“Carefully select your words. Insulting words hurt deeply and cannot be dredged out from memories even after years of efforts. Even if your intention is good, but, if you speak harshly in a tense situation, it can damage your relationship irreparably. So, choose your words carefully during arguments.”

People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument- Will Rogers

“Don’t argue unnecessarily. You need to understand that people often can’t be convinced and the reason is that they cannot understand the nuances of different arguments. So, don’t always try to impose your opinions on your other half. If you realise that both are not on the same wave-length on a certain issue, reserve your opinion and talk about other, more pleasant matters.”

 Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine- Lord Byron

“Develop a humorous side to life. Find an opportunity to laugh at things that seem ridiculous, inconsequential, absurd, and, most importantly, laugh at yourself. Laughter can generate zillions of benefits. It releases more dopamine and endorphins that reduce pain and stress and also creates a sense of elation and well being that helps us bond with people.”

While listening to my harangue on marriage, her face exhibited contrasting emotions- melancholia, joy, wistfulness and hope. I squeezed her hands and gave her a goodbye kiss, hoping for the best for her life.

Read more by Sameera here.
Sameera Rashid A research analyst, blogger and a graduate of King's College, London, in public policy.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Insaan | 11 years ago | Reply @Sidra: I feel so bad for her friend; she was at a low point and needed a listening ear and useful advice, and instead she got a lecture. What one thinks as useful advice, may seem like a lecture to others? I am curious what "useful advice" would you give to a friend in similar situation?
separated wife | 11 years ago | Reply And if everything has to end at the author having the right to expressing her opinion, well then all the above discussion was pointless no? She knew she would get feedback and it won't all be positive necessarily. But I still hope to read more articles by her.
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