I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one.
– G. K. Chesterton
There are many philosophers on the topic of marriage, so many aphorisms to make one lose count. But no matter the number of stories about the good or bad, marriage continues to remain attractive to the unmarried, and somewhat stale to the married. Marital problems abound in the society: the courts are filled with them, the newspapers, and the mouths of gossips never go quiet.
There is every tendency to recommend a curative approach to marital issues, rather than a preventive one. True, marriage starts with the blessing or sanction of a couple, But it dates back to periods before such a ceremony. In the same way, marital crises often start from the little things that seem inconsequential. Things like:
Marriage is a guarantee-free agreement of union between two adults of different upbringing to live in one accord. It comes with certain expectations, but these often give way to disappointment, most times because such expectations are never voiced. Did you discuss with your boyfriend about brushing at bedtime? He has become your husband who wakes up every morning with a foul breath, attempting to kiss you or engage in serious discussion. Did you discuss with your girlfriend about how many children you want? Now she’s your wife using contraception without your notice, and you feel cheated.
These issues are much more varied, and each one is as important as anything at the top of the scale of preference. Couples can make the most of their dating period by engaging in realistic discussions about their future, knowing what to accept or restrict, or how to arrive at a compromise. There is no such thing as “cross the bridge when we get there” without having a boat to cross or swimming skills if things go awry. There might be no bridge in the first place.
Trouble that never goes away
Unlike the single life where trouble can be avoided by virtue of distance, marriage affords one the proximity of a partner that is often annoying. There’s no running away from the husband with a foul breath, or the mischievous wife on contraception. The same person who gets on our nerves is right beside us, sleeps in the same room, and may not even realise that they hurt us. When partners do things to get us angry, their presence becomes a constant reminder that only brings frustration and more anger, if the issue is not resolved.
With familiarity, the contempt is more. The stakes are higher when close friends hurt us, worse for spouses; and with each passing day comes more difficulty to resolving a problem already escalating in magnitude.
Even in this age of so-called sex revolution, the subject of sex is one that many people shy away from. But good sex is a major ingredient for a happy marriage. Our cultures and religious doctrines seem to frown at such discussions, to a large extent — at least, this is the inference from the behaviour of many people. Couples go into marriage without proper orientation on healthy sex, and the importance of its expression as a means of communication.
Many women fear to express their desire for sex, even to their husbands, for fear of reprimand or regard as nymphomaniacs or promiscuous women. Many men do not understand that healthy sex involves both partners being mutually satisfied. Such scenarios bring about anomalies, such as sexual assault and frustration from a lack of sex. There are cases of marital discord because the woman believes the sexual act is sinful. Others show up at the hospital for infertility without even knowing that they were having sex the wrong way.
Frustration from sexual dissatisfaction will lead to other problems. A lack of sex will worsen disagreements, and disagreements in turn worsen the sexual bond. In both ways, communication between the couple is lost, and they keep drifting apart. Conversely, those with a healthy sex life will more easily surmount any of such disagreement that exists between couples.
Stereotypes and general statements
Each person is different, yet we prefer to place people in compartments or categories, based on their ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status. If we carry the same approach into marriage, there will be disaster. “Men are promiscuous” or “Women are manipulative” will not help any couple pushing for marital bliss. Stereotypes are often negative and never help anyone become wiser. Therefore, instead of focusing on such statements, work to ensure that your spouse is an exception.
If men or women are as bad as people claim, it would be impossible to get married to a good person. Yet the ones who propagate these tales are often married or in the process. Why would marriage be a societal necessity if everyone was suspicious of the other? Be it from family or elsewhere, stereotypes are not helpful.
The extended family
When problems get out of hand, relatives and in-laws are invited to proffer solution. The trouble with this intervention is that members of the extended family will either overreact or under-react. Based on sentiment, it is typical for family members to take sides and aggravate the problem. Other times, they have little clue about the real issue and can only proffer a compromise for a ceasefire, while the warring couple feel unjustified.
Yes, elders have words of wisdom, but they might not realise that the dispute they came to settle arose from frustration due to a lack of sex, or the foul breath of a careless husband. They might not realise that the problem is the unkempt nature of the bedroom, the use of a toothpaste tube by pressing its middle rather than the bottom edge, or the refusal to bring down the lid of a toilet seat.
Cracked walls: with or without love?
It is up to couples to build and rebuild all the time. There is no perfect marriage that needs no effort. No matter the bad resume of a partner, resolution of a crisis is best with him/her. External influences may add their bit, but not without the cooperation of the spouses. If we have good partners, it is because we have added to such goodness, and vice versa.