The Marital Journey

Marriage is a social recognition of the coming together of two people with accompanying rights, duties and obligations towards each other, any children that result from the union, and each other’s families. While different cultures have different wedding rituals, the understanding of marriage as stated above, is almost universal with few variations. Traditionally, men and women have had different roles to play in the marriage, but with changing gender norms this is undergoing change as well, albeit slowly and perhaps painfully.

To understand a marriage, it is first important to understand the levels on which a human being operated. Men and women function on four levels:

  1. Spiritual mind or atma
  2. Rational mind or buddhi
  3. Emotional mind or mann
  4. Physical mind

The traditional concept of marriage
If one looks back, it is easy to see that the ‘modern’ notion of marriage being between two equals is fairly recent – at most 30-40 years old – and in most parts of the world it is still alien. Traditionally, the unspoken societal expectation from marriages was it would help the ‘tribe’ grow and it would help stabilise and bring structure to the community. As a result of prevailing social norms, men and women had very limited interaction during the day; contact was essentially limited to the intimacy of the night. During the day, both men and women mixed only in same sex circles and drew their spiritual, rational and emotional essence from these groups. For men it comprised their professional circles, community members, and other male family members such as fathers, uncles, brothers, male cousins, etc. For women, it comprised primarily of the immediate female members of the family [mothers in law, aunts, sisters in law, female cousins] and at the very most neighbours and other female community members. Given this scenario, the pressures of and expectations from a marriage were not like in the present day. In fact a husband and wife did not spend much time together; they did not even eat together! And given the strong social support system, marriages rarely failed as they did not have the opportunity or even the option of failing.

The modern concept of marriage
As the human civilization advanced, marriage came to be regarded more seriously and wedding ceremonies became significant across cultures and religions. Wedding ceremonies grew out of the fact that marriage was originally a community affair only and in the absence of official records marriages had to be witnessed by many people.

A marriage in our times is a different being altogether. When a man and a woman first meet, they are attracted to each other at all levels – spiritual, rational, emotional and physical mind. They share their life’s goals and dreams (spiritual), interests and hobbies (rational), feelings and thoughts (emotional), and are attracted to each other (physical). During this phase, the yin-yang balance between the couple is perfect. The woman lends her feminine energy to the man making his more sensitive and responsible and brings purpose and structure to his life. The man lends his yang or male energy to the woman making her grounded and secure. The connection between the couple is strong in the initial days of courtship and romance and as long as the couple is able to connect on at least two to three of the levels, they are easily able to continue their relationship.

In today’s fast paced world, however, many marriages go through rocky periods and end. Men and women are finding more reasons than ever before to leave marriages. A lot of this is ascribed to women’s empowerment, especially financial empowerment. While this is probably true, my personal theory is that marriage was not designed as a mechanism for providing multiple social services such as friendship, intimacy, romantic love, personal fulfilment, spiritual growth and support, or recreation. With the growth in nuclear families and migration, couples end up living cut off from their families and communities. As a result, confused and lost individuals can do little but place all of their bets on their own marriage and end up adding to the pressure and expectations.

While most marriages are able to weather the travails of time, some hit a rocky patch sooner or later. Part of the reason this happens is that people ‘grow apart’ from each other. This could happen due to a change in their life’s goal or purpose, their habits, work life or other reasons. In my experience, the birth of a child is often a big upheaval. With the birth of the child, the woman (mother) focuses all her time and love on the child and has no time for going out (physical), her thoughts and feelings centre around her baby’s well being and growth (rational and emotional), and her dreams begin to include and/or focus on her child’s future. This isolates the husband and father. But this is only part of the problem. The birth of his child makes the man realise his responsibilities and the role her plays to ensure the family’s future and economic security. This leads work to becoming the man’s ‘baby’. While it keeps him busy and makes him exhausted, it leads to his emotional and rational mind drifting away from his family.

Often when couples go through this phase of ‘drifting apart’, one or both sense it and force a showdown or confrontation. This is not necessarily in a negative sense and new rules often emerge. Rules such as spending more time with each other, having one meal together every day, sharing and communicating more, etc. With new rules and an effort on both ends, couples are successfully able to navigate this rough period and emerge stronger and closer.

However, some couples are not successful in doing this. Either because they do not realise the gap or recognise it too late. When this happens, one or both partners look for comfort in places other than their partner and this leads to issues of loyalty and fidelity. There is no easy way to navigate a marriage. Only if both partners make an effort can things change for the better. But sometimes, it isn’t enough to just want to make it work as too much has happened for the partners to forgive and forget easily. In such cases they need a mediator. This could be a parent, a friend or an older more experienced person. More often than not though, nowadays, such mediators are professional counsellors such as marital therapists.

Much of the pain that is caused in modern day marriages is a result of changing gender norms. In today’s youth, yin and yang is blurring within both men and women. Men are being brought up to be more sensitive and caring and to take up household chores. Women are encouraged to be more career-focused, ambitious and assertive. With hazy roles for men and women in society and family, individuals often have trouble coping when it comes to expectations, obligations and responsibilities in a marriage. To add to this confusion, the older generation cannot be looked to for guidance or support because their belief systems and habits are different from the present generation and this causes a further rift.

In my personal opinion, when couples are not vibrating at the same frequency any more, or in other words have fallen out of love, they should move on to find equilibrium on their own or with another person. Of course, this should be undertaken with some circumspection as marriage is not a state that should be entered into lightly, or for that matter left without due thought.

In terms of the future, I have an optimistic outlook. I feel a world where women are becoming powerful is a better world; perhaps one where there will be fewer wars and more harmony. We will have less wars and more sympathy. With both sexes in the next generation having a good mix of yin and yang there are bound to be more successful marriages. Ask any youngster around you about the state of the world and most will make you a long list of things that are wrong with our society, country and world beginning with greed, corruption and ecological degradation. Possibly the one thing they are still hopeful and positive about is romantic love and marriage!

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