DURING a recent chat with friends, the topic turned to Father’s Day and what the men in the group would like to get as a gift. One said: “No need to buy me anything. If my wife could keep silent for a few days, that would be great.” No doubt the comment was made in jest for I know this man loves his wife dearly. In fact, many see him as a model father and husband. But he was hinting at something — that even in a good marriage, there are days or periods when one feels like strangling our spouse (not quite what “Till death do us part” means).
I have run into a number of couples with serious complaints about their marriage and who were struggling to keep their relationship alive. Many had been married for over 10 years although some were just hitting year two or three.
The reasons for the marital problems varied, from differences in personality to not meeting the other’s expectations. Some of the complaints I heard: Their husbands were not the men they married a decade ago; I think my wife is undergoing a hormonal change; he said he would never neglect me but now I don’t see him at all.
Then there are those who were plain bored. Their marriage had not turned out to be the Hollywood kind of romance they were expecting. And when the relationship did not turn out that way, they felt it was time to move on.
But a lot of happily married couples will readily agree that good marriages can quite often be quite boring. There is nothing sexy about making dinner, paying the bills, visiting the in-laws and chauffeuring the children around. There’s nothing exciting about sitting together in silence while one person watches the World Cup and the other sits at the nearby computer banging out an e-mail. But that is often the reality of marriage.
I look back at my parents’ relationship and I don’t remember a hot passionate relationship but a pragmatic one. They never gazed into each other’s eyes (it’s not an Indian thing to do anyway). Mum could be a super nag at times but Dad had a knack for tuning her out. Still, I know they loved each other. Theirs was a dutiful (not beautiful) love — they did what they were supposed to do as spouses and parents.
Today, some very positive traits about marriage are either underplayed or not talked about because they are just not sexy. For instance, very few things come close to the comfort and support many feel in the presence of a spouse — the unspoken glances, the little things we do for each other, the certainty that we will wake up together in bed every morning.
Many forget about how spouses patiently nurse their partners back to health after a serious illness. Couples may be blind to this or take them for granted. What also troubles me is how friends quickly come to the aid of couples who are having problems in their relationship.
Don’t get me wrong. Friends mean well. But I sometimes wonder if friends are the best counsel in marital situations. They want to help and when they see someone close to them suffering in a marriage, their instinct is often to get their friend out of the painful situation as quickly as possible.
Their typical advice:
“How could your spouse do that to you?”
“Give an ultimatum — ask your spouse to shape up or ship out.”
But is that really the best thing to do? Especially when the advice is often given after listening to just one party’s woes? I am not suggesting that those in “a lousy marriage” shave their head, wear sack clothing and accept that as their lot in life and remain unhappy.
Predictable and cliched as this may sound, there is help out there, and many are just too proud to seek it. Enlightened couples, those who are serious about their vows, do take the trouble to seek help and there are many skills that one can learn to improve one’s marriage. So next time your spouse wants to throttle you, don’t be disheartened.
Put on a stiff neck brace and suggest having a chat — there is hope yet.
About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network (FAN).
First published on 16-01-2012.