At events, whenever a couple is introduced as having been married for 40 years or 50 years, there is usually spontaneous applause. One can almost hear the people asking: “How were they able to do it in this era of rampant divorce?”
It is a testimony that long-lasting marriages are admired and respected and wished for. The reason is simple. Let’s use a popular joke to explain it. “In Malawi, a book titled, HOW TO CHANGE YOUR WIFE IN 30 DAYS, sold two million copies in one week, before it was discovered that the title had a spelling error! The correct title is: HOW TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE IN 30 DAYS. After the correction, for the whole month, only 3 copies were sold.”
It is a joke that will elicit laughter, but there is a message in it. It is an open secret that many people are not happy in their marriages. Many are merely tolerating their spouses. Many married couples see their marriage as a prison yard. They feel trapped. They, therefore, wonder how others have been able to cope for that long. The man will conclude that the marriage of this unique couple has lasted so long because the man was lucky to have a “a good wife,” while the woman will conclude that the wife should be thankful that she got “a good husband.” In their mind, each will say: “If you get a spouse as difficult as mine, you will understand what I am going through.”
Furthermore, there is a wrong assumption about marriage. That assumption is that a long-lasting marriage is synonymous with a happy marriage. More often than not, a long-lasting marriage is so because one of the two parties or both of them have high endurance quotient.
Only those in a marriage can say if the 30 years or 50 years they have spent in a marriage is what they wish for their children or not. Only the concerned can say if they would have preferred not to be in such a marriage or not. That is why it is said that those who are married are thinking of how to get out, while those who are single are thinking of how to get in.
A long-lasting marriage does not equate to a happy marriage. There are many people who rue the day they got married. They see themselves as being in bondage rather than in marriage. They laugh anytime they are praised for the long years of their marriage. They say in their hearts: If only you knew! They wish they could be freed from the bondage. They have kicked their spouses off their minds as incapable of bringing them happiness. They actually wish their spouses were dead to set them free.
The only reason they have remained in such a marriage is lack of courage. They are afraid of what society would say. They are afraid of what their religious group would say. They are afraid of the fate that will befall their children. They are afraid of how they will cope since their spouse is the breadwinner. They are afraid of their chances of finding another spouse – this happens more to the women.
When they see those who are divorced, they secretly admire them, but they know they can’t do it. So although others praise them for their long marriage, they feel completely differently about it.
Marriages are not meant to be homes of misery. Marriages are not meant to be prison yards. Marriages are not meant to be traps. Marriages are meant to be enjoyed. Marriages are meant to be homes of happiness. Marriages are meant to be homes of support and comfort from the vicissitudes of life.
The length of a marriage is important but the quality of the marriage is, by far, more important. The emphasis on the length of marriage is misplaced. Marriage should not be presented as an institution in which people endure psychological trauma, misery, disrespect, abuse, and whatnot. It should not be portrayed as an institution of pretence, cover-up and make-believe.
That is why couples who don’t smile at each other try to smile in public or when taking photographs. Couples who don’t hold each other’s hands in private do so in public or during photo shoot. They want the public to believe that they are happily married and having the fun of their life.
Yes, couples should not wash their dirty linen in public, but couples also should not deceive themselves. If they believe that there is something good in smiling at each other or holding hands in public, let them do so also when they are alone, for marriage is a private affair, not a public show. Smiling in public when the smile is plastic and cosmetic causes subdued irritation that manifests in private, leading to increased frowning and growling in private, because both partners see the other as a hypocrite. That, in turn, leads to more anger and quarrels in the marriage.
There is another falsehood sold to married people. This falsehood is clothed in platitudes: “Marriage is not a bed of roses.” “There is no marriage that does not have its ups and downs.” “There is no couple that does not quarrel.” These statements help to make many people assume that quarrelling with their spouses is perfectly okay. But it needs to be stressed that the point is not in quarrelling but the nature of the quarrel. When couples quarrel and use cruel words and actions to win the “case,” they kill the marriage by instalment. If a marriage experiences more quarrels than laughter, it is an ominous sign. If a man prefers to chat with another woman than his wife and vice versa, it is a bad sign that happiness is exiting the marriage. If a woman is happy in the absence of her husband but becomes unhappy the moment he comes in, it is a dangerous sign that the marriage is sick. It is the same case if such happens to the man.
Happiness in marriage is not optional. It is compulsory. And it is not created by external factors or by luck. It is created by the two people involved in the marriage. One person can endure and keep a marriage going, but it takes the two partners to make a marriage truly happy. And the two can only achieve that if they decide that their marriage will be happy. Believing that quarrelling is a normal part and parcel of marriage is wrong orientation. Quarrelling destroys marriage bit by bit, because when tempers rise, unkind words are usually exchanged. Even after apologies are tendered for the unkind words are actions, the mark remains in the heart. An accumulation of these marks on the heart hardens the heart and turns the heart away from the source of these marks.
If couples want to combine long marriages with happiness, they must believe that a happy marriage is possible and work towards achieving it. As always, the key is: Do unto your spouse and you would want your spouse to do unto you. Anytime you talk or act towards your spouse, ask yourself if you would be happy if you were spoken to or treated in like manner.
We must start preaching happy marriages. We must start making people realise that marriage is not meant to be bland. We must start promoting long-lasting marriages that are truly happy. Marriage is meant to be enjoyed, not endured.
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