Is your marriage a beautiful friendship or is it just a “co-existential drama”?
A friend constantly keeps whining about his wife to us. He says she is dominating, she’s very conservative, she doesn’t want to get involved in his business and she does not want to learn to adapt with the times. He says he has stopped expecting anything other than physical intimacy from her. He wanted to know if there is a better way of handling their relationship.
I reminded him that the issue here was not about the gender. Men are known to be equally inflexible and dominating when dealing with their spouses. So, this isn’t about his wife. The moot point here is whether my friend can relate to his wife. And if she can relate to him. A marriage can be continuously exciting and romantic only if the couple in it are relating to each other than merely going through the daily motions of ‘maintaining’ the relationship.
I think many people don’t understand that it is not their marriage that keeps two people together. It is their friendship which acts as the bonding glue. When you strip away all the frills and the individual or societal expectations, what you are left with is the friendship of two people who come together and decide to live, learn and walk together through Life. True friendship is really about being yourself and allowing the other person to simply be too. Actually you don’t need the label of a marriage to certify or consummate a friendship. We don’t do it in the normal course, with other friendships we may have struck with people from either sex. So, why does it become so complicated, ever so often, in a marriage? The answer lies in the contractual nature of the relationship itself – as defined and practised by society today. While no scripture or tradition prescribes this contractual arrangement, society, over centuries and generations, has ended up, in the garb of pronouncing marriage to be a ‘sacred institution’, turning marriage into a business contract. You give me this. And I give you this in return. If you are this way, then I promise to be this way. Marriage, in a majority of cases, has ended up being nothing but a conditional acceptance of the ‘not-so-mutual’ affairs between two people. Great friendships, however, are never conditional – they thrive on mutual understanding, respect, brutal honesty and compassion. As long as two people can be this way, relating to each other, despite the circumstances, their friendship will survive, grow and thrive. Truly, in such cases, you don’t need a certificate, a label or any protection or safety net – legal or social. Of course, it is quite possible that sometimes, friendships grow through a marriage. So, it is not to be concluded that the institution is itself losing credibility.
I guess the question really is – how can two people continue to relate to each other without really worrying about the relationship?
This, from my own personal experience, and what I have learned observing couples over the years, is possible when the ‘relating’ is continuous. Life is a long journey. Couples live-in together for at least 35+ years in a normal lifespan. Now this togetherness can be a beautiful friendship or just a co-existential drama enacted for both self and society. That is they “legally live-in together” in a marriage but don’t connect, don’t relate at all. When relating is continuous – there are no terms, no conditions, no impositions. There’s an expectant air about everything. Pretty much like the early weeks of two people getting to know each other. Waiting for the appointed meeting hour. Letting go. Giving space to each other. Disagreeing at times. But agreeing to disagree. There’s nothing predictable or taken-for-granted. Then, when everything’s fresh, despite the years of being together, then, the relating is continuous. Conversely, when the relating is continuous, the romance is still new and fresh.
Of course, Life’s design will challenge the greatest friendships. But only those that are built on the foundations of mutual respect and compassion__what I call relating__survive these challenges. Whatever label we give this friendship, I for one believe that walking hand-in-hand with someone you can relate to is the greatest gift you can have in Life. If you have that gift, celebrate and be grateful. If you don’t then stop kidding yourself. Have the courage to accept that while you may be in a relationship called marriage, there’s no relating in it anymore. So stop grieving, stop wishing your Life were different and stop complaining about your spouse. You are as much responsible for the non-relating in your relationship as your spouse is. And remember, you still have an option to go find that friend who’s out there waiting for you, and who will walk with you into the sunset!