To live happily ever after


Marriages like any institution are in an exciting flux, coloured by the issues, idiosyncrasies and innovations of our era. They are no longer the goal of women or even men. In the changing script, a million variations in marriage may exist, but as long as two people find balance, life moves peacefully at a different pace during different times, writes Dr. Harish Shetty.

If anyone bombastically roars in a party that ‘they are happily married’, then remember that it is a lie. There are no happy marriages. Peaceful marriages are a realistic goal where happiness is a byproduct. Happiness can never be chased nor avoided. Pleasure can be gone after and that is not the same as happiness. And when some couples share that they never had a crisis in their conjugal life then there never is and was any love. Crisis is a sign of affection and love. Irrevocable crisis is a sign of love on the death bed or the postmortem room. It may be a sign of hostility and vengeance too.

Marriages like any institution are in an exciting flux coloured by the issues, idiosyncrasies and innovations of our era. As women are asking for more and the sea of humanity wanting to live centuries in a decade, the emotions sprinkle and at times burst causing pain, joy, change and also harm. Following are some scenarios one sees in day to day life.

Time is gold
Couples remind themselves that they are married by watching the cozy photograph stored on the cell phones. As long working hours sap the energy and provide very little time to connect, touch, time and talk are the casualties. The soul and the skin both remain undernourished. Irritability and anger are the consequences. Lack of sleep also adds fuel to the fire. When time is scarce, emotional contact time replenishes emotional energy. The Mehtas would come home and argue over who will pay the bills, help the kids with tuitions and son and so forth. After a few sessions the couple simply began by resting their heads on each other’s lap and sharing feelings ….in my words the LAP TOP MANTRA. Everything changed. Energy was back and bonding better and tasks completed in record time. Rediscovering soft touch and small talk improves relationships. Emotional contact time and family contact time even brief, short but intense neutralises the toxins caused by rapid pace of life.

Marriage has many definitions as perceived by people. In my opinion it is ‘mind to mind, lip to lip, heart to heart and hip to hip’…where every aspect is important.

Changing power equations

As the empowerment of women is slow but sure, reality power equations are changing. The wife wants a separate bank account and the liberty to take important decisions. This when understood and accepted by the husband helps build relationships and reduces burden on one spouse. But when this change is resisted conflicts are visible. The Cherians are in deep distress. Though the husband insisted on a working wife they had serious objections to her phone calls, dressing sense and late hours at office. They wanted her salary cheque to be deposited in the husband’s account. She objected. The man wanted me to convince his wife. I led the man to get in touch with his fears. ‘She will leave me and go, my mother always obeyed my father.’ As the fears were laid bare on the table we explored the positive change the wife had brought to the family. ‘She is chirpy, happy and has added glow in all our hearts’. The issue was clinched. The irrational beliefs were demolished slowly. Freedom to sleep, spend and splurge is a must for the new age woman.

New definitions

Marriage has many definitions as perceived by people. In my opinion it is ‘mind to mind, lip to lip, heart to heart and hip to hip’…where every aspect is important. Many suffer from a syndrome of ‘anticipating worry’ all the time. In a couple when one partner anticipates worry there is a conflict. There are negative statements made all the time by the spouse leading to reactions from the other. For e.g. a husband once said that ‘his wife is happy-golucky and is irresponsible’. This was because she had planned a picnic inspite of the fact that their child scored less in a school test. The husband did not have a positive demeanour of anticipating joy. The wife wanted to unwind and the husband would not listen. In another couple the wife actually suffered from the syndrome of, ‘capture, copy and file’. She would recall all negative incidents and share it all the time. She had little memory for the positive ones. Anticipating joy and recalling positive experiences in life helps marriages rock. Physical intimacy is important and spelling out each other’s needs adds zing to a marriage.

Distance and boredom

Many couples do not understand that seeing each other under the roof of a restaurant is not similar to living under the same roof. Things change. A lady complained that her husband was better when her husband was a boyfriend. Men have similar complaints. Love is not about roses, gifts and about a long kiss. Love is also about the pains, tribulations and struggle. It needs maintenance just like a car. It needs engine oil and coolants. Many fail to understand this. Living together would mean parents, uncles and relatives in contact with all their needs, egos, sermons and quirks. When the man believes that his in laws are ‘mother in love’ and ‘father in love ‘the marriage remains well oiled. Yet in some families there may be conflicts and the couple may do well with each other but not with their families. Here the maxim of ‘minimum contact and minimum conflicts’ works.

When the vows break

Cultures do not meet any more but bang into each other. Work places are about long intensive activity where hearts and minds engage each other. Love is never restricted to numbers whereas romance has to be restricted to one. Many convert their ‘likes’ into ‘love’ and fall in love with another. Globalisation and its pace is also a cause. When societies do not meet naturally, it mates unnaturally. Love marriages also face the risk of being challenged and at times the split is wide open. Many feel that love marriage is a guarantee for lifelong union and that is not true. Love marriage is heart to the hip, whereas arranged marriage is from the hip to the heart. Living together fosters love which is why arranged marriages also succeed. Both need hard work to thrive. Love has birth, growth and death and at times rebirth. If it dies and does not revive it is better to seek a separation rather than simply exist. A peaceful separation helps children to accept the same and remain free from trauma. If a society celebrates birth and death, marriage and divorce, the society will be healthier and enjoy more peace. Divorce parties are as important as marriage parties.

Love has birth, growth and death and at times rebirth. If it dies and does not revive it is better to seek a separation rather than simply exist.

Emotional arbitration

Any relationship in life can go sour be it a marriage, a business partnership or a friendship. In a conflict one is blind and deaf. The fight vitiates the narrative and exaggerates personal perceptions. There is amnesia of the positives and exaggeration of the negatives. Here the arbitration of friends, family or a counselor may help. There are several institutions of arbitration in communities. Marriage counselling may take weeks, months and years too. Both the partners need to invest so much time in the same.

Depression can cheat

When the Iyers were quarrelling every day and were on the brink of a divorce they visited a counsellor. It all began with simple irritable behaviour that led to confrontations on various issues. The din of the fights submerged the origins of the conflict and the blame game began. When the counsellor slowly dissected the problem, he saw the origins in the illness of depression which the husband suffered. Treatment of this man resolved everything. Depression may hit any one and may not have a trigger. Identifying it early and rectifying it is a must. Shoving it under the carpet can destroy a marriage. Such fractures of the grey cells are easily treatable. When it is mild, exercise can be an antidepressant. Yoga, Vipassana and other forms of meditation help marriages. Yet one needs to understand that these practices are not a substitute for healthy communication.

New scripts

The script of day-to-day life has changed. Couples may be thrown in different cities, may choose not to have kids and may be married to their work where the conjugal partner may be the second spouse. So a million variations may exist and as long as they find balance, life moves peacefully at a different pace during different times. Marriage is no longer the goal of women and many men too, and that is all right. Being alone is better than being lonely inside a marriage some share. Gay marriages will be soon a reality and living together without the sanction of the establishment is seen. Here the same rules apply as in sanctified marriages.

Marriage is a marksheet where a spouse may not score good marks in all subjects, but the average score is the key. One may try to increase the score as far as one can in a lifetime. Adjustment may have cost the former PM Manmohan Singh his job, but marriages do succeed with a little give and take. The secret is working towards peaceful coexistence!


Dr. Harish Shetty

The writer is a Psychiatrist and a Counsellor. He can be reached at All the names in the article have been changed to protect identities.