Why is love presumed to be all sweetness and light? Strife is always hushed up. This aunt, that uncle, this niece, that neighbour - everyone knows their marriage is one of loud arguments and throwing of pans but no one will come out and say this, least of all the pair in question.
Since a lot of hard work goes into maintaining this façade of smiling silences, it always comes as a surprise to newlyweds when they first disagree; they fondly label it as ‘our first fight’ or ‘our last fight’, hoping this is it, this one teeny-tiny difference of opinion on something, oh so inconsequential. Then they learn, as everyone does, that the road is long and hard and, well, noisy.
Net result of this whole fairy tale that marriages are made in heaven and that love is supposed to be all about seamlessly coming together is that no one is prepared for things going wrong. Couples breeze in brashly, believing that somehow they will become perfect partners just because they are now legally wedded to their one and only. So that the first clashes are on the business of soulmates.
The thing about marriages is that they go on and on. Unless you manually arrange to get out of them by dialing daddy or divorce lawyers, you have to get on with the task of fitting into your own marriage. Which means learning to speak up as and when required. Passive-aggressive spouses, fence-sitters, those who nod to their moms and wives with the same head, and the hysterical shrew who rants and raves – they are all learning how to cope with the monstrous discovery that one has to look after himself/herself. We are all on our own. Husbands and wives are nice people to have around, but only if you agree with them all the time. Discord may be distasteful but done right is the only way forward.
Martial strategies in the marital arena are worth studying. How to, what to, when to, why to…. voice disagreements is down to an art form. If you think the kids are being protected by your keeping quiet, then rest assured that all they will remember is what a wimp you were. And if you are the one flying off the handle every time, they will trace all their anger issues back to you.
Just like joint bank accounts are a no-no for modern couples and me-time as much a priority as us-time, the way you fight makes or mars your relationship. Magazines are always going on about scheduling bedroom time and ways to spice up what you are up to there. Apply that same passion and detailed obsession to your brawls. Fix a time to sit with each other when you have the house to yourself, and take turns to accuse, to point fingers, to generally let go. Shake hands after this or arrange to meet a marriage counselor. Either way you have addressed the elephant in the room. Not the syrupy undying love you have for each other, but those pockets of dissent you carry on your person.
Listening will come in as handy in arguments as in sweet nothings.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
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First Published: IST