Love and Marriage
One of our readers is a 29-year-old male, Muslim, born and raised in the Indian subcontinent, studied in Europe, moving to the Middle East after his studies to work in management, and later moved to another European capital where he now lives and where he obtained a graduate degree. In this article, I will call him Fani, which is an Urdu Islamic name that means free. Fani has asked me to comment on his questions.
But first, as countries grow increasingly multi-cultural, we will find young people torn between two cultures, torn between what their heart says and what their parents say, torn between tradition and modern Western life. But Fani’s story is about more than the clash of the East and West, for it is also about the younger generation. In many countries, young people are waiting longer before they get married or are questioning whether they should get married at all. What are your thoughts on love and marriage? Now let’s move on to Fani’s questions and my responses.
Fani:I think I am part of the ‘Peter Pan’ generation. You know the ones who refuse to grow up? Yes exactly that. It is actually to do with marriage. My parents have been looking for a suitable girl for me since I turned 23 i.e., when I completed my undergraduate studies in Europe. Being somewhat religious, wanting to make my parents happy and having an arranged marriage, I had decided that I will leave it to my parents to find someone for me. I had asked my parents to let me know of any potential girls through their friends, family or other contacts and always show me the picture of the girl before they went ahead with anything. The reasoning behind this was that I left all the decisions to them in terms of how the girl is, her family, her religious and family background and if she is compatible with me or not, etc. All the important things, I mean. Since parents are experienced, know their children in and out and of course want the best for them I deemed it best to leave it for them to decide. However, I kept the decision of her physical beauty with me. I believe that it is up to me to decide whether I find the girl attractive or not. If I see the picture and I like it, I will tell them to go ahead and meet the family. If I don’t like it, I will ask them to just keep quiet and not let the family know. Simply because I am no one to hurt anyone’s feelings and I do not want anyone to feel rejected and heart-broken because of me.
Chuck:You say you want to leave all the important details to your parents, yet you are willing to abandon all of those important details simply because of a frivolous feeling you have regarding the appearance of a candidate for marriage. Let’s be clear here, you are actually saying, “I’m not interested in the important details unless they are accompanied by beauty.”
If you want to have a happy marriage, you have to learn to see with your heart, not your eyes. Physical beauty fades, but internal beauty grows with age. If physical beauty is so important to you, what will you do when your wife’s beauty fades? Will you discard her? Will you be disappointed? What will you teach your children about values? Will you teach them that inner beauty is of little value unless it is accompanied by physical beauty? Does the God you profess to believe in choose people by their appearance?What is your goal in life, to grow more God–like or more animal–like?
F: I had and still have my list of qualities that I want in a girl. I want the girl to be beautiful, fair, tall, slim, educated, someone who wanted to make a home rather than a career, someone who is respectful and above all religious as I believe if someone is serious with their religion and follows it; all other things will automatically fall into place.
C:Have you been making a list of what your future wife wants?If you did, apparently it doesn’t include respect, admiration, compassion, and appreciation, all of which are necessary for a successful marriage, and all of which you willingly discard ifa possible mate isn’t pretty enough.
F: It has been 5 years since my parents have been looking for a suitable companion, and I am still rejecting the pictures of girls. In the process, I have had some arguments with my parents, a few serious ones because they liked a few girls and thought that they were compatible with me; however, I thought otherwise, primarily because of the way they looked. Even though I do appreciate and realize that looks are materialistic and secondary, I am not able to get over my fantasy of having a beautiful wife with all the qualities that I mentioned above.
C: Marriages based on fantasy are doomed to failure. Marriage is serious business and for the good of your spouse, children, and society, it should be firmly rooted in reality.
F:Now I do understand that it might not really be possible to have all those qualities in a single girl. Maybe I am just too far from reality and therefore, ready to compromise on a few of the qualities as well.
However, I am now at a stage where I am really sick of all this hassle and so are my parents. They want me to get married and get settled in life as soon as possible and I also want to get over with this issue so that my parents can have some peace in their old age and I can get on with my life as well.
The problem however, is that I now feel or realized that I really don’t want to take this responsibility after all. I have lame reasons saying that why do I need to get married? Why do I need kids? Why do I need to settle or unsettle for that matter and make my life difficult? I have just had the greatest year of my life where I have completed my graduate degree which is my highest qualification from a prestigious university with flying colors, I have travelled to 10+ countries this year alone and have shed 16 kilograms and am in the best shape of my life and feel great. I feel it is just not worth it to take all the responsibility, have kids, look after them, have myself tortured through their teenage years, then put them through college and university, get them jobs and then get them married and in the process, pass my life doing all this by which time I would have been old with both my feet in the grave. I really don’t picture myself having that kind of a life somehow.
C: Although I was harsh on you for judging women by their beauty, I wasn’t really doing it for you, but for other readers who may feel that way. You see, in your case, you may not be so shallow. Rather, you may merely be using the looks of a woman as an excuse to avoid marriage. You are not alone, for growing numbers of young people are confused and questioning what they want from life.
Part of the confusion is due to the fact that young people don’t understand that assuming great responsibility is not a cause for loss of freedom. On the contrary, it is what makes it possible to reach your potential. In other words, the willingness to accept responsibility and sacrifice makes you free to become your best self. How else can you unlock your unlimited potential?
F:Even though I am saying that I think that I belong to the ‘Peter Pan’ generation, it might really not be the case since I have always been serious in life, taken responsibility for my life and actions, abstained from all major evils, completed my education, worked for 4 years and in the process been promoted 2 times, want to contribute back to life and look forward to making a career, looking after my parents in their old age, earning lots of money, traveling the world and serving humanity in whatever way I can including through writing. It is just the marriage and children part that I am running from.
Having said that, I also do have feelings for having a companion, a sense of belonging, feeling loved etc. and hence, all this freaking confusion. Sometimes, I feel it is because I don’t want to take responsibility, sometimes I think it is because we cannot find the girl that I really like in all aspects. Sometimes, I even feel that since I have never really fallen in love since I have been abstaining and keeping away from all these temptations of life, I am no longer used to the idea of having a girl by my side. Maybe I have resisted too long and it has become like a wall that just wants to keep me away from getting into a commitment and a lifelong relationship.
So those are more or less my issues and want you to please help me understand what my problem is and how do you think I can solve it? Is it a psychological issue?
C: It can be psychological. After all, the greatest impediment to growth, according to William James, is self-doubt. He also taught us how to overcome self-doubt with his 10-Day Plan and Act As If principle. If you work with these two tools, I’m sure you will be able to restore your innate courage and faith in yourself. Self-doubt, by the way, plagues many high powered executives, members of the entertainment industry, and celebrities.
Self-doubt in itself is not bad. For often it is the feeling of insecurity that drives us to succeed. So, it is well worth feeling uncomfortably insecure in exchange for the success we reach because of it. Yet, once it begins to debilitate us, it is time to take action and regain control over our lives. And we can do this by practicing the 10-Day Plan and Act As If principle. Burn this into your mind: “When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.” (Honore de Balzac).
F: Do I really need to get married and is life really worthless not having a wife?
C: No, life is not worthless without a spouse. Some people cannot get married, yet lead happy lives. Yet, as a general rule, marriage enhances life and assists us in reaching our potential.
F:Please give me a reason to get married.
C: If we ignore societal, psychological, and religious reasons, in my view there and just two reasons to get married:
You now respect, admire, and love someone so much that you want to spend the rest of your life with that person. OR:
You are joining with someone who is worthy of respect and admiration, just as you are, and both of you realize that over time your partnership will grow into friendship, followed bymutual respect, admiration, and love.
Well, Fani, that concludes my personal remarks to you. However, I would like you, and our other readers to realize that the time to think about your behavior after marriage is before marriage. To help you in this regard, I’m following this article with my past answers to another reader, who was also confused, but it was after his marriage. Also, the resources I listed at the end of this article are for you, Fani.
The Second Reader’s Problem
A 34-year-old engineer from India asks about a marital problem. I will call him Aastik, a name that means “who has faith in God.” Aastik writes,
“I have been married for nine years, have a son, and live with my wife and parents. My younger sisters got married about the same time as me. Despite my parent’s disapproval, they chose their own husbands.
“I, on the other hand, was more or less forced to marry a girl of my parent’s choice. I now feel that if I had waited longer, I might have been introduced to a better spouse.
“I am unhappy that my wife no longer warmly responds to my feelings as she did when we first got engaged. She always seems to be too busy taking care of our son.”
When I asked Aastik what he admires about his wife, he replied, “I admire her honesty and the fact that she is a terrific mother.”
Aastik’s unhappy home life is causing problems. He finds it hard to concentrate on his job or focus on his wife. To release the frustration and stress he feels, he sometimes flirts with another woman on the Internet. He has asked me for my opinion of his situation.
Before I share my ideas with you, Aastik, please understand that what I have to say is based on what I learned from you. I haven’t spoken to your wife or visited you in India, so my knowledge is incomplete. Therefore, I cannot give you the best answer or advice. But perhaps you may find my brief comments helpful.
As I see it, you are hurt by your wife’s lack of enthusiasm toward you. It troubles you that she no longer responds to you as she did when you first got engaged.
But I am happy that you are hurt because your pain will give you a small idea of the pain your wife feels. Her pain is many times greater.
You see, Aastik, it is impossible to hide your thoughts and feelings from your wife. Even though you may never tell her what is on your mind, your body language, the tone of your voice, and your behavior tells her what you are feeling.
And what are you feeling? You are feeling regret that you married her because you think if you waited longer, you may have gotten a ‘better’ partner. What you do not realize is that if you had waited longer, you could have lost the opportunity to marry your wife (who is honest and a terrific mother) and ended up with a less suitable mate.
You also regret that you could not choose your own wife the way your sisters chose their own mates.
You resent being forced into marriage, just as children resent being forced to take medicine, even though it is for their own good and given to them by loving parents.
Perhaps you are familiar with the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
That is, we tend to believe that what we don’t have is better than what we already have. But the grass always appears greener on the other side, regardless of which side we are on.
Since your sisters have a ‘love marriage’ and you don’t, you think their way of getting married is better. But if you had a love marriage, and it didn’t work out, you would believe arranged marriages are better.
What makes marriages work? It is YOU, not the system. Love or arranged marriages work, if the couples do. In other words, marriage isn’t something you get; it’s something you do.
The vast majority of marriages in your country are arranged, and the fact that India has the lowest divorce rate in the world attests to their value. There is also truth in the saying, “A love marriage is like a pot of hot water on a cold stove; an arranged marriage is like a pot of cold water on a hot stove.”
The most important point for you to understand is that the reason your wife isn’t treating you as warmly as you wish is not because she is busy looking after your son, but because she is terribly hurt by the regret and doubt that you have about the marriage. She can see it in your eyes. Now that she doesn’t receive unconditional admiration, respect, and love from you, she receives it from her son.
Your problem is not hopeless. Rather, it is relatively easy to turn around. Mahatma Gandhi explained how to do so when he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” That is, you have to become the change you want to see in your wife.
How do you want your wife to respond to you? Do you want her to admire you, appreciate you, love you, want to spend time with you, take care of you when you’re not feeling well, encourage you, treat you kindly, speak well of you to others? Make a list of everything you wish to receive from her and then give it to her.
When we give pain to others, we receive pain back. When we make others happy, we experience happiness. It’s very simple isn’t it?
Beware of flirting on the Internet or elsewhere because it is a dangerous pastime. It may seem to be a small matter, but it can result in serious unintended consequences. Remember, it is no longer just about you and your wife, for it is also about your son. And the most important thing you can do for him is to love his mother.
Because of your guilt, you may be tempted to confess to your wife about your feelings of doubt and regret and your Internet flirting. Resist that temptation, for although a confession may bring you some relief, it will only hurt her more.
Once you start giving your wife everything you wish to receive from her, she may find your sudden change of heart suspicious, hesitating to return warm feelings. That is understandable, so just be patient. But after she finds herself receiving the same degree of attention from you daily, she will finally accept the new behavior as a change of heart and begin to respond with warmth.
She may even ask you what brought about your change of heart. You can reply by saying something like, “I was hurt because of receiving less attention from you. Then I realized I was giving you less attention, so now I am trying to bring our lives back into balance.” Confessing that you were hurt by her lack of attention is exposing your vulnerability. Most men try to hide their fears, but by admitting it you demonstrate that you place your trust in your wife. This will also offer her the opportunity to calm your fears. The result is both of you will grow in intimacy, mutual respect, and love.
Keep in mind that when we only think about what we want from life, we create friction, but when we think about what we can do for others, we create harmony. Life is not for taking what we want, but for giving others what they need.
When I asked Aastik if he had any other questions, he told me the following:
“I believe whatever happens in my life is God’s will. For example, I did not choose my parents, relatives, or wife, but it must be God’s will. Yet, if what God gives me makes me unhappy, I can’t understand why He would give it to me.”
Aastik, nothing, including God, can make you unhappy. Only you can make yourself unhappy. Here is an outline of how life works:
1. Stuff happens.
2. We respond to what happens in a positive way or react to it in a negative way.
3. We then experience the consequences of our positive or negative behavior.
So, what is the role of God/Fate/Destiny?
1. It creates or allows the events that we have no control over to enter our lives.
2. It grants us the power to embrace or resist what happens to us.
3. It created the laws of life, such as “We reap what we sow.”
So, ultimately, we create our own fate or destiny by the choices we make.
1. Stop the “What if… thoughts. “What if I had waited longer to find a spouse?” “What if I had the opportunity to pick my own wife?” Such thoughts prevent you from enjoying what you already have.
Rather, ask yourself empowering questions, such as, “What do I have to be grateful for?” “What do I admire in my wife?” “What steps can I take to strengthen my family life?” “What activities can me, my wife, and son enjoy doing together? “When can I begin?” When will I begin?”
2. Your marriage is an opportunity to enjoy an exciting and rewarding life. You can share dreams and goals while supporting, encouraging, and inspiring each another. Commit to becoming the best husband, father, son, and engineer that you can. How can we become successful unless we first commit to it?
3. Always look for the good in every situation. We always find what we look for, so if you make looking for the good a habit, you will assure yourself of a happy life.
4. Examine your faults. Aren’t you lucky that your wife accepts you despite your many faults? Count your blessings.
MAKING MARRIAGE SIMPLE: Ten Truths for Changing the Relationship You Have into the One You Want by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt
GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANT: A Guide for Couplesby Harville Hendrix
RECEIVING LOVE: Transform Your Relationship by Letting Yourself Be Loved
by Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt P
THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES FOR MAKING MARRIAGE WORK: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expertby John M. Gottman and Nan Silver
THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES: The Secret to Love That Lastsby Gary D Chapman
SAVING YOUR MARRIAGE BEFORE IT STARTS: Seven Questions to Ask Before and After You Marry by Les Parrott and Leslie Parrott
Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Marriedby Gary D Chapman
HOLD ME TIGHT: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson