Is marriage the start of a new life or the end of the world?

Yesterday night, I lay in bed and watched Dhobi Ghat on Netflix. It’s a slice-of-life film set in Mumbai that revolves around four people from different walks of life who find themselves connected to each other by fate.

One of the stories centres around Yasmin Noor, a woman who experiences a reversal of fortune after marriage. While generally a happy person at the start of the film, she changes considerably after she discovers the details of her husband’s extramarital affair. One day, Noor calls her husband’s cellphone, only to be greeted by ‘the other woman’ who openly chides Noor for being naive before passing the phone to her husband. We don’t know the exact details and what happens in the interim, but it is the catalyst that prompts Noor to commit suicide.

As I watched the tragic tale, I couldn’t help but feel that her husband still believed that he was a bachelor. He had never, mentally or emotionally, made the transition from being a single man to being the co-leader of the family. We can nag people to take responsibility for their families as much as we want, but until they understand the gravity of the decision they make by getting married–all nagging sessions will fall on deaf ears.

The reality is that marriage marks an important transition in one’s life. It is about creating a new home, a new life and a new trajectory for the future. It is not about love, a wedding or even the happily ever after. While we can look to marriage to meet our emotional needs, it would be a very superficial and shallow understanding of what a marriage actually is.

Will things change after you get married? Of course, they will.

Will you still be the same person you were before and after marriage? In some respects, yes. In some respects, no.

Marriage will change the course of your life and the course of your destiny. Anyone who believes otherwise is kidding themselves.

Image Credit: Sanchari Das

If you happened to have had a good relationship with your own parents and family of origin, then perhaps you have a working model of what constitutes a functional marriage. But even then, as times change, so does the model of a healthy marriage. In my parents’ generation, it was the norm that the man is the sole breadwinner; but that is no longer the world that I inhabit. I still meet lots of men who feel the need to play the role of the sole breadwinner even though it is neither applicable nor appropriate to our circumstances.

How can anyone plan for a successful marriage when the only model we have inherited is one from a different era?

Monogamous relationships have not been the norm for most of human history. Whether it was polygyny or polyandry, the concept of having multiple spouses–whether in secret or out in the open–has been the modus operandi of the most of the world’s population.

But does it work? I’m here to tell you that the answer is no.

I can understand and appreciate that the world is a diverse place that offers of a medley of options; but I have always held the worldview that polygamy is neither a good idea in theory nor in practise. It is, quite simply, a disaster waiting to happen.

I yawn at stories of jealous spouses and mistresses because it’s all same old, same old. I believe the real issue here is: paternal care and resource access. The more kids and spouses you have, the more you have to allocate and provide for. This is an economic fact. The more is not the merrier; in fact, the more you have, the more your resources (tangible and intangible) need to be diluted across the various stakeholders.

Will you be able to treat all your spouses and offspring equally? I can almost hear you claim ‘yes’, but what is equality, anyway? Can you treat your ten year old kid the same way you treat your 20 year old kid? I don’t think so.

The white elephant is raising his hand and asking: who is claiming the lion’s share in your relationships?

And who said all needs are created equal? Some spouses may want money, others may need your time and attention. So why do we think that treating our spouses ‘equally’ will solve the issue? On the other hand, what are your spouses providing you with? Is it an equal give-and-take? I highly doubt so, especially if there is a significant age difference between partners. Even if you did have a very mature younger partner, the truth is, they will be in a different place to you in terms of their life’s priorities.

Monogamous marriages keep resources within the nucleus. If you decide to have a non-monogamous relationship, I only suggest that you be prepared for the branches of the same tree fighting each other. It can be done, but I haven’t seen instances where it has been done well.

When it comes to career, we plan for a future; but when it comes to marriage, we think we can just wing it. We fall in love, someone pushes us into it because it’s time or we’ve dreamt of the day our whole lives and thought it would be some kind of fairy tale.

Anyone who has been in any kind of long-term relationship that has actually worked will tell you that marriage, at its very core, is a negotiation and a contract. It requires you to adjust to one another and to continue to do that for the duration of the marriage. Sometimes you give in, sometimes the other person gives in. Sometimes you have needs and sometimes the other person needs you.

Constant fighting and bickering is a telltale sign that needs have been ignored and gone unmet. At the core of any kind of fighting is a fight for resources–be it tangible or intangible. By having an affair, you are allocating the resources that were previously available to your spouse to someone else.

Are monogamous relationships easy? No, they are not. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline and self-control to make a decision to be with that one special person and actually stick to it. There are so many distractions in the world that it’s really easy to wander. The more difficult option is sticking to the choice and the commitment you made.

I come back to the story I shared in the beginning–about Yasmin Noor–the newlywed from Dhobi Ghat who committed suicide after finding out about her husband’s affair.

Having multiple partners comes with its own quicksand. The shining white elephant in the room that no one seems to talk about is how the person who gets hurt most from polygamous relationships is the polygamist himself.

Noor hung herself in her own home. As for her husband’s reaction when he came home after a night of debauchery to find his wife dead–the movie does not tell us. I can only surmise that calling up his in-laws couldn’t have been easy.

As for the story he ultimately chooses to tell his kids about his own behaviour–I highly doubt that the truth is even an option.

By Dipa Sanatani

CEO at Sanatanco | The Leading Global Publication and Communications Consultancy for Writers, Readers and Thinkers

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