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Knot forever: writings on modern marriages

  |   Books

In the US, 76 per cent of marriages don’t work: 56 per cent end in divorce and roughly 20 per cent stay in a marriage for the sake of their children. Is the institution of marriage overrated? Is it even relevant in today’s time? The book All or Nothing Marriage by Eli J Finkel has an interesting insight: over the course of the last century, while divorces have increased the best marriages today are better than the best ones in previous eras.

The word “marriage” comes from Middle English and was first seen in 1250-1300 CE. According to a magazine, the first recorded marriage took place in 2350 BCE in Mesopotamia, but the institution of marriage is likely even more ancient. Throughout history, parents arranged marriages to serve as an alliance between families that would bring (mainly economic) benefit to both sides. Love and companionship entered the picture only in the mid nineteenth century, but today, a new kind of marriage has emerged – one oriented towards self-discovery, self-esteem, and personal growth.

In India the divorce rate is 1 per cent, one of the lowest in the world, and yet the numbers have increased by 350 per cent in the previous two decades. In India, young people who grew up with the internet and the advent of smartphones and social media are expected to adhere to thousands of years of tradition when it comes to marriage. It’s that conflict between obeying tradition and embracing modernity that drives journalist Mansi Choksi’s The Newly Weds. The book is a literary investigation into India as a society in transition through the lens of forbidden love, as three young couples reject arranged marriages and risk everything for true love during social and political upheaval.

Lori Gottlieb’s bestselling memoir Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, traces the process of working on her own romantic relationships alongside her therapist. Many therapists have saved marriages and so have books. Dr John Gottman has done in-depth research on relationships for over 50 years. He and his wife Dr Julie Schwarz, who are both therapists and clinical psychologists, founded The Gottman Institute and developed the Gottman Method of Relationship Therapy. In his book Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he has come up with seven essential strategies to help correct behaviours that cause discord in relationships. It’s filled with practical advice, as well as questionnaires and exercises to do with your partner.

The Gottmans co-wrote Eight Dates, a guide to strengthen your love with a fun, ingenious programme of eight life-changing conversations on essential topics such as money, sex, and trust. I was intrigued by their 5:1 ratio – you need to do five positive things to make up for one negative thing if you want a relationship that works! In couples who ended up with a divorce the ratio was 0.8:1. Similarly, Earl Hunt, in The Mathematics of Behavior, had a probability formula to predict marital success. He wrote: “The equilibrium point for negative marriages is unstable.” If either partner is even slightly less negative, the point will shift towards the positive.

What Hunt meant was that one shouldn’t dwell on negative thoughts. Make it a point to say positive things to each other, although it is important to express your disagreements and wants – though in a constructive manner. The ‘perfect marriage’ is an illusion; every marriage is work in progress and needs constant reinforcement. Just as a plant needs water and fertiliser, a marriage requires ongoing care. Be the first to say, I’m sorry. When your partner reaches out in kindness, whether spontaneously or in an effort to rebuild trust, welcome it readily without judgement or scepticism.

We should never forget that “Happily ever after is not by chance, it’s a choice”. Navigating the challenges of long-term commitment takes effort and I hope therapies and books provide the resource that will allow us to remain committed to one of the oldest human institutions.

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