First of all, don’t believe in marriage. Believe in love. In freedom. Believe in friendship.
Be an adult. Be independent.
Yes, we can simplify things. We must. If you are old enough to get married, you are old enough to take charge of the story of your life. It’s the best way to stay married. And stay sane. Simultaneously.
Go back to the start and invent a new beginning
In those moments when the whole shenanigan of playing a role that is thrust upon me in a structure I didn’t choose begins to overwhelm me with its unimaginative demands, it gives me great solace to remember what I wanted for ourselves in the beginning—when we first began to plan to marry.
I wanted to hang out with this guy. I wanted to travel and pause on sidewalks, sampling street food and seasonal fruits. I wanted to receive him at railway stations and text him from faraway places. I wanted both of us to heal from the mishaps of our childhood. Together and separately.
I also wanted to find a way to be an effective adult in this culture, society and country that we had in common. To live in peace with this person whose presence often brought out versions of me that I liked being.
It is never too late to reset the button and start all over again. Give yourselves many new chances.
Shrug off expectations like a bird caught in the rain
Remember, there is as much unlearning to do as there may be new learning. What surprised me more than the discovery that my husband and I had cultural templates that didn’t always match was that everyone we interacted with had their own version of expectations from us.
The neighbours, the maid, the gardener, others in his village and, of course, our extended families—everyone wanted to be entertained in their own way. In the beginning, I thought it was incredibly funny how aunts and other irrelevant people would try to counsel us about the roles of husband and wife that were now expected of us.
I didn’t even realize when others began to get under our skin and influence our responses to each other. We began to behave differently in the presence of different sets of people and before we knew it, this pile of meaningless expectations distracted us from being who we really are in the relationship we want to nurture with each other.
Ignore what others want from you, make space for yourself. For your multiple selves. Let your spouse do the same.
Delay solving problems till they are mature and distilled
I stumbled upon this trick in retrospect. I have been practising it intuitively and opportunistically for years. Park your issues till you can separate the real from the phoney ones. Don’t make time to sort out disagreements between yourselves. They are all less urgent than they seem. Gift yourself the perspective of time and distance.
Don’t trust your problem-solving brain all the time. Relationships and domestic things have many roundabout ways of finding their equilibrium. Given enough time, problems unravel themselves. They sort themselves in order of priority. We learn to look at them with a fresh lens.
Traditional scripts need a modern reading to be relevant. Old problems need a new language to make themselves understood.
Differences are not complications to be solved. They need enough room to coexist. They need time to recognize and get familiar with each other. Being married doesn’t mean becoming more like each other. Being in love means celebrating the unique in each other. At other times, we can tolerate and ignore each other. See it as another form of love.
Let solutions slow-cook over years. They will stay fresh longer.
Have hobbies and distractions other than your marriage
Be busy. Be scarce. Be absent-minded. Be dreamy and spaced out sometimes. Give others a chance to crave your attention. Let them accuse you of neglecting them. Let them find out that you can and will fall in love with new things, goals and people every now and then.
Distance yourself from each other. Don’t see it as a betrayal. See it as a commitment to both yourself and your marriage. Don’t feel compelled to choose one over the other.
Whenever you feel desperate, remember to pause. Something else needs to realign itself, be still for a while.
Make space for growth, slowdowns and other inconvenient changes
Make spaces for being tired. For being ambitious. For being bored. For depression and illnesses. For missing the flight and being okay with making mistakes.
Make space for inconvenient detours. You are not supposed to know the route in advance, you must meander, you must change your mind. Choose a non-linear life. Distrust pre-packaged advice. There is no one size that fits all.
Not only do you not know very much about the person you have married, you will be constantly surprised by revelations about your own self. This is how life is meant to be—ever-changing and never constant.
Your marriage is a river. It responds to seasons, it has its own circular rhythms. Let it flow, let it change its course. Nurture it. Pay attention to the sunsets.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker and the author of the books My Daughters’ Mum and Immortal For A Moment.