Restoring a moth-eaten marriage | Sunday Observer

Restoring a moth-eaten marriage

Not long ago I wrote a piece for my column called “Understanding your teenager.”The next day, a lady wrote to me, “I have been married only three years, and already our marriage seems worn out and moth-eaten. Why can’t we make it work even after trying our best? Write about that also”.

A week later, by a streak of coincidence, I had been introduced to a professional Indian marriage counsellor at a public seminar held in Colombo. She agreed to talk to me but allowed just half-an-hour for the conversation. So, I showed her the mail about the moth-eaten marriage.

The following is the summary of what she told me. In marriage or in any other relationship, the way people feel about other people depends on the way those other people make them feel.

The marriage binds each partner to make certain honest efforts: to love, to be faithful, and so on. But, marriage is also an arrangement in which each of the partners expect to have certain needs fulfilled.

Not just the obvious requirements, such as, food, clothing, and money, but three elemental emotional hungers.

First hunger

The first is: Each partner needs a sense of being able to claim complete priority in the other partner’s affection. This, in fact, is the cornerstone of any marriage. But, the only way a partner can be sure that he or she has this priority is when the other partner sends clear, frequent, signals confirming it.

What are these signals? Each couple must develop their own. The unexpected kind gesture, the compliment in public, the casual caress - these are small things in the marriage handbook, but things that become big because they work so well.

It is not enough to love someone routinely or passively. You have to dramatize it now and then. Time and again in “triangle” situations, I’ve heard some dismayed partners say defiantly, “Well, at least I know I’ve found someone who really cares about me!” No doubt, in many cases, the estranged partner cared just as much, but forgot - or never knew it until it’s expressed, love tends to remain just a state of mind.

If you’re not getting enough signals, it may be because you’re not sending enough signals. This matter is worth thinking about.

Second hunger

The second basic hunger is: everyone needs somebody else’s strength. Life is full of awkward burdens; no one should have to carry them all alone.

Even the strongest of us call for help at times.

“l need a little help - in my job, with the children, with money problems or in-law problems, with everything - and I’m not getting it.”

What the wives and husbands of these discouraged people fail to realize is that when you help your partner you are also helping yourself. Aside from obligations, aside from love and kindness and self-sacrifice, it’s a matter of self-interest.

If you want your own life to run smoothly, you’ve got to take some of the pressure off your partner. Marriage is a two-wheeled cart; if one of the wheels is bent out of shape, the cart isn’t likely to move.

I know of a lady who is married to a man whose career is lecturing and writing. Like many creative people, he’s bored by the details of day to day life. Basically, he’s impractical; and could be temperamental at times. So,the wife has taken over the administrative side, and she handles the family finances, because he hates figures. She does what she can to shield him from distractions or interruptions. She tries to arrange matters so that problems come to him one at a time rather than in droves.

Part of her reward is his gratitude; but part of it is also the relief and satisfaction she gets from living with a happy man.

Being supportive gees beyond mere efficiency, though. It involves constant and compassionate awareness of where support is needed.

I know another lady whose husband is hot-tempered and headstrong, but lovable as well. Not long ago, on a Friday afternoon, he came home from work in a rage, because he felt he had been unfairly criticized. He sat down and wrote out a furious letter of resignation.

His wife didn’t try to dissuade him. She even suggested some changes in the wording. “I have to go, buy some things for supper,” she said. “On my way, I pass a mailbox. I’ll take care of this.”

She took care of it, all right. On Sunday morning, she handed the letter back to her husband. “If you still want to send this,” she said, “I won’t object. But, I thought you needed time to think it over.”

The husband tore up the letter. “Thanks,” he said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Third hunger

The third universal yearning - in a way it’s the mirror-image of the second - is to be needed. All of us are constantly groping for a reason for our lives, a purpose for our existence. And, since only a few of us are theologians or philosophers, the answer lies in feeling indispensable to someone else.

When you speak to people who are unhappy in marriage, you would realize they lack the sense of being needed. They do not give enough of themselves to be indispensable, or else, their efforts are not being recognized or acknowledged.

The chances are high that the lady who complained about her moth-eaten marriage is a person starved for appreciation - and her husband probably is, too. ‘ ‘We both keep trying,” she wrote. But does either ever thank the other for trying? Do they ever say, ‘ ‘l know you’re making an effort, and I need that effort, and I appreciate it and love you for it?”

That’s all it would take to fill this deep vacuum in the mind, this desperate wish to be needed. Marriage, we’re often told, is a difficult and demanding challenge. It’s wrong! We ourselves make it too complicated. Just three things, that’s all we need.