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Perceptions and notions about relationships are changing, at least in urban India. Here, many young couples enter a relationship with the feeling that they can renege on the commitment, when they wish. A marriage is a deep affirmation of a longstanding human tradition. The art of marriage has to be learned and, like parenthood, comes with no instructions, says jfW guest columnist Dr. Gita Arjun

AStanding on the threshold of marriage, a couple might feel overwhelmed at the thought of traversing this hitherto uncharted territory. Having navigated and negotiated their way through a marriage, an older couple might look back with wonder at the years which have passed. What makes a good marriage? If a couple desires to have a great marriage, will it just happen? Is it a matter of luck, a matter of timing or a confluence of love, determination and commitment?

The expectations from a marriage

We all have certain expectations from a marriage. We want companionship, a friend who will stand by us in the face of the world, a true and trusted partner to navigate the convoluted paths of life together. We want a person who believes in us. We want someone who can laugh with us and not at us. We want the romantic hero of novels and films: a person who will make our heart race. We want someone who we don’t have to pretend with. We want a partner who sees us as unique and irreplaceable. We want someone not just to share a life with but to build a life with. It is true that people change, but if people can change together then they need not grow apart.

The dynamics of a modern marriage Tradition, religion, parental and societal forces have been the conventional adhesives keeping a marriage together. In today’s society, several forces tend to pull the fabric of a marriage apart, leading to the unravelling of the relationship. Couples work long hours, travel extensively, and juggle careers with family. The concept of a commuter marriage, where each partner spends time away from the other, is becoming commoner. Women are out there in the workforce, in greater numbers than ever. Marriages are battered by the demands of her workplace as well as his. A modern woman is more and more unwilling to compromise on her career in favour of his.

We two against the world
In successful marriages, the partners must form a single unit. Whatever the differences of opinion between each other, when it comes to the rest of the world, it is important to present a united front. Happy and fulfilled couples will reiterate that they depend on each other exclusively, when it comes to the important things in life. The trust which comes from knowing that the other will not let you down and will always stand by you is irreplaceable and priceless.

Love and laughter
Joanne Woodward, widow of the late Paul Newman, undoubtedly one of the handsomest actors to come out of Hollywood, once said, “Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh everyday, ah, now that's a real treat.” Laughter is the catalyst which turns love into a true treasure of the heart. If you can laugh together, you will find that love grows and encompasses you and shelters you from the many vicissitudes of life.

Trust and fidelity
The passion and ardour of the early years of a relationship will eventually evolve into a deep glow of devotion and contentment. Keeping the romance alive is one of the greatest challenges in a marriage. Couples in long, satisfying marriages always reiterate that romantic love should never be relegated to the background. When the romance seems to be fading, people might look elsewhere for proof that they are still attractive. Remember that being faithful is the cornerstone of any good marriage. A lovely song by Johnny Cash says it all: “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine; because you are mine, I walk the line.”

The changing landscape of marriage
Carl Jung, a student of human nature and one of twentieth century’s greatest philosophers said that marriage is the most complex of human relationships. What makes marriage a difficult landscape to navigate is that changes keep happening, sometimes with hardly any warning. Any crisis, minor or major, can shake the very foundation of the marriage. The ability to adapt, and change our perceptions and expectations, will define the way we make our marriage work. Each partner has to learn to bend and compromise, with the ultimate aim of tiding over the crisis without letting go of the other person. A happy, lasting marriage is challenged and rebuilt every day. It takes commitment to chart a map for a successful journey together.

A good marriage is not only choosing the right partner, it is being the right partner. It is not just a commitment to a person; it is a commitment to the institution of marriage itself. It is not just entering a relationship; it is not allowing oneself an excuse to seek an exit route.

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