Happily Ever After
Marriage and family is not a drudge… Sounds familiar? Thought so. Skeptical or not, your marriage is whatever you make of it.
I got married about 14 years ago and while for some people that might seem like a drop in the ocean, it is a pretty big drop for me. While I cannot deny that our happily ever after did not start at the beginning of our marriage, I must admit that our marriage, for those in the same boat as I am, is a work in progress with its ups and down, happiness and sadness, in-laws and outlaws. I figure we have been fed a staple of “Happily Ever After” stories and that may have skewed our thinking that a good marriage begins with a good wedding. That cannot be further from the truth…and perhaps there are some misconceptions to the phrase happily ever after…
When I was younger, I truly believed that the hard part of love and marriage was finding my Mr. Right. That was not the end but the start of the future, which lasts forever.
Marriage, as you know, and in spite of what others may say, is not for as good as it gets, but forever. That applies whatever your belief system may be. Proven data has shown that good marriages are the foundation of good societies and we all know how much society needs to improve. It is through good, stable and strong marriages that children become well formed, civic conscious and right thinking individuals.
Fruit, as you know never falls far from the tree, therefore good parents will naturally instill good habits, traits, ideals and thoughts to their children. Their children will live with these traits and will pass them on to following generations. Like the movement of concentric circles in the water when a pebble is dropped into it, the waves of these ideals permeate throughout society.
Naturally that is on the supposition that people will choose to live good and upright lives. Individually we all have the power and propensity to choose good or evil, right or wrong and perhaps harder, between the good and better choices.
A good marriage takes a lot of hard work on the part of both the spouses. Like the adage, ”It takes two hands to clap”, the same applies here. Hence the failure of any marriage occurs when at least one party chooses not to work at this.
Society used to perceive marriage as a given. In the past, people were to manage their own marriage and help came through the form of advice (wanted or not) from friends and relatives. The advice naturally depended on the skew of the advisor. Speak to a pessimist, and that may well spell the end of your marriage. Speak to a person with an ulterior motive, and you are no more than a puppet in the hand of a master puppeteer, whereas a good advisor would be a boon to a person rudderless in a sea of marital problems.
Marriages back then were also expected to last, come what may. Hence it was not unusual to find spouses just living their married lives like two ships passing through the night. On the surface, things looked normal but underneath, there was nothing. Today, with much study, education and formation, society is being formed to treasure marriage, to work towards making marriage happy and fruitful, to the spouses, their families and society at large.
Happy marriages make happy societies. While all that is easier said than done, what can we do to ensure this is so? While I do not suppose to be an expert in this field, through my chats, conversations and curiosity, here are some ideas which may be useful.
Communication rules the day
In anything we do or say, we need to communicate with each other, be it at work or play. Communication is a very important component in our lives. We are constantly communicating and being communicated to by the people around us, whether that communication is verbal, by hand signals or even body language.
Perhaps, one of the problems is that we take for granted the importance of communication between our spouses and our family. While we are fully aware that outside the home, communication plays an important part in our careers, school, among friends, in play, etc we tend to take it for granted that our spouses and children ought to know what we want or need without our need for communicating it. That may be partly true since our family members know us in all probability better than other people do but the fact remains that we still need to communicate our needs and wants to our family members. How many disagreements, fights, irritations and upsets could be avoided if this little thing had not been taken for granted.
Love: say it…mean it
Be open in saying “I love you” and other terms of endearment always to your spouse and children. Again, this is something that we may take for granted but is so necessary.
People need affirmation in their lives. They need to feel loved. While it is true that we may show our love through our deeds by providing for our family’s needs, by taking the children for all their activities, buying gifts for them on their special days, it is something special when you tell someone you love them. It concretizes your actions of providing, caring and gift giving. In fact, many a time, children and spouses feel more assured in your love for them by the simple statement of “I love you,” “I care about you”, “I need you” much more than the gifts lavished upon them.
When you say it, mean it. You cannot say, “I love you” when angry, can you?
Let kids be kids
In today’s society, the paper chase, the corporate climb and scaling the un-scalable dominate us. While many people may not like to be classed in this category, the reality is that the ethos of this work and culture of living has permeated all levels of society. A rather extreme example of this I discovered some 13 years ago, was the practice of some kindergartens of holding examinations for their pupils, children as young as 6 years old, before “graduation”.
Kids should be kids, they should play, enjoy life and just be kids. Study pressure or the pressure to be the best and to succeed in everything should not be forced upon children at such a young age. The time will come around soon enough when they will need to learn to cope with pressure and to push themselves. It serves no one, child or parents, to try and pre-empt or hasten this learning process prematurely.
Marriages nowadays undergo a lot of stress, which come mainly from outside factors and especially work pressures, and this can wreak havoc on the home front. Reducing unnecessary pressure eases up on family life.
Smile and be happy
Smile and be happy – there is a lot we have to be thankful for. Many good things happen to us every day and many bad things as well. But it is possible to derive benefits from both the good, and the bad. Bad turns of events help mould and strengthen our character, making us more resilient and resourceful. I guess it is how you look at the problems that come: a classic case of seeing a cup of water as half full or half empty. Some of us might be more inclined to see everything half empty rather than half full. The good news is that we can change that. The bad news is…that it takes work!
Changes to one’s character naturally will not happen overnight but it is something that we can work on or at least try. Family life really sucks with pessimists around. Children and spouses need smiling, happy faces. We need to have bright and cheerful homes because these are the homes where the family will want to come back to. Dull, dreary, angry places never attract.
While many parents may await in anticipation the day their children leave home for good, the fact is that the home should always be a place they leave because they have to, they want to and because the time has come and not because it is such a horrid place that they do not want to be there. Leaving must be a choice not a compulsion.
Anyway, many studies have been done on smiling and being happy – it is proven to lengthen your life!
Agree to disagree
We get married to people and have children, not robots so it is all right that we do not see everything eye to eye. Our differences keep family life fresh and exciting. In a home everyone need not always agree with the father or mother but dissension or disagreement must always be voiced respectfully and accepted respectfully as long as it does not concern concrete family rules or moral issues where parents must take a stand on. In all discussions, things always work out better when we speak nicely and politely to each other. It is family after all!
A family that eats together, stays together
Honestly, this does not only apply to the eating part only but just about everything. Rope the family in to do anything and everything in the home whether it is spring cleaning, general cleaning, cooking, washing the car, having meals, going out together, etc.
This is probably easier to do when the kids are young but fun parents can attract their older kids into family activities although it may involve some lifestyle changes for them.
Take an interest in their interests even though you cannot imagine how anyone can like, for example the music they listen to. Parents need to mentally stoop to their children’s level in order to understand them better and children need to look up to their parents. Living happily together as a family is a two way street. To make it work, everyone must put in their 2 cents worth although parents will probably need to make more effort but that is why we are parents and they are our children. When we love someone, we will go out of our way without counting the cost because that is love…
Love, like wine, matures with time
The love you felt for your spouse when you first courted each other naturally changes over time. The rush of feelings each time you saw him or her probably does not occur now but that does not mean that your love has waxed and waned, it means that it has matured.
Mature love does not go through the motions and emotions of young love; it is more stable. But the danger in its stability is that we can take that love for granted and the lack of feeling may eventually give way to boredom. Communication is vital. Speak about anything and everything. A marriage is about a sharing of hearts and lives so each must know the others’ hopes, dreams, failures and faults. You need to know your spouse like the back of your hand.
However, having said that, there is a balance to be maintained between spouses so that telling a spouse everything does not degenerate into nagging, gossiping and grumbling which can also easily happen, or that only one spouse is the one doing the talking while the other is just listening. Everything must have a balance and as spouses, it is each our job to find that golden mean.
Sex makes the world go round
It is true!
Biology has made men and women different and their sexual needs similarly differ. While it is a generalization, it is also true to say that for men, sex has a very strong physical component to it, whereas women often invest more, or at least, equal importance to the emotional component as to the physical in sex. In addition, while many women’s desire for sex may decrease over time, men, on the other hand, seem to continue to need sex. Traditionalists might say it is a ‘wifely duty’ to be open to the husband’s needs, and feminists might call it yet another example of a woman’s servitude to a man to have to do so. A more constructive way of looking at it though, centred on reality, is that sex between a man and woman, bonded in marriage, is an act based in love, and love, as Thomas Aquinas defined it, is that which seeks the good of the other. Sex between husband and wife is a beautiful act of love which helps strengthen the bond of intimacy between them, and is at its most unifying when both parties are sensitive to the needs of the other.
At the end of the day…
Marriage and family life are works in progress, and we will never know how strong a foundation we made of them until we look back over our lives. Hence the little that is done every day helps in making that foundation strong and sturdy. A good marriage does not happen overnight. Problems will occur but need to be met head on together, with patience, perseverance and love.
Our marriages are diamonds in the rough and it will take a lot of cutting and polishing to make it a gem built to last. Some of you reading this may be having marriage problems: get help. Don’t be shy or lose hope such that you end up doing nothing. In doing nothing, nothing will happen, the status quo will remain and in the end someone will cop out. Don’t let your marriage go down the drain because it is too difficult, too stale, too whatever.
Our wedding is not the beginning of the “Happily Ever After…”. We do not live in fairytales no matter how much we may like to. We live in reality, in the real world. The “Happily Ever After” will come provided we do not give up, we do not throw in the towel, provided we give it our best shot. It takes two hands to clap, they say…clap it together then!
Andrea Nathan resides in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, and is a proud mother of 4, and the owner of 2 dogs. She has been happily married to her childhood sweetheart for 15 years.