Marriage has not only been a valued but even a sacred institution in Indian society. Despite forced arranged marriages, incompatibility, dowry deaths and abuse, couples still continue living together. Not surprising then that in the 1990s, hardly 1000 couples got legally divorced each year. In fact, India had the lowest rate of divorce in the world. It’s shocking to see that the divorce statistics in 2007 have shown a jump to 9,000 cases per year!
Moreover, couples in the age group of 25-35 account for a whopping 70% of these cases, with most divorces being filed in the first three years of marriage. Also unlike earlier where abuse which an often stated reason for divorce, in the past decade compatibility and attitudinal problems are being cited more regularly as reasons for separation.
This disturbing trend where couples decide to part ways without making much effort from their end is what relationship experts are viewing with growing concern. Psychologists too are amazed at the large number of couples approaching them for relationship counselling, a trend that seems to be rising almost daily.
More than ever, Indian couples are in need of help to save their marriage and to build stronger relationships.
Here are 10 ways you can strengthen the bond with your partner:
1. Love is a verb: Love is a lot more about doing than merely feeling. Take over some of your spouse’s responsibilities for a few days. Try to take the initiative in making up after a fight. Listen when your spouse is talking without interrupting or finishing their sentences. See the huge difference this makes. A relationship is not just about giving gifts (a great idea at times) but more about giving attention and care.
2. Step into their shoes: Living together can magnify the bad habits of a person, most of which we try to change. Remember… adjustments are part of a good marriage and should you feel YOU are the one compromising all of the time, try saying that to your spouse. Don’t be surprised to hear “You?? I’m the one putting up with your mess all of this time!” Suffice to say each one in a marriage usually feels they are giving the other is taking, when in reality that is mostly a perception problem.
3. Be partners more than husband-wife: Whether in traditional India or the emancipated west, men are still not comfortable with the strong, independent modern woman. On the woman’s part conflicts arise when she has to juggle housework and career. In reality a couple could actually be a win-win situation if they decide to approach marriage as a partnership. Husbands can share house work and wives can pitch in with the financial responsibilities. Staying in defined gender roles is no more a practical or workable idea.
4. Money power: A recent study found that financial issues caused the maximum trust breakdown among couples. The couple needs to be transparent about what they earn and spend. A good idea is to have clear boundaries about splitting bills, (if both are working), deciding on investments and being clear about monthly expenditure. And if this feels like an inquisition, remember that a part of marital commitment is also about financial accountability!
5. Remain faithful: Since most people spend 70% of their waking hours in the office, temptation to stray is common. Concept of “office spouses” touted by the media further weaken boundaries. The best way to resolve this is to have clear cut values-loyalty and trust being the most important. Finding others from the opposite sex attractive is fine, but avoid straying (even emotionally).
6. Resolve fights immediately: Never allow a dispute to be swept under the carpet, you may find years of muck building up there! During a loud shouting match, do remember it takes between 20 to 30 minutes to calm down from the physiological arousal of anger. During this time distance yourself; remind yourself your spouse’s good qualities, this will help your anger cool down. Then return to sort things out with a cooler head.
7. Synergize: Time is one of the most important factors in a relationship and is also extremely scarce; so learn the art of good synergy between your various roles. Exercise together, text each other when at work or join your spouse on business trips. Another way to synergize is to keep your spouse involved with your career- projects you are doing, stumbling blocks you are facing, praise/recognition you have recently received. All these will give you fuel for conversation (everyone loves talking about work) and your spouse could come up with a creative solution to your problems.
8. Rejuvenate self: Often the anger and discontent which one assumes is because of a “bad job” or “loveless marriage” may actually be dissatisfaction with one’s own self. And also unresolved issues from childhood. This is why couples who come in for relationship counselling benefit a lot from attending self realization courses or connecting with oneself at a spiritual level.
9. Sexual intimacy is important: Studies show that healthy young couples between 25 and 35 barely have sex 3 times a month! Sex is important- much more than work or other commitments. When the couple avoids sex, it’s a warning bell that the relationship needs help! A good way to “get into the mood” is to do the silly things you did while dating – sending naughty messages to each other or having a romantic dinner alone. Couples who have an otherwise good marriage find these are enough triggers to set off intimacy.
10. Consider marital therapy: Regardless of all efforts, if the marriage still doesn’t seem to work then taking counselling is a MUST before making any major decision. Calm discussions with a therapist could lead to valuable insights about problem areas in a relationship.
Every marriage deserves an attempt to make it work, so reach out and see. Maybe your partner’s hand was right there waiting for you.