Love is a verb

If you want a fairy-tale marriage, you have to work towards making it so. The first step is getting rid of all that is contaminating your loving relationship

Tensed couple sittingThe relationship between a man and a woman is like a tender, fragile plant. For this plant to survive, both have to carefully water it every day. If it is neglected, the plant simply withers away. But if nurtured with love and care, it grows into a tall tree and bears much fruit in the form of happy children and happy families. Unfortunately, this is not how all marriages end up.

Heading for Splitsville

Studies done in the USA show that almost 60 per cent American couples get divorced. This means that in America, almost two-thirds of all marriages end in divorce. In India too, there has been an alarming increase in the divorce rates. The statistics mentioned below make us aware of how things are right now.

  • 20 per cent of all marriages in the world end in actual legal divorce through the courts.
  • 20 per cent couples have a hostile and volatile relationship marked with physical and verbal violence, where either one or both partners, suffer from some major physical or mental illness due to the stress in the marriage. The situation very often results in a homicide or a suicide—ending the relationship in an ICU, the mental asylum or the morgue.
  • 20 couples ‘appear’ okay. They don’t fight, but have no ‘heart-connection’ left. They are technically together as an ‘arrangement’ for reasons such as children, social reputation, financial security etc., but are in fact, ’emotionally divorced’ and totally indifferent to each other.
  • 20 per cent couples appear well-adjusted. And that is exactly what they are, ‘adjusted’. Such couples share a psychologically immature relationship with each other, wherein one of the partners has the ‘child’ mentality and the other has the ‘parent’ mentality. When one of them matures, s/he starts seeking an adult relationship, and if the other partner refuses to grow up psychologically, the one who wants an adult relationship has an extra-marital affair. The dynamics change between them, and all hell breaks loose.

By combining the percentages of the four unhealthy types of marriages, we see that 80 per cent of the marriages in the world are ‘toxic’.

Only 20 per cent marriages are healthy, where both partners are in an equal relationship, a relationship of mutual love and respect, and the marriage is mutually fulfilling and rewarding for both.

Happy marriages are not readymade

You can have a readymade wedding by hiring a wedding coordinator, who plans everything from the invitations, to the flowers, the food, clothes and make-up. You don’t have to do anything except be present at your own wedding. Unfortunately, beautiful marriages don’t come readymade. For marriages to succeed, you need to work hard at them. The way a plant needs soil, water, light, air, and fertilisers to grow into a healthy tree; a marriage requires constant nurturing for it to grow.

‘Happily ever after’ marriages happen only in fairy tales. In real life, it is not so automatic. Then, what do we need to detoxify a marriage and create a healthy relationship tree? Let’s find out.

Identifying toxins is necessary

Just as there are weeds in the soil, which prevent a plant from growing in a healthy manner, in a relationship too there are contaminants that harm it. Partners bring contaminating attitudes and behaviours in the relationship, which take away all the energy from the relationship, injuring the marriage.

When a couple enters into a relationship, both of them bring a lot of ‘bag and baggage’ of the past. And if this baggage is not disposed of, it continues to adversely affect the relationship. Such toxic contaminants need to be identified and removed to detoxify your marriage. If you have, in some way, been emotionally scarred due to some past experiences before entering your relationship, and if those wounds remain unhealed, then you may in some way inadvertently and totally unintentionally be contaminating the relationship.

The truth is that you cannot give to another, what you do not have. If your heart is full of pain, anger or resentment, you cannot give pure and unhindered love to anyone. You become part of a pain chain—you are in pain and you give pain to others. You give only what you have.

So it is extremely important that you remove all such toxic elements in a relationship to detoxify your marriage. Yes, it is possible to de-link yourself from your past experiences, make peace with your past, and live a new, more beautiful life. But first, you have to recognise and acknowledge your problem areas, be constantly aware of them, and work towards healing yourself on your own or with the help of a counsellor.

Is the problem with you?

There are a variety of ways these contaminants can express themselves. Remember, you cannot change what you do not acknowledge. Have the courage to get real about this dark side of yourself so you can change it.

Ask yourself –

  1. Do you feel competitive with your partner rather than cooperative?
  2. Are you caught up in making the negative inventory of your partner and discount all the positives?
  3. Are you obsessed with control and need to prove that your way is the right way?
  4. Do you ruthlessly attack vulnerable areas of your partner and put him/her down?
  5. Are you covertly aggressive and express your hostility in indirect ways rather than openly addressing differences of opinion?
  6. Do you keep conversations around trivial matters and avoid addressing serious issues, becoming defensive when questioned on the same?
  7. Are you rigidly unforgiving of your partner’s mistakes and keep bringing it up in your conversations?
  8. Do you constantly need reassurance of your partner’s love for you?
  9. Are you too lazy and unmotivated to solve problems in the relationship, preferring at all times your comfort zone over anything else?

Answering these questions will give you a clear and real picture of where you stand. Then, start working at removing the hindrances.

3 Cs work best for a happy marriage

After removing the weeds you need to soften the soil because the plant cannot grow in a hard, cracked ground. Therefore you need to build empathy towards your partner. You need to understand what is your partner’s life situation at present, what are his/her family/work, social, economic pressures, any physical ailments, any other problems your partner is facing? And what are the influences of the past, which have an impact on him/her? You need to see the world from his/her eyes, softening the soil in which the plant of your relationship is growing. Reflecting on your partner’s life situation, past and present, will give you great insight into why your partner behaves the way s/he does, and you will be less prone to misunderstand and more willing to understand and forgive your partner.

After removing the weeds and softening the soil, we move on to the three key ingredients that nurture and nourish the plant—3Cs: Care, Commitment and Communication.

Care: When married couples having problems come to us, we ask each of them to re-examine the inflexible and rigid stands in their relationship. Often, the very first response from both is a strong protest, “Why do I have to do all the compromising and give all the concessions?”

Note here, that the very use of the words ‘concession’ and ‘compromise’ reflects the feel of losing something. Couples need to overcome this first stumbling block by understanding that being flexible is not ‘giving up’ something. It is in fact ‘building up’ the relationship. And since each spouse owns 50 per cent of the partnership, when the partnership benefits, both benefit.

Remember, the relationship—the ‘we’, the ‘us’—is by itself a living entity. It can only survive if it is given more importance over the ‘I’.

But if there are two Is in competition—’I’ vs. ‘you’—if there is a power struggle, the ‘we’ is sacrificed. The focus needs to change to ‘I’ versus ‘we’. Instead of trying to win for yourself over your partner, you need to make the relationship always win over yourself.

Commitment: Commitment is not limited to the narrow definition of fidelity. It is much more. It means that I am committed to this relationship, especially in those times of crisis when it feels that there is so much distance between us, and love seems to be absent. It means that I am committed to do whatever it takes and for as long as it takes, to solve problems in the marriage, by staying within the circle of marriage.

If your relationship means something to you, then you must be committed for the long haul. If you decide to work on your relationship for some preset period of time or until some arbitrary time limit expires, and with certain expectations, then you have missed the whole point of commitment.

In a relationship, love is often challenged from time to time—there are problems and an emotional distance sets in, one feels one has ‘fallen out of love’ and subsequently gives up. However, love is an act of will. It is a decision that you make in challenging times. That is the commitment—to work through the difficult times. And this is done through communication.

Communication: Communication is the lifeline of any marriage, so when communication breaks down, marriages break down. Communication can be healthy or unhealthy, hurtful or helpful. A lot is spoken about communication but very little is understood about it.

Happy couplePeople often talk at each other [accusations], past each other [monologues] and through each other [presumptions], but rarely with each other [dialogue]. The open and mutual expression of feelings is extremely essential in a truly intimate marriage. Only if both of you are willing to be your true selves and reveal your innermost feelings will your relationship be deep, genuine, real, human and meaningful.

The relationship plant after having been given soil, air, light and water, needs some fertilisers to enrich it further.

Time, talk and touch are relationship tonics

Partners often take each other and the relationship for granted after marriage. The passion in the relationship slowly starts going down. Hence, it is important to actively do something to keep the flame alive.

Life rewards action. You need to actually ‘do something’ actively, every single day to keep the relationship charged and healthy. So sometimes you may have to reschedule other activities to make the time needed to nurture your relationship.

You must be willing to reach down deep into yourself and give the best of yourself to the relationship. And it is your input that will determine the output in the relationship.

Time, Talk and Touch are the tonics of a relationship.

Time: Spending ‘togetherness time’, touching base everyday, simply sharing the day’s events in a relaxed way and connecting to each other about little things is extremely important.

Talk: Sharing your innermost feelings, hopes, concerns/fears, joys, and sorrows promotes bonding, along with sharing desires, goals, dreams and plans for the future.

Touch: Besides a mutually satisfying sexual relationship, non-sexual touching is also important. Non-sexual touching is the most powerful form of communication in a marriage. Touch expresses warmth that words cannot express. If you have trouble expressing verbally, express yourself through touch. Touching reassures. It says ‘you are loved’—little hugs and squeezes, a tender kiss, an arm around the shoulder, holding hands, snuggling, sitting close together, gentle touches in passing, convey love and affection like nothing else can.

Valuing your spouse is crucial

Valuing your partner is one of the most important things you can do to keep your marriage happy. This is the marital growth vitamin—your marriage cannot grow without it.

Often partners get caught up in communicating about what the other did not do, totally ignoring positive behaviours. Look for the positives of your partner and appreciate, and affirm his or her good qualities. Of course, this appreciation must be genuine.

You also need to positively contribute to the relationship by doing loving things especially for your partner—’Love’ is a verb, an action, and not a noun. Ask yourself everyday: what can I do today to make my partner feel valued, loved and cared for in my life?

Space is healthy

A healthy marriage is made up of two independent, self-reliant people with separate as well as mutual interests, and so there needs to be a balance.

Learn to see yourself as a whole person apart from your partner. Both of you must have your own interests as well as common ones, your own friends as wellas common ones, enjoying your solitude and spending time with yourself as well as ‘togetherness time’, having your own dreams and also a common dream for the relationship.

Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled says, “A good marriage is one in which two people come together not because they have to, but because they want to”. They are with each other not because they are incomplete people and need the other for completion in a sick co-dependency, but because they want to share their own completeness.

‘Accept differentness in your togetherness, and let there be mutual respect’ says Kahlil Gibran about marriage in his book, The Prophet.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

And stand together, yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre


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