A story about working on marriages and making it work, come what may.
“A boring and loveless marriage does good to nobody,” said Lekha, my good friend of fifteen years. We were sitting at a table in a local café that was our Adda since high school. We had strolled around the city’s mall for a better part of the afternoon. I purchased some handicrafts and local food items while Lekha and Fatima – another dear friend and a part of the group – spent themselves window shopping.
Before heading home, we decided to refresh ourselves with coffee and snacks. Soon after Fatima placed the order for all of us, Lekha began discussing her marital woes.
Lekha stared into the coffee cup in front of her. It had lost its steam and aroma; like many things in her life had, according to her. It took a mere eight months for her to discover that her marriage to Akhil had become tiresome and uninteresting.
Lekha’s claims about her marriage not working came as a shock to me when I first got wind of it via an email some months ago. The breakdown was meant to happen, she had said in it. In my response, I advised her not to rush to conclusions in haste. She and her husband were work colleagues who become fast friends and then lovers soon. They had had a fairytale courtship that went on for a little over a year and then they decided to become life partners. Fatima and her husband attended the wedding festivities in Lekha’s hometown in Rajasthan last year. I was unable to attend for I was in the US pursuing the final semester of an MBA program.
We spoke briefly on the phone for the first time two weeks ago when I came back to the city after completing my tenure abroad. Fatima and I had a conversation about Lekha’s situation, and I found out that Fatima did not have much knowledge as she had been busy with her own family life. “Once you are married, everything changes. Life becomes a constant struggle of managing responsibilities and expectations,” Fatima had said as though offering a statutory warning that I should keep in my memory.
The details about Lekha’s failing marriage were not particularly memorable but the conversation led to some interesting real-life storytelling on the part Fatima.
I was about to express my agreement to Lekha’s views about dead marriages when Fatima interjected to say “Marriage is a work in progress. Marriages indeed tend to lose their spark, Lekha. But I can confidently tell you that it takes adversity sometimes to rediscover the power of togetherness in a couple. I can give you my example.”
“Please do tell,” I said, intrigued.
“Well”, Fatima began. “After I got married to Ahmed four years ago, I wanted to start a family at the earliest. But Ahmed was unsure. He had changed jobs only a few months before our wedding, and he was still settling in. He was just 27, and I was 24. He persuaded me to hold off the family planning, and think about pursuing a career in interior designing instead.”
“Don’t waste your education, he said to me. Your parents didn’t send you to university for nothing.”
“Ahmed’s family is well-to-do but he told me that he wanted us to raise our children on our hard-earned resources. He wanted me to be a bread-winner too, just like him. He made me realize that marriage and parenting are all about equal partnership. I appreciated his progressive mindset and I began my career soon enough.”
“His job as an Associate Business Consultant made him go on numerous overseas business trips while my work-life as a Junior Interior Designer demanded client meetings, site visits, and overtime hours. Eventually, things reached a point where there were long spells of not seeing each other. Even our phone conversations became customary and grew lethargic beyond a point. Almost a year later, Ahmed got a promotion. The news guaranteed a fatter paycheck as well as a job profile even more strenuous than before.”
“The career progress notwithstanding, the workloads must have led to a lot of fights and off-putting days, no?” I asked.
“More than us, it was our families that were worried sick for us”, said Fatima. “They wondered if we’d be able to manage our married life at all. So, our parents planned an intervention in the form of our first-anniversary dinner. They strictly instructed us to make ourselves available for the event. All the planning and preparations were handled by our respective mothers.”
“Oh my God!” gasped Lekha with disbelief. “Did all hell break loose at the dinner table?” I asked, anticipating melodrama.
“On the contrary, our parents talked to us with utmost civility. They told us to reorganize our lives, rethink our priorities. That it was time for us to take our foot off the pedal and slow down and think about other important life events. They suggested that we think about starting a family.”
“Later that night, Ahmed and I lay sleepless and anxious in bed.”
“But why?” Lekha said.
“We both realized that we had gotten sucked into the vortex of our respective careers, the competition, and goals. To the extent that we had lost sight of our shared goal, our marriage. We had forgotten about taking care of our relationship. ”
“The anniversary get-together was our wake-up call. We had a heart-to-heart conversation for the first time in many months. The next morning, Ahmed and I decided to use our annual leaves and go abroad for a break. We chose to travel to Greece as we both loved ancient history.”
“Just a week short of our travel date, Ahmed got a call from his manager and he informed him that one of the project managers had resigned abruptly, and Ahmed had to take over with immediate effect. Ahmed couldn’t refuse. The news threw our vacation plan out of the window.”
“My first instinct was to start a fight with Ahmed and convince him to give up his manager’s offer. Come what may. But I didn’t let my impulses get the better of me. Instead, I chose to embrace the change in plans, and let Ahmed be. We canceled our flight tickets and hotel bookings. More than us, our families were very upset that we let work come in the way of our marriage… again. But to be honest, Ahmed and I were serious about making things right between us.”
“Did he quit his job?” I asked.
“No. I left my job. I reasoned with Ahmed that for us to be a happy couple with a happy married life, one of us needs to be the homemaker. I chose to take on the role because I wanted to. I believe the ability to run a home is a woman’s gift by default. The transition from being a wife to becoming a working woman to transforming into a homemaker was surprisingly drama-free. The change in role-play was possible and easy because Ahmed and I supported each other’s choices.”
“Five months later, I discovered that we were pregnant. As soon as my second trimester began, Ahmed willingly performed the roles of breadwinner and homemaker. We hired a house helper to do the cleaning chores. We cooked meals together, went out on long drives, enjoyed movie nights indoors, played card games, read books, and invited our families and friends for potluck get-togethers. Long story short, my pregnancy became a courtship period for us.”
“I was barely three days into my ninth month when Bilal arrived. His birth endowed us with two gifts – a rediscovered marriage and the joy of parenthood. His presence in our lives has made us happier as well as busier than ever before. We both work hard as a couple and parents.”
“So, you think that Akhil and I should start a family, and our marriage will work again?” Lekha asked hopefully.
“That’s for you and him to discuss and decide,” said Fatima. “No marriage comes with a how-to manual or cheat-sheet, Lekha. A marriage is like an empty house that a husband and wife walk into hand-in-hand. It’s up to them how they turn it into their home. And, remember, every home needs a makeover from time to time. So it’s highly recommended that you introduce new changes, make new adjustments…to keep the home looking fresh, appealing, and satisfying.”
“That’s true,” Lekha and I concurred in unison.
“Your families must be quite pleased and proud at how you both turned your marriage around,” I said.
“A marriage can get messy from time to time. And it’s the couple’s responsibility to make sure they both try to clean up the mess and don’t allow it to keep piling up. Otherwise it becomes a burden and grudges develop. Ahmed and I let bygones be bygones. Besides, why choose to fall apart and go separate ways when there is the option to make things work and be together?”