If you are looking for a secret to the mythical creature called “happy marriage”, read on.
Comparing ourselves, our situation, our achievements and our belongings with others is a regular phenomenon. From the time we attain senses and go to school, comparisons of many kinds are either enforced by society or arise naturally.
Indeed, our society is based on comparative metrics and there is no running away from comparisons. Kids compare their marks in exams, parents compare the kids to other kids and bosses compare one employee to another.
In most cases the result of such comparisons result in frustration, lowers self-esteem and reduces the motivation to do well. The lucky few do well on the basis of comparison. In fact, they thrive on this and are the real winners of the comparative economy.
I have observed that the similar comparative behavior develops in marriages and it is quite destructive to the relationship between the husband and wife. How you tackle this aspect is the key to a happy marriage.
Take the case of Tanuja. From the time she got married to Anil, she regularly compares him to his friends and cousins. Luckily, he has no brother. It has been three years since they got married and Anil is having a tough time.
Last weekend, they attended a wedding reception. Many of their friends were there too. While driving back from the reception, Tanuja could not control herself and told Anil,’ I really liked the way Vikas was escorting his wife all the time during the event. You just introduced me to a couple of ladies and then disappeared into the crowd. I was feeling lonely and left-out. If only you could learn something from Vikas!’
‘Tanuja, both of us knew almost equal number or people there. I was just catching up with my friends and really didn’t think that you were feeling like left-out. In fact, most of my friends were sitting alone in that group and their wives were sitting with you. Vikas is just an exception,’ Anil defended his position restraining use of any strong words to avoid a full scale drama.
There was a long pause after that. Anil was remembering that Tanuja had compared his dressing sense to one of his friends, immediately after their marriage. Instead of giving polite feedback or sounding concerned that Anil should improve his wardrobe selection, Tanuja had given him a long lecture on how the other guy looked smarter. Anil knew that he was not perfect and he was open to feedback. But the way Tanuja just compared him to others and left the conversation, made him fight with her many times.
Another case turned out to be much worse. Smita and Deepak were married for fifteen years. Deepak was a bit over-critical of Smita’s behavior. They visited a close friend’s house last month. Deepak was impressed by the way their house was kept and the way the lady of the house, Nita, took care of the guests.
They had not even changed after returning and Deepak stated in a terse manner,’ Their house is really neat and well-maintained. Nita must be taking lots of effort to keep the house like this. Even we have a nice house and good furniture so why can’t you maintain our house like that?’
Smita was turned off,’ I don’t think it is possible only due to Nita’s efforts. Everyone in the family needs to contribute towards neatness of the house. You and kids keep throwing your stuff all over and I am tired keeping things in their place.’
‘Not only that, Nita also behaved so warmly with us, she almost made us feel at home. I feel this trait is missing in you. When we have guests over at our place, you always disappear somewhere on the pretext of taking care of things. Why can’t you be around and take care of the guests, personally?’
This was just too much to take. Smita pushed Deepak out of the bedroom and shut the door from inside. As she sat on the bed crying, she thought,’ This man wants everything readymade. I don’t even feel like telling him that Nita’s husband was taking care of so many things in the background, leaving her free to attend to the guests. If this is the way Deepak wants to change me, I am going to show him the finger.’
When spouses compare like this, it doesn’t take much time for the marriage to degenerate and even move towards divorce. The prohibited D word is becoming more common in our society thanks to this kind of immature behavior.
Jay and Sonia’s marriage is on the rocks owing to such interaction. Jay is a mid-level executive in an MNC. Both of them are from business families. Thanks to well-established businesses most of their relatives have higher income level. Jay and Sonia, though earning well, have a certain inferiority complex while interacting with their relatives.
The difference in status becomes apparent when they attend family functions or talk about their holidays etc. While both of them feel it, their approach to the situation is markedly different. Jay has accepted the situation as it is and doesn’t try to boast or hide anything. He knows that he needs to work harder to improve their standard of living but is not apologetic about the current state of affairs. After all, he is doing good and honest work in a reputed company. He is trying his best to progress through the corporate ladder and wants Sonia to support him.
But Sonia is slipping into a depression, comparing Jay to other males in the family. Just the other day she mentioned,’ When will we come out of this situation? I have to think twice before buying any jewelry or designer clothes but your cousins and brothers’ wives keep buying stuff randomly.’
‘Look Sonia, we have everything that we need. Even I want to get the best for my family but I am not in favor of spending beyond our means. Let me get a couple of promotions and we should be doing ok. But as of now, we just need to accept what we have and be happy with that.’
‘I have been hearing this hogwash from the time we got married. Time is running away. These days of our youth will not return. Why can’t you see that your brothers and cousins are doing so well and providing a much better life for their families?’
Jay was not liking this conversation. He blurted,’ You knew this while you were getting married. If you were so keen on living like them, why did you marry me? You should have asked your father to get a proposal from a big business family. I can only say you should not judge the quality of lives of my relatives from outside. We don’t know what they may be going through. Let’s be happy with what we have and be each other’s support.’
But Sonia had had enough. She didn’t want this life of constant reminder of their lower financial status. She had anyway reduced the interactions with family members to bare minimum. Still the pictures of flashy celebrations, acquisitions and holidays on social media kept haunting her. One fine day, she just packed her bags and moved to her parents’ house. Her father offered help to Jay but he refused. Jay requested Smita to come back and work with him to improve their condition rather than holding him responsible for it.
What is clear from these examples is that plain and naked comparisons do not work. If you have any issues with your spouse, you need to carefully consider how to give feedback to him or her. Believe me, you are not alone if you feel that you got married to the worst man or woman in the world.
But you did marry him or her based on certain considerations. Whether it was a love marriage or arranged marriage, you got married for some reason. Remember those reasons every time you have doubts. If those reasons still exist, you need to make every effort to make it work. Welcome to the ‘Improve Your Spouse’ club!
In the next blogpost, I will talk about how to give feedback to your spouse. Subscribe to my blog now!
You may also be interested in another article of mine, Do Mothers Interfere More in Married Children’s Lives?
A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.