My mother and father. More than thirty years spent together as husband and wife.
They have traveled extensively around the globe and set up homes in three different countries while raising two exceptional young women. Their journey began in New Delhi, India, as giddy newlyweds, progressed to Jakarta, Indonesia, as enthusiastic young parents, matured in Singapore as a seasoned couple, and has now settled in Chennai, India, as adoring grandparents.
As a couple, they have constantly adapted their perspectives to the forever changing landscapes around them. Despite being surrounded by a multitude of friends and family, they spent (and continue to spend) a majority of their married life in private solitude. That is, the sort of intimate existence one finds between two individuals who have merged into a flexible unit – separate and yet inseparable – at the same time. They have traversed the ups and downs of their journey together, sharing love, laughter, and tears. They have entrusted each other to co-navigate all directions of their married life without a slice of doubt, an inkling of fear, or a trace of ego. Their devotion for each other has strengthened daily with their unique offerings to the committed union; they are a loving entity as Mr. & Mrs., but they also recognize the intrinsic value of each other as individual beings. Their natural chemistry, immense faith, and unconditional love are the unshakeable pillars of their marriage.
Growing up with parents who embodied such a thriving relationship made me believe, without an ounce of doubt, that this is what marriage was like – a heartwarming partnership of overflowing compassion, intimate understanding, easy acceptance, and a love so deep that there was no bottom to it. My parents painted an almost flawless picture of marriage that it seemed dreamlike, alluring in its infinitely wonderful possibilities. Sure, they have had their share of arguments (big and small), but their disagreements always strengthened their resolve to find a balanced solution to the differing opinions. The effort they put into keeping this union as blissful as the day they entered it was certainly not obvious to the naked eye. It was, and still is, an invisible labor of love.
And I could only truly begin to understand (and admire) this labor of love after going through my own personal experience with marriage, and then coming out the other end, wondering – What makes a healthy union? What are the secrets of a happy marriage? What are the knots my parents have tied and the strings they have pulled to keep their marriage from unraveling, for all these years?
Well, what I have observed from my parents indicates that the secrets to a happy marriage are really quite simple. It isn’t rocket science.
They understand that they are two separate halves making a whole – two individuals weaving their distinct threads together to create their own fabric. They embrace their partner for who they are, and not just what they are. They treat each other as equals and show boundless respect in all aspects. They guide and support each other for what they want to be and what they want to achieve in this lifetime. They let each other’s dreams live and breathe, and give each other personal space to pursue their interests.
They are true to themselves. They are honest and they trust wholeheartedly. They put the ego aside, and acknowledge that sometimes they will be wrong and sometimes they will be right. They take the good, and they toss out the bad. They don’t pass on the blame. They agree to disagree, knowing that it’s okay to be on different pages at times. They know this is not a battle to prove who is stronger, more powerful, or more correct; instead, it is a constant quest for balance. There is no absolute right or wrong in their minds; there is just one way or another. And the way they choose is the path that respects, honors, and protects their partner.
They are compassionate, understanding, and patient, even if they are stretched to their limits. They experience anger, frustration, and disappointment, but limit the time they spend wallowing in it. They don’t ever raise a finger. They don’t speak in haste, knowing words can wound in ways that are irreparable. There is no yelling, cursing, or nasty language under any circumstances. They say sorry when they mean it, and they know that apologies are only acceptable when you don’t do it again. They allow each other to make mistakes. And they forgive.
They learn from each other, continuously evolving their thoughts, actions, and behaviors. They learn from the past, plan for the future, and live in the present. They know they are lucky to have their yesterdays, live today, and see many tomorrows together. The cornerstone of their interactions come from an unshakeable foundation of trust, honesty, respect, and love. They are confidantes, best friends, and timeless partners in life.
So, there it is.
I don’t know if I’m wrong to assume that all of this is as easy as it sounds. Maybe it isn’t so simple after all. Maybe it is rocket science.
Either way, my parents’ marriage is my prototype for understanding what constitutes a healthy partnership and, perhaps more importantly, what defines an unhealthy relationship. And I’m most certainly lucky to use their compass to guide my way forward.