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A knotty affair

Instead of preparing for your wedding day, spend a few day to prepare for marriage, advises Colleen Braganza.
None | By Colleen Braganza, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 02, 2008 11:41 AM IST

Author Salman Rushdie recently complained that women only wanted to get married because they wanted to wear a wedding dress. "It's the dress. Girls want a wedding, they don't want a marriage. If only you could have weddings without marriages," Rushdie said.

While the four-time married Rushdie has obviously spoken from experience, the truth is that often, neither men nor women are prepared for marriage. The wedding is all they have meticulously prepared for.

Think about it. Weddings are thought out in almost obsessive detail. Designer invitations are sent out with boxes of chocolates; the bride's outfit is in that exact shade of delicate shell pink that she spotted while diving in the Maldives, her accessories are the envy of her friends and the mehndiwala is booked months in advance. Ditto with the groom's outfit and salon treatments. Every detail has been taken care of.

"Oooooh," gush their friends, "your wedding is going to be perfect."

Pity you cannot say the same about too many marriages. "Most people think just because they have decided to marry they can sit back and everything will fall into place. That is an erroneous belief," says psychotherapist and counsellor Reema Shah.

Like everything else, you have to work to make your marriage work. That is why premarital counselling comes highly recommended, especially in this day and age.

"Married couples are breaking up more than before. To enter into marriage without knowing what it is actually about is a great mistake," says Father Daniel, who conducts Engaged Encounters, a premarital counselling workshop organised by the Catholic church to prepare couples for marriage, in Mumbai.

Courting disaster
Worldwide, 20 per cent of all marriages – that is one in five – end in divorce. In India, this figure is 13-15 percent, up from 3-5 per cent in 1974, says consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor Dr Rajan B Bhonsle.

Another 20 per cent marriages have serious conflicts all the time and a further 20 per cent couples live in a state of emotional divorce where they share no connection and are only together for the sake of children, social standing, etc. Finally another 20 per cent marriages are not healthy This means the relationship between man and wife is that of master/servant, father/daughter or mother/son.

Eventually, only about 20 per cent marriages are healthy, with husband and wife sharing an equal, romantic and caring relationship.

These sorry statistics are the result of the fact that many people agree to a wedding without having a clue about what a marriage entails. That ignorance usually leads to marital discord in the long run, says Dr Rajan, who runs a centre for premarital, marriage and sex counselling along with his wife Dr Minnu R Bhonsle in Mumbai.

"Most divorce cases today, occur between six months to three years of marriage," says Dr Minnu.

That is because the reality of living with another person and dealing with his/her quirks and habits sink in only a few months after marriage, when both partners no longer look at the relationship through heartshaped, rose-tinted glasses.

Tackling issues
Reema agrees. "The truth is when people are in love, they are so enamoured with each other that they are in denial about the other's not-so-positive qualities. When they start living together, it is difficult to turn a blind eye to those shortcomings all the time. That is when problems occur."

Premarital counselling helps you identify these issues and trains you to resolve them positively .

So how exactly does it work?

Premarital counselling is simply a process where a couple looking to get married attends sessions with counsellors to analyse their compatibility. Among other things, they identify issues that have the potential to derail the marriage later

"Prevention is better than cure. It is best to understand each other first before jumping into a committed relationship. See whether you are genuinely compatible in every possible way Check your emotional, physical, mental, social compatibility; see whether your core values match and what both your expectations are from the marriage," says Dr Rajan, Often, couples have unresolved issues that need to be discussed but they sweep them under the carpet because these are usually uncomfortable subjects. The couples presume that the issues will sort them themselves out after marriage. But more often than not, they don't.

The issues could range from religion, especially in inter-religious marriages, finances (my money or our money, spender vs saver), food choices (non-vegetarian vs vegetarian), importance of family and friends and lifestyle choices (party animal vs couch potato).

"We provoke couples to discuss issues that can become a problem later. Counselling sheds light on the actual reality of their relationship. The process empowers them and liberates them from making an error in judgement," says Dr Minnu.

"Usually premarital counselling helps you understand whether your core values – those that are extremely important to you – are compatible or not. Once you identify what these values are, you decide which are negotiable and which are non-negotiable. The non-negotiable ones are called deal-breakers," says Dr Minnu.

She explains a ‘deal breaker' is a core value like wanting a child. If one party is determined to have a child, but the other is equally sure that he/she doesn't want one, the issue becomes a ‘deal breaker'. This is when the couple must take a call on whether they want to go ahead with the relationship or not. This prevents pain and acrimony in the long run.

Not Me Syndrome
At this point, those of you who have had a steady partner are probably secure in the thought that you know your partner too well to ever require counselling. But you'll be surprised.

Copywriter Satish De Sa found this out for himself when he and his then girlfriend Sheetal attended the Engaged Encounters workshop. (Incidentally, the Catholic church has made it mandatory for couples to attend premarital counselling). Satish and Sheetal were best friends for seven years. "I thought I knew her like no one else did. But the workshop helped us come together even further," says Satish. The couple also made a major breakthrough there. Satish, a Catholic, was uncomfortable discussing religion with Sheetal, a Hindu. They were forced to discuss it. "Now, we are so close spiritually. We pray together now; I to my God, and she to hers," Satish smiles.

Teacher Melanie D'Souza, who attended a similar workshop, remembers how at one of the sessions, the couples present were asked to list their priorities and compare them later. "I remember a couple next to us was completely taken by surprise by the other's list. The woman had listed buying a house as a priority But it had clearly not even entered the man's consciousness, forget his list. There were different expectations right there," laughs Melanie.

Different expectations and a lack of communication sour many marriages. "The biggest cause of marital discord is bungled expectations," says Reema. "This happens when one partner cannot communicate to the other his/her ex pectations in a straight forward manner. It is done indirectly, so the partner does not understand and that leads to frustration."

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