What is a successful marriage?

Long ago, in a school debate, I had spoken out for arranged marriages. That was before I had ever seriously thought about what marriage would entail, at a time when I was just out of my teens and believed that some prince was waiting somewhere to whisk me off, with my parents blessings of course. But its been almost a decade since then and I have seen quite a few make ups and break ups in my friends’ lives to understand what a relationship constitutes in today’s world. It is simply not the same age old era where people put up with each other because they feel that is their destiny. In fact, destiny is an out dated word. Choice is the reality of today. No one needs to stay on in a marriage now and that is what has challenged all our known notions of marriage.

In our society we are still big on tradition, which is why the child maybe outgoing and outspoken in every other way, but when it comes to marriage, she/he is still expected to toe the family line. She/he is expected to settle with someone who the family selects. If you do that, you will forever be called the grateful child. A colleague had once put this into sharp focus when she talked about her and her brother. Her brother was always the obedient types while she had been the rebel. But while the brother married someone of his choice, she after having her fill of testing waters, settled for an arranged marriage. She jokes about how that one decision washed off all her past flaws in her parents’ eyes.

We are told parents know best and when both sets of parents are in agreement, there will always be someone to salvage your marriage if there are some problems. That is a debatable thing. But the argument that I hear the most is that arranged marriages last, whereas love marriages generally end up in divorce. There are statistics to prove this too, I agree. But is longevity the only measure of a successful marriage?

I know of many couples who are married to each other just because they feel they have no other option. Life is a cycle of forced responsibilities and civilities and oh yes, the most important word of all – compromise. They say that is the most important thing in a marriage. Excuse me, have we confused adjustment and acceptance with compromise here? For according to me marriage is supposed to be a union of equal, mature individuals who share a life, without losing their individuality. But that is not the case I am told. Compromise is the word that ensures that marriages don’t break up. But after a long day at work in a competitive world, does anyone have the time and energy for a compromise?

I know of couples who have been married for ages, but rarely talk with each other now. But for the society’s purpose, theirs is a successful marriage. They haven’t broken up and divided their children’s life. A friend’s grandparents chose to separate after all their children were settled. No they didn’t divorce, they just started staying with different children. No divorce, so successful isn’t it? There are some who don’t talk to each other and their children act as go-betweens. There are others who lose their own identity (both female and male) to keep the marriage going. After all, if it lasts, its successful. Also families do bind these relationships, there is pressure to listen to them and stay together, so what if its killing you? Its gotta last.

I am not building a case here for love marriages or for divorce at the slightest provocation. What I am trying to say is that our idea of a marriage itself is skewed. Marriages are not made in heaven, you need to work them out here on this earth, no doubt about that. But what is a marriage really? Is it just something you get into because you are expected to? Is it something bound by the correct background, kundli alignment and surname? Is it a way to get sex with societal approval? Or is it something you get into because you want to share your life with someone? Because you found someone with whom you can relate to on an intellectual and emotional level? Is it about understanding and accepting a person unconditionally so as to be able to be a soul mate? Because if marriage is about meeting the match of your soul, it could happen anytime, in any way, with anyone. You don’t need to go through countless profiles of ready for marriage ‘fun loving, caring, blend of traditional and modern values’ type of people on marriage websites to find the one. They just might happen to you.

But if they happen to you, families will probably tell you that it is an emotional/hormonal reaction. Umr ka takaaza hai. These things don’t last and if they don’t last they can’t be successful can they? Well they might last if the couples don’t always have it in the back of their mind that they have done something they shouldn’t have and that they would have been better off had they listened to their relatives (sometimes this emotional blackmail continues even after the so called acceptance).

Longevity is a virtue in any relationship. But it can’t be the sole factor to determine its success is what I feel. What is needed whether the match be arranged or love, is a mental connect. If you can relate to the person, if you feel that you can talk to that person any time of the day, if you think that you can handle waking up to this same face everyday, then I guess you have a shot at a successful relationship even if your mom thinks that he/she is not the dream catch. Call me a romantic if you will. But no point in getting married to please someone else, because those people will be long gone or far away, while you might have to remain ‘stuck’ with either a ‘dutiful’ bond or a failed relationship. The choice is always ours and a decision once made needs to be followed through, whatever be the ramifications, isn’t it?


  1. But what is a marriage really? Is it just something you get into because you are expected to?
    I agree that a lot of people, a huge majority, get into a marriage just because it is the expected thing to do. And that's sad, because like you said, But no point in getting married to please someone else, because those people will be long gone or far away, while you might have to remain 'stuck' with either a 'dutiful' bond or a failed relationship.

    Your friend's parents washing off all past flaws, just because she married someone they chose for her is impossible for me to digest. Why can't the parents just be happy seeing their kids happy?

    And Cilla it isn't as if arranged marriages are fool proof! One reason why the divorce rate might be higher in love marriages is that those who opt for love marriages are perhaps the kind of people who have some expectations from marriage and since they have already taken a bold step by 'rebelling' in a small way, they can 'rebel' some more and and divorce.

    I also fear that some love marriages might break because parents and families continue to put pressure on the marriage, I have seen this happen. Parents can have ego or adjustment issues with a girl from another community and they can make life difficult for the young couple.. we hear of some extreme cases in the News, where the boy is killed and or the girl is killed (honor killings) but we never hear about the thousands of cases where the couple is divorced because either (generally the boys) parents didn't like the girl.

    Indian parents can be very possessive and very selfish too.

  2. “Life is a cycle of forced responsibilities and civilities and oh yes, the most important word of all – compromise.”

    very true naa….bt our indian parents don't understand this naa….they feel their kid shd be obedient to them nd so….for them loving some other girl or marrying someone whz entirely diff frm our cultr nd tradn is like a sin….bt they fail to understand this fact…we shdnt marry someone to please someone as u had mentioned…its our life and we are mature enough to decide wht is good for us/ .. haina? well love marriages may nt have full support of ur parents…bt it doesnt means that these couples land up separating…nd i wont even say that arranged marriage is a bliss…in later we just don't know the partner very much…bt may be we wd knw them after we tie knot to them…such a nice post kajal…. bt i knw hw it feels to a parent when they think their obedient son actually breaks their trust on him…. .it feels very bad 😦

  3. My dear Kajal,

    I'm happy to see you facing up to some issues concerning a “successful” marriage and wanting to think them through — before getting married yourself.

    No matter how you decide, arranged or love, marriage is a difficult decision, because the consequences are life-long.

    Other relationships may have short-term consequences and so are easier to handle: not getting along with a sibling or a relative.

    The key issue about a marriage is having to live with the same person in intimacy. Any such close relationship is bound to have its strains and stresses. Say, a room-mate in a hostel. Now, not all of us have got along well with all our room-mates, have we?

    The key for me is the art and science of living together. Knowing — and loving — the other person helps. But, then again, love may be demanding and expecting.

    So, in the end, marriage is about compromise, adjustment, caring enough; the give-and-take that sustains any human bond. I have shared my thoughts, so that you may learn to listen to other ways.

    I wish you well. I hope you find a person to share your life with; one who cares for you and thinks as deeply, carefully and warmly about our humanity.

    Peace and love,
    – Joe.

  4. @IHM very interesting thoughts as usual
    @ste yes its tough on parents too but my point is why does it have to be an either or situation
    @Joe sir thanks for the insight…I have been doing a bit of thinking on it yes…I will keep in mind what you said…only I can understand adjustment, but compromise seems to be a negative thing in my case atleast because I feel it builds resentment sometimes

  5. in the tribal societies of north eastern india, love/lust marriages are the norm. i have heard lately though of 'arranged marriages', and how these are 'better' because so many more things are taken into consideration than a pretty face or a smooth tongue. i guess there is much to be said on both sides of the fence!

  6. someone's been thinkin a lottt lately eh:) quite a debate there.. but i guess it's more of a 'to each his own' situation.. i say.. it always helps to listen to the heart in the din of rationality!

  7. Completely agree PS that was the whole point of the post…individual freedom of choice…let the individual decide whether love or arranged marriage suits him/her…why make it into a if you love someone else you are not ours anymore scenario…as the song goes 'you can love two and still be true' 😛 more power to the one who is gonna live with the decision

  8. Such a debate I feel will never happen in an school in Western Europe or USA. There arranged marriages are obsolete. As the feudal mind set disappears in India also such debates will disappear. Success of marriage depends on many factors . Good communication and ability to understand each other are very important. Compromises may be needed from both partners as you try to cement a stable long term relationship

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