Married Life

A successful marriage needs not fleeting love, but lasting respect

They began their marriage viewing it as a fairy-tale triumph of love over parental disapproval, but 34 years older and wiser, Parag Shah believes love is fleeting; what keeps their marriage going is mutual respect
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We got married 34 years ago. Like most in my generation, I believed that if you commit yourself to a relationship, you stay committed. We were barely 15 when we began our relationship. We did not even know what we were getting into. We had been brought up on the fairy-tale that life is one big climax: boy meets girl, they fall in love, their parents resent the alliance. The boy and the girl persist and finally the parents reluctantly agree. Then they live happily ever after.

When I look back, I almost envy my own innocence then. My father was an extremely successful doctor. He tried dissuading me from the marriage, not because of any caste issues, or that they did not like the girl, but because he genuinely felt that a woman matures faster than a man. That is why in the Indian tradition, the ideal age difference between a man and a woman is 4 years. My wife is a month older than I am. But nothing swayed me. At the age of 19 or 20, you are just beginning to discover your adulthood. You want to assert your rights as an adult. I was more interested in being a rebel than in the actual marriage with the girl I thought I loved. After the initial euphoria of the wedding, we settled down and had two lovely kids. I had no job, no income. I was still doing my MBA when my beautiful daughter was born. I was financially dependent on my father.

Desperate to be independent, I set up my own business and worked long hours, even on a Sunday, without a single holiday in 22 years. I thought I was doing the right thing. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. My family would not have lived in the luxury they do, if I had not worked so hard.

But we began to have differences in the way our children should be brought up. She wanted them to study hard and I felt that life for a kid has to be more about curiosity. We would argue, sometimes in front of the kids. Finally, I realised that I would be doing more harm than good by giving the children conflicting messages. One day I sat down and told my children that for all matters pertaining to their lives, they would have to follow what their mother told them. After that, things began to go downhill.

married life

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We drifted apart, barely talking to each other except to exchange information. It was obligatory communication, stressful and draining for both of us. I felt lonely and like an outsider. She felt guilty and responsible.

Then things changed. We both lost our fathers. My mother came to live with us. I had a series of health issues, including stents in the heart, and surgery. She never left my bedside for a minute. I then realised how much she cares for me. After my father’s death, my mother and my wife have developed a very supportive relationship. She doubly earned my respect, first for giving my children a good upbringing, and second for the care she has given my mother for the past 24 years.

I was far more in touch with things happening in the outside world, while my wife was preoccupied with her domestic responsibilities. She did a great job of bringing up my two lovely kids. I did well in my series of ventures, finally dedicating my life to education.

We both have our own interests. When we were younger, we tried very hard to mesh those interests by force. I think when you do that, you end up ruining the relationship.

I love travelling to Europe and collecting art, my wife loves to see nature in its glory. We realised that we cannot go on holidays together, so we go separately. We respect each other’s need to do our own thing. I do believe what makes a marriage strong is not love, trust or romance. Older by 34 years and wiser now, I realise that love is fleeting, a momentary feeling of happiness. What keeps a marriage alive is mutual respect and being there for each other in good times and bad.

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