I have never understood how romantic marriage “proposals” work. A person puts forward the proposition and the other person is mostly expected to answer with yes (hopefully) or no, within the next few milliseconds. “But doesn’t it take a discussion, several of them, actually?” I tried to get my now married (to me) partner to respond to the angst in my question. I got a shrug in response.
While we felt committed to each other quite early in our relationship, for him to remain non-committal to my questions was standard procedure. Instinctively, I too like to spend my words less in conversations and more in writing. It became quite a struggle for both of us to put our habitual selves aside and engage with some significant questions before we embarked on a long-term arrangement, transitioning from a long distance one.
Discuss crucial issues before committing to a long-term relationship
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I had seen, and continue to see, couples face acute tensions because some of these issues were not thrashed out before they started living together. It is not like you can predict all disagreements. And at times people say one thing and end up acting totally different later. But as far as possible, the two of us tried to understand if we shared enough common ground to stand upon without stamping on each other’s foot.
If either of the partners has expectations that stem from a gender bias, it is not going to be an equal relationship. I am not supposed to be the primary caregiver as a woman and he is not supposed to be the sole roti-earner because he is a man.
50 shades of commitment
Do you want to live-in or marry? If you live-in, would you also retain your separate places? What kind of a place would you want to rent and how would you share the expenses? If you marry, what kind of a wedding would it be; which marriage Act would you choose to register it under? How much would it cost?
Understanding the other’s aspirations
It is crucial for both to appreciate and support each other’s ambitions. It is better to withdraw from a relationship if your dreams are being discouraged/dismissed by your partner. My partner frowns in concentration and asks me why the lines do not rhyme, but still reads each one of my poems. I appreciate his journey that started with studying engineering and has now taken the direction of supporting farmers’ markets and cooperatives. We have each other’s back as we try to live our dreams without having a linear career graph.
Place of stay
This might change with time. But go over your work plans for the coming years with your partner. Are your jobs site-specific or flexible? Are you willing to change jobs/locations if need be?
Relationship with each other’s families
Talk about whether you want to stay involved with each other’s family, to what extent, whether and how your individual decisions are affected and shaped by your family members. See if you have expectations of each other with respect to your family, and check if they are realistic. Discuss if and how you want to spend time with each other’s families through visits and holidays; find out if the families expect certain things of their offspring’s partner and what both of you feel about meeting those requirements; ask whether one partner is willing to stand in for another if they are stuck somewhere and their family needs help in an emergency. We understood each other’s lives much better and felt closer after we had met and interacted with each other’s families.
Find out if both of you see yourselves having kids in the future, and if you are willing to share the responsibility that comes with being parents. This can often be a deal-breaker, yet people consider the question as being too far in the future, or assume each other’s preferences, or hope that their current preference will change later. Some people, for instance, are keen to adopt, while others feel unsure about whether they would be able to raise biological and adopted kids together without being biased towards one or the other.
A friend of mine returned with great discomfiture after meeting a guy who had some extremely orthodox and prohibitive principles around raising children, and expected his spouse to be the medium who would pass on his rigid views to the kids.
A relationship or a marriage often becomes a box to check. People get into one and start moving on with life, which leaves one partner behind, or leaves both on different tracks that do not have the time to converge at any point. Like they say, work-life balance is an illusion but what people can do is to try, where the scales might tilt on one side one day, and so on. Spend enough time with each other to see whether you have it in you to face work responsibilities and also understand that a relationship doesn’t operate on auto mode.
In our case, both of us at different points made the mistake of taking things for granted. After the usual initial period of mooning over each other, we expected our relationship to fit into whatever free slots were left after we were done taking care of our work life and interests. But when two people get together not to please society or in order to share a flat or a bank account, they have to make time to build the companionship they had signed up for.
Use words, not just romance
Despite having discussed these things, there are other concerns that crop up now and then. But since we had already built a premise of understanding, it has been easier to tackle other subjects. Because people are scared of arguments, they avoid them. But the issues remain and pounce on us in the most unpleasant ways and at the most inopportune moments. Our arguments started early but in a few years we learned to deal with them better. We have progressed to a point where we talk calmly, avoid name-calling, listen patiently and try to make the other person feel better before offering a defence or an explanation.
Intimate relations are tricky and complex, but we can try to make them simpler if we start with dialogues to comprehend and befriend each other, instead of relying on romance to see us through. Ask questions of each other, and share your fears and desires. To assume things or to leave things to mind-reading does not work, as George Bernard Shaw would confirm: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”