What happens when we slip unconsciously into the role of the spouse when we get married…

By and large, married couples tend to take the exhortations of the good bard seriously when he stated that “All the world's a stage/And all the men and women merely players”. Which is probably why all of us tend to play what we perceive to be the role of the spouse when we get married. Of course, our partner is doing pretty much the same thing and before we realise it the great ‘clash of the marriage templates' has begun. And since most couples are unaware of this (since most marriage templates are stored in the unconscious part of your minds), bitter fights ensue, hostilities are exchanged, lawyers are consulted and panchayats jump into the marriage, all avoidable situations if both partners sat down and understood their marriage templates.

A marriage template is, to put it simply, the way you think a marriage should be conducted: the way you will behave with your partner, the way you expect your partner to behave with you. In other words, how each of you defines a good wife and a good husband. Typically, the marriage that we have viewed closely is that of our parents or older relatives or friends, whoever we were closest to. Even if we didn't realise it, each of us has a model marriage imprinted in our unconscious mind. Nine times out of ten, this turns out to be our parents' marriage. As adults, we may have consciously accepted or rejected our parents' marriage as either being an appropriate or not good enough basis to model our own marriage on. However, whatever we observed as children stays in our minds. And when we face an unfamiliar situation in our marriage, or are stressed by life events around us, we tend to respond to situations in the same manner as our parents did.

When it works

The template we have acquired before we get married is called the primary marriage template. If both partners have similar primary marriage templates, which does occasionally happen, then things become extraordinarily easy indeed. In fact, this is why arranged marriages of yesteryears were based on finding alliances from similar backgrounds, resulting in more or less similar primary marriage templates that required the least adjustment on the part of both partners. However, given the rapid pace of social change over the last decade or so, even in those arranged marriages today where couples come from seemingly identical social and economic backgrounds, primary marriage templates are rarely similar. So, we have to get on with the task of defining our final marriage templates more consciously than our forefathers had to. This latter template is what both partners define as being mutually appropriate and beneficial for the both of them and incorporates elements of the needs and expectations of both. The process of defining the final marriage template involves each partner exploring and sharing with the other, how they have understood their respective parents' marriage. There is no need to discuss this with the parents to get their clarifications on the finer details (they are hardly likely to share intimate details with you, anyway), because accuracy is not the issue here. It is your perception of your parents' marriage that determines how you have internalised your primary marriage template.

When one talks about one's expectations honestly and openly, one ceases to play the ‘role' of the spouse; one ‘becomes' a spouse. The focus shifts to ‘being' in the marriage from playing a role in the marriage. The only way both partners can ‘be' in the marriage, is for them to understand their respective primary marriage templates, consciously create a final marriage template for themselves and to make sure that their marriage doesn't get stuck in the same patterns that their ‘model marriage' did. Even if the model marriage is considered a ‘good marriage', it need not necessarily work for both partners, unless both consciously accept the model marriage as their final marriage template. By the same token, they also need to realise that the marriage template that works for them need not necessarily work for anyone else — parents, friends, siblings or children.

Being yourself

Put differently, your marriage has to have its own unique template. This way, both of you can just be yourselves in the marriage and not play any pre-defined, designated roles that each thinks the other ought to play. And when both of you are yourselves in the marriage, both experience a feeling of liberation and enrichment that marriage is supposed to bring. It's all very well for actors to play roles, for, they have a script with which to do so. You don't. If you have to spend your married life, ad-libbing your way through the roles you are struggling to play, you have to be a fantastic actor to pull it off, or like most of us, fall by the wayside, either hamming or playing a nebulous role badly, thereby incurring the wrath of the audience — your partner.

The writer is the author of The Fifty-50 Marriage: Return to Intimacy and can be contacted at: vijay.nagaswami@gmail.com

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