Life is not a bed of roses… How many times did you read or hear this adage whilst growing up?
Whether you were the indomitable idealist lost in a fantastical world of romance, make-believe and fiction, or the cynical realist who flicked away all hearsay regarding someone’s blissful matrimony with a “we’ll-see” eye-roll and contemptuous snort, the fact is that, notwithstanding life in general, marital life is definitely not a bed of roses!
It doesn’t take long for a married couple to realize, once the roses in the floral table centre-pieces at their walimahdinner have drooped and wilted, that married life is less about round-the-clock romance and more about being human, making mistakes, compassion, forgiveness, moving on from the past, adjustment, compromise, responsibility, Shari’ rights and persistent work.
Expectations vs. Reality
When many people get married, they are more often than not young and never married before.
Whereas the innocence and naiveté adds to the giddiness of novel experiences, the lack of life experience and past interactions with people from the opposite gender also unfortunately fuel their level of expectations from their spouse, and make them enter their marriage with baggage carried over from witnessing their own parents’ marital relationship.
Now when he gets married, he might presume, against his better judgment that his wife intends to live exactly like his mother, which might make him attempt to replicate his own parents’ marriage with his wife. He might presume that his wife is inept to handle outside-the-home worldly matters, and is not street-smart; but rather, is predisposed and content to stay at home; aspires to cook at the level of master chef, and she may not be matured enough to be consulted for professional advice and major career decisions.Take the case of, for example, Adnan. A loving, stay-at-home mother who never had a job, was not educated beyond high school; never earned her own money, nor possessed much wealth. She could therefore not supervise her children’s homework or exam preparation beyond primary school level. Her kid always saw his father single-handedly take care of financial matters, never consulting his mother for any career-related discussions or professional advice. He grew up watching her mother keep house, cook, clean, sew and host dinners – and not much else.
He might start always comparing his wife, detrimentally to their marital relationship, with his mother or sisters, even going so far as to judge her novice cooking skills against his Mom’s polished, decades-old culinary expertise.
How often has a wife gone out of her way to cook an elaborate dish only to have her husband undermine it because his “Mom” made it better?
As a result, for the first few years of their marriage, his wife might struggle for him to accept her for who she is, particularly if she is highly educated, world-wise, well-read, professionally experienced, capable of handling money, and up-to-date with current affairs.
She might get frustrated at being coerced to keep her focus only in the kitchen, when her interests spill over into many other areas.
She might feel angry at being compared to someone else, and have all her skills and talents besides homemaking and cooking completely ignored.
“But Daddy always used to……”
Now let us look at the other side of the coin: when a wife carries her baggage of past life experiences and observation of her parent’s marriage into her marriage, in the form of high expectations.
It is common for many wives to expect the same, if not a better lifestyle and standard of living, than that which they were accustomed to before marriage. Whether or not they were a pampered ‘Daddy’s Girl’, if they were always kept on a pedestal and showered with love and material gifts on demand, they might be in for an awakening after marriage.
By naively falling into the trap of assuming that their husband will immediately love, trust and indulge them just like their parents used to, they might soon also suffer the consequences of “carry-over-syndrome”.
Sometimes new brides’ expectations from their husbands are based entirely on their past relationship with their father, who might have consulted them in all major family decisions and valued their opinion as an individual with a head on their shoulders. Consequently, they will expect their husbands to do the same from day one, and when that doesn’t happen in the beginning, they might get hurt.
The question that arises then would be; who is responsible for this pain? The person who did not come up to expectations, or the person who kept those expectations too high, made unfair comparisons, and expected perfection much too soon?
Now picture this scenario: Sameera got married thinking that her husband would have long, deep conversations with her over romantic dinners at restaurants. She expected that he’d dish out pocket money for her from day one, just like her father did with her mother, and consequently, that he would be earning enough to havethat much money in the first place.Life is Rosy…..
She expected him to wear the kind of clothes she liked whilst at home, just the way her brother did, lounging around in branded tees and sweatpants.
As it turned out, her husband did not dine at restaurants, and preferred having her cook everything at home. He was interested in little else but physical intimacy the first few weeks, and long conversations just caused delays. He wanted to relax and ‘be himself’ when at home, which translated to wearing a vest and worn-out PJ’s. He never gave her any money, but more than willingly bought her whatever she needed. He did not consult her about his career or professional work, as he wanted their time together to be more about her. Nevertheless, he was madly in love.
There was nothing in the least wrong with Sameera’s marriage, nor was her husband lacking in any significant way, but because of her high expectations and preconceived notions about the early marital relationship, borrowed heavily not just from her past life experiences but also from films, glossy magazines and novels, she ended up feeling hurt and disappointed.
She thus started to spiral into a downward eddy of ingratitude and anxiety, believing that her husband and her relationship with him was lacking in many ways, when for the most part, everything was fine.
Relationships Need Time to Mature
Both the spouses, in the above fictional scenario, were unintentional victims of the “carry-over-baggage” syndrome, if we can call it that. They carried their own past relationships with their parents, and their parent’s marital relationship with each other, over into their own marriage, instead of letting their relationship develop a new, purely on the basis of their unique personality traits, strengths and weaknesses as a couple.
It can take years before the ups, downs, peaks and trials of married life unveil to each spouse the true positive and endearing qualities of the other. Every couple eventually falls in love, finds happiness and becomes each other’s best friend, but this necessitates for each one to stop comparing their spouse to their parent of the same gender, and learn to value them for who they were.
Adnan’s son will then be able to realize that whilst his wife might not be able to expertly ‘cook up a storm’ in the kitchen, – yet – she can do many other things. She can drive a car, educate his children, give him career advice, build his resume online, check and respond to his work emails, draw up and adhere to monthly and annual household budget, and also save money for the family using the “envelope” system.
Sameera will be able to realize that her husband is much caring and romantic than her father ever was, and let’s her have a lot of leeway in the way she chooses to run the household, bringing out the hidden administrator and interior designer in her. And that he looks just fine in PJ’s.
Once she stops comparing him to her father, and he stops sizing her up against his mother, they will be able to not just appreciate each other for who they are as unique individuals, but will be also able to build their spousal relationship from scratch, free from clichéd expectations and childhood baggage carried over from the past.
That was when they started to truly enjoy the recurring pleasant “you- also-have-this-amazing-quality?” surprises!