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Monday, July 5, 2010

FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE

For better or for worse
MANO-A-MANO By Adel Tamano (The Philippine Star) Updated July 04, 2010 12:00 AM


He created mates for you from yourselves

That you may find solace and rest in them, and

He put between you love and compassion.

Surely these are signs for those who reflect. — Koran, 30: 21

The inauguration of our first single, unmarried president and his sister Kris’s inadvertent upstaging of the ceremony by publicly declaring that her own marriage to basketball player James Yap was over have set me to thinking about matrimony: why people get married and the problems of modern marriage. Marriage is not a subject that I take lightly, particularly after witnessing the challenges that my own parents faced with their marriage. Perhaps it was my lack of a marital role model that explains why I have always been keen on the subject and promised to myself, even at an early age, that my own should be a successful one. (My wife has patiently put up with me for 11 years and counting.)

Marriage is defined under the Family Code as “a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered in accordance with law for the establishment of conjugal and family life.” Unfortunately, the legal definition is dry and uninspired stuff and fails to grasp the deeper significance of a marital union. “Special” is as far as it goes into describing its significance. Contrasting it with the earlier quote from the Koran and the insufficiency of the codal definition becomes apparent: in Islam, as in Christianity, marriage is more than a mere “special contract.” For Muslims, it is a mithaq or a solemn covenant — one clothed with not only lawful but religious and ineffable significance. Note how, in Islam, the love and compassion that is shared between husbands and wives are deemed as an ayat or the very sign of God’s presence. I still get Goosebumps when I think about that and it is a reminder that marriage is not something to be entered into — or given up on — lightly.

Seeing the profound implications of marriage, one could easily conclude that the social institution must have been created along with the birth of civilization; such that as human society progressed and became more complex, marriage was established to provide order to the relationships between men and women. However, it appears that the contrary is true: marriage pre dates the great civilizations and it existed even in the most primitive of societies. In fact, among the tribes living in New Guinea, long before being exposed to the so-called “civilized” world, the natives had their own concept of marriage and even divorce. Consequently, marriage appears to be something so intrinsically linked to our very nature that even without a developed legal system, even in the simplest of societies, people choose to marry.

However, intrinsic to our nature or not, maintaining a marriage is hard work, especially in the modern age. Because sexual mores, parenting roles, and expectations between spouses have changed rapidly in the past decades, it becomes so much more challenging to keep marriages intact. It is ironic that as our society advances and becomes more enlightened, it becomes more difficult for marriages to survive. In the US, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. In Australia, the rate of divorce is about 30 percent. While we do not have reliable data for divorce rates in the Philippines because, generally, divorce is prohibited except under Sharia law (although annulments are viewed as essentially de facto divorces); nevertheless, we all have friends or acquaintances who have given up on their marriage. While I certainly cannot judge those who opt out of marriage, I cannot help but have a sense of loss and sadness when a marriage fails. Yes, marriage can be difficult and definitely there are situations when separation, annulment or divorce – particularly in case of physically or emotionally abusive relationships – is an option. However, it should be a last option. Thus, whenever our law office handles cases of annulment, I always ask my clients if they have exerted all efforts to save their marriage. In fact, although divorce is allowed for Muslims, there is such a divine aversion to breaking the marital tie that it is believed that the throne of God quakes whenever a divorce occurs.

Perhaps what is really surprising is that despite the statistics on divorce and the experiments, particularly during the sexual revolution of ’60s and ’70s, at forming alternatives to marriage, such as open relationships, “living in,” “swinging”, etc., people still get married, prefer marriage to the other alternatives, and many marriages do actually survive and even thrive. I believe that this is a testament to the deep human need to have a true partner in life. Simply, man — and woman — cannot live alone and while we may have families and friends, it may not be enough for most. (I say this because, for some, singleness is a viable option, although one — and by no means do I denigrate it — I cannot fathom.) Perhaps by acknowledging this deep human need and understanding that marriage has proven to be the most viable way to address it, people would give more value to marriage, maybe not enter into it whimsically, and, hopefully, we would have fewer broken marriages. However, let me emphasize that although I obviously advocate marriage as an institution, I do not idealize marriage. Let us be clear: There is no happy-ever-after in marriage — that exists only in fairytales. And, certainly, a marriage with a fairytale ending would be incredibly boring and would miss out on the whole gamut of the human experience, which, of course, includes sadness, arguments, grief, and sickness as well as life’s good stuff. That is why the marriage vow is “for better or for worse.”

Finally, in Genesis, Adam, the first man and thus a paragon of man, could not survive alone and needed a “helpmate,” someone to share his life with. And to think that he was already living in Paradise, without a burden or care at all, and yet it was not enough of a life until Eve, his equal partner, came along. I believe that like Adam, no matter how perfect our life may be, no matter how rich or successful we may become, we too will search for that lifelong partner to share our life with. This is why marriage survives modernity. Although marriage, like any human institution, is imperfect; however, if we are lucky, we can savor the moments of marital compassion, forgiveness and love, which, in the end, make life worth living.

4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Advice from a woman married for 7 years to a newly married woman:

    1. Nourish and protect your husband’s ego at all times. You’ll find that your young children are way more resilient than your husband. Tiptoe around his ego. When in doubt, lie. Treat it with love and care so that it may blosssom like a garden. When your husband gets quiet after a former admirer greets you a little too enthusiastically for his taste (of course he’d rather die than admit to you that he’s a little bit jealous), later at dinner, look at your husband across the table and tell him you think he’s sexy. Deflation over.

    2. Whenever your husband shares his great, new idea with you, always smile serenely. Encourage him to go for it. 99% of the time, nothing will come of it. If he actually does something about it, why, you’ve been supportive from the start. Never say what you’re actually thinking: “Are you friggin’ kidding me?!” Relax.

    3. If you have sons, raise them to be the gentleman you wish your husband was – opening doors, pulling out chairs, being the breadwinner, aiming well when emptying his bladder... As their mom, be a woman with a lot of strength and backbone, yet gentle, kind and encouraging. You know you would have been Plato’s favorite student – smart, deep and hot. Have a sense of humor and be light and fun to be with so they know what type to model after when they choose a wife – not mesmerized by the first girl they sleep with.

    4. If you have a daughter, she must be raised to be smart and strong. She must put a lot of value on herself and be more than capable of taking care of herself financially and emotionally. If and when Prince Charming comes along, she’ll remember that he’s the icing on the cake, not the cake.

    5. You are the change you seek. That’s Buddha, not Obama. If you wish your husband made more money, go make it yourself. If you wish your husband had more balls, have the balls for both of you. Don’t like where you’re headed? Take control of the wheel. Point is, you have to be very strong before you can allow yourself to be gentle. So remain his sweetheart, make him feel like Superman.

    I once apologized to my husband because the two movie seats I was able to get were less than ideal. He said, “Are they together?” I said they were. He replied, “Then they’re the best seats in the house.” So it must be working.

    Now, about your case for marriage being the more ideal of the two lifestyles, I’m not so sure. For the last few thousand years, all efforts were made to keep women in their place – on a pedestal before marriage and in the kitchen and nursery directly afterwards. I strongly disagree with the view that divorce rates are somehow a yardstick for a nation’s marital unhappiness. It simply is a measure of how free their women are. The divorce rates in Egypt are soaring not because more people suddenly find themselves unhappy, but because women have recently been granted the right to file from divorce.

    I hope that in the future, women who choose to live with their partners and not marry will no longer raise eyebrows. I mean, think of Brad and Angelina. Can you imagine what it would do to their sex life if they said ‘I do’?

    P.S. Girlie, quit crying. File it.

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  3. thanks for the advice, it so happen that i just delete my previous post because of some reason, my children might read it and may affect them early,

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  4. Thanks for all the comments. I especially enjoyed Sabine's comment. Too bad I didn't get to read girliesguigut's comment.

    Just one point Sabine, some people continue to have sex - yes with each other - even after marriage. Againj, thanks for taking the time to engage.

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