The Maintenance Manual

By Gouri Dange in Health & Wellness
Updated 05:17 IST May 24, 2017

Views » 659 | 5 min read

...go ahead and spring clean that relationship!

                                                                                               - Gouri Dange

Just about everyone spring cleans their homes, at least once a year. We do it, not as a chore, but as a chance to run our eye and our duster over all our possessions - cleaning, mending, discarding, replacing. It’s the same with our cars – servicing, regular fuel filling, maintaining tyre pressure, cleaning inside and out, listening out for any odd noises.

However, it is the most important relationships in our lives - the ones that will outlive our homes and cars and careers and even our bodies – that we neglect thoroughly. We treat them as if they’re completely weather-proof, Teflon-coated, maintenance-free, unbreakable and come with a life-time warranty!

It’s usually because our relationships are ‘expected’ to take the wear and tear. Marriage/serious relationship is one such relationship. The definition itself, in every culture, says ‘for better or for worse’, ‘till death do us part’, etc. But many of us don’t seem to read the fine print – or the fine print is not pointed out to us. It says:  ‘highly inflammable; not to be loose shunted.’

When we enter a serious relationship or marriage, we’re undertaking something, like all high-energy projects, with tremendous and powerful potential. And for this power to work for us, we need to handle it with care and follow certain protocols for maintenance and troubleshooting:

Fuel efficiency and body work: Tired, underfed or overfed, unkempt bodies are a serious marital-energy sapper. Don’t ignore the early warning signs that come from your mirror and from gentle jokes made by your spouse or partnre. Make small but sustainable changes in your eating habits. Don’t wait for a gym to open up nearby or the weather to change or for the right shoes. All you need is enough space to stretch, a walking track or a quiet lane or even the corridor of your building, and 30 minutes.

Odd noises: So many couples complain that “he/she talks so sweetly to the rest of the world and is so careless/nasty with me”. And no, that is not a sign that you’re ‘comfortable’ with one another and being formal with the rest of the world. If this is the case, you need to rethink your definition of what communication with your spouse/partner means. All that warmth and good cheer that you reserve for even the neighbour who irritates you – do redirect some of it homewards. And it doesn’t always have to be Words. It can be completely non-verbal, and yet caring and intimate, respectful and warm, in public as well as private.

Tyre rotation and rethreading: The worst relationship skids take place when we let the interesting grooves and grids of our personalities wear out. We married/got together in the first place because we liked certain facets of each other’s personalities. Over just a few years, those seem to vanish, or are reserved only for the outside world - while the marriage/partnership itself runs on bald, featureless tyres. Redefine your grooves and patterns, evolve – on your own and with your spouse – and you’ll continue to have a great grip on the bylanes as well as the highways of marital life. 

Pest control: Parasites, pests and fungi find their way into every marriage in the form of well-meaning meddlers and malicious manipulators – these could be some of your friends, family, even spiritual/financial/psychological advisers. They usually thrive on discord and on getting to your intimate secrets. Keep them firmly out. If they have crept in, take a joint decision on the best way to get rid of them. Remember, however, not to use toxic methods that could be hazardous to your marriage/relationship. Humour and a gentle nudge should do the trick. Most importantly, you have to agree with each other about who the real pests are and how best they can be thrown out.

Planned shutdowns and timeouts: Every system needs a break – a genuine one. Hectic holidays, expensive dinners, major partying create the illusion of relaxation. The airports are overflowing with bored looking couples looking in two different directions, ‘holidaying together’. Find what you really enjoy doing as a couple. Also find what you like to do alone and go do it, without guilt. It’s completely ok to seek and give each other time away from each other - whether to read, pursue a hobby, play a game or go out with friends.

Safety features: Wear a helmet to protect yourselves from falling financial/health/emotional equipment. Wear seatbelts of restraint so that neither of you hurt yourselves and each other when there are sudden shocks. Install a smoke detector – so that there is an early warning that something’s not going right.

Discard and upgrade: Throw out outmoded attitudes and grudges. Forgiveness, that much-touted and much-misunderstood word, is the key. All marriages have their teething troubles – don’t cling to these and hold them up like a penalty card at each other for years later. Change, and appreciate change in the other.

Focus on core competencies: Whether it’s parenting, financial management, looking after elders, a career, hospitality…everyone has their speciality – something that they’re good at, and do with ease. Find it and focus on it. And do try to stop berating each other for what you are not. In this exercise, you’ll do away with much dust and rust - and many of the original facets for which you appreciated each other will emerge.

There’s a saying in hindi – chalti ka naam gaadi. Loosely translated, this means: if it runs, it’s a car. Don’t let your marriage/relationship be one of those. Inertia never got anyone anywhere!

- Gouri Dange

The writer is a family counsellor, writer and book editor. She has regular columns in the Pune Mirror, The Hindu and other national papers. She has published three novels and three books of non-fiction on parenting. 


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