My wife Fiona and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Initially, I didn’t think much about it but over the months I realised that the marriages of a lot friends were falling apart, and realised that getting to the number 25 is pretty cool.
Our friends say that Fiona and I have a perfect relationship. That’s far from the truth. We have had our fair share of arguments, fights, periods of doubt, and so on. The saying, “The course of true love is not smooth” is so true … at least in our case. But 25 years later, and with two great kids, we can confidently say that it’s been a good life.
Let me get one thing straight. This is not a blog about me claiming to be an expert on marriage, because I am far from being one. Instead, it is about some of the lessons we learnt along the way, which worked for us. I write this with the hope that others may find some of our lessons helpful as we all muddle through this relationship called marriage. It’s also about how you can be pissed-off-with-each-other-and-not-talk to-each-other-for-days and still celebrate your silver anniversary.
Before we got married, Fiona and I had a three-year distance relationship while she completed her doctorate in the US. This was pre-email, pre-Skype, pre-every convenient technology other than expensive phone calls and the humble postage stamps. We still have a wooden box full of our letters from those three years – letters that were posted every Monday.
Back then, after we started dating, the longest we had stayed together in the same city was about three weeks. We wondered how we would last together for more than a month. In fact, I was so unsure of proposing to her that I even had a discussion with a random vegetable seller outside Churchgate Station in Mumbai (in Fiona’s presence) on whether I should marry her – this is a true story, and the guy told me I should! It’s now been 301 months.
So, here’s what I have learnt over the past 25 years.
Communicate First of all is communication. We talk a lot (ok, Fiona claims that she does most of the talking). And that’s important. We all have busy lives and it is easy to get stuck in the rat race and stop ‘real’ communication. Many years back, during the early days of ChrysCapital [the author of the article was a partner at the private equity firm from 2000-2002], we decided to block every Tuesday night to go out together. Why Tuesdays? Because nothing much happened on that day.We would catch a movie, go out for dinner or just take a walk. The only time that the kids wouldn’t make a fuss when we went out was on Tuesday nights.
On one of Fiona‘s birthdays, all she asked me for was to go out to a dinner where I did all the talking. I survived that one. And she doesn’t let me forget the time when I fell asleep on one of our Tuesday night dates because I had been traveling a lot. Communication is also about discussing the things you often don’t want to talk about – the doubts, the faults we ‘see’ in each other, the stuff that irritates us. Humour helps a lot in these discussions.
The second is vacation time. We holiday a lot together. After losing unutilised leaves many years back, I vowed to always take all my annual leaves every year and not carry them forward. Together, we love seeing new places and so do the kids. We also love road trips. We just spent three weeks on a holiday with no major scraps, despite losing our car papers in Patagonia. A four-week drive from Mumbai to Ladakh and back with the kids was one of our more memorable road trips. Getting away from Mumbai and being together gives us excellent opportunities to talk with each other.
The third is making space. It’s also important that we give each other space. When the kids were real little, Fiona had to take a mandatory holiday every year without the kids or me. This helped her remain sane and gave the kids and me a chance to hang out together. We need this space even when the kids are grown up.
The fourth is trust. Of course our lives aren’t perfect. That’s why communication is so important to be able to continue to trust each other and stay connected even after all these years. We have our scars, but then these scars have helped strengthen our relationship.
A lot of work
And finally, the fifth is a lot of work. It takes a lot of work to stay committed to each other. None of that instant gratification stuff or giving up when the going gets tough is worth giving up a marriage. Life is not a smooth runway, it is more like the roads of Bandra — potholes, broken pavements, traffic holdups — but you will get to your destination eventually.
A few days ago, Fiona asked me what these 25 years meant to me. I said, it was about discovering who my best friend is. I guess, as we grow older, what we need most is companionship and I found it in Fiona. Finding my best friend is what marriage has been about for me.
The evening before I proposed to her, we saw the movie ‘Pretty Woman’ together. During the movie I decided that I was ready for marriage. Many years later, I was on a flight and incidentally, Richard Gere was sitting behind me. I turned back and chatted with him about how his movie with Julia Roberts had impacted our lives. When we were landing, he asked me if we are still married. Heck, it’s been 25 years and one month now and we are still going strong!