The Game Called Marriage

I happened to chance upon this article recently: It was about how Game Theory could be applied to Marriage; the premise being that there is a lot in common between the two – including the presence of two people with different interests, each trying to maximize their own best results, in spite of the other person’s presence. I read the full article with a great deal of interest; in part, the boldness of the idea and the hard-nosed practicality appealed to me. When you start out with your relationship, there’s usually a lot of starry-eyed romance and idealism, particularly if you’re still young – I was a mere twenty two when I met my to-be husband. Once you’re actually married, though, and the reality of having to live everyday with someone else sets in, it’s easy to start believing that you’ve now entered into a lifelong contract for daily battles.

For me personally, in my ten years of marriage, it’s certainly been true – we’ve spent so much time trying to establish our own individuality, further our own interests, negotiating, scoring points…in short…yes, Gaming. My father-in-law, however, holds the opposite point of view. He has been living with us for the last year, and occasionally gives us advice on marriage, based on his own more-than-fifty-years-and-happy-relationship. In fact, he said to me a few months ago – after he saw me all upset after a fight – “In marriage, you agree to give up on your own ego – it is a merging of both egos that takes place.” Yeah, right, I thought at the time, only just refraining from rolling my eyes, purely out of respect and politeness. That sounded idealistic and unrealistic – actually, not even idealistic – who would want to lose their own individuality, in this day and age? Merging of the egos. Hah. No, thanks, Papaji!

And then something strange happened last week. Vijay did something which was wrong and hurtful, and he knew it. This is the kind of occasion which I usually pounce upon with great gusto, tearing into him and milking it for all it’s worth, with the full resolve to remind him about and use it against him again and again in the future. Notching it up to One-More-Win-for-the-lady- in-the-Red Corner. But then, suddenly, in the middle of my tirade, when I saw how sad and sorry he was actually looking, something changed. Suddenly, I didn’t feel hurt and angry any more – and it didn’t matter that I had good reason to be. All that mattered was that he was looking miserable. I stopped speaking; huffed out my cheeks one final time and then sat down next to him on the floor and put my arms around him, and said, “It’s okay. Don’t look so sad. We all make mistakes. Let’s just forget about it now.”

He returned my hug with a great deal of relief, tightening his arms around me. And then his grip suddenly slackened and he pushed me away, holding me by the shoulders – and looked intently into my face. With a great deal of suspicion he asked, “Is this you?” When I affirmed that it was indeed his wife of ten years that he had been embracing until a minute ago, he enveloped me again and murmured into my hair, “Lagta hai bade ho gaye ho tum!” Indeed. I suppose I am growing up. High time, really! So, the long and short of the whole matter –between the idea of Game Theory and Marriage versus Papaji’s ideal notion of egos merging and all that jazz, I’m still somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. But I have a sneaking suspicion that I may be leaning towards the latter. Because ultimately, I’d like to think that your life partner isn’t your opponent; and that, in fact, you are both irrefutably on the same side. And hopefully, over time, with enough practice – you’re going to shape up to be a pretty solid team. Wouldn’t that just be a nicer way to live?

P.S And if you do come around to this same point of view, I’m just hoping it takes you less than ten years.

– Contributed by Yashodhara Lal

(Yashodhara Lal is the author of ‘Just Married, Please Excuse’, and brings us a series of articles based on her ten years – and many blunders – on that bumpy, beautiful ride called Marriage. Yashodhara blogs at and is on twitter with the handle @yashodharalal)

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