Family vs Family

Now, that was the heading of an article by Vijay Nagaswami. It reminded me of the many conversations with my husband, especially when we’re in the mood to either have a good laugh or hurt each other.

What is it about the ‘family’ that makes these conversations difficult? We’re either overprotective or hypercritical – each trying to outdo the other.

When we were married, we realised that we were mere pawns – incidental to the marriage ceremony. It was our families that were playing the major roles and in no uncertain terms, we were told to keep away. So we both learnt the ‘art of silence.’

I lived with my in-laws for about 2 years before we moved out. My husband got a job in another city and I joined him, gladly. Sometimes I feel if we hadn’t perhaps we wouldn’t still be married! Interference was an understatement. We were not considered a couple who could spend time on their own or do our own thing. Everything had to include the family. Sometimes it felt good while at other times it was a challenge. Why did it seem like we were going against my in-law’s wishes when we wanted to do something on our own? Even if we decided on the spur of the moment to have dinner outside, I was made to feel guilty for having not informed my mother-in-law in advance. She wouldn’t have cooked for us. I was bluntly reminded that “it was a waste of her time.”

I remember the birthday and anniversary celebrations when the same set of people got invited – it was never about our friends or going out to celebrate ourselves, perhaps over the quintessential ‘candlelit dinner!’ It had to be celebrated at home with a home-cooked meal – which ultimately felt like an obligation.

Similarly, my parents too had their own set of expectations from us. In fact, most often, their expectations were in competition with my in-laws! So on most occasions, it was a balancing act for us – sometimes we gave in while at other times the pressure was on me to balance with my husband, his family and mine!!!

Even though we had a ‘love’ marriage, we actually ‘re-discovered’ each other when we began living on our own in a different city – it meant being away from both families. The only connection was a phone call every now and then. It didn’t matter much then because we exercised selective information sharing – what they didn’t know didn’t affect us.

Dr Nagasawami was absolutely right to suggest that ‘the resolution of the ‘family vs family’ conflict can only begin when the couple starts to think in terms of ‘We and Our Families’’. He says, “…couples should define their mutually comfortable marriage space and establish boundaries between this and the family space, thereby making the marriage space sacrosanct, inviolate and inaccessible to anybody other than both the partners.”

As a couple, we realised just how much happier we were, away from all the family drama. Family in small doses helps to build a stronger bond. But did this mean we were completely exempt from their influence? Far from it! Every phone call brought back memories and with it the feeling that we had so desperately run away from.

Yet, those earlier experiences gave us enough ammunition for future reference. We continue to use them liberally. Sometimes we laugh at each other’s expense while at other times it is a way to create maximum hurt.

The struggle still continues :-p


Marriage is a maze of negotiations and decisions – each with its own impact and rippling effects. You win some, you lose some. Mostly you need to decide what suits you the best. Easier said than done!


For one the concept of ‘you’ changes as one ages – from ‘you’, the individual, it moves to include your spouse and then your children. ‘You’ could also refer to your family. What’s best for you has to be in the context of changing situations – even those that might come up in future.

Decisions can be a lengthy process or spontaneous. They can be taken in total agreement or be one-sided. It’s an open playing field and sometimes, the stronger side wins.

Ideally, decisions should be taken as a couple – well thought through, discussed at length, pros and cons acknowledged and both sides should feel like their views have been taken into consideration.

Unfortunately, the truth is that decisions cannot be taken as a couple in isolation. Your ego, id, family pressure, upbringing, emotions, past experiences, finances, situational context – all play a role and much depends on what or who gets the upper hand! The best place to begin, therefore, is to acknowledge this simple fact.

It is extremely difficult to develop the capacity to view every situation independently and objectively before taking a decision. Sometimes though, it’s best not to, as past experiences can rightly shed light to guide one’s actions. Sometimes it’s good to go by gut – if you believe in it, go for it.You might repent later, but at least, you’ve made a choice.

Failing to exercise your choice is still a decision, so you must accept that. You cannot blame anyone – and if it’s the wrong decision, step back, rethink about what went wrong, forgive yourself and move on. There is no point in harbouring the nagging doubt that it was your fault – you didn’t stand up and take action, or didn’t voice your opinion more strongly, or didn’t have sufficient information or didn’t want to face the ugly truth! Don’t keep score as it’s one way to guarantee that nobody wins.

Moving on is the penultimate truth about decisions. If you’re unable to move on then you’ll be stuck in the rut forever. No matter what new experiences you have – you will always look at them through doubtful eyes. Believe that you did what you thought was right then, stand by it. If, in the present, it seems wrong, then do accept, that it was right for a while.

A successful marriage includes two skilled negotiators. No matter who took the final call, if it’s right, great minds think alike. If it’s wrong, then share the blame as a significant long-term impact of decision-making, is that your child will learn from you and emulate in future.

Who’s the better half?

It’s common knowledge to refer to each other as one’s ‘better half’ but what does it really mean?

Does it mean, you are not better? That there is a side of you that needs betterment? Or does it generally mean that the other person compliments your failings and drawbacks? They complete you as a person.

Or does it mean the ‘superior half of the married couple?’ Now, that could be a bone of contention. Ideally, there shouldn’t be a superior half but of course life’s not fair. Sometimes, one might get the upper hand in a situation while with some couples, it can be a norm! The feelings of superiority can be a means of proving that you’re right or it could be a way to protect yourself – a reflection of your deep-seated insecurity that you’re unable to accept and so manifests itself as the opposite.

Does the definition of better change over time? Perhaps it does as we grow and change as a couple.

Sometimes, it allows you to bask in self-pity when your failings catch people’s attention. It allows for fair acceptance and acknowledgement of your drawbacks in public domain. It also allows you to give a back-handed compliment to your spouse. And sometimes it allows you to be a tease.

Better halves make you look good, not always ‘fashionably’ good but they do add to your charm. They give ‘togetherness’ a new meaning. They balance your quirkiness and impulsiveness by bringing stability to your life. They can make the mundane livelier or can make it more acceptable when life’s dreary.

It’s of course, a lot of hard work, from both sides, to truly make your better half complete you as a person. It means you have to be open and humble – open enough to see your failing and humble enough to accept it. Simultaneously, it means open enough to see your spouse’s drawback and humble enough to fill in that gap. It could also mean, open enough to see their strength and humble enough to acknowledge it and add to its impact.

So, ideally, whichever way you look at it, your better half is always better than you in all respects.