Should you adjust or compromise?

Life is dynamic with changes happening continuously. Unfortunately, no one likes changes. We may make peace with it, react to it with displeasure or cope with it to the best of our abilities. But it always leaves us feeling unsure, perhaps bitter or dissatisfied with an emptiness within of having lost a way of life.

Most relationships allow for two people to entwine their lives with each other while creating a space for themselves within that twosome. This process is facilitated by either adjustment or compromise. The words are used interchangeably and are considered to be the gospel truth (read advice) that most elders pass on.

Adjustment is the adaptation to a particular condition, position, or purpose while compromise is a settlement of differences by mutual concessions and reciprocal modification of demands.

Depending on one’s state of mind, listed below are a few everyday things that might call for an adjustment or compromise. In some instances, the differences aren’t given due importance because it is believed that they’re inconsequential no matter how much they annoy you. But for others they’re game changers leading to a break-up.

New set of parents – from having one set of parents (and your baggage of issues with them), suddenly you inherit another pair. Often your feelings get transferred or you may develop newer issues! Alternatively, if you’re making an effort to be extra nice, your parents might feel offended that you’re paying them more attention. Simultaneously, blinkered thinking like ‘my parents can do no wrong or they truly want what is good for us,’ can also lead to friction.

New House and a new way of living – in most Indian families it is still expected that after marriage, the girl will live with her in-laws. Being the newest member it is commonly believed that she should adjust and compromise. What isn’t acknowledged is that the other family members also find themselves suddenly having to accommodate a new person they may know nothing about. Thus, an instinctual survival mechanism kicks into gear for everyone. The girl believing that this is her new home (the operative word being ‘home’) tries to recreate her parental home while the others try to instil in her the unsaid rules and regulations of their lives. Clashes begin when there is a discrepancy between the two and each tries to manipulate the other into living their way.

Food – the most essential requirement for living and living well. Interestingly, both partners claim that their mother’s cooking is the best. No matter how well you cook, you can never measure up! Potentially the number one reason for discontentment, is it stupidity to even try? It often starts here and gradually moves on to feelings of intrusion in other areas. So, what whets your appetite? Fish head cooked with lentils, spicy food, experimenting with different kinds of meat, eating nearly raw food, too much sugar or bland food, ‘healthy’ eating. Are you irritated with coffee brewed incorrectly, whole garam masala in your food, inconsistency in the thickness of dal, tea not strong enough, or frying onions and potatoes together not separately? Life of course, gets even more interesting in a regional marriage!

Sleeping habitsThe early bird catches the worm or early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, may ring true for some people but not if you’re a night owl. Do you prefer to sleep hugging a pillow or on your stomach or tend to rotate or slide down the bed? Do you kick in your sleep or dream aloud or simply snore? Is your partner constantly reminding you of how much sleep you require? Do you like to read or surf the net or watch TV before going to bed?

After sex rituals are as stressful as the inability to reach orgasm or making love in certain positions. Do you rush to clean up immediately after? Do you light up a smoke? Do you turn around and start snoring? Does the sex act make you feel alive and awake, so you go watch more TV or read? Do you put a pillow between yourself and your partner after you’re done? Lying spent would you rather sleep in the buff or wear your clothes? Do you like to be hugged and fall asleep in your partner’s arms or would you rather sleep comfortably by yourself?

Bathroom habits – Do you like a clean and dry bathroom before every use? Do you finish reading the paper (physically or online) or play a mind game (perhaps Sudoku) while at it? Do you screw back the toothpaste top after use? Do you mess the entire basin area or mirror splashing water? Do you keep the shampoo and conditioner name facing front after use? Do you always forget to switch off the geyser or your towel before a bath? Do you suffer from constipation or irritable bowel syndrome or anything else ensuring that you’re always in the bathroom? Where do you hang the wet towel?

Shopping evokes different feelings. One might go shopping armed with a checklist while the other loves window shopping or buying whatever fancies them. Do you shop to relax and unwind? Do you love mindless walks through malls? Do you enjoy checking out newest gadgets as soon as they’re launched? Do you shop at full price or during sale season?

Your sense of style can vastly effect your interpersonal relationship. Do you dress for comfort, to be presentable or follow fashion religiously? How often do you groom yourself? Is your wardrobe styled to cater to different occasions or do you look the same wherever you go, no matter the occasion? Does your shoe and belt always match? Do you love bright floral prints while your partner likes subdued colours?

Entertaining patterns can be a bone of contention. Do you entertain regularly or only on weekends? Do you always entertain at home leaving you responsible for cleaning up? Or does your partner prefer the newest eateries in town? How often do you catch up with mutual friends, or office colleagues or family? Does it irk you to constantly spend time and money entertaining the same people?

Choice of relaxation – differs between partners. What’s your ideal holiday? Are you an indoor or outdoor person? Do you like adventurous sports or relaxing on a beach? Do you like a scheduled itinerary when travelling? Closer to home, do you like to laze with a book on weekends or catch up on the latest release? Does it bother your partner that you’re most happy ‘doing nothing?!’ Must you meet up with family and friends together or do you like to do your own thing?

Money matters and your attitude towards it impacts your financial health. The belief that your money is my money and my money is my money can be equally problematic as your money is your money, my money is my money. Some couples agree to mutually break up home and living expenses while some crib that they contribute more than the other. Money gives a sense of power, position, control and stability. Couples can hold differing opinions about how money is earned, what its spent on, the concept of saving and what it offers.

Religious rituals – Each family has its own way of praying, celebrating or making an offering. How tolerant are you of your partner’s religion? Do you have an altar or prayer room at home? Do you take a bath before praying? How often do you visit your place of worship?

A life of togetherness can be lots of fun when you see eye to eye on these matters or else, it becomes a constant battle. Sometimes humour helps dispel these differences. Instead of compromising or adjusting you may simply want your partner to stop or change the annoying behaviour.

The irony is that however you choose to handle the above or react to the problems arising from them determines the longevity and health of your relationship.

 

Love that wasn’t meant to be…

Everyone has a story to tell, rub the surface and out tumbles that hidden someone who made a world of a difference to our lives. Yet each of us has accepted the inevitable, that you can’t have it all or have buried the love stories deep below, only to relive them during those lonely moments.

Tom was diligent, hard-working but painfully shy. He met a girl on a flight and for the first time gathered his courage to approach her. She reciprocated and so began a friendship that changed him forever. He enjoyed her company, did things he’d normally never do and slowly transformed from a shy introvert to a confident young man. When their friendship blossomed into love, he proposed. For the first time he was willing to assert his feelings rather than do his parents’ bidding. Unfortunately the girl got cold feet and was incommunicado for the entire duration his parents came visiting to meet her.  A day before leaving, his father confronted him to say that since his choice couldn’t be trusted, he had to agree to marry the girl they had selected. In anger and frustration he agreed. A month after the wedding, his girlfriend got back in touch to apologise and meet his parents. But it was too late. Today he has a good marriage, he respects his wife and is a dutiful husband and father.

Dick is a successful young businessman. He had a live in relationship with his long time girlfriend for 6 years. They even adopted a dog to share their every day lives. When they broke up he was devastated yet 3 years hence he still writes to her every day. He connects with her at a level which he hasn’t been able to break free from. It’s just something he does, he needs to do.

Mary, married with two children recently reconnected with her erstwhile boyfriend. He was her first love and although their relationship had only lasted a year, they had shared some great moments together. Today she is happily married while his marriage is going through a rough patch. It had felt good to reconnect but soon their conversations became intimate leaving her completely confused about her life.

Jane is successful, charming and an extrovert who can chat up any person and make them open up to her. She fell in love for the first time 13 years after her marriage with someone who groomed her into the person she is today. He made her see herself in a new light, made her love herself, gave her the confidence to fly and explore the world. As much as they loved each other, they fought bitterly. Somewhere they wanted different things from the relationship and they broke up. Years later, she still yearns to make him see what they could have had together. Somewhere in her sane mind, difficult as it is, she has accepted that the relationship is long over yet during moments of weakness the strong pull he still holds on her heart plays havoc with her life.

Love is such a strange emotion. It can make us or break us, it gives us strength to face life yet can be equally debilitating and make us miserable. Love makes it all worthwhile. Love makes everything alright. And love is the only reason why it is so difficult to forget someone or what they did for us. No matter how much one hurts, somewhere it gives us the ability to always be there for the person when they reach out. Tom did just that when years later his girlfriend reconnected. She needed help and he was there for her.

How we adjust to these experiences of unrequited love varies from person to person. Some yearn for it, continue searching perhaps for a clone while some others try not to awaken those feelings lest they interfere with their every day lives. Some live otherwise ‘happy’ lives yet take time off (even if it is for a few days) to do what their heart truly desires – breaking the boundaries – consciously accepting that they do it because they can or perhaps it is what sustains them as they continue to live their otherwise routine lives.

Some unfortunate souls though are unable to break free from the clutches of this emotion and continue to compare their partners. They are either unable to love as unconditionally or resist any behaviour that remotely resembles that of their past lover. Author Elle Newmark in The Book of Unholy Mischief explains, “unrequited love does not die; it’s only beaten down to a secret place where it hides, curled and wounded. For some unfortunates, it turns bitter and mean, and those who come after pay the price for the hurt done by the one who came before.”

Everyone inherently wants to be loved, wants to love another and be happy. Yet it can be elusive and slowly everything simply goes awry. Why?

Is it because most often people are unable to deal with the strength of this feeling? Do they require constant reassurances to ‘feel’ loved? Do they feel compelled by the need for the other person’s love to be happy? Does this in-turn overwhelm the partner putting them on a pedestal they are unable to cope with or makes them feel insecure, inferior and incapable of reciprocating? Is love so fragile that it needs kid gloves to blossom?

The practical mind believes that when we know what impacts relationships we can change our behaviour and thereby our responses. But how often is that even possible? Every person is unique and every one reacts differently. In addition our myriad life experiences too moulds our understanding of similar situations differently and thereby how we respond to them. We might want the same things yet how we express it and our partners’ ability to accept and acknowledge that is what makes all the difference.

fb6491aebf7f60d5ad3257bd0de6a957Unrequited love is unattainable. Then how does pining over it help? Isn’t the sense of loss here over something one never actually had? Yet it continues to be attractive. Perhaps because it is untouched by reality. When things go wrong in real life, the heart tends to attribute certain qualities to the unrequited love, thereby glorifying our perception of the individuals and the experiences we shared with them. As author Shannon L Alder says, “the most confused you will ever get is when you try to convince your heart and spirit of something your mind knows is a lie.” Maybe this explains why Mary feels confused or why Jane still wants to make him see how their lives could have been different had they been together!

Or is it that holding on to the glimmer of hope, helps us make peace with the turmoil within?

After all, as James Patterson in The Angel Experiment explains “what’s worse than knowing you want something, besides knowing you can never have it?”

 

 

 

 

The First Lady

Arguably the most important person in the husband’s life and thereby in one’s married life – the ‘mother-in-law’ whom I’d like to address as the First Lady of the house!

I’d heard much about my MIL (mother-in-law) before the wedding – but of course soon realized that nothing can ever prepare you enough to face the real deal! Having grown up in a nuclear family, I was quite unprepared. My notions of a joint family, living with in-laws were ideological in nature – mostly derived from fiction, gossiping friends or the telly. Therefore the expectations set were in most cases unrealistic!

My MIL wasn’t too happy with me as her son’s bride-to-be, mostly because I was a Christian and therefore unsure of the ways of a Hindu household. She was uncertain about my ability to settle into their tradition bound set-up. Every year the extended family came together to celebrate Durga Puja in their native village and everyone pitched in to help – would I be able to fit in? Would the others be able to accept me? As a couple we had decided that I would continue being a practicing Christian and not convert – how would the extended family react to that?

To my credit, I was instantly liked and appreciated for my efforts at the Durga Puja. I wore sari the Bengali way and did everything I was asked to do – making chandan (sandalwood) paste, stringing a garland, giving away prasad (puja offering). I did it because it was an important part of my husband’s life, because I knew that the onus to fit in rested with me as my acceptability into the extended family depended on how I carried myself during those five days.

MIL had grown up with her own prejudices about Christians – and in fact once quite innocently asked me if I could speak in Bengali! At that point I thought it was funny since I was a Bengali Christian and so could definitely speak in my mother tongue. But, was it really funny? After all I was more comfortable conversing and expressing my thoughts and feelings in English rather than Bengali. English was unconsciously the first choice of language when interacting with relations and extended family. Was it any wonder then that she was skeptical about my grasp of the language?

Soon after the wedding when my MIL was travelling, I went about re-decorating the house – the sitting room, kitchen, dining area. This was my home now and I wanted to make MIL happy. I was looking for a pat on the back for a job well done as I thought the re-decoration made the house look even more spacious and welcoming. Two days later after MIL’s return, I came home from office to see that she had changed everything back to what it was earlier! I was taken aback and couldn’t figure out why she’d done that. She didn’t say anything to me for days and then one day unable to stand the silence any longer I asked her. She politely commented, ‘this is my house and since I’m the one who mostly uses the kitchen and dining area, I like to keep things the way that suits my convenience.’

For a long time I was angry and hurt because MIL had in no uncertain terms told me that this wasn’t my house and that without her permission I shouldn’t change anything. What I failed to see and accept then was that it was indeed her home – one that she had painstakingly made her own with years of hard work. How could I, who had just arrived, want to change all that? I didn’t need to do any house work since she took care of everything – shopping, cooking, cleaning and entertaining. Why did I then need to change the set-up which she found most convenient? And more importantly why didn’t I ask if she needed my help without just assuming that I could make a difference? Today, years later I understand her sentiments as I too get upset if anyone makes any changes in my home, my own set-up!

MIL loved to dress up and wear jewellery while I always liked to be just presentable – I would dress according to the occasion and wore minimum jewellery. In the initial years there would always be a war of words as my MIL wanted me to wear practically every piece of jewellery I owned or was given! I couldn’t understand why she didn’t like the understated subtle look I preferred. During one such argument she openly told me ‘I can’t dress up the way I want to because of you. There is no way I can wear jewellery as I will look over dressed in comparison to you. People will say that I have kept all the jewellery to myself and not given you anything!’ I was aghast as that hadn’t crossed my mind but I guess her sensibilities dictated that she be forced to tone down because of my ‘subtle’ fashion statement! I understood that but somehow just couldn’t bring myself to do as she wanted – it still continues to be a bone of contention between us.

When I look back, as advised by the article in Times of India, Bond with your mother-in-law, I too had tried to be polite if she picked on me, tried to please her when she asked for my help, tried to mask my feelings by putting myself in her shoes to figure out why she behaved the way she did, tried to build a rapport by being open about my feelings and sometimes I also resorted to humour to lighten the situation. MIL too in her own ways failed trying to mould me into her ‘ideal’ daughter-in-law.

I complained to my husband whenever I had an issue with my MIL which was almost every other day! I still remember the night when in frustration he burst out, ‘you’re always complaining about her and she’s always complaining about you. Where do I go? Why don’t you understand that I’m hurting the most trying to balance between you both?’ He sounded miserable and for the first time it struck me that in our own ways we were making his life a living hell. That night I vouched that I wouldn’t complain to him again. Of course, I wasn’t successful but did try to keep my opinions to myself. I dealt with it the way I knew how but this in turn led to even more trouble. My silence was viewed as arrogance. In my attempt to avoid conflict I had in turn allowed everyone to assume the worst about me.

When my husband was offered an opportunity to work in Mumbai I was super thrilled – it was a means to escape the ‘respectable’ way – it meant living away from my in-laws without having to create a scene. Unfortunately it didn’t work as well as I thought it would. My in-laws and extended family taunted that I had broken up the family while my husband too felt pressurised that he had to leave his home for me. When I heard this I was devastated as in no way was that my intention – more so I had quit my job believing the move would make our lives better, there would be no visible conflict and it would definitely be a good career move for my husband.

Years later, I still carry that burden but believe it has worked out for all of us. The love that was almost at break-point was resurrected and we found each other again in the new city. Professionally my husband’s done extremely well, his view of life changed and today he is a better man. My MIL who had her own issues to deal with realises some of my worth (I’d like to believe!) when she sees us together, sees that her son is happy or compares me with her other daughter-in-law. With the birth of my daughter I’ve truly understood the meaning of being a mother and the innate protectiveness one feels when someone else tries to take my place – somewhere it’s helped me understand my MIL better.

Books, articles, researches, discussions about how to deal with the MIL are freely available but no one really teaches you how to ‘live’ with one. That is something that we each have to figure out on our own as every “mother-in-law – daughter-in-law” unit is unique with their own sets of baggage, needs, outlook and expectations. The “son” is as important to both parties but one has to acknowledge that the mother is the first woman in his life and he’s grown up being moulded by her. For some it’s difficult and ego battles are inevitable while there are others who have been able to live in harmony. There aren’t any easy answers but only those that one can find for themselves on their own – those that suit them and their situation.

In my case what is most important today is that we have each made peace with the situation. We’re still in touch, my daughter spends quality time with her grandmother, we’re together during Durga Puja yet we have our own separate lives.

Are we happy? I know I am.

This post was featured in BlogAdda’s Tangy Tuesday Picks on 26 November 2013

Myths about Marriage

Myth: You must find the ‘right’ person to marry.
Reality: Success in marriage is more than finding the ‘right’ person; it is being the ‘right’ person.

Myth: Until a person finds the ‘perfect’ person to marry, he or she should not be satisfied.
Reality: No one is perfect.

Myth: You should feel totally competent as a future spouse before you decide to get married.
Reality: A person should feel competent to be a spouse, and some feelings of anxiety are natural.

Myth: You could be happy with anyone you choose to marry if you try hard enough.
Reality: It takes two mature and well-adjusted individuals to make a marriage work, so one needs to be reasonably sensitive and selective in the choice of a partner.

Myth: You should choose someone to marry whose personal characteristics are opposite from your own as opposites attract!
Reality: A person should choose someone to marry whose personal characteristics are similar to his or her own. It depends on how much the ‘opposite characteristic’  is important to you and to what extend its impact on your life is acceptable.

Myth: Being in love with someone is sufficient reason to marry that person.
Reality: Although romantic love is important, especially in the early stage of a relationship, other factors are equally or more important to marital satisfaction and should be considered before marriage.

Myth: Choosing someone to marry is a ‘decision of the heart.’
Reality: Choosing someone to marry is a ‘decision of the heart and head.’

Myth: Living together will prepare you for marriage and improve your chances of being happily married.
Reality: Cohabitation may help us to get to know each other better, but will not serve as a trial marriage or increase our chances of being happily married.

Myth: Choosing a partner should be easy.
Reality: Choosing a partner is not easy, the decision should be carefully thought out.

Myth: Preparing for marriage comes ‘naturally.’
Reality: Preparing for marriage is learned and is based on sound information and personal assessment.