I depend on…ME!

As relationships form and grow, various kinds of relational dependencies develop. These could be emotional, financial, social, and sexual amongst many others. How partners respond and react to such dependencies and the balance they are able to create, are predictors of how mutually satisfying their relationship will be.

In emotional terms, sometimes, it’s simply the knowledge that someone is there for you or the belief that your partner will stand by you, always and forever, no matter the situation. When you’re in need, your partner might lend support while at other times, you might be the strength for your partner to lean on. Or it could also mean that you’re depending solely on your partner for your own happiness and fulfilment of your needs. Therefore, trouble arises whenever there is a mismatch in this underlying belief or expectation between partners.

Leena grew up in a nuclear family – happy but a lonely child. Her hard working parents were mostly busy and with no extended family or siblings for company and support, she always had to depend on herself for most of her needs. She made friends in school and later on had a group of close girlfriends with whom she had fun, shared her life and knew she could depend on them to cheer her up when need be. From her side too, she was always there to support them and stand by them, but her need to be strong for herself was so deeply ingrained within, it ensured that she could never truly be herself, even amongst ‘close friends.’

She was opinionated but not overtly insensitive. She only followed the rules she made for herself. If a situation bothered her, or she didn’t like someone, she simply walked away. At work she was committed, hard working and meticulous. Things had to be done her way. She rarely allowed others to change the way she operated since she felt that it was not only the right way to work but the only way to get things done correctly. In reality, it meant that she was in control!

But she wasn’t angry with life and her circumstances. She simply believed that when life threw a curveball, the only one who could help was she, herself. So she came first and most of her life decisions were based on what was important to her, what mattered to her and how the situation was going to make her feel and impact her life.

Many of her relationships with the opposite sex often led to the men running away from her. According to them, either she came on too strong and they couldn’t handle it while others felt that she was too demanding. She did try to act coy at times but failed miserably! For some others though, it was easier to walk away than deal with her forever vacillating stance – ‘I need you but I don’t or I don’t need you but I do!’

Only Mahesh, one of her many boyfriends stood by her – he made every effort to try and understand her insecurities and accept her as she truly was. He could read her like a book and managed her and her different moods with ease. He adapted and adjusted himself so well within her life and world, that she became comfortable being herself. Every one of her friends knew that he was for keeps.

Yet after a three year relationship he decided to walk away from her. He loved her but didn’t want to continue feeling like he was pushing her to commit simply because he needed her in his life.

Why? He knew her so well, understood her insecurities and also knew exactly how to handle her. Then why did he want to walk away? Was he getting tired of continuously trying? On the other hand, she was most comfortable in his presence then why was she pushing him away?

I wondered.

Was she actually scared that he was truly for keeps (like her friends’ kept telling her) and therefore would stick around? Did that make her uncomfortable? Was she afraid that it meant she would have to make the extra effort to unlearn her usual responses? She would have to learn to depend on him (sometimes) more than herself. Or perhaps more importantly she would have to learn to trust someone other than herself! She would have to let go. Sometimes, she would need to allow someone else to take control. Her decision making would now need to be made not only for her own good but their collective good. She would have to stop protecting herself and let herself be open to hurt. Was she feeling threatened by how vulnerable this new arrangement would make her feel? Was pushing him away therefore easier as she could then go back to being who she was, comfortable in her own skin?

She was angry and hurt that Mahesh wanted to call it quits. No matter how much her friends pleaded on his behalf, his wanting to walk away was a reaffirmation that one could never depend on anyone else but one’s own self. Unfortunately, she was equally afraid to fight for him to stay as breaking the boundary of her deeply ingrained comfort zone was as pressurising. Simultaneously, knowing that he was always the one to compromise, understand, accept, and adjust to suit her needs was making her feel miserable. But she just didn’t know how to show e6edcf14481980d983fe14c4a9d73f5eor let him know that she cared enough to want him to stay. She could emote her affection and dependency only to a certain extent as beyond that, it bordered on making her vulnerable and anxious. And she was terrified of letting anyone get a glimpse of this weakness.

Their situation also made me wonder if walking away was actually a stance for Mahesh to make her experience life without him and then perhaps feel the need – the strong need that she needed him as much in her life to want him to stay. Perhaps this was the only way he knew how to make her react, to make her want to take that step, to get her attention.

Maybe, for him, a part of loving her was to learn to let go. For her, though, it was a struggle between wanting him to stay and protecting her own self.

You, me and friends!

When we were dating, my boyfriend was my good friend with whom I shared everything. I could say anything and knew that it would be accepted at face value. It wouldn’t be flung back at me during a fight or shared with others. Here was someone who truly listened and knew me – the vulnerable me who was scared of the world and had insecurities that stretched a mile. A friend who finished my sentences and could read me like a book – knew how I would react or what I would say in certain situations. A friend who made my day complete, whose presence protected my sanity and in turn, I depended on him completely.

I didn’t feel the need to invest time and myself to nurture any other friendship. At this point it didn’t matter since his friendship was more than enough to make my world a happy place. I let all other relationships, friendships slip through, happy and content being a twosome.

Then we got married!

Our friendship continued but its status subtly changed. The husband-wife relationship we now shared suddenly meant that we could no longer say the things we wanted to tell each other just like we wanted to say them. They had to be worded differently and their rippling effects impacted other areas of our everyday lives and relations. My one and only friend was still my close friend but not a friend anymore!

At this juncture, realization dawned that I had no other close friends! Slowly the need to find someone with whom I could let my guard down began to resurface. Growing up, no one tells you that as couples we must accept that one person cannot fulfil all our needs. Idealistic insistence that your husband or wife is your best friend (which definitely can be true in some rare cases) puts tremendous pressure not only on the self but the other partner and the relationship too.

flirtWithin my friends’ circle, I’ve seen numerous instances where either the husband or wife has reached out to someone else to fulfil the need for a close friend – someone who made them come alive, feel young and attractive again. These friendships are an outlet or release from the boring mundane existence. They come with no strings attached yet are beneficial to the self without any of the marital complications. One feels compelled to keep such friends and friendship secret – which in turn adds to its mystery and feels even more satisfying. Simply put, their presence keeps life exciting, there’s a reason to wake up in the morning and look forward to the day. Some blossom as office romances since more time is spent at work than at home. In many others, these serve only as friends with benefits or can potentially lead to other complications as many couples have found their soul mates in people other than their spouses.

I suppose one way of dealing with this scenario is that even when openly discussing about this friend and friendship you don’t give this relationship a name. I feel when you try naming it, you tend to box it into one of life’s many nuances and that not only takes away the charm of the relationship but also certain expectations start automatically building around it.

Unfortunately here is when slowly yet steadily a conflict of interest begins to arise – the conflict could be within us or a perceptive better half picks up the subtle changes in the marital relationship and most often can correctly point out the ‘friendship’ responsible for the change.

A good friend’s husband is the kind of person who takes his friendships a bit too seriously – he always bends over backwards to help others, especially if it is a woman who comes across as vulnerable. Outwardly there is no malice in his behaviour and he openly informs his wife about what he’s doing. He doesn’t get sexually involved with any of these women but his ego gets a huge boost every time he extends support. Also he’s accessible to them whenever they reach out to him, day or night. This feeling of helpless dependence on him and his ability to fulfil those needs gives him a high. It’s possible that there is a deep-seated insecurity here which only gets addressed or fulfilled when he’s made to feel important or when he comes across as the ‘only’ person who can truly help.

It really bothers his wife and after many such incidences she’s refusing to accept this behaviour any longer. He’s tried to explain that he does this from the goodness of his heart and believes that god blesses him every time he’s attentive, helpful and nice. So she’s given him an ultimatum – it was time he decided if god’s blessings were more important to him or his wife and the family! They’re now at a crossroad trying to figure out how best to deal with the situation.

Yet another kind of friendship exists which without the need for any sexual connotation can hold us together – keep our sanity intact in this crazy fast paced world we live in, these days!

drinkWhile we were in Mumbai and Gurgaon, there were a few of my husband’s friends whom we met almost every weekend – and in most occasions it meant eating and drinking with them. They were the ‘drinking buddies!’ We took turns to host the evenings and although sometimes it did bother us (especially the wives) we soon realised that although there was way too much drinking happening (which definitely wasn’t good for the health!) their discussions ranged from religion to politics to work to office politics to photography to life to music to films…an endless list. In other words, what really mattered about the evenings were the conversations. It was their ability to connect at such different levels that the drinking lost importance. No, they didn’t stop drinking nor did they drink any less but it didn’t matter. The other two important aspects were that in most cases they sat at home drinking and at times when they did drink in a restaurant or in public I’ve rarely seen them misbehave or become rowdy. Most of the ‘boys’ would drive back and once behind the wheel their love for their vehicles (perhaps not as much love of their wives and family) took control of their senses!

Friendships are extremely important in our lives. They have the ability to free us from life’s unending pressures, they spark faith in us to keep pushing ahead, and they are our anchors that keep us grounded. Every time there arises the need to redefine these friendships, I think the question one needs to address is how does the friendship impact the marital relationship? Simultaneously, it is essential to take a step back, look within and really try to understand why the friendship is so important to the partner. This acknowledgement not only means you’re accepting its importance in your partner’s life (which in turn makes them feel like you understand) but helps to identify the crux of the issue which is truly bothering us (sometimes it’s just a manifestation of something deeper) and also invariably provides a direction forward.

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.