The ‘fifty shades of Passive Aggressive Behaviour’ we need to talk more about…

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” ― Aristotle

Anuttama Dasgupta is a part time urban design consultant and a full time mother, who is currently chasing to the finish line the lifelong dream of becoming a published novelist. Here she opines that understanding and responding to anger appropriately is an essential part of being a functional social being.

Anger is part of our everyday reality. It is as much a part of our human experience as breathing. Whether we like it or not, every single day of our lives we run up against people who push our buttons and rouse those difficult emotions that most of us don’t even want to admit we have, let alone deal with in a constructive way. The main reason for our denial is that the people who we feel, most hurt or offended by are the very people we share our lives with. We fear that expressing our anger outwardly, will irrevocably damage our relationship. For it has been dinned into our brains since early childhood that anger is a terrible thing and must be avoided at any cost.

This thinking is extremely problematic because anger, by itself is not a bad thing at all. It is a psychological messaging system that prods us to take action when some psychological boundary of ours has been violated. Understanding and responding to anger appropriately is a very essential part of being a functional social being. In fact, when we try to do the opposite i.e. suppress the legitimate urge to express our anger, we create a bigger problem for ourselves and others. When we repress our anger instead of addressing it in a socially appropriate way, we force it deeper into our psyche and it invariably finds its own outlet in various forms of passive aggressive behaviour.

But before I get into that, let me back up a bit. I began to think deeply about passive aggressive behaviour only after I got married. Before that it was only a part of the general grey-ness of existence that I encountered from time to time but never had to actually deal with for the simple reason that I always had the choice of walking away. But marriage, I came to learn, is a prism that breaks up this general area of grey into a veritable shade card of all sorts of darkness. The reason for this is that although we think we are marrying just one person, the reality of marriage is that we are bringing two sets of people together who may not be as motivated to have a relationship with each other as the two marrying partners are. Though it sounds morbid put that way (and I do apologize for taking such a negative viewpoint), marriage sometimes forces you into relationships with people who you normally would have nothing to do with. Like the proverbial horse taken to the water, we can’t force anyone to participate in a relationship that they don’t want to embrace by themselves. Not only that, marriage is essentially a social institution. There are hundreds of vaguely defined obligations associated with it that are very easy to fault the other on. As the list of unfulfilled expectations begins to grow, there is a lot of frustration both ways.  The problem gets even worse when one or both parties fight for the egoistic upper hand on a situation rather than a peaceful resolution. As a result, a pressure cooker like situation is created where legitimate anger is vented through all kinds of subversive behaviour that psychologists call passive aggressive.

The dictionary defines passive aggressive as “of or denoting a type of behaviour or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation.” It is a covert way of expressing anger mainly to hurt the other person back for something they have done and with a conscious or unconscious intent to avoid any type of discussion around it. It implies a certain amount of self-righteousness on the part of the passive aggressive person where he or she is ‘absolutely right’ and will not consider any other argument that challenges that stance. Or in some cases, it is motivated by an underlying fear that by talking it out, they will not get their way.  Needless to say, it plays out in many insidious ways in our everyday lives.

Here are some of the most common examples.

  1. Inappropriate venting: Trolling, road rage, real world or online heckling and ranting. You basically spare the person you are angry with and go out and take it out on the world.
  2. Complaining about minor (seemingly unrelated) matters, starting with food.
  3. Throwing a spanner in the works by going ahead and doing something when a different course of action has been negotiated. Sometimes, resorting to a feigned headache or a stomach upset to disrupt a plan that the other person has made.
  4. Being sarcastic or critical in a way that puts the other person down. Body shaming is a classic example. As is back biting and spreading rumours.
  5. Negating your feelings directly or with counter accusations (“you have no right to feel this way, because you do worse things all the time”). Or acting as if that hurtful thing was never said.
  6. Sulking and stone walling: Many people think that by ignoring someone, they are taking a non-violent stance but the truth is, wilfully ignoring someone is an act of aggression. The silence, we assume in such a case is not peaceful. It’s a shutting out. Although we do not say anything, we are resentful and want the other person to feel our pain. Unless, the person on the receiving end is someone like the Dalai Lama, it always finds its mark. But what the perpetrator does not realize is that instead of making the relationship stronger like a talk does, un-verbalized resentment lodges itself like a thorn in the other person’s heart and pushes them away.

So, how do we deal with passive aggressive behaviour? If we are trying to give someone the “silent treatment”, we must immediately stop and choose some other non-violent option. If we are being stone walled ourselves, there are several options for us too.

Here are some suggestions.

  1. Don’t take it personally. Try not to make an ego issue out of it. The more we detach ourselves from any kind of wrong, the better equipped we are the deal with it in a constructive way. Wisdom and anger are mutually exclusive.
  2. Grow a robust sense of self where you feel good being you and do not require a great deal of external validation. I know it’s difficult but it’s worth a try.
  3. Diffuse the build-up of negative energy by offering to talk. Remember that if you wear boxing gloves to the discussion table, the other person is likely to put his on too. Do not accuse or threaten. Talk and if that is too hard, write a note. Think of all the reasons why you want to keep the relationship going.

We must always keep in mind that we have a right to protest when we feel we have been wronged. But we must do so in a way that does not hurt the other person. The ultimate purpose of life is not to emerge a victorious war lord swinging a clutch of severed heads but to make the best use of our limited time in this world by nurturing others through our relationships and being nurtured in return.


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?”





Let’s face it, love is incidental to the whole story!

Marriage is ideally for a life time, it’s an experience where everyone has their own set of rules. Let’s Face It! is an attempt to unravel some of those rules and share interesting people’s opinion, views and attitudes towards this institution.

Excerpts from an interview with Anubha Kakroo, Director: Design & Cultural Insight at Futurebrands India Ltd**

Pottsandpan (PP): In present times, how would you define love in marriage?

Anubha Kakroo (AK): You know, Romeo actually went to the Ball to impress the beautiful Rosaline but when she steals away, Juliet enters. She notices Romeo first and their attraction is immediate! This clearly epitomizes the fickle mindedness of youth. I’d call it passion-ate love, the sensual energy that overrides all emotions during adolescence. In marriage, love is almost incidental to the whole story! Its passion that drives you to want to spend your life with someone. Love is nuanced, complex and comes much later.

PP: Growing up years and even today love is compared to that shared by Laila-Majnu or Romeo-Juliet. Why aren’t there any contemporary icons?

AK: I believe that’s because it’s the ‘unrequitedness’ of their love that is ‘romantic’ and upheld otherwise love becomes boring and domestic! Imagine Romeo and Juliet running a house and raising a family together! How utterly ordinary would that be!!  Passion is the primordial emotion that holds true even today and in every society. It’s become crystallised in that frame and these characters are the metaphorical symbols of that passion-ate love.

PP: How would you define marriage? How has it changed over the years?

AK: The basic premise for marriage has always been sex and procreation although today, sex and procreation can happen outside of marriage too. Marriage is this whole issue of structuring child-raising essentially and maintaining a community /society as it’d be difficult to operate as lone rangers.

Today it has more to do with the ‘individual,’ which is perhaps more primordial than marriage is! When the individual takes centre stage over and above the system, there is stress. In most urban centres the changing nature of marriage has settled down a bit and there is more subtlety and rhythm. The change is more apparent in tier II cities. I know of a woman who enjoys going out with her father-in-law to watch movies as her mother-in-law is not interested and her husband has no time. This is an interesting dynamic. Similarly another interesting concept is that of the family disco. In this case, the entire family would occasionally hire a discotheque in the afternoon and go dancing together. Beginning with the grandfather, down to the youngest child, everyone would troop down to a discotheque and groove to the latest Bollywood songs. This reflects the need for the older generation to sample what the youngsters enjoy while the new bride is able to enjoy the freedom to dance within the confines of the system. Both these observations indicate the changes slowly unfolding in the concept of marriage.

PP: What are your views on LAT – living apart together? Do you think it can lead to marriage becoming redundant?

AK: I know LAT came into prominence sometime in 2009-2010. It’s a great concept where both parties get their space but I think it works well with grown up children or divorced parents. Then this concept of you-me-us becomes less tricky. A couple friends of mine had parted ways amicably but were not legally divorced. When the wife had a medical emergency, she was able to avail of her ex’s medical insurance as they weren’t separated legally. The institution of marriage has been in existence for far too long. It involves societal, psychological, emotional as well as legal factors. It’s become imprinted in our DNA and erasing it is tough. If you’re attracted to someone then marriage is one platform to formalise that relationship.

PP: The 2013 Indian Wedding Survey by Femina found that although most women preferred to find their own partners only 20% found their match through matrimonial websites while 5% had assistance from their families.

AK: Let me give you examples of some interesting case scenarios. One of my friends is well-educated and financially independent. When she couldn’t find Mr Right she went to her parents and laid down certain conditions for them to find a match for her. The guy had to be her equal – an MBA with good income. Another friend, after being heartbroken a few times is still unable to find Mr Right. But instead of opting for marriage she prefers to live a solitary life in London. Both instances reflect a different response to the notions of pragmatism versus the romanticism, the real versus the ideal. There are trade-offs in each case and one has to live by the choices made. A young cousin although keen to get hitched found the idea of looking for a girl so intensely pressurizing that he’s opting for an arranged marriage. The idea of arranged marriage is like a safety net for many people, including internationally now as the stress of ‘landing’ a long-term partner screws the happiness out of most relationships anyways!

While growing up we’d generally see matrimonial ads talking about fair complexion and good looks. But today the premium matrimonial markers like in the Economic Times matrimonial are requests for graduates from Harvard, ISB etc. Today matrimonial websites have formalised the process of hunting for a mate. In fact there are societies where there is the hybridisation of the two systems – “arranged love marriage” within the same caste and community. Interestingly, there is also so much pressure within certain young people today for the need to have love marriages that they shy away from telling their friends that theirs is arranged, preferring to call it ‘love’ marriage even if it is not!

PP: Women today are looking to find their equal – partners who not only earn as much as them but are similarly educated and believe in equality in marriage. What do you think?

AK: A recent article in the New York Times referred to such equal or peer marriages as ‘egalitarian marriages’. In these marriages both spouses work and take care of the house and their relationship is built on equal power, shared interests and friendship. The same article also talks about studies that show that the very qualities that lead to greater emotional satisfaction in such peer marriages may be having an unexpectedly negative impact on those couples’ sex lives! At the outset this is the kind of marriage many people wish for but the values that make for good social relationship are not necessarily the same ones that drive lust. Psychologist Esther Perel comments that “it’s the first time in history we are trying this experiment of a sexuality that is rooted in equality and that lasts for decades. It’s a tall order for one person to be your partner in Management Inc., your best friend and passionate lover. There’s a certain part of you that with this partner will not be fulfilled. You deal with that loss. It’s a paradox to be lived with, not solved.”

PP: Talk to us about your marriage, how long have you been married? Based on your experience what has been the one thing that has worked for both of you as a couple?

same shitAK: We’ve known each other for 25 years and been married for 21 years now. I was 18 years old when I met my husband so we’ve almost grown up with each other. I think being in the same line of work (design education – architecture) has helped greatly. My husband is a one place person while I’m a multi-place person. This can lead to frustration sometimes but when all else fails we still have one thing in common to talk about – design education! In other words having a common enemy helps. It’s a great unifier.

PP: What would be your advice to couples wanting to commit to each other?

AK: When one is looking for a mate, then consciously or sub-consciously we find someone who tends to have about 70% of the qualities we’re searching for. This tends to override the remaining 30% which don’t match. Unfortunately this remaining 30% is what kicks in later and starts bothering us. We refer to that as differences between couples. Based on this I would advise that couples should accept that one person cannot fulfil all their needs. Insistence on this puts pressure not only on the self but the other person too. Simultaneously there is the need to find a commonality that will help tide them over the difficult phases. It’s foolish to believe in ‘a happily ever after ride with no bumps and breakdowns’ 🙂

PP: If one person cannot satisfy all your needs then doesn’t that go against the meaning of monogamy, marriage itself?

AK: I’m not a staunch believer in monogamy. Men by nature will want to look for multiple partners to literally spread the seed as far and wide as it can go for better chances of survival and dominance of a particular gene-pool while with education, exposure, financial independence women too have begun to question certain stereotypical notions. This idea although more primordial is not too recent. It may have been suppressed over eons and therefore the factors mentioned above may have helped it come to fore again. Even biologically, female of a species tends to expand her ‘mate-bank’ as it were, to have a more varied gene pool and thus have a stronger offspring with better chance of survival. So biologically mono-partnership (monogamy being a social construct) is actually counter-intuitive.

conversationWe meet interesting people from all walks to life every day and will connect with them at different levels. When connecting with a man (other than your husband) there is always a possibility of sexual undercurrent. I think that’s healthy, one should acknowledge that and move on. Sometimes you can be most comfortable discussing certain issues with another man but not your husband. It’s prudent to understand that you’re connecting with a fellow human being not just a man. In fact the dewar-bhabhi (brother-in-law – sister-in-law) relationship is based on this premise. Good natured and good-hearted flirting works for both. At a wedding outside of Indore, a friend was shocked listening to the women talking and singing songs with clear sexual innuendoes. We think we’re modern, educated and liberal. But in fact we’re more prudish and put more checks and balances on relationships. You could say that this understanding that one person cannot satisfy all your needs is a double-edged sword!

**Architect and Industrial Designer, Anubha has specialized in Design Management, specializing in Strategy, Innovation and Branding. Anubha works as a Design Strategist & Thinker. Currently she works as Director: Design & Cultural Insight at the Futurebrands India Ltd. where her work involves using Design as a critical resource for Cultural Mapping and insight to make sense of India. She has taught and has been on various juries of the School of Planning & Architecture, National Institute of Fashion Technology and the National Institute of Design. She is also interested in the intricacies of Art & Aesthetics, English; Language & Literature and Cultural/Anthropological Studies. 

Honeymoon’s Over!

When planning a wedding, most couples with equal gusto plan for the honeymoon too. It’s as important as the wedding itself – deciding on the uniqueness of the location, the most romantic way to travel, things to do together to make it exciting – these are just some of the considerations to think about. Then, of course, there are the numerous options for honeymoon packages to choose from, shopping exclusively for honeymoon wear, following a strict regime of exercise and diet to look sexy and desirable. It’s truly a thoroughly enjoyable phase.

After the most beautiful wedding and fun-filled honeymoon, one returns to start living together, this time without the frills.  And that’s when the realities of marriage hit with a vengeance – as the said / unsaid expectations from each other become pronounced, settling in with in-laws becomes tedious and tiring, and amidst role-playing the responsible husband / wife instead of the happy-go-lucky charmer and lover – couples realise that something is amiss and perhaps all is not right with their marriage. Simultaneously one starts questioning their decision – did I do the right thing? Was s/he the right one for me? Did I make a mistake?

The good thing is that ‘most’ couples suffer such serious disappointments within the first few months of marriage. They feel let down due to the marked discrepancy between the person they fell in love with and married and the person that they now have to live with! This is the point where actual adjustments and compromises begin. How one deals with this phase is crucial as it determines the importance couple places on their marriage and their commitment to making it successful.

When you marry the person you love the biggest expectation that needs to be dealt with is the notion of living ‘happily ever after!’ Romantic novels, fairy tale romances on television or movies, conversation amongst friends and family, societal and cultural views all point towards marriage being the ultimate goal, one in which couples continue to share unending love for one another, cherish each other and live in harmony.

This “disillusionment” leads to disappointment as there is a big difference between the realities of marriage and romantic ideals. Romantic love before marriage is based on physical attraction and emotional longing and desire. Unfortunately romantic love remains strong only till those desires are filled. Once done, it slowly fades or becomes less intense.

When courting, there is always pressure to put your best self forward – you’re always caring, acutely aware of every nuance in body language or inflexion in voice, being prompt to respond or return a call, making an extra effort to do something nice even after a busy long day, being extra sensitive about likes and dislikes – the list is endless and somewhere within this role-play one inadvertently attributes qualities to loved ones which harbour on the verge of being unrealistic and idealistic.

Marriage and living together 24×7 leads to re-examining these qualities and comparing them with everyday reality. Soon couples begin accusing each other of completely changing after marriage or perhaps pressurising each other to change. This change is actually nothing but finally seeing each other as they truly are!

Not easy

Stronger Marriage reaffirms that once couples accept one another as they reallare, they are able to develop a bond that is durable, secure, and rewarding but it requires work. Here are a few important points as stated by them –

1. Look at this period as a transition all couples go through, not as a sign of a bad marriage.

2. Concentrate on adapting yourself rather than trying to change the other person. In doing so, you’ll find attitude may be responsible for a good share of the problem and the best way to change someone else’s behaviour is to change your own. People are more likely to change when they feel accepted.

3. Share your feelings about the adjustment with your spouse. This can, of course, be destructive if it is not done with consideration. Don’t attack, accuse, or name call. It will probably be reassuring to both to realize that the spouse has also had feelings of disappointment and the need for adjustment.

4. Strengthen the marital commitment. Rather than using energy to wish for someone else (with whom there will be just as many or even more adjustments), invest effort in being a good partner and doing all you can to be considerate of your partner.

5. One of the simplest, but most significant things couples can do is to ignore the negative and lavish each other with positive appreciation, praise, and affection.


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