The simplicity of basic etiquette

Marriage creates a bond or rather fusion of individual identities. In a way, the “we” becomes more important than the “I”, as it should be. It’s a crucial element that strengthens the foundation of the relationship. But by force of habit we tend to take things for granted. I agree, it’s human nature but one that can be rewired every now and then.

Having an open line of communication is a must in the marital relationship. It’s the only relationship that allows you to be your true self without any inhibition or judgement. It’s up to each partner therefore to build that level of trust and create a space of comfort. It requires control, understanding, maturity and commitment.

The fallout is losing the basic glue that is essential for any relationship – an acknowledgement and acceptance of the other person as an individual and a recognition of their value in our lives. Within this, the simple expressions of “thank you…please…sorry…can I help…I understand” have the power to re-instil confidence in each other, and maintain and/or restore the sanctity of the relationship.

These words hold an infinitesimal amount of value in terms of making the partner feel loved, important and taken care of. It makes them want to do more, so much more. It raises the bar for the relationship. Simultaneously not using them often enough (or not meaning it when you say them!) makes the partner feel used, worthless, unappreciated and insecure.

Often it is said, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Roles within the marriage can be defined but that doesn’t mean one partner’s contribution is anything less than the other. A lack thereof makes them feel lost. They’re unable to understand their position and importance within the relationship. It’s debilitating. They might continue to contribute but there’s no feelings attached leading to disappointment and unhappiness. Soon the feeling that there’s something missing in the relationship raises its ugly head.

Expectations of these basic tenets of etiquette can vary in degree and differ from person to person. When they are met, the level of expectation is lower. We tend to add value (mostly negative value) to our expectations when they’re not met. They can also get blown out of proportion! Often partners are heard saying, ‘s/he’s like that only.’ This isn’t just an acceptance that they will not reciprocate or acknowledge the meaning and impact of these simple words. It basically ensures that love is lost in the process thereby widening the small cracks within the marriage.

For example, ‘sorry’ doesn’t only mean you’re apologising for hurting the other. Most importantly, it means that you think your partner is worthy of your respect and in turn they believe that you’re worthy of being forgiven. Such is the power of the word.

If these are such ‘simple’ words, then why is it so hard to practice? When we fail to acknowledge our partner’s efforts, is it because we feel it’s our due and so there’s no point in asking politely? Do we view them as a sign of weakness? Does it make us question why everything our partner does needs to be appreciated? Or do we assume that the partner should know they’re important so it’s just a bother having to tell them that?

Perhaps, the next time you’re really happy about doing something for your partner or sorry for being difficult and you share this but your partner doesn’t acknowledge your efforts – question yourself about how it makes you feel within, and then about your partner and the relationship. Does it open the floodgate of similar bad memories from the past? This is a simple yet quick way to understand the importance of using these words in our daily lives.

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.

 

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.

 

The expression of anger

Even when Ravi first began dating Tania, he instinctually felt that she was very emotional. She would get angry easily and when she did, she screamed loudly. Her demeanour would look menacing, she didn’t mince words and the foul language she used was deplorable. It didn’t matter who was at the receiving end. Nor did it matter, if they were with friends or had company or were at a party or at a family gathering. When he brought it up with her she said, “I don’t like to bury my emotions. If something upsets me, I’d rather express it and get it out of my system. It means that I don’t carry any baggage.”

Initially, Ravi tried to accept her justification as she calmed down as quickly as she got angry. But soon he began to feel uncomfortable. He found himself pre-empting her every reaction and felt a compulsion to try and remove the cause of her anger as much as he possibly could. He was always alert and stressed. It wasn’t so much her angry outbursts but the shrillness of her voice that often made him cringe. He did enjoy her company, but he couldn’t help feeling as if everyone was whispering behind their back about her bouts of anger.

He didn’t know how to deal with it or make her understand his discomfort. So he began to avoid her. Did she make him feel embarrassed? Or was he simply trying to protect himself from public ridicule?

His behaviour upset Tania greatly as she really liked him. She didn’t unnecessarily get angry; there was always a valid reason for her outburst. Ravi had to accept her as she was. She had never pretended in front of him so why was he acting prudish? She confronted him, rather as Ravi said, he felt ‘cornered!’ As they argued and her temper rose, the boundaries of civility broke between them. Ravi desperately tried to explain his feelings but she just wouldn’t listen. She felt wronged.

Soon after, they broke up.

Its evident here that sometimes what makes us angry is less important than what we do with it. Although Ravi understood that her anger was at times justified, what he couldn’t fathom was the intensity of the outburst. He felt that most often, she responded inappropriately.

Anger is a normal emotion with a wide range of intensity, from mild irritation and frustration to rage leading to various complex responses.

While growing up, parents teach children to express their emotions the ‘right’ way. Their ‘righteousness’ of course, is defined by their own personal values, belief systems, perceptions and judgements. Sometimes though, they forget that how they express these emotions in front of their children, however unintentional, are lessons that children learn as efficiently.

In addition, how the children are made to feel in such situations and in turn how they respond or how acceptable their reactions are, reflect the qualities they begin to attribute to these emotions growing up. Each child uses their own mechanisms to adapt, adopt and react to such situations. This could either lead to constructive or destructive behaviour in adulthood.

Some homes, on the other hand, do not allow children to express certain emotions openly and anger outbursts are one of them. Unresolved anger and / or anger that children don’t learn to express, in adulthood, can often lead to violent behaviour, depression, irritability, feelings of being disconnected or alienated. Minor discrepancies upset them, they can become defensive and feel pressurised to justify and constantly explain their behaviour.

angerAccording to Ravi, Tania was unable to distinguish between situations and always responded with the same intensity. Generally, different situations warrant differing expressions of anger. The intensity of the expression is mostly based on how it makes an individual feel personally. At the outset, it might look as if the situation is the culprit but delving deeper, it is in fact, a reflection of how the situation makes them feel about themselves – either insecure, inferior, disrespected, vulnerable, taken for granted, unimportant or worthless.

Both Ravi and Tania had different ways of expressing their anger. Ravi was unable to recognise the actual trigger within an unpleasant situation that made her angry. While Tania couldn’t look beyond feeling ‘wronged’ and so responded to Ravi the same way she’d learned to behave whenever she felt upset.

 

Pack your heart in a suitcase! And seal it with a kiss.

Let’s Face It, a long distance relationship challenges you on every front and a lot gets lost in between. But it’s important that you allow yourself to be tested by those waters. Here is a glimpse of Naomi and Sandeep’s simple and shared understanding of their relationship and how they’ve overcome the trials that long distance relationships entail. Naomi Thommy is an independent writer, creative thinker and part-time family baker. She chases after the simple things in life and finds happiness in the ordinary.

Sandeep and I were always at loggerheads in college. We always had to get one up on each other. I hadn’t completely outgrown being a ‘tomboy’ and he was at that crossroad where he couldn’t understand what to make of me, and yet in a sense we were closet comrades, quietly standing up for each other, without either of us realizing it.

As college came to an end and our ‘gang’ went their separate ways, Sandeep and I slowly realized that we really missed having each other around and decided to steadfastly keep in touch. It was through our many midnight conversations over the next year that we developed a deep seated friendship that formed the very basis of our relationship. Everything was out there. We were easily honest and fiercely loyal. We were inseparable as friends and before we knew it, we graduated to being each other’s first loves.

Soon after college came to an end, I was to take off to Poland on a six month internship. That was the first time we were to test our relationship, to see if it had legs, when we were apart. Sandeep begged me not to go and I had half a mind to cancel the trip, because I couldn’t bear to see him so disheartened and I really wanted to be with him, but there was this other side that couldn’t understand why he was being so demanding of my time.

That’s when we had our first series of exciting adult fights. We indulged in blame games, name calling and exhausted with all the hurting we decided to put our misery down, cut our relationship down to size and move on. And we did – For a grand total of one day! Truth be told, we were fools for each other and made promises to power through this, no matter what. We made a pact to take this one day at a time and pace ourselves out. Sandeep hates writing to the point where he’ll only do it when he’s angry about something and therefore has an opinion to voice or if it’s an official mail that needs to be written. But for the time we spent away from each other, I have a virtual mountain of e-mail to burrow in; written by him to me, filled with all of the things talking made easy.

Even though we were so far away, we still had our share of arguments and irrational fights. A lot gets lost in the distance between. Words get misconstrued, you forget to show up on Skype, you’re venting, and you’ve had a bad day at work… Everything becomes potential fodder for a fight. But we were more than the sum of our fights and both of us believed that completely. Both of us were quick to forgive the other (him more than me). Plus, if I went mum for a couple of days, he’d always reign me back in by helping me talk things through. When I’m upset I usually go quiet. I don’t talk, even though I’m seething on the inside. Sandeep could see through all of this and got me out of the darkness by making me laugh.  Every time he broke out into off-warbling, ‘Happy Birthday’ in Malayalam, in a silly falsetto voice, the horridness of whatever I was going through would just melt away.

Those months away from each other, made us go out of our joint comfort zones and think of each other so much more than usual. It made us understand ourselves as individuals and made us test our dynamics as a couple. We understood the concept of space and to willingly give each other that, when needed. We learnt that if we truly loved and cared for the other person, they would respond in return, the same way (in a year or so, but it’s worth the wait and the aha! moment that they have). We also realized early on, that there had to be more to us than the relationship we were in, and to not allow it to consume our every waking moment.

So we filled our lives with ‘stuff and things to do’ to get our minds off each other, and to lead more productive days. Friendships that were strewn to the side were rekindled. Hobbies and new experiences that we didn’t have time for earlier were explored.  Still, that empty feeling at the end of the day, of not having each other around, loomed large over our heads as we collapsed exhausted onto our beds.

Trust, a huge part of any long distance relationship always takes a beating when it’s subjected to the Minotaur of the mind. It’s easy for your mind to wander and make up situations, or to over think the normal and give in to a false perception of reality. Sandeep and I were both honey trapped into this, but we overcame it early on, because we both knew that we’re not of that mould. There’s too much love and friendship between us, for us to be seeking any of that elsewhere.

To a great extent, both of us share exactly the same value system, want the same things out of life and have clearly defined roles in our relationship. While we’re wildly different in our choice of music (I love Ella Fitzgerald and he loves Metallica) or fitness goals (Isn’t digestion an ab exercise?) we’re committed to each other completely (idiosyncrasies included). That in a sense, has helped us scale many mountains in our speckled sojourns away from each other, over the course of the last 11 years.

On a side note, the immediate male influences in my life were stifling and not very progressive to me as a woman. It always left me feeling tethered, with a low sense of worth. It was so important for me to be with someone who gave me the full freedom to just be me, who gave me my space, was kind and made me feel loved. Sandeep was all that and more. So no matter what, I told myself, I would put all of me into this relationship to make it work because I couldn’t do without this elevated sense of self he left me with.

Sandeep and I, both have very similar sets of parents. Heavily influenced by their relationship with each other, we were crystal clear in our heads about what we didn’t want in a relationship. And so, in our quest for companionship and love, we both unwittingly charted the same course, and crashed into each other.

longdistanceAs I write this, it’s uncanny that I’m in the midst of (hopefully) the last long distance chapter in our story. We’re both of the conclusion that we can’t do anymore of this being away from each other business and that the next time either of us travel, the other will be in tow, or least in a suitcase.

Honestly, a  long distance relationship challenges you on every front and it’s important that you allow yourself to be tested by those waters. It reveals much about the ‘three’ of you. That’s the light you shine on, when you want to see the myriad of details etched on your relationship. It gives you the wisdom to change, to maintain what you already have, to decide to be better, to heal and to grow.

There have been times in our journey when we couldn’t control the outcome of our arguments or the tenacity of my temper. My human frailty always drove me back to my Christian faith. It made me realize that both of us still struggle with our humanness and the drawbacks of having that show up in our relationship.  Cultivating the habit of being a peacemaker, of forgiveness, of bearing with one another, of being kind, patient, not remembering past faults and protecting one another, goes a long, long way in ensuring that you safeguard the interests of your heart from the world and from yourself.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7, is what we often return to for making relationships, especially ours, work. It’s helped both of us come to terms with each other, warts and all, because we’ve learnt to place the other ahead of our personal agendas.

Sandeep and I have this strange bond that the world cannot comprehend (there’s hardly anything of us together on FB) and distances can’t divide, because we’re bound by something greater than blood. We’re bound by daily practicing our love.