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.

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, follow your heart but do take your brains with you!

This edition of Let’s Face It features mother of three sons and grandmother of six grandchildren, Sahana Chaudhuri. She was my colleague while we worked together at a diplomatic mission. Old enough to be my mother she was one of my closest friends’ and the mother-in-law I wish I had 🙂

Pottsandpan (PP): You’ve lived and living each day a wonderfully fulfilling life – how would you define ‘happiness’ within this context?

Sahana Chaudhuri (SC): Happiness is within oneself and not external to you. If you decide to be happy, no matter what, no one and no force on earth can keep happiness from you.

When I think of happiness this ditty always comes to mind:-

Life is what you make it
Life is what you will
You’ll find out that wheree’er you go whatever role you play
You’ll always find a piper
And that piper you must pay
So shall we change our parts again
Some other sunny day
Oh no! I’ll still stay me!

completePP: How long were you married before your husband passed away? What are the two things you miss the most about your life with him?

SC: I was married for almost thirty-one years. I miss his care and concern for me. I miss his comforting and protective presence.

Most of all I miss that he always felt I was the best wife he could ever have asked for!

PP: There was a time when you were concerned for your sons and their marriage – what did you fear the most then? Did it make matters easier that you didn’t have daughters?

SC: My fear then was the marriages would end in divorce. As luck would have it, they did end in divorce!

As a matter of fact, it would have been easier had I had daughters. Our marriage laws are slewed to favour girls and there is a stereotypical assumption that the guy is ALWAYS to blame!! The penalty is always paid by the guy and not the girl.

PP: For a long time you’ve lived by yourself, redecorated the house the way you liked and travelled with friends and colleagues – was it liberating to do all this without encumbrances or the need to explain yourself?

SC: Yes, though I wouldn’t say liberated as even in marriage I was never made to feel ‘caged’, if you know what I mean. My husband was liberal and trusting enough never to ask for explanations. Perhaps this was because while he was around I never really felt the need to go out on my own. I’d say, after his demise, I enjoyed going out with friends for the occasional meal and cinema or a weekend out to Digha or Darjeeling.

PP: I’ve always known you as someone who has faced life’s challenges with grit, determination and positivity. What would you attribute to this? Is it your innate mental strength or have you garnered this from a role model you’ve admired for how they lived their lives?

SC: I think grit and determination and innate strength is intrinsic in me though my Mum was a huge inspiration to me.

PP: You now spend time living with each of your three sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren – how has life changed (from your perspective) from the time you lived with your in-laws and extended family and now?

SC: First and foremost, I never really lived with my in-laws except when my mother-in-law came visiting on holidays. Of course there has to be a difference between living on your own and living with my sons and their families. The solution I have found is not to expect my DILs (daughters-in-law) to adjust and compromise for me. Rather, I have learnt to adjust and accept to the changes in my lifestyle to ensure an amicable relationship. I NEVER interfere in their personal affairs or disagreements!

PP: How has the mother-in-law in you evolved from the daughter-in-law you’ve been? Do you feel that try as you may; sometimes you’re unable to curb your expectations of being the ‘mother-in-law’ or perhaps having similar expectations like your own mother-in-law?

SC: As I said, I do not have any so-called expectations from my DILS. I see my sons happy in their marriages now and that is all I ask for!

PP: Being a grandparent, what advice would you want to give your grandsons and granddaughters when it came to selecting their partners? Is there something you would want your granddaughters to be aware of more than your grandsons?

SC: My advice to my grandchildren, both grandsons and granddaughters equally, is that it is wise not to rush into anything.

“Follow your heart but take your brain with you!”

There has to be compromise from both partners for a marriage to be successful. However, once you become a mother, you have to give more for the simple reason that there is an invisible umbilical cord connecting child to mother. A mother can never be replaced by anyone! So never be resentful when you need to take more leave when the child is sick or on a rare occasion when you need to give up a day out with your friends.

For the guys, I would say that helping out with housework or taking care of the kids is not demeaning. Share responsibilities and you will see how fulfilling it is to run a happy home.

PP: What do you think is lacking the most in the younger generation when it comes to commitment and marriage? Do you think they respect this institution enough to work hard at their relationships?

SC: I think tolerance levels have dropped to a large extent. The fact that women are also economically independent adds to this. These days it is easy to walk out of a marriage whereas earlier it wasn’t even considered an option. I always say that there is so much joy and fulfilment in a long and lasting marriage. For this both partners have to work hard at it. It doesn’t just happen!

mothersdayPP: You received a beautiful Happy Mother’s Day card. What are the two things you believe every mother should teach their sons about how to treat their wives?

SC: My main advice to them is to always treat their wives with love and respect. She is in no way less than you and has gone through a great deal in bearing your kids! Treat her like a queen for she is no less than one!

The Equal Partnership

‘Togetherness’ is what provides the staying power in a marriage. Staying together, thinking together, sharing together, mutual respect, taking decisions together, planning together, saving together, learning together, forgiving each other – togetherness is just what matters.

The word ‘equal’ needs to be defined clearly here – it doesn’t necessarily mean equality in every sense of the word. There will be moments, situations when one will need to take the lead. There just needs to be a sense of comfort and acceptance of that fact.

Two people – with their commonalities and differences come together to create this ‘partnership’. It is therefore necessary to build a sense of marital identity – a sense of ‘we’ – ness in addition to and different from themselves as individuals. There is a fine line between thinking of oneself as an individual with one’s own needs and wants and thinking of the partnership as being together with common needs and wants. As the partnership grows in strength this line sometimes blurs, sometimes becomes more defined – either of which is fine as long as there is mutual acceptance.

The partnership is also a ‘responsibility’ and each partner is accountable for its success. There will definitely be moments or times of pressure when there will be one up-man-ship, manifestation of stress, financial burdens which perhaps one partner needs to take a lead on etc. Ego will play a huge role to either pull one apart or bring you together – as long as its ‘you’ exerting control over the ego instead of letting the ego take the lead – all will work out.

The equal partnership has to be a peer-to-peer relationship. Sometimes you need your better half to be a friend rather than a spouse. This flexibility ensures that you’re open to playing whatever role the marital situations demands of you. This is the best part of marriage.

The partnership is a safety net – a place that feels safe for love, hate, conflict, dependency, play, openness, fun – it should make you want to always go back to the safety net.

An equal partnership therefore is crucial to help make a ‘house’ truly one’s ‘home’.

What is marriage?

A good question to begin with – is it a union of two souls? Is it an institution which provides security and comfort? Does it help to build respectful boundaries? Is it an emotional or physical outlet? Is it a save haven to bring up children? Is it companionship that marriage offers?

I’m sure there are many more answers that can help define marriage – but I believe the crucial point is ‘what is one’s expectation from marriage?’ That helps to define how one approaches the concept of being married to another person.

While I sat with my would be husband attending the 2-day course on Marital Preparation by the church, I grew apprehensive. There were 5 other Christian couples with us on the same course and their expectation from marriage were diversely different from ours. Their views on physical intimacy and sex, financial responsibilities, family honour, careers, children, roles and responsibilities of a husband and wife were so different.

Initially I was taken aback and then I wondered if the problem was with us or them. Perhaps their views were more common than I was willing or wanted to accept. As we voiced our opinion, we stood out as sore thumbs. They viewed us as a different breed and slowly we realised that we couldn’t make inroads into creating the slightest dent in their thinking. The tutors or priests didn’t  help either. By the end of the first day, we decided that we would simply attend the session as a prerequisite for a church wedding but simultaneously realised the need to develop a course that would really help couples to approach this institution with a clear and open mind.

Marriage is a responsibility. Marriages are not perfect and there are no set rules. Each couple creates their own rules from their experiences. Love is equally important but in the fast paced life we lead today one has to work continuously to make a marriage work.  It no longer matters if it is an arranged or love marriage as that is only one of the building blocks of a successful marriage.  In India especially, one marries into a family – one that is different in every way possible. Even with the increasing incidence of nuclear families, the wider family continues to play a role.

My mother’s advice to me when I married was that I was on my own – I had to make this marriage work especially as our backgrounds, upbringing and religious beliefs were different. If it didn’t then I couldn’t blame them. Not that she was shying away from her responsibility of being a support to me if things didn’t work out. But thinking about the advice objectively, it made me realise that she had a point. The only one who could make this marriage work was me – I had to invest ‘myself’ wholeheartedly as it was something I wanted.

Even after knowing my would be husband and loving him for 8 years before marriage, I realised that my expectations from the marriage, our relationship and him as the man and husband greatly differed from his expectations from me. It didn’t matter what we knew about each other before hand. What mattered was what we came to know of each other after marriage.