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.


The fear of I do!

Santosh Desai’s post The Fear of Marriage in City City Bang Bang dated 10 February 2014, explored the social and cultural contexts that often lead to couples being apprehensive about tying the knot.

Why is there this fear of marriage?

It’s an interesting question and even more interesting are the answers that are elicited! The most common ones are of course loss of freedom, less sex, fear of committing and being stuck with one person all your life!

From amongst them all, I think loss of freedom is perhaps the most feared as it’s about the person itself – it touches the core of who we are as individuals. Interestingly the ‘act of togetherness’ in marriage ideally should mean freedom to be ‘oneself’ in the relationship but more often than not, it isn’t as easy. And deep-rooted within this is perhaps the fear of rejection – of being let down, things not working out or our own apprehensions about our inability to be the person our partner deserves.

So what does loss of freedom mean?

Is it the pressure of having to do things together, do what the other partner likes or prefers, having to please, having to accommodate another person, having to let go of personal space and personal identity, having to step back and think about the family and partner first before thinking about one’s self, having to earn for the family and spend money on what is important for the family, the unsaid assumption that one should go for holidays together – the one-off all girls’ or all boys’ outing or just travelling alone can happen but after much “discussion” and having to change the thinking process to acknowledge that ‘we’ is more important than the ‘I’.

Ideally, each of the above reflect the innate qualities of being a couple – that is what relationships are all about – our ability to mould ourselves within norms, expectations and structures that support the definition of marriage. How relevant are these fears today within a generation that is constantly questioning and wanting to assert its individualistic thinking?

In the beginning of a relationship it is but natural to want to spend almost every waking moment together, to get to know each other, to share personal beliefs and innermost fears, hopes, and wants, to be one in our thoughts and outlook. It’s the ‘pleasing’ phase and so consciously or unconsciously we extend ourselves to be what our partner likes or want us to be.

Once we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve – i.e., commit ourselves to them or marry our partner or in other words become comfortable with the knowledge that our partner understands us and accepts us for who we are – at this stage, we allow ourselves to believe that now we can show our true selves to them – one that is individualistic, that wants to be satisfied first, that wants freedom!

This is when most couples tend to look at each other and say, ‘you have changed!’ The assertion that the person you were dating is so different from the one you married is just an outcome of the need to truly want to be ourselves simply knowing that we can! Here’s when the pressure to change the partner or mould them back into what suits us sucks out the fun from the togetherness quotient. Slowly the predominant thought becomes ‘why did I marry?’ and ‘did I marry the right person?’

Once again, the fear of marriage and its repercussion’s raises its ugly head – only this time the feeling of helplessness is severe – as the outcome can only lead to unhappiness, separation and loneliness.

Simultaneously another fear takes over – the fear of loss!

One’s ability to cope with this sense of loss defines how couples respond – flight or fight. Of course the other ingredients that impact and determine the couple’s response include their values and morals, social expectations, upbringing, family pressure, children, financial independence amongst others.

Interestingly, amidst this fear of loss lurks the charm of gaining freedom. This little sucker makes decision-making excruciatingly painful.

Those who stay put work out ways to survive while those who step out apparently are known to live a better life – gaining the freedom to truly live life on their own terms. The argument is that they know better, their experience teaches them what not to do. Yet when another love interest arises, they’re willing (read unconsciously) to make the extra effort to reinvent the wheel. I believe that it’s more difficult this time round as having tasted both the loss and gain of freedom one has to continuously battle trying to justify which is more lucrative.

Marriage will make one regret their decision at some point in time so perhaps it is advisable that couples willingly accept that nothing is forever. The intention to always be there for one another is a promise but the reality is that no one has seen the future or what it holds. There is no forever – except the present and marriage is just an amalgamation of these present moments.

Moving Out

Are Aishwarya Rai, Abhishek moving out of the Bachchan residence?

Recently read this article about possible friction between Aishwarya Rai and her mother-in-law and felt compelled to write about it as it brought back memories.

news agency highlighted “…for 6 years now after their marriage, they have been part of a traditional Indian joint family. As Mr and Mrs Bachchan Junior, they have lived with Abhishek’s parents Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, celebrating Diwali, Karva Chauth and birthdays together.”

In yet another, Abhishek Bachchan is seen denying this as a rumour. I’m not here to question their decision or to pass moral judgement – but it’s interesting to note that pretences continues to be a part and parcel of almost every other Indian marriage! Whatever the truth why does one feel compelled to deny, perhaps a simple truth? Why is moving out frowned upon so much? Why isn’t it acceptable that a couple for whatever reason may want to live on their own?

In most instances, even today moving into the family home is tradition, a natural progression for newly wedded couples. Sometimes I feel that it is the fortunate few who skip this step if they happen to live in different cities. Just hope someday this becomes a choice that is openly welcome. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the norm since there are families who adapt well, find enormous emotional and infrastructural support during emergencies and crisis and live together in harmony while there are others who are compelled to stay together because of business, financial or personal reasons.

Marriage is a new phase, a new beginning for every couple including those having a love marriage. When I married it was assumed that we would be living with my in-laws. It was a natural turn of events and at that point in time there was no need or reason to exercise the choice to live separately. I knew and accepted that the onus to adjust, compromise and integrate into this new way of living had to be mine as I was marrying into the family. It was a complete change for me – new home, new set of parents and family, new lifestyle, different customs and eating habits while for everyone else nothing drastically changed in their lives or lifestyle except an additional new person joining them.

I had known my husband for 7 years before our marriage, yet; even then it was a life changing experience for us learning to live with one another. Today, after being together for almost 19 years I can openly say that had we continued to live with my in-laws we would have definitely parted ways. And in case we hadn’t I’m certain that we would have become two very bitter people. It was a challenge learning to live together as a couple but even more challenging was learning to live with the in-laws!

Like the Bachchans, living in a traditional Indian family, we too celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, puja together. The problem occurred when it was assumed that we would want to celebrate them with the same set of invitees, the same way, and every year! There was no option to do it any other way. I know for a fact that to my in-laws it was simply tradition to do it their way; it never stuck them that we could perhaps want something different. But on my part, it felt like an obligation. Why do people automatically make a judgement call if a couple want to do their own thing during such occasions? Specifically citing that for six years the Bachchans celebrated together, did they want to insinuate that in future if they lived separately they wouldn’t want to do so? In my case, I would have happily invited the same invitees like my in-laws but perhaps have been happier to be given the ‘choice’ to do so!

Expectations to conform was too pressurizing for me to cope. Like many newly wedded couple, I wanted my ‘space’ – both physical and emotional. I wanted to feel free to lead a lifestyle that I was not only accustomed to but also one which I wanted to explore and experiment with my husband. But my marital home belonged to my mother-in-law. She had practically spent a lifetime making it her own after her mother-in-law passed away so there was no way she wanted any changes when I came in.  I did enjoy freedom from domestic chores and kitchen politics as I didn’t have to do any of that but still didn’t want to conform to my mother-in-law’s lifestyle.  I wanted to have my own. Seemingly I was always allowed to do as I pleased but the subtlety with which displeasure was shown was very skilful. I was frustrated and angry, sometimes gave in, coped, fought, struggled and then just gave up on being able to live in peace with my sanity intact.

Moving out was the only choice I had but one which was totally unheard of in my marital home – it was not only unacceptable but morally wrong to even think about it. Although I had entertained the thought at length it just wasn’t a viable option for us till my husband was offered a job out of town. It was a way out – an ‘acceptable’ way out of a difficult situation. Even then, it was frowned upon for a long time. People assumed the worst that I had broken up the family and taken their son away. No one even for a moment openly accepted or acknowledged that perhaps for professional reasons this was a wise decision.

Of course I must add here that the couple should be in unison when wanting to move out or else the blame game can get ugly at a later stage. I bore the burden of breaking up the family for some time till I forced myself to stop thinking about it. I refused to hurt anymore. It was a difficult phase but today we’re happy. Simultaneously my husband has always been well aware of his responsibilities and duties as a son. Distance has made no dent there. He’s never shied away from that and I’m proud to say that I have never been a spoke in the wheel when he’s wanted to reach out to them. I behaved that way not only because I loved him and wanted him to be happy but they were an important part of his life and I had no right to question his commitment to them. Even on occasions when my opinions differed or I’ve been uncomfortable with his decisions – I’ve told him how I felt and we’ve discussed at length but in the end I respected the fact that it is his family he is caring for.  It wasn’t my way to prove my in-laws wrong or show them how big-hearted I was, to me it felt natural. I believed that we might not live together but we were still part of the family.

controlThat to me is the true essence of family life. A sense of togetherness, as a family is crucial as it has wider long term impact on everyone’s life.  A successful marriage needs a nurturing environment. It also needs patience and tact to deal with different personalities under the same roof. If one feels differently and is unable to negotiate this minefield of complications then instead of creating a scene, being bitter and back-biting, its best to come to a truce and maintain separate homes.

I strongly feel that the issues which majorly gnawed at me when I lived with my in-laws seem minuscule non-issues now. Living separately has brought a healthy distance between us. This in turn has also allowed us to assert our own individuality. Today when we get together sometimes I’m happy to do their bidding since I know that it’s temporary – we will soon be going our own ways. Simultaneously I’m open about my opinions if I don’t like something and having lived separately for some years now they have come to accept it.

While writing this post I received an email from a friend who too was in the same situation years ago. He writes (I quote), ‘…read your posts, somehow, I find a lot of similarities my wife faced with her in-laws. We did manage to get out of the morass by me securing a scholarship to study abroad. We too were on the brink of breakup, but survived and prospered by our flight, just like you. Will complete 45 years of bliss together next year’.

Moving out doesn’t mean something is wrong with the family. It doesn’t mean one has failed to do their duties or is being disrespectful. Nor does it mean that they are bad people. Moving out is definitely NOT the end!

My friend’s email is an affirmation that moving out is sometimes the best option and does work wonders.