With due respect (Part 2)

This three part series aims to discuss one of the key cornerstones for any healthy relationship –Mutual Respect.


Anuttama Dasgupta, part time urban design consultant, full time mother and soon to be pubished author, shares her personal understanding of respect in a relationship.


I am a diarist. From the time I was twelve years old, I have kept a private journal in one form or the other. The practice serves me well in the work that I do today as a writer and designer because it allows me to fish out the good ideas from the general morass of thoughts that my mind generates. I owe this space to my family and to the two roommates I’ve lived with who have never for a day given me cause to worry that my private universe may be trespassed upon.

As a teenager, I remember, I would purposefully keep my dairy lying around to see if any of my family members would pick it up and read it. Not that there was anything particularly scandalous in those pages. The angst-ridden stream of consciousness of a teenage girl might be the most boring read ever. But that was not the point. The point was would anyone in my family get so curious as to violate the one unspoken rule in our house that no matter what, we never took a peek into each other’s private affairs. We did not open each other’s letters. We did not rummage in each others’ purses and bags. We did not listen in on private conversations on the extension phone. We were even dissuaded from reading the newspaper over each other’s shoulders. My father and I went so far in our mutual respect as to solve the Telegraph Quick Crossword in pencil so that the other could erase the solutions and have the pleasure of starting from scratch. So far as my diary was concerned, it was often picked up…from the sofa, from the cane chair on the verandah when the rain came in…only to be put back on my study table but never, ever was it read.

I never thought of these little things as particularly important but as I grew up and stepped into the bigger world outside, I realized it had formed an invaluable personal metric for me to measure respect for personal boundaries in a relationship. Popular media constantly plies us with the idea of instant success. Like instant noodles and instant coffee, falling in love, that too at first sight is supposed to solve all our relationship issues in one stroke. But, in reality, falling in love is not the same as making a relationship work, that too over an extended period of time. Love counts for a lot but so does respect. In fact, when it comes to the most intimate relationships of our lives where we share our personal space with someone, love can easily go out of the window if a sufficient amount of respect is not there.

When we think of respect, what commonly comes to mind is the veneration or admiration we feel for someone who is superior to us in some way. In our materialistic culture, that means high ‘net worth individuals’ and movie stars. But the other meaning of respect is regard for the feelings, wishes and rights of others regardless of whether they are higher or lower than us in the social hierarchy. This is the form of respect that comes into play in our every day interactions with other human beings, especially our partners and children. Having a vague idea what love is all about, many of us end up equating love to control. This might be news to a lot of people but trying to run a loved one’s life is a boundary violation. So is hovering around our loved ones like a helicopter and micro-managing their affairs to the extent that they forget how to think for themselves or quake at the thought of speaking up for themselves. One of the most egregious examples of lack of respect is when we force-feed others. Everyone, including children, has a workable sense of their own hunger and thirst. To supersede it with ideas of our own as to how much they should eat and how often, we are not only showing disrespect, we are setting them up for a lifetime of weight-related problems.

Even if we are not conscious of it, many of us do get the concept of a physical personal bubble because of its overlap with sexual boundaries. But the same can’t be said of the psychological bubble and by extension, the equally important, social media bubble. All around us are the peekers and sneakers: spouses and partners who think nothing of looking through their significant other’s mobile phones or browser histories as if it was their birth right. We all know those suspicious spouses who keep a constant tab on their partners’ Facebook friend’s lists. Then there are the folks who proudly announce to the world that they have access to their partner’s email accounts. I find this particularly disturbing as it shows complete lack of respect not only for the partner but to all those people who are writing to them in confidence.

The thing is you can still be close to someone without invading their private space. As Kahlil Gibran so famously said, “The oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” In fact, a part of respecting others and giving them their space is to keep your own curiosity, suspicions and speculations at bay. If something is bothering you, you can always ask them about it but you cannot snoop around behind their backs. That to me spells absolute lack of respect. If you want your partner to trust you, you have to learn how to live with the amount of information that he/ she freely shares with you. You have to accept that others have the right to tell us things at their own time and pace. Not only that, they are entitled to their own secrets if they want to have a few. A relationship is not a confessional. Nor is it a customs declaration. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that in a normal, healthy relationship it is always fun to discover things along the way. Counter intuitively, the less we pry and poke, the more freely confidences are shared. The more we allow our loved ones to be who they are (instead of who we would like them to be) and respect their boundaries and preferences, the stronger the relationship is.  Love may be the fuel that keeps a relationship going, but respect is the cement that holds it all together.


With due respect (Part 3), will explore ways to develop self respect for oneself so that it can enhance feelings of mutual respect between partners.

I depend on…ME!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wondered.

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

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

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

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

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!