“The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Love it, hate it, dislike it, or feign indifference about it. The fact remains that love, romance, and relationships are the center of most of our lives. If not for love, a majority of us wouldn’t be brought into this world itself.
Since this is the season of love, I could not stop pondering about the relationships around me, how they came to be and how they helped me understand relationships. A lot of known and unknown people played a part, knowingly and unknowingly to gain a better understanding of love and romance. I am no expert in it and I don’t aspire to become one either. But I know for a fact, that I came to take some decisions in my life, based on the advice given to me by people around me. Are they the experts then? I wouldn’t know. All I know is that their advice helped me out of a fix probably more than once and that their words have stayed with me till now, for a reason.
1. Disagreements need to be discussed, even argued and fought over, rather than ignorance and mute acceptance
My parents have been married for 39 years now. I’ve seen them take care of each other in one moment and then argue with each other in the very next. As a child, this behavior was very confusing for me. Because I always thought that if we care about someone, we like and accept them even when they’re wrong. It was much later, probably in my teens, when I myself started to develop an opinion of my own, that I realized how healthy it is to have disagreements. And more importantly, to talk and bring out a solution to these disagreements.
Unlike my parents, I’ve seen most couples of their age, never fighting. I always thought they were happier together than my parents. But I could not be far from the truth. These couples, when away from their spouse, and with their friends and family, bad-mouthed their partners, sometimes even in the presence of children. It was clear that they weren’t as happy together as it appeared to the world. But none of my parents ever did that. And I knew then that though there were moments when things got tense between my parents, there was happiness in their relationship and in our family.
When I stepped into matrimony myself, I made the same mistake sometimes, of letting things be, even when I felt like it was not what I wanted. But ultimately, it ended up making me unhappy, and even my partner sooner or later. This is when my mother reminded me, “Have you ever seen us go for longer periods without arguing? Firstly, you need to accept that you’re two very different individuals and have different opinions. So, whenever a decision is to be made, it has to be mutual. If one of you disagrees, how else can common ground be found, if not by discussing?”
Since then, the number of fights and arguments between my spouse and me has increased, but so has our individual peace of mind.
2. Some things need to stay just between the couple
Ever heard of oversharing? We think twice before sharing something about ourselves with a stranger and sometimes even with known people. The same goes for a couple. Taking advice and asking for counsel is fine. But what if that person’s advice starts affecting your happiness as a couple? Or worse, what if that person, tells two more people, then it goes on to twenty more people, and then it’s just out there in the public domain?
Let me give you an example. A friend once told us about how her mother-in-law was not giving her husband and her, some much-needed space. It was so bad that the mother-in-law would ask them to not lock their bedroom door. On a few occasions, she had even walked in on them when they were getting intimate. This became ‘gossip-worthy’ for one of the people with whom my friend had shared her distress. The incident then became a snack time discussion being shared from one person to another. Even people my friend and her husband didn’t know directly or had never met, knew about the problems in their marital life now. It led to problems not only between the two of them but also within the family because the mother-in-law also earned a reputation for being nosy.
It was then that my friend confronted us all, saying that she would never share her problems with us from now. You can see what my takeaway from this bitter experience of hers was? Yes, some things are better resolved when they stay just between the couple.
3. It’s not necessary to do everything together
I have always been a travel lover and an outgoing person. There was a time when I couldn’t stay at home for longer periods. Going shopping, eating out, meeting up with friends every few days, was very much a part of routine life. Things changed a bit after I got married. Though I still love going out every now and then, I don’t mind sitting at home and doing nothing. This change came with me having to turn down my friends a few times when they asked to meet up. They thought this was because I preferred my husband’s company over theirs. This might have been true a few times. Yes, I did choose to do something with my husband, like go for a movie or a dinner date, or just stay home and watch TV with him. But this wasn’t always why I did not go out with the friends who asked to meet up.
However, after some months, this became a habit. Soon, I realized that I did not have a social life beyond my husband and both of our families. It was during this time when I got a phone call from a friend and we met up after a long time. As expected, and rightly so, she complained about me not making time for friends. I started giving excuses that I was still adjusting to married life and that my husband doesn’t like going out as much as I do. That’s when she said, “But, do you have to do everything together? Why can’t you do a few things, liking going to a movie, or eating out, without him, or with somebody else?”
I’d never thought about it like that till that time. Her words have stayed with me since then. It’s was then that I realized that though I like spending time with my husband, there are some things that I like and he doesn’t. And giving up those things would only make me unhappy in the long run. It made me realize how important it is to not give up the things that make you happy in order to maintain your individuality.
4. ‘We’ is not always bigger than ‘you’
Agreed that when in a relationship, your priorities change. You may have to let go of a few things that you could previously engage in without a second thought. Almost every decision and action come in with a ‘we’ rather than ‘me’.
We all know of women who gave up their successful careers after marriage, especially after becoming mothers. When asked about the reason and whether they’re happy with it, most of these women will even say yes. But how many of them are being honest? We can only assume. But I do know some of these women personally and they have confessed how they miss being themselves and how their identity has been lost in being a ‘wife’ and a ‘mother’. One such friend though, who did not give up her career, and is in fact kicking ass professionally as well as personally, made me realize something very important. I was surprised how she never took a career break and what helped her take that decision and manage it all. That’s when she told me, “I’ve always balanced my personal and professional life well, even before getting married or having a child. Yes, responsibilities increased, after assuming the roles of a wife and a mother. But I was always clear that I don’t want to be defined by these. So whenever I have to choose between my roles, I ask myself, what matters more, the “we” aka the family or the “I” aka myself? That really helps maintain the balance and prioritize.”
5. Respect for each other > love for each other
A particular incident helped me understand how important it is to respect your partner. A distant aunt, who was supposedly excelling in her career, was asked to become a homemaker post marriage. Not having the bandwidth to take a stand against such a demand, she complied.
Some years after their marriage, at a family function, she broke down and there was quite a ruckus. A few days later, we learned that she filed for a divorce. Apparently, her husband made fun of her in that gathering, belittling her choice of becoming a homemaker, and then went on to question her worth. I did wonder about her extreme step back then. Probably because I was a child when it happened. But, today, I respect her for her decision, because she chose self-respect over her love for her husband.
Not to mention the fact that she is at the top of her field now and also happily married to someone who respects her choice and success. Do you see how respect is greater than love?
Have you ever been given a piece of relationship advice that helped you and stayed with you over the years?
P.S : Happy Valentine’s Day
Thank you for reading.