I read a story recently titled “The Jam Maker.” It was told from a child’s perspective about her parents’ marriage. They were immigrant Indians who had settled in the UK after her father had graduated as a doctor, and the marriage which was probably an arranged one had nothing in common apart from the child. Following the success of her father practice, they moved away from the enclave of fellow immigrants to a cosy British village but her mother who was a homemaker hated it there and lived for the moments when they could go visiting “Little India” like most people called their former town.
Her mother stayed at home most days clinging to her Hindu traditions, beliefs and rituals, declining to follow her husbands interests and the child grew used to tagging along on his jaunts wherever she could, consequently, she took after her father in her love for what her mother thought was foreign and resented her mother for her insistence on staying true to her roots and refusing to actively participate in her husbands interests or try out new things like the mini skirt he brought home which was rejected as being too short, flimsy and modern and which the child later noticed her father’s secretary wearing when she visited his clinic -another place where her mother never went to.
When her father died in a car accident and her mother sought to return to Little India where she felt at home, the child who did not want to relocate made attempts to poison her mother and failing at that she tried to run away.
The story got me thinking about relationships and the delicate balance that exists in being one’s self and the compromises we must make to accommodate another person’s presence in our life. There is no doubt, that for a relationship to succeed and thrive, the 2 must become 1 and compromises must be made in every area of one’s life. The honest undeniable truth is the fact that the desire to be loved and accepted and the fear of not being enough or failing in pleasing our partner makes us give up parts of ourselves willingly.
The problem is in finding a balance and knowing where to draw the line in being one’s person and losing oneself in their relationship. In the story I recounted earlier, the wife did not make any attempt to give up her beliefs and way of life to suit her husbands preferences maybe because she believed wrongly that he had no choice but to stay married to her but having nothing in common with one’s spouse spells disaster for a relationship and would inevitably create a vacuum which must be filled.
For most of us of my generation and definitely the generation of our mothers, women were taught to adapt to their men, to honor his wishes and desires and jettison theirs in order to ensure the success of their marriages and so they built houses with their own sweat and labor and registered them in their husbands name, starved their ambition to be professionals; staying at home to take care of the children and end up living vicariously through their children.
But that was then. Women are increasingly beginning to demand the severance of their personal life from their married lives even though they still want to be part of their partner’s life. A lot of young woman influenced mainly by the feminist movement and the difficulty in changing their legal identities are now choosing to retain the identities they bore as single women when they get married. It may seem like a paradox but many women have now come to understand that they can have a good marriage without losing themselves in it.
So how do we lose ourselves in our relationships?
It really starts unconsciously and with the small things like buying only what he likes, doing only the activities that interest him, abandoning one’s social circles because he doesn’t feel comfortable with them, wearing only clothes he likes and approves of- I have read of a woman who when told that she had a pungent body odor claimed her husband loved the smell and forbade her from using an antiperspirant. I know of someone whose husband told her never to go above a certain dress size and who strives to maintain it although she could do with a bit more flesh on her body.
Many times because we have been conditioned to think of ourselves last, most women lose themselves thinking that is what is required of them, only to get upset, angry and resentful when we remind our partners of all the sacrifices we have made for the relationship and he asks us who demanded those sacrifices from us. Most times we even become someone else in our bid to force that perfect blend we insist on becoming with our partners.
It is noteworthy that a healthy relationship is one in which both parties have common interests and yet are free to be themselves and have separate interests, likes, preferences and hobbies. Once we find that most of the sacrifices and compromises we make are not reciprocated or that we cannot fully express our personality in our relationships it is a warning sign that we may be loosing ourselves therein.
Relationships are complex and it takes walking on a tight rope sometimes in a bid to find a balance but it is achievable. To ensure our relationships are balanced we must
- Know and have a good relationship with ourselves. We should not be desperate for the relationship, we should not be afraid to ask that our needs be met in that relationship. A friend once told me that it wasn’t until the death of her father, that she knew who her mother was and what she liked. She recounted that her father had always loomed large and had ensured his preference over everything including the décor of their home but his demise saw her mother stating her desires which surprisingly were a wide deviation from what she choose when her husband was alive. It was sad because her mother was finally enjoying her life in her latter years.
- We must be consistent in scheduling and taking time for what makes us happy without feeling guilty and allowing our partners the right to do so too.
- Have clear boundaries in our relationship prioritizing as the need arises the relationship with self viz a viz that with our partners.
- Respectfully stand up for ourselves and what makes us happy whilst respecting the right of our partners to have different choices.
The balanced relationship is one where parties can enjoy both an individual and a joint lifestyle, where both parties give as much as they take without shame or resentment, where both parties adjust themselves to accommodate one another without loosing their individuality.
As someone said there are two “ i”s in the word relationship for a reason and it’s because both “i”s matter.