It’s safe to say that many urban Indian men and women are increasingly seeking independence, both financially and emotionally. Yet, for some reason, they end up feeling that when they are with someone, they always have to do things together. It is not new to theoretically know that this is not necessary. However, if you are invited to a party, or if you want to see a movie, or if you want to attend a function in your extended family, it tends to be an unsaid norm that you need to do this together with your partner.
M, a 32-year-old client of mine has been married for six years. Theirs was an arranged match. M is one of those people who believes that she and her husband should do everything together. It worked well for them in the early days of their marriage.
M insists that it brought them closer. I don’t doubt that it did. For a span of almost two years M and her husband were only separated when at work. They longed to be with each other. Dining out, meeting friends and family, dance classes, movies, grocery shopping, from chores to fun activities there was rarely anything that they did not do together.
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Sharing experiences is perhaps the best way for a couple to increase their bond and get to know each other better. But does that mean that they have to really do everything together for the rest of their lives?
In M’s case, over the span of four years, things started becoming different. Her husband slowly started doing things on his own: it started with him picking up golf. What followed then was him going alone to events related to art and design (her husband’s line of work), which M used to attend with him, but during which she always got bored.
After a while her husband started going out with his friends alone too. When she’d remark that he is doing quite a few things on his own now, her husband would point out the interest mismatch. According to M’s husband, he was being thoughtful, sparing her the boredom of doing something she dislikes. He just could not understand what M was complaining about and what he was doing wrong.
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M got so obsessed with keeping track of where she did not go with her husband that she did not acknowledge the things they were actually doing together. He repeatedly pointed out to her that they had movie nights, holidays, that they would meet friends together, and, of course, attend family gathering as a couple.
A year ago, things got to a point where they started considering getting a divorce. M says, that they thankfully ended up consulting a good counsellor, who helped them save their marriage. Often couples just do not know how to handle the evolution of their relationship and seeking help from a counsellor provides an impartial perspective and highlights what is important at each phase of a relationship.
There is some residual angst that M still experiences on this matter. She and I are working towards resolving this. Besides making plans to do things separately from her husband (like meeting her own group of friends, picking up dancing again but this time on her own, and joining a book club), I also encouraged M to do by herself what she’d otherwise think of doing with her husband: going to a movie, have a meal or a cup of coffee at restaurant or a cafe.
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In a sharing circle of twelve female friends that I am a part of, I asked how many of them have had a meal by themselves at a restaurant, or been to a movie alone. In this group of independent and well-exposed women, there were only two who had actually done these things. I think this is in large part because of how we are socialised. However, I also believe that we need to cross this hurdle in order to boost our confidence and our ability to be truly independent as individuals. The biggest upside to doing anything alone is that it helps you establish boundaries with ease -- dependency of any kind makes it difficult to have boundaries in a relationship.
Every relationship needs to adapt to its evolution. This is imperative especially because no relationship remains the same, not even platonic ones. Relationships evolve as we evolve as individuals. Hardly do two people evolve at the same time; and this is exactly what causes the dissonance. One partner is often left needing to play catch up, like M had to. Instead of focusing on doing everything together, what will really keep your relationship healthy is making what you do together an experience that you both enjoy and cherish.
This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org