There is an emerging relationship cliché of one’s life partner being one’s best friend, performing every activity together. But let’s take a step back. Do we expect our sister, or parent, or friend to play the other’s role in our lives?
Yet, and often, the mound of expectations we have of a life partner is so huge, that the burden of it overshadows the romance in the relationship. This is especially true if one doesn't have other people in fulfilling these much-needed relationships and roles.
Take for example Anand*, an adventure lover, who would often go on treks accompanied by his wife Kavita*. All seemed fine until it wasn’t. In a matter of months arguments stacked up, and soon Kavita turned indifferent. It turns out she was never actually fond of outdoor hikes — she only accompanied him to make him happy. Placing his needs before hers, led to unaddressed resentment which ultimately put a lot of strain on their relationship.
Spriha Patronobis, a counselling psychologist advises couples facing this issue to dig deeper within themselves. “One should explore why they want their partner to be their best friend, and often they’ll find the root of this lies in society’s cultural conditioning,” she says. “It might also come from unmet emotional needs of the past, which they then (look to fulfil from their) spouse. This leads to a lot of pressure on that person,” Patronobis adds.
To some degree, finding a friend in your spouse is a good thing, but couples can benefit from a wide-reaching support network not restricted to one person. The roles of best friends and partners are different from each other.
“Our lives should not revolve around one person, especially not your life partner,” says Mumbai-based make-up artist Zainab Ashraf. “As a single woman, I seek partnership, not friendship from my future spouse,” she adds.
Debismita Choudhury, a tax consultant who got married four years ago agrees. “We first need to ask ourselves whether we are willing to fulfil and play these various roles in our partner’s lives, before overwhelming them with the burden of such expectations,” Choudhury says. “My husband and I enjoy doing certain things together, but at the same time we sustain our interests and that helps us grow together as a couple.”
There is also a flip side to your partner doubling up as your best friend. If all the attention is focused one person, more often than not one’s own social circle fades away. Since the partner is taken for granted to be the plus-one for every occasion, at times, the efforts one puts in other relationships takes a back seat. “It is not possible to constantly pressurize yourself to be there all time regardless of whether you can help or not. It’s important to have a support system, apart from your partner,” say Eshita and Agnesh Verma, a couple from Kolkata.
In keeping with this, neuropsychiatrist Dr. Sabaysachi Mitra recommends expanding one’s social circle. “Every human being has his strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “A person cannot be both a doctor and a lawyer and if someone is unwell, they will visit their doctor, not expect their lawyer to resolve the issue. Similarly, you cannot amalgamate all qualities into a single human being.”
According to a survey conducted by Ipsos on the state of happiness in India, at 53 percent, a majority of Indian respondents considered the relationship with their spouse or partner as their greatest source of happiness. However, Deepti A. Srinivasan, director of counselling firm ResilienceWorks in Bangalore warns against this. As social creatures, relationships form a huge part of our lives but depending on one person or relationship for one’s happiness is a recipe for disaster. “As unromantic as it may sound, in a relationship two halves do not join to make a whole,” Srinivasan says, adding that “when you depend exclusively on your partner for validation, happiness, and self-worth, chances are that the love in the relationship will quickly be replaced by neediness and suffocation.”
So how does one change the dynamics of a relationship? Besides leaning on friends and family, it can be useful to seek professional support to help us handle life’s challenges. Couples therapist, Anju Chirimar encourages couples to have certain aspects of their life that are fulfilled by other people and other activities. A job, a passion, or a hobby are useful to hold onto.
“People expect to feel complete with one person which is not possible,” Chirimar says. “Your attitude towards each other should be friendly but you should not take it to be that he or she is your best friend.” According to her, striking a balance between spending time with your partner and with yourself/others is necessary for a healthy relationship.
While helping to meet each other's needs is an important part of any relationship, the ultimate responsibility for emotional fulfillment rests on the individual themselves. To hope that another human can meet all our needs is asking too much of anyone.
*Names changed for privacy
Aditi Sarawagi is an independent journalist and writes books for children