Women nag. Women crib. Women gossip. And, women bitch. We do it wholeheartedly, good naturedly, whimsically, by nature, by default, without any qualms and without any break, and in some cases, even with malice. Whether with our siblings, or friends, or within serious relationships with our boyfriends, and then later, with our husbands, women relentlessly pursue and practice what is better known as the art of influencing and persuading their equal halves (better halves is so cliched and passe no?) and we are good at it!
Men on the other hand, hmm, whine. Men complain. Men also yell and shout and go out in fury. And men, furrow their eyebrows and breathe steam through their noses, for a thing called ‘expectations’! They do it with a vengeance, they do it without forgiveness and they do it ruthlessly! Whether with their bosses or best friends, with their mothers or daughters, and definitely with their wives – men exercise their powers of persuasion to get things done, under the guise of morality, duty and righteousness.
The pursuit of influence and the expectations that come as baggage within a marriage is not harbored on the foundation of hate or any negative intentions. Husbands and wives do it because we genuinely believe our wives and husbands could do with change – change that either the husband or wife can dictate, map out and influence. For women, our equal and different halves can do with some manners, courtesy, good habits, decent speaking and communication abilities, and most of all, an openness and willingness to share thoughts and feelings once they enter a fruitful, “to-keep” relationship. We do employ devious means and irritating mannerisms to achieve this. We do end up distancing our men in the process. We also do end up irreversibly alienating them – (a) by irritating the hell out of them (b) by constantly making them feel like they are inadequate (c) by telling them what To Do (d) by making them feel like spoilt children (e) by not being perfect ourselves!
Men, on the other hand, influence via silence. They also sulk, throw tantrums like a child (yes, you do, don’t deny it now!), seek attention, use offensive language, walk away in a huff, threaten, withdraw their emotional presence – and in worse cases, use the crutch of violence to get their points across and act as “agents and instruments of change” within the marriage and with their wives.
Women have their silences too. By god! Our silence can be pregnant pauses or sound like the death knell. We expect our men to understand WHY the silence occurred at exactly 08.04 pm IST (oh yes we do!). We expect that our silent, tear filled gaze will convey in so many words, what Mona Lisa could never convey through her interesting smile. We hope that if we stay silent long enough, the true depth of our pain will eventually rankle our partners, enough for them to run to us and say, “Darling, I am sorry for doing this, this and this.” Silly, no?
So, I agree, husbands and wives employ devious, confusing and sometimes downright stupid means in a bid to get our point across. Our means aren’t always charming, successful or bearable! But both men and women cannot deny that our means are NOT based on good intentions. Our intentions are in the right direction, but the execution needs a bit of fine-tuning. And sensible execution really makes a difference. What good is a “bid”, if there are no takers for your ideas and good intentions? A woman might want her man to be clean and tidy up after himself – shoes on the shoe rack, towel on the clothes line, dirty clothes in the washing machine and empty coffee cup in the kitchen sink. A man might want his wife to take a bit more effort on appearances – a bit of make-up perhaps to bring out her beautiful features, a sparkling clean bath area, a well-presented meal, or a nicely managed conversation with his parents.
So, what do we have here? We have both partners wanting a better life in terms of understanding each other’s expectations, requirements, desires and wishes on the one hand, and on the other, having the mental and emotional capacity to meet those expectations – and most importantly, the willingness to do so.
I recently had a heart to heart chat with my married cousin brother who was feeling a bit too nostalgic about the olden days of adhering to family values and when couples didn’t have unrealistic expectations from each other. Arranged marriage was the only marriage of choice and finding the best attributes and qualities in your “better half” was the tonic to a happy and successful marriage. Women happily cooked, cleaned, brought up the kids, maintained relationships within and outside the core family, and were expected to pass on their good moral values to their kids – good speech to the boy and good behavior and conduct to the girl. Men went about their daily business, came home, watched TV, spent two minutes of the day enquiring about the welfare of their kids and then, bed.
Even though the western world woke up to women’s liberalization in the 70s, in India, the women of the 60s, 70s and 80s did not have a say in household decisions, matters of health, money/finance, or their future. Career was only for the exceptionally outgoing – meaning, modern – families. It was expected that during the course of her day, it was her “duty” – yes, I purposely use the quotation marks – to keep the house neat and clean, with the help of a maid/helper, cook three meals a day plus evening snacks, make sure the children go to school on time with their homework, bags, tiffin and clothes all ready and shining, take care of the needs of parents in-law, do the grocery shopping, pay the bills, maintain cordial relations with neighbors and entertain guests as and when required, AND be willing and able for adventurous escapades at night inside the bedroom! How many women could wake up in the morning and say, “Today, I ain’t gonna do any work!”
Well, what did the husband of that generation do in return? Well, life did become a bit more tougher for middle-class, working Indian men. They did a 9-5 job, that’s no mean task mind you! The to and fro commute to your job, incessant clients and phone calls, the aggravating boss, the last minute projects and client requests, the unending meetings, the late evening lunches and postponed dinners, acidity, back ache, financial planning for the future, kids’ education, marriage duties for children, keeping the wife happy materialistically first, and then, being ready with all the heroics when necessary – from killing rodents to roaches and the traversing the whole nine yards in between – men had it tough too! They had their own set of “duties” which they couldn’t escape and worst of all, they too didn’t have a choice in their daily routine. How many men in the 70s and 80s could wake up in the morning and say, “Today, I ain’t gonna do any work!”
So, the reality of duties, chores and daily routine was and continues to be tough even today for both men and women. The decade of the 2000 is more complicated because we now have the multi-purpose wife ALSO playing the role of a husband by taking up a job and maintaining a career. Yes, that brings along some serious problems na? Wife has to cook, maintain a house, look after the kids, take care of the parents in laws, devote time to sundry housely routine affairs – AND do a 9-5 job and all that ensues thereafter. The husband has to grapple with the changing equations of this generation as well. While men are traditionally and typically brought up to believe that their better halves will cook, clean, handle the house and kids, they have also seen that women are exemplary in their careers as well. You have to admit and accept that while they can physically and visually assimilate the fact that women work and excel at the work space, they haven’t emotionally or socially understood that the concept of “house duty” is no longer the domain of only the women! That’s actually a perfect recipe for a tragic-comic movie. “The Sigh”, I know.
Unfortunately, the perils of changing social equations, rising personal and social expectations, lack of progressive discussions by older generations and drastic changes in lifestyle and work ethics, improper coping mechanisms, and dynamic changes in the very concept of “relationship”, has put the institution of marriage on the edge. While it’s easy to blame the current situation on the opening up of choices for women and their revolutionary progress in society, we also conveniently forget that women never had it easy in the past – and this change is certainly for the best, at least when it comes to making decisions concerning our life, health, marriage and financial future.
Today, as women realize they have the talent and potential to save someone’s life, fly a plane or design a building, they simply pursue that realization. Certainly not wrong, right? But this changing equation has affected the equations within relationships, whether casual or serious, like a marriage. Clashes have increased. Egos are always ruffled. Confusion prevails. Conflicts arise – and persist – and so often than not, sadly, evolve into an impasse – and divorce seems like the expected path to take.
What is the solution to this situation? Is it a case of misunderstandings between the two sexes? Is it a case of over-expectations between couples? Is it also something as fundamental as lack of “effective” communication between husband and wife? Could there be outside interference – for e.g. from well-meaning in laws and relatives? Do we perhaps have society to blame for this unceasing war – with their centuries old talk of olden-golden times and the traditional roles of men and women? Can we perhaps also trace the cause to the changing lifestyle of this generation – fast food, fast money, extreme aspirations and equally extreme expectations? May be men haven’t been able to keep up with the speed at which women have crossed the hurdles and barriers set by the last generation – they are dazed! Perhaps women haven’t been kind enough to slow down their pace – for a bit – and take hold of the hands of their equal halves – and guide them?
And largely, it’s also the EGOS – giant sized and puffer-fish like – that gets in the way of couples trying to understand the uniqueness of their relationship and figuring out a road map to navigate their life together. Ego only raises unnecessary questions: “Why do I have to change? Who do I have to listen to my partner? Why is my partner trying to change me? Why is my partner influencing me? Why can’t my partner accept me the way I am? Why can’t my partner love me more/enough/as much as? Why does my partner always crib and complain? Why does my partner always nag and criticize, ridicule or disrespect me? Why can’t my partner give me enough space? Why is my partner such a task master? The whys have only one answer – because both of you care about each other a lot and want the best for each other! Basically, as two people in love, you want your EQUAL HALVES to be your BETTER HALVES!
The problem lies in the execution of this Mission Better Half! We Indians aren’t as civilized or polite or courteous in our demands. We are rather rude, aren’t we? Rather demanding! We expect immediate responses and compliance. Our generation doesn’t have the subtlety or intelligence to use charm – Amul Butter ka Maska – to convince our spouses to change their ways for THEIR OWN GOOD. We simply lack the tact. Yes, the Great Indian Marriage is crumbling because Indian couples treat their neighbors, friends, strangers and roadside milkman with great respect and bowing courtesy – but have somewhere along the line – forgotten that families and loved ones deserve EVEN MORE OF THEIR RESPECT and COURTESY than outsiders!
So, it’s NOT okay to take your husband for granted and yell at him for forgetting to buy 1 kg tomato while returning home from office! It’s certainly Not Ok to taunt your wife when she has put too much salt in the curry! The most difficult but right thing to do is to be genuinely NICE to your spouse and give them the preferential treatment that they ought to get. Acknowledgement of their work, ambitions and goals is as important as acknowledging their daily habits, speech and simple tasks. It takes an effort, yes, but it’s worth it, I guarantee.
In this world, we are made to believe that all the frustrations we face outside the house can be vented inside our homes. It can be taken out at your spouse and kids on one hand, and on your parents and near relatives on the other. “It’s ok, they will understand!” Society also has this obsession with presenting marriages as perfect matches made in heaven, romance and pink hearts floating out of the wedding albums, honeymoons sugar coated with even more sugar, the need to keep serious matters within the four walls of a house. So what happens is this, when important can be sorted out with the help of a counselor, friend or an objective relative, partners simply maintain silence within themselves. The issue keeps escalating because the husband and wife nurture unrealistic notions of privacy and independence – brought down on their heads by the “perfect couple” expectation set by society, and sometimes, their own families and larger social circle.
When it comes to external problems – tensions at work, financial insecurity, future of kids, health matters – it’s best you share your concerns in a timely manner and with the right attitude, without letting it build up inside you. Men, if talking about your problem seems too “girly” or “unnecessary” or “too soon”, or “embarrassing” for you, then let your wife know that you need time off: something bugging you, but you don’t want to discuss the matter prematurely, immediately or it’s something that you time to understand yourself first before discussing it. Constantly hiding your tension under the excuse of “work pressure” and being unresponsive to her repeated concerns will only aggravate the situation. While your partner might tolerate your errant behavior, she will certainly not appreciate it over the long run.
Similarly, women have peculiar ways of dealing with stress and tension. When women face issues at work, have difference of opinions with their in-laws or may be feel insecure about the marriage (it could be something as simple as not having enough “couple time”), then there will definitely be signs to watch out for: emotional break-downs, restlessness, hyperactivity, insomnia, insecurity and lack of self confidence. There are women who will openly discuss their problems when trouble brews and there are others who will expect their spouses to pay attention to their changed body language and seek out the problem.
A more welcome option would be to discuss serious issues with your parents, in-laws, or cousins and relatives. I have seen a lot of instances where married couples don’t share vital information with parents on the pretext of “it’s private”. Hey, Mr and Mrs Private, your problems ain’t gonna disappear behind the closed bedroom doors! There are certain problems and concerns which should definitely raised with your parents, counselor or relative – infidelity; cases of fraud or infidelity; torture, abuse and emotional trauma; illness and disease; serious career related changes; financial strain that cannot be managed. There are also silly little issues between partners – which when not talked about or discussed with parents or concerned people – escalates into misunderstandings and outbursts: lifestyle changes; parenting method and attitude toward your kids; low-key career decisions; maintaining social relations; expectations about household duties and chores; leisure activities and aspirations outside work; and the most deadly of all – food habits and preferences!
Indian society kind of prides itself on stashing away its dirty and bloodied marriage laundry behind closed doors. And many to-be-married couples harbor unreal expectations of how their married life would be like because of this very secrecy. The reality is this – real marriages take a lot of pain, effort, grit and determination, long hours, labor pains, confusion and heart-aches, and tears, sweat, blood and gore to survive and succeed. Many of us think in extremes when confronted with smallish situations and many of us hide behind an unbreakable mental wall to deal with the reality of our expectations versus what we actually have on hand. This once again leads to marriages breaking up at the speed of “I DO”!
All said and done, I am a 27 year old, who has been married just short of two years. I have had terrible tiffs with my husband and made up in an equally fierce manner. I keep wondering what is the glue that binds us and keeps us together and makes us forget yesterday’s fight. For me, it’s all about hope really. Last night’s fight isn’t as big or huge or painful or scary as the hope I have for today – today’s smile, today’s hugs, today’s romance, today’s shared laughter and stories, and today’s anticipation! It’s also a belief – I know my husband’s love for me is immense. It’s not imaginary or filmy or Hollywood like – it’s REAL – with all the hurt and insecurity and misunderstandings, as well as the passion, tenderness and joy that are a part of real life. Real Marriages are all about knowing that you might not have found the perfect spouse in the universe, but there’s every bit the chance that the man and woman whom you consider to be your equal half, could actually be your Better Half! Now, isn’t that something! Giving yourself the chance to be loved and accepted, and bringing that same emotion into someone else’s life. There’s no two ways about it, you have to fight for that chance. Believe me, it’s worth it!
By Nilofar Ansher