Have you seen your relationship through a major period of illness? It might have involved hospitalisation or not, but the kind of time we are talking about here is the one that has weeks if not months of at-home care, where the person who is unwell needs assistance with their body. Perhaps they are unable to walk, or get off their bed on their own, need assistance dressing, eating or in any other way need help.
How much do you stay with them and take care of their physical needs? How comfortable were you staying with them and working through the mess that is our body with all its random fluids, smells, textures and everything else? Were you able to do all the small things that a person needs in such a situation with a smile on your face and able to still make the ill person feel valued, and even desired? Or, did you go through that period as a temporary annoyance that just needs to be borne with as much fortitude as possible, but not really a period to be cherished in any way?
Conversely, think about the times you might have been the one in need and how your loved one was with you in those times.
The way we are with each other in times of sickness tells more about how we love and how deeply we love, much more than the times of good health and circumstances. It is something we understand in theory, and when we look at it through the lenses of our lived experiences, we find that there are so many nuances. It is a tricky situation because we have different conflicting needs acting up. On one hand, there is a self-assertion, a desire to be as independent as possible. On another, a fear of being needy, along with a strong need to feel related and reassured. One wants to do as much for oneself, and yet also want to be cared for.
We sometimes are able to overlook a loved one’s freezing in times of medical need, excusing them as being squeamish, sensitive or immature. We may look at an over-functioning carer as being over-bearing, self-sacrificing, taking away your agency, your freedom and really be angry with them, or just annoyed and irritated. If we are the ones providing care, we might feel ourselves overcome with compassion and be in tears along with the one suffering, or on the other extreme, be very annoyed – judging them for their difficulty in managing this much pain when you have gone through much more.
Finding that balance between two people on how much care is welcome, how much space is needed – that could be the journey of a lifetime. If these lessons aren’t learned well, you could be those bickering old couples who can’t stand each other in their old age. Or, you could be that picture book version of the old couple sitting on a bench together – one reading, and the other resting, quietly confident in their care for each other.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
The heat is on. Quite literally, Bangalore’s heat-traps are sending temperatures soaring in the mini-climate zones around the city with some amateur meteorologists already taking to Instagram with 40 degree C readings on their car’s thermometer. As the summer starts its build-up, we in Bangalore wait eagerly for our famous April showers for welcome relief but we have all of March to go through before we can expect those blessed storms. In the meantime, we tolerate the dry heat as best as we can. It is not just the streets that are seeing temperatures rise, but even at home – in relationships, that is.
As temperatures rise beyond comfortable levels, our moods too get a bit frayed. We are more irritable, a lot more easily exhausted and generally stressed out with the heat. Now, put two such people together, both looking for a way to get comfortable and chill a little, chances are that even the small requests like for a glass of cold water, or an errand such as getting out to photocopy a PAN card for some official purpose can get one really snappy. “The fridge is just a few feet from you. Go get yourself the cold water,” might be the reply for the first, and “Couldn’t you do it when you were out in the morning? Or tell me when I had gone to buy veggies in the morning? I am not going anywhere before 6pm!” and that can leave both quite upset and fuming, yet wondering what just happened.
Fights seem to break out for no reason and they seem to stay in the air like the bleak summer haze shimmering over the black tar of our city’s roads. They may not be long arguments over serious matters. In fact, they are quite likely to be about the most mundane matters, very short and very vicious tongue-lashings, as if neither has the energy to really rake up issues and argue logically or appeal to emotions. These summer fights are like the sudden gusts of hot, dusty wind and the dust-devils they stir up which dissipate as quickly as they start. They only seem to accentuate the weather and the general irritability rather than actually be about anything really personal.
With the heat being what it is, all one wants is to cool off and most of the time, that seems like a solitary activity – not something one necessarily wants to do in close proximity with others.
On the flip side, any ability to actually present a cool, comfortable place for someone you care about is met with serious gratitude. A cool home, ice in the fridge, fresh water chilling, water melons and other cold snacks, light salads – any and all of these just make one go “Aaah!” and feel the heat dissipate. Nothing like that welcome coolness to make one grateful, and heart grow fonder. The appreciation is bound to show, just as much as the irritability.
So, are you going to let summer get to you, or can you be cool?
As written for and published in the New Indian Express
The coming of summer in Bangalore always seems so very sudden. Even up to the first week of February, everyone still has their quilts out and the ceiling fans are quite still through the night. We don’t need heating, but certainly don’t need any cooling either. Then quite suddenly, within a couple of weeks, it gets so very dry and so very hot. The winter just passed has had so many Bangaloreans connecting back to how Bangalore used to be, the long, pleasant weather causing reminiscences about winters past and how wonderful it is to have a taste of that old Bangalore weather yet again.
Now, even though it is not even March, places in the city where all the trees are gone and it is just another steel and concrete mess, temperatures are already above 35 degrees. People around Bangalore are likely making the transition from quilts to summer blankets very quickly this week. The ceiling fans are getting dusted off and conversations are starting about whether this will be the summer when Bangalore will finally lose its “A/C City” tag to become yet another city full of droning air-conditioners, like in much of mainland India.
Relationships are quite often like that in how the mood of it changes rapidly.
Let’s say the beautiful Bangalore winter is like the honeymoon period of any relationship. It is pleasant, comfortable and there is a lot of space to just chill and be with each other. When it gets over, life moves on into some kind of general routine, and there are times of connectedness and others when it is not so much. Then, quite unexpectedly, we sometimes get a longish second honeymoon – like our longer and more pleasant winter that just passed. After many, many years, there comes again a time when there is a strong sense of that connectedness, there is joy in being together, love in the air, fond smiles and affection overflowing – and then, in a manner of weeks, it dissipates and we are back to humdrum relating, as if the cool winter is over and the harsh summer has set upon us already with barely any springtime in between. It is so rapid, as if to shake the whole thing off, that it was unbelievable in the first place that the ease and chillness of it was ever warranted at all.
Either we are like Bangalore where things get dry and dreary, or we are like Leh-Ladakh where we get far too cold and distant after brief summers of joy, or we plod along in the sweat and steaminess of Chennai with just that little Margazhi season of fun and happiness. Can relationships be in a state of forever pleasantness like, maybe, Hawaii? Can the honeymoon last forever?
It is the rare relationship that can sustain pleasantness right through.
For the vast majority of us, we need to learn to appreciate the subtler joys of the changes in how we relate in our lives – like how we look forward to mangoes in this summer heat.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
It is the flu season. At doctors’ clinics all around, there are people sniffling and coughing, looking bleary-eyed at each other and wondering what sort of flu it is. For most of us, the doctor would give us a quick look, and after deciding it is none of the scarier variants around these days (H1N1, KFD, Zika and what not,) declare it is a viral fever and send us back home to rest, telling us that there is nothing to do except keep ourselves well-hydrated, take a paracetamol for the fever and wait it out.
There is probably no other time that one is grateful for relationships than when one is unwell. The idea of rest and relaxation at home and being taken care of is so therapeutic for the patient, but what does it do to one’s relationship?
When you are sick and need to rest, what kind of patient are you? Do you get needy and clingy, and ask for your hand to be held? Do you get possessive about the TV and demand that only your choice matters because you are sick? Do you meekly go away into the bedroom, bemoaning how your illness is taking a toll on everyone? Or, do you act as if nothing is the matter at all and that life needs to go on – do you try and continue to work, getting angry with the people around when they try to get you to rest? Are you the disobedient patient who will try and sneak in the ice-cream or something else that is against doctor’s orders?
If we are being honest with ourselves, we will likely confess that we are not exactly the model patient. Some of us seek extra love, and others seek to test the love available. A few try and distance themselves from loving attention, while yet others make their illness a matter of public record. We might regress to being childish, talking in baby-tongues and sulking or crying, and ask to be cajoled and pampered like parents would. We might act like a martyr and be self-sacrificing, but still, do a bit of drama around it.
How we behave if there is something major is often quite different – there is a far greater degree of concern and worry, and everything is different, but when we fully expect to get better in a few days, it is as if we give ourselves permission to almost enjoy this aspect of being able to love each other as a parent-child as well. We act less like the adults in a relationship and take on a distinctly more parent-child kind of relationship. The nurturing required becomes more like a baby and a caregiver than two adults.
Just like with a parent-child relationship, being able to get the care we need from a partner influences how deeply we bond with each other. The flu can be an annoyance, but it tests relationships and can also help deepen the bond.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
Tired of New Year Resolutions?
Here is a game you might want to consider playing with your partner, provided you have in some way, form or shape been together for significant periods ot the year so quickly passing by. It is quite a simple game that we call “The Best of Times, The Worst of Times.”
Each of you take a couple of sheets of paper. If you want to be dramatic, take a sheet of white paper and write in blue ink for the best of times, and take a sheet of yellow paper and write in red for the worst – twist it about as you please, but the requirements are quite simple. You each write a letter to the other about your best time that year and the worst time. There are no pre-conditions, and no constraints on what it is that you need to write. Put the letters in an envelope, and give it to each other to be opened in your new year. You could make a ceremony of it, open it together, open it separately – whatever suits you, but take some time to think over it, and see what happens for the two of you.
There are a number of possibilities.
Either the best or the worst, or both could have you featuring prominently in it, or not at all. You might have known about it or maybe it was something that never registered for you and yet you see it means so much for your partner. It could be something you considered trivial at the time it happened (“Your mother made me rotis, knowing very well that I prefer rice. I suffered for the whole week, and nobody even noticed” - for example) or something major that happened you think ought to have been noticed, but was not (“I broke my back and was bed-ridden for a month!” – for example)
The point of it is to notice what happens to you both as you share what is written. Do you find yourself empathizing with the other’s experience and feeling a warmth for them, or do you find yourself looking for you in your partner’s letter? In other words, is it about you or is it about your partner?
In relationships, we want to ideally be able to love our partner as they experience themselves, and share what their life is like, but in reality, we are rarely able to achieve that ideal. Most times, we are looking for simpler gratifications. We want our best times to be about each other and worst times about some body else, but where we played a supporting role (“I lost my best friend, and only having you with me helped,”) and we might hate it if the worst times was squarely about us and best times didn’t feature us at all. And that’s what makes this exercise quite powerful.
It can be a simple sharing, but could also be deeply insightful in terms of how you love.
In love, it truly is the best of times and the worst of times.
As written for and published by the New Indian Express
The American sitcoms make it look so perfectly romantic. The glitzy New York skyline, Times Square brilliantly lit-up, the big ball getting counted down to the drop at midnight, and fireworks go off in perfect sync as the year changes and it is a new January 1st. It looks even better if there is a bit of light snow just starting, everyone dressed up cozily look up into the skies collecting pretty snowflakes on the tips of their noses, and of course, every couple has to - and as per sitcom rules, there can be no exceptions to this rule – gather each other into their arms and share a nice, long kiss that straddles the magical midnight seconds into the new year, only to disentangle well into the new year.
It is another matter altogether that Dec 31st is likely to be extremely cold and quite unpleasant a time to be in New York. It is cold, miserable and you really need a lot of New Year cheer to go through the day.
Despite the reality of the cold, the fact of the matter is that couples everywhere now have that expectation hanging over their heads. Even if they are not in Times Square watching the ball drop and getting into a kiss, wherever they are, they really must have the moment with each other and kiss each other. Woe to anyone who just happened to need a bathroom break at that minute, or had just stuffed their face with some hastily-ordered biryani, or worse – if you were even just chatting with anybody else during that 1 minute. You may just as well kiss the year goodbye, and forget about kissing your partner.
Does the new year kiss really have that kind of magic?
Maybe you are not a midnight person and you are very much asleep by the time the new year rolls in. Many couples quite likely have no interest whatsoever in these reveries and are in bed by their usual hours, making sure to shut their windows against the predictable midnight revelry. Other more traditional couples might turn up their joint noses at this midnight madness, and wait instead for Navroz, or Chithirai or any of the other two dozen New Year’s Days we have in the diverse calendars of the world. A few might have other, more pressing priorities to bother with this.
The naysayers aside, for a lot of us, it means something – not because there is literally magic in the air at that hour, but because we decide it means something to us. We put in that magic into that New Year kiss. We tell ourselves that with that new kiss to start the new year, we are committing afresh to a happy new year with our partner, that we wish and hope with all our hearts that the year brings us joy – whatever the circumstances of our lives might be.
The magic is fully ours.
So, go ahead if you like it – seek your partner out and share that New Years moment.
As written for The New Indian Express
It is one thing to date someone, and quite another to introduce them to your family given all the pressures that come along with it becoming ‘official.’ The pressures are even more if the family is the one doing the job of introducing you to prospective partners, and then waiting on you to say ‘Yes’ – a ‘No’ usually gets a lot more questions, arguments and even conflicts in such situations than a ‘Yes’.
In either case, when a relationship becomes ‘official’ it takes on a whole different avatar, because now it is not only your relationship with your partner, but also their relationship with each and every other significant person in your life. Inevitably, there will be some conflict or the other, and since you are the bridge between the two, you are often the battleground. You then become not only a witness to a whole new set of relationships, but also often times, an arbitrator, a judge and executioner
At first, it might start off just as an FYI, something they think you should know as it concerns your partner, but soon enough those comments become more insistent, more pressing and more demanding, till finally it becomes a real question: “Would you please tell X that what they are doing is not okay? Would you please make sure that X acts in a certain way?”
So, whose side will you be on? Will you judge what is the ‘right’ side and join it? Or should you be neutral? Or something else altogether?
Judging the ‘right’ side could more than likely make you part of the problem, with the affected party screaming at you that you have lost all sight of objectivity, that you are blinded by love or duty or whatever else they can accuse you of. Your partner might say, for example, that you are letting them be alone amidst the wolves that are your friends and family, and your old relationships might accuse of you of having changed so much, of having become a pushover in the hands of this new love of yours.
It is tempting to try and play the neutral party, the one who is above all these quarrels and can take a benign, objective view of the whole matter and be the person arbitrating between the warring parties. Being Switzerland works great for nations and politics, but in intimate relationships, neutrality is harder than it seems and attempts to be neutral are often seen as not being supportive to either, and all parties disengage. Neutrality doesn’t really get you anywhere, and might actually damage everything.
Alternatively, should you account for the newness of the relationship and just be on your partner’s side?
There are no clear answers, of course, but if you stood with your new partner even if privately you might have a word or two, you might get some brownie points for the longer term.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
There is something about being in a steel tube hurtling at 100s of miles per hour, up in the air at over 35,000 feet. Air travel is significantly safer, at least statistically speaking, than most other modes of travel. For the most part, other than the take-off and landing periods, it feels almost like nothing is going on. We might just go about the day, eating peanuts, watching a movie, enjoying the airline food or taking a nap, not remembering that we are indeed a mile high in the air, in a closed container, hurtling through at rocket speed. If we take the time to think about it, we probably will have a few moments of anxiety till we reason with ourselves that it really is quite safe, that we are being taken care of by professionals and that there is absolutely no reason to worry at all and that it really is OK to just go back to enjoying that book or whatever else.
What does air travel have to do with love or relationships, you might ask.
There is, of course, the oxygen mask warning that every flight mandatorily talks about before take-off: In the unlikely event of an emergency and cabin pressure dropping, oxygen masks will drop from just above your seat, to pull one and put over your face, tug on it to get the oxygen flowing and breathe normally. And then, there is the kicker: put on your own mask before assisting any one else, and that includes children and your beloved. That is of course great advice for any of us on self-care first.
Let’s look beyond that and consider what is it that triggers the oxygen masks falling in the first place. It is the loss of cabin pressure. There is an optimum amount of pressure that is needed to be maintained for passenger comfort, for everyone to be able to breathe normally, feel comfortable with the air temperature and just be OK.
If you think about it, relationships are much like flights. They are wholly improbable events that somehow magically occur every day for millions and millions of us. At the outset, it feels absurd to think that two people can actually stay together for years and years, hurtling through careers and society at breakneck speed, staying afloat through turbulent air pockets and be calm and relaxed right through. And yet, it seems to happen all the time, and quite successfully at that.
What is that cabin pressure that couples bring upon themselves to maintain that sense of comfort in the face of fairly hostile environment? What keeps relationships from crashing down?
We may not often realize it, but relationships need to have that bit of healthy pressure being maintained. Just the right level of expectations, regard and respect. Too much and it implodes. Too little and the whole thing drops, and it is a “Put on your own oxygen mask” situation of each for themselves first.
Enjoy the flight. Keep the pressure on.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
As kids in school, we studied The Gift of the Magi by O Henry in high school English. This famous story is of a loving couple, too poor to buy each other Christmas gifts, and too desperately in love to not do that. One sells off their long hair to buy watch straps for the other, while they sell off the beloved watch to buy combs.
We also read The Nightingale and The Rose by Oscar Wilde that year, with its story of the sacrifice it took to make a rose red a precious gift for a beloved, and how it is tossed aside for something else, casting away in that bitter act what it meant to sacrifice for love’s sake.
Between those two tragic love stories, our heartless English teacher had us teenagers in tears, more so because we were expected to write ‘precis’ versions. Does love really require gift exchanges? Would it really be impossible to love and be loved without ever exchanging gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, festivals, etc? Is it humanly possible to be perfect gift givers, or are designed to be tragic magi in our gifts, irrespective of our levels of poverty?
So much of our culture is built around ceremonies of gift giving. Traditions dictate what gifts are appropriate and when. There is a whole list of what to give for which anniversary. One could interpret it as anything from a handwritten card to money, to property, or, going by certain movies, divorce papers!
These gifting protocols may have helped some people but for many others, it also builds expectations. One is ‘supposed to’ give wood for the fifth anniversary. Sure, you could Google something that sounds appropriately woody enough, or close enough to hopefully pass, but then, it also has other expectations that it needs to be personal, it needs to have value for the recipient, something that they can cherish because otherwise, it is just a useless gesture.
Why has gifting come to occupy such an important place in relationships? As a measure for how much one loves the other in its physicality and demonstrability, gifts seem to offer some value, but it really is hollow if gifting is the only measure of love offered. If those high school stories really hold any truth, it is this: Gifts aren’t as important as love.
So this Christmas season, gift only if you really want to.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
For many of us working in corporate and corporate-like spaces, end of year means one thing, and one thing only – performance appraisal time. Some companies do it once a year, others twice or quarterly. A few do the appraisal at end of the calendar year, promotions and things at the end of the financial year, and pay hikes at the end of the first quarter – just to keep their people around, like the seasons of How to Get Away with Murder. Whatever the means and ends of it, appraisals are something one cannot escape if you are working in an organization of some sort.
The question we are asking today is quite simply this: If performance appraisals are such a key part of your work life, how come they are not so systematic as far as relationships go? Why wouldn’t you and your partner invest some time and energy in appraising your couplehood to see how you both are doing, what your goals are, where you are doing well and where you need to improve?
Granted, there might not be much of an opportunity for promotion or pay hikes. There is no ladder to climb as such in the relationship and it is certainly not a simple matter of getting a better designation or a pay scale so you can plump up your CV so you can get the more lucrative job at a fancier address. Any such aspirations might in fact work against you and get you a tight rap on your knuckles.
Still, there is a lot to gain from a systematic performance appraisal of the relationship.
The reason why organizations do performance appraisals in a systematic manner is that there tends to be so many dimensions to a job. If we don’t sit down and focus on each dimension, we might get carried away by the latest, or the most obvious, or the largest – and miss out on everything else that makes a person well-suited to the role they perform. Similarly, a relationship is a lot more than just an overall sense of contentment or happiness. There are so many aspects to it – the social, the physical, the fiscal, the sexual, the familial, the personal, the inter-personal, the spiritual, and with each of these having a few key wishes or aspirations. You might find yourself adding more to this list, of course.
If we were to sit down and appraise where we are in our relationship in each of these dimensions, what we might see is something quite different and actionable. It might help you set some real and much-needed #RelationshipGoals for yourself, than a picture of Michelle and Barack Obama sharing a moment together at the Trump inauguration, or an aww-inducing video of an old couple helping each other cross the street on a lazy Sunday morning or any such thing.
So, are you ready to put your relationship up for a performance appraisal? Can you work with each other on a performance improvement plan, if needed?
As written for and published in the New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.