How often do you use the word ‘No’ in your relationship with your partner?
Try this for exercise: Over one week, try and keep a count of the number of times any of you say ‘No’ to the other person. It could be for anything: Do you want to get an ice-cream? Shall we go to the terrace and sit down there with our cups of tea and plates of pakoras? Shall we take a walk with our masks on? Can I cut my hair short, or just trim it down till it is almost tonsured - this CoVid is driving me to bits? Shall we go to bed? Can I kiss you? Shall I invite my sister and family over for Onam lunch in two weeks?
There are dozens and dozens of interactions that we go through in a day with our partners, and if you can keep track of how you respond to all those, and think back as to how your responses affect each other, the flow of energy between the two of you and the feel of the space itself, you will start noticing one thing: Saying ‘No’ is a lot more than just saying no.
Often, these seemingly innocuous interactions are not just mundane transactions. Every transaction is a call for connection. Not necessarily for a connection in terms of needing attention or wanting to do something together, but a call for connection nevertheless. It is a sign of wanting some engagement, some flow of energy between you and a sense of feeling you are interested in each other and what you do. These calls for connection might easily be overlooked because you think you are only talking about dinner or the cat or the house maintenance - nothing very serious or important that is really about your relationship, but the fact is that the relationship is built on all these small interactions, and not just the big ones of money, love, sex, society, parenting and the such.
What happens when we repeatedly hear No from our partner is that we start to make assessments as to the degree of connection that our partner is ready for or willing to offer, and that assessment generalizes into decisions we make, even without really checking with the other, because we know what we have heard and believe that to be true. We tend to then gradually limit ourselves, drawing boundaries as to what is possible in the relationship and what could have been a free flowing river of joy and intimacy full of vibrant life and connection, becomes at best, a small little oasis with a large desert around it, and at worst a stagnant, septic and toxic little pool of resentment and hatred.
If you keep a track of the Nos you say and you find you say far too much of it, take a step back and consider what else you could do. Could you offer an alternative? Get a little time? Maybe even say ‘Yes’?
Doesn’t it already feel livelier?
As written for The New Indian Express
Should relationships start with love and then desire allowed its space, or do they start with desire and mature into love, and can both stay through the relationship? Ideally, in a relationship, one hopes that there are both. There is a healthy amount of desire, physical attraction and sexual chemistry, and there are strong bonds of love and emotional intimacy.
Often times though, they seem to go their separate ways even if at the start of a relationship there are tons of both love and desire, or it starts with a huge amount of desire and love catches up, takes a big lead and soon desire falls behind – way behind at times.
Why is that? Are we biologically coded to fall into love and lose desire along the way? Is the function of desire and sexual attraction really to get people to fall in love and once that job is done, desire withers away or gets directed elsewhere? Are different people coded differently – some built more for desire, and others more with a tendency to build intimacy and safety?
Can people continue to have desire for the person they love? Often times, how we experience desire is so different from how we experience the need for love, comfort, affection and intimacy. Our mind thinks of these quite differently. It is almost as if wholly different sections of our brain are working when it comes to these emotions – just like there is a section for music and a whole different section for movement in our brains, or for any other function for that matter. If you are sceptical about it, try this exercise, loosely adapted from Esther Perel’s work: Take a sheet of paper and write down answers for the following questions: What makes me feel loved and cherished? What do I feel like doing when I love someone? What kind of activities do I feel like doing with someone I love? What kind of person do I generally find myself loving? What ten words do I most associate with the word ‘love’?
Once you have written your answers, go away for a while. Watch a movie or have some dinner, or take a walk, and later when you feel different, turn the page around, and write down answers for the following questions: What makes me feel desired? What do I feel like doing when I desire someone? What kind of activities do I feel like doing with someone I desire? What kind of person do I generally find myself attracted to? What ten words do I most associate with the word ‘sexy’?
When you look at your answers to both sets of questions, chances are that you have very different responses to both – a kind of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation at the extreme, but even if not as drastic, there are bound to be strong differences. Don’t worry though - you are not a two-faced character just because of how different these responses might be. In fact, it is quite normal. The challenge then is to recognize and make space for both in your life – knowing that both are valid, both need expression and both need acceptance
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.