Discipline in relationships
When we are young and in the care of adults, sooner or later we do something that displeases them and we are bound to get disciplined one way or another. When we are babies who haven’t yet even learned to crawl and explore the world, perhaps there was very little need to discipline, but from the moment crawling happens and curiosity starts, we hear “NO!” in two dozen ways, have our hands smacked away if we reach for those power points or knives, and we are disciplined in half a dozen ways.
Hopefully, the ways one was disciplined was more a matter of reward for good and expected behaviour and not being the object of emotional or physical violence, but given how we are still raised in this country, the occasional slap or a smack is not even considered physically violent. It would, even in 2019, be the rare person over 20 years old who can say that they were never beaten or slapped or smacked ever in their life by a parent, a caregiver, an uncle, or a school teacher. Even then, where there has been some degree of permission for some physically violent acts as a way of disciplining an errant child, at most places it stops as a child gets into adolescence. There is a popular saying that once a child grows taller than one’s shoulders, beatings have to stop.
Discipline then becomes strictly a matter of negotiation and bargaining, with rewards for good behaviour, or by trying to show up better behaved people and praising them, hoping that they will take the hint and that the desire to be praised and adored will outweigh any instincts to indulge in mischief.
In adult relationships, we still carry so much of the ways of relating as parent and child into our relationships. Often times, we believe we know what needs to be the way to live, talk, dress and behave, and when others in the relationship do not do what we believe is right, we try to think of ways to discipline them. Think of all the times you might have thought about your loved one and said to yourself, “I have to make them change.”
Even when we were children, despite all kinds of social and legal permission to use pretty much any kind of disciplining, there was little that anybody could do to make us change if we were very decided to not change. So, why would an adult subject themselves to any kind of disciplining efforts from another adult, unless they really buy into it?
If you are in an adult loving relationship, and you feel your loved one needs to change, there is little else to do that showing very clearly one’s sadness and disappointment, making sure there are consequences that affect the relationship and hoping that there is enough love to trigger an empathetic reaction to these feelings that the bad behaviour stops. Anything else is just going to make life miserable.
As written for The New Indian Express
Freedom in a relationship
August in India has for the last 70 years always been associated with Freedom and Independence. The colours are all around us, there are flags being sold everywhere and even restaurants are putting up buffets with the flag’s colours. It has become quite a day of celebration and soon we will probably have street parties and community fireworks like the Americans do on their fourth of July holiday with family picnics, city level parades and all the other razzmatazz.
This year in India is a little different with the actions on August 5th around Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir and how it is polarizing the nation, with disbelief and shock on one side at the sudden and abrupt turn of events with the terms of engagement changing literally overnight, and on another side, people rejoicing on how they would now get to marry certain people and what not. It would be the rare person in India who has not been thinking about what these actions mean for them and the country.
For me, it also set me thinking on how love and freedom work. Specifically, what freedoms does one get when you agree to be in a relationship, and what freedoms does one willingly forego? Are relationships in general, and marriages in particular, an agreement with many stated contractual terms and as many unstated terms and conditions?
Certainly, love and relationships are built on a certain kind of give and take.
People typically pledge to have a loyalty in the relationship, to the exclusion of their individual freedom to have similar loyalties to others. They pledge to be with each other in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer and so on, giving away the freedom to walk away when things are inconvenient or uncomfortable, with the promise that there is a mutuality in this. The freedoms given away are not for nothing, and one expects them to be respected and if all goes well, life is good. People make all sorts of decisions. Some forego property, careers, best friends and what not for the sake of love. Others give away citizenships. Many let go of their freedom to travel alone or hike in groups to travel only with each other.
Then again, there are situations like in a Confessions post that went viral a couple of months ago about two people who fell in love and married, and when they had a child, the mother quit work to stay home with the understanding that the mother was free to get back to work after a couple of years, but the father, having gotten used to having someone home, conspired to find ways to keep that freedom away from the mother, including trying to force a second pregnancy without the consent of this person, and certainly without any indication of their intention.
In contexts like this, would we still say it is love, when one partner snatches away the freedoms of a beloved without their full and informed consent?
As written for The New Indian Express
Food and the family
Food is such an integral part of relationships. What we eat, how, when and where we eat – all make a big difference. If the people in a relationship cannot quite get along on these matters, there is likely to be a fair amount of conflict. If I eat meat, and my partner doesn’t like meat at all, we might more often than not, go for the least common denominators, which would be the vegetarian. Even if we do go out to a place with more food options, will there be equal respect and space for everyone’s food choice?
Chances are that there are differences. We make so much meaning out of food. It might be as simple as, “Don’t kiss me, you are reeking of garlic!” to “You are smelling of beer! I hope you are not going to sit belching all night!” to a lot more direct criticism of the food eaten, bringing in everything from environment and ecology, to politics and economy.
It is easily one of the most loaded subjects in a relationship, and perhaps one space where people really look for some levels of compatibility before moving in or living together. When looking for a partner, food preferences are one of the first things one checks on. Is the prospective partner from a similar food heritage? Are they as excited (or not) about variety of cuisines, do they have a favourite few, and do these favourites match? What do they hate, what do they love? Are there allergies? Preferences?
Sometimes, other emotions feel that much more important than food, and despite vast differences, people do get together. Thing is, very few houses run multiple kitchens to accommodate the food habits of the people living in it. Mostly, people run their households to the minimum common program, or the lowest common denominator. If there are food allergies or preferences that limit the possibilities for some person, then the common kitchen in the house will likely be designed for that, with anyone desiring more variety having to step out for a special order or get something special for themselves delivered home.
They seem reasonable choices to make and easy enough to accommodate for some time, maybe even a few years, but over time resentment could be slowly growing on these divisions, like layers of dust settling on furniture. Why can’t there be that one meal a week as per your choices? Can’t the others compromise for a change? Should you really have to settle for this much lesser than what you know you can enjoy?
Food is never really just food. It is culture, tradition, heritage, freedom, variety, fun, pleasure, companionship, adventure and much, much more. Relationships can be built on food, and can break on food.
The old saying “A family that eats together, stays together” does have some merit in it, and when the food one eats is so different from each other, then being able to eat together and stay together requires attention to everything food means for each other – not just compromise.
As written for The New Indian Express
Taking Sides in a Relationship
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
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.