As a practicing relationship counsellor for 16 years, I can confirm that intimate relationships have been the most complex to understand, to heal and the hardest to sustain mutual health and happiness. That said, they are also the most beautiful, emotionally uplifting and joyful stories.
As human beings we are often preoccupied with ourselves and our needs. Our daily thoughts may include a wide range of subjects, dimensionally between many galaxies, but the nucleus of those thoughts is “I” or the ego. Visually, I always describe couples as walking around with what I call their “weighty trunks of treasures”, where firstly their own past is neatly stocked, then the partner is expected to know what is inside, and as if that wasn’t enough, each folded layer must be empathised with “out of deep and honest love”. I know you already see some of the issues here. No matter who I have met, working couples, educated or not, affluent or not, bankers, celebrities, business families, stay at home partners, authors, lawyers and more, the loaded trunks are with them, and each is fixated only on theirs.
There are several factors that make intimate partnerships more challenging than others.
1. Past baggage: The fantastical perception of love we all grow up with leads to subconscious expectations and needs, which actually have nothing to do with our partners or even ourselves, and often just lingering, lost feelings from experiences in our past with parents, relatives, friends, strangers and/or abusers.
We often indulge in looking at our marriage as a rescue of some sorts. An escape from the then reality of any kind of stress. Stress is a part of our daily life and the only thing that will “rescue” us from it, is our own coping strategies.
2. Communication barriers: We do not communicate clearly, especially in marriages, as all our wishes are expected to be wirelessly transferred, absorbed and accurately understood. Communication is a huge relationship barrier, starting with basic concerns of culture, language, religion and family structures to deeper ones like empathy, acceptance, expectations, boundaries, conflict statements, difficult conversations and confrontations. We find it most difficult to have tough talks with our loved ones.
3. Need for acceptance and approval: We have a high need for approval and need it satiated from our partners. The displacement of disappointment with parents, teachers, relatives, colleagues and even close friends who missed appreciating us, subconsciously falls on the shoulders of the intimate partner to gratify.
The pandemic locked us all up in our homes, with our families, as if to tutor us through all or at least some of those barriers, to introspect and take notice of what is valuable to us.
As the list of to-dos piled up in the lockdown and kids stayed back from school, work stopped, socialising became impossible and we all ran around preparing and hoarding for a life within limits we had never known or appreciated before — our homes with our loved ones!
The human body reacts with inertia to any change, and the Covid-19 occurrence followed by the lockdown were changes more severe than we ever collided with before. We retaliated with usual resistance, anxiety, panic, anger, frustration over every change imposed on us by nature, government or health advisors, which found limited outlets as we had little control over others. One was our phone, thus the millions of panic-driven calls, forwards, spreading rumours and half-information and the second was our consistent fall back — our partner at home.
Once our bodies have acclimatised to the U-turn, the surroundings, we become open to looking around, learning and adjusting. I believe that resisting, accepting, learning and adapting are the natural stages of growth.
During the lockdown, gradually, at times grudgingly, some partners have learnt to accept and adapt . Those in therapy report a significant switch in their perceptions of one another. We are doing what we were always meant to do.
1. People are now paying attention to their inner selves and recognising the absence of self-awareness. The life-threatening nature of the virus has made us question our egos, grandiosity, expectations, lifestyles and needs, making us more humble and aware of the real sources of happiness.
2. Observe, listen, feel, touch and hold your partner with more attention and no rush to be elsewhere after. This has extended into talking about the other precious trunks in the house, full of stories, this time really listening and empathising. Listening and paying attention to another changes a lot, reduces resentment and that, one way or the other, partners have done.
3. With all possessions and people at risk, the pandemic brought some of us to an awakening. A very significant spiritual awareness of loving with detachment that has empowered us with compassion, forgiveness and connect. We have who we have in our life to love and hold, not to own and control.
(The author is a Mumbai-based psychologist and psychotherapist.)
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines