Whenever I discuss love and relationships with my friends, I come across this theory which I am sure you must have heard too – that in every relationship there's one partner who is dominant while the other is meek. Opposites attract, we know. So people who love to lead automatically attract people who would rather follow, and this is applicable to relationships too. These dynamics define a relationship. The onus to set rules falls on one person, while it becomes the duty of their partner to adjust accordingly. But then what if this adjust costs a submissive partner their happiness, all the time? Can you call a relationship successful or happy if one of its participants mostly ends up adjusting?
For us, longevity and prosperity are the only parameters that define the success of a marriage. It doesn’t matter how a marriage lasted for thirty years, or fifty.
I remember asking myself this when I watched Thappad. Amu, played by Taapsee Pannu is a wife who just loves to adjust. For her, there is nothing wrong with a husband who makes her run around the house every day to switch on geyser for him, give him a bed tea or who even needs to be fed breakfast. Only after when he lands a slap on her cheek does she realise that theirs was not equal marriage. That it was unfair to adjust so much. Read more about the film here.
Perhaps we need to first look at how we define success and happiness in relationships. Whether arranged or love, most marriages in India and even abroad function on this very archaic manual of matrimony which is largely applicable to dominant-submissive relationships, and not the ones where both partners have an equal footing.
For us, longevity and prosperity are the only parameters that define success in marriage. It doesn’t matter how a marriage lasted for thirty years, or fifty. If a family owns a posh house, a lavish car an impressive bank balance, all acquired by one person, we never bother to look at all the dreams and aspirations that the other partner had to sacrifice. Underneath these common perceptions lie adjustments that one person may have made, in a marriage of two.
One may also wonder if what we seek from a marriage plays any role here or not. According to me, it does. People marry for a myriad of reasons, happiness often isn’t one of them. In fact, most Indian women walk into marriages carrying a burden of expectations to make others happy. Keep your husband, children, in-laws happy, a lo! Your marriage is successful. I will concede here that many men too feel obliged to keep their partners happy by appeasing them always.
Every couple has such tussles, but if one partner always ends up at the receiving end of this “I don’t like” then there’s your red flag.
One of the many ways we have to keep our partners happy is by following their cue as to how our relationship will function. You can work now, but you must take a break when you get pregnant and focus on raising our child. What a shame it would be to put them in a creche na. You must always cover your shoulders when my uncles and aunts are visiting. You cannot argue with my mother.
It is these big things and then the little ones. I don’t like the restaurant (always) that you suggest, let us go to this place. This movie is boring, let us watch that one. This furniture arrangement is not working out. This dress is not looking right on you. Why don't wear your hair in a different style?
Every couple has such tussles, but if one partner always ends up at the receiving end of this “I don’t like” then there’s your red flag. When you look beyond gender, beyond conditioning it comes down to one person’s tendency to have their way and that of another one to give in.
While such relationships may last a lifetime, what about that individual who never had their way? Can we assume that such a person is always happy being a pushover? Can happiness always come from making sacrifices for a beloved?
In times when conversations on self-love are gaining traction, there is a need for us to use that lens to look at relationships as well. Yes, one person may love to have their say, in fact, they may know that they can have their way all the time. But true love is knowing that it is wrong. Being dominant or submissive is one thing, and not caring for another person’s opinions or desires at all is another.
The views expressed are the author's own.