‘We are best friends! Being silly together is one of our best past times. We give each other the space and have a strong support system to fly and soar.’
How things change! I am writing about Valentine’s Day. Over the years, my feelings towards this day have changed from excitement to derision to yearning.
I remember being excited about it during school and secretly hoping, year after year, that some anonymous admirer will drop a letter in my bag. Sadly, that never happened.
Then in college, when I discovered love, I remember how we looked down upon Valentine’s day. We believed it was just a cheesy marketing gimmick ad that we, the ones in ‘true love’ will not stoop down to celebrate it. After all, who needs a day once a year dedicated to love when all 365 of them were filled with it!
But here we are- after six years of courtship, 15 of marriage and with three kids in two- living in different countries, away from one another. It perhaps, may not be such a bad idea to dedicate a day just to love and nothing else.
Anyway, all I am trying to establish through this is that after being in love for 21 years, there are probably a few things I can share with you. I believe that some relationships can be liberating while others could be restrictive and some just indifferent.
Needless to say, a liberating relationship is one that helps both people grow and is probably the most fulfilling and nourishing. But this is easier said than achieved. An open, supportive, respectable relationship requires you to let go of egos, fears, insecurities and be honest with yourself and your partner.
Let me impart the six key essentials of a supportive relationship I have learnt in the course of my relationship-
I firmly believe that friendship should be the basic foundation for love, at least that’s how it is with us. Some of the strongest couples I know are each other’s best friends as well.
Whether that friendship developed before or after their marriage is beside the point. Friendship brings a sense of togetherness and companionship that pure romantic love may not be able to sustain. It also implies a basic equality between the two partners with no power equations in play.
With a friend, also comes the comfort of trust, confidentiality and the ability to share your thoughts and feelings. And finally, you will always have fun with a friend whether the going is tough or easy.
Any and every relationship demands respect. Much more so, the relationship with your life partner. Respect does not only mean respecting someone’s intellect, talents or achievements.
It also implies respecting the person for who they are – their thoughts, values, characteristics – regardless whether they match yours or not. Now this may sound a little extreme, but I believe that if you cannot respect a person, you can’t build a worthy relationship with them.
I have seen far too many people belittle their spouses or partners and their dreams, habits and the way they do certain things. If you are one of these people, it’s perhaps time to stop it. Accept each other with the flaws and respect them despite those.
Give your partner the space to grow and to build their own dreams. Being in love shouldn’t be restrictive, it should be liberating. Give your partner wings to fly and explore themselves. Even if it means letting them go, give them the space.
I remember a friend turned down an offer from a university in the US because his girlfriend couldn’t go with him. There was another friend who had to decline a job offer in another country because her husband wasn’t supportive.
Quoting an article I read a while ago, “Giving someone space doesn’t mean you’re going to lose them. It just means both of you can work on yourselves and come back stronger. Having space may even make you realise how much you two love and want each other in your lives.”
And that is exactly how it has always worked for Kapil and I.
Encourage your partner to find their own answers – to be the best version of themselves. Give advice when asked. Believe in them. Help them out of their self doubt.
Try not to say, But how will you do it?’ instead, say, ‘I am sure you can do it!’ Your partner needs to work 16 hours a day? Tell them to go ahead and that you’d manage the house.
Your partner needs to quit his job for his start-up? Say, ‘Sure, go ahead. I’ll help with the finances.’ Partner wants to start their own YouTube channel? Say, ‘I’ll improve my video making and editing skills to help you.’
Do not say no. If they fail, help them out of their misery and be there when they want to get up and start again.
Don’t be the person who gives permission. Think of your role as that of a cheerleader. And be their cheerleader.
Be the person your partner can share anything with – fears, dreams, desires and their dark side. Because only then will you be able to start weaving your dreams together. Listen to your partner and reflect together.
Long ago, I came across a very nice quote, “Love is not looking in each other’s eyes, it is looking in the same direction.” Love is not a single word, it is a plethora of feelings. Feelings that change over the years.
From the depths of passion to gentle understanding of each other. And you can be each other’s safe space through all these phases.
And finally say “I love you” whenever you can! This short uplifting sentence can do wonders! (I hope Kapil is reading!)
Now, if all this sounded like a lecture, let me tell you about my cousin and her husband. Those two are a couple I admire immensely- for their have managed to retain their individuality yet maintain their collective identity.
Married for 25 years now, Sanjana and Ajey have two lovely daughters and are a very close-knit family. At any point in time the four can either be found together or could be scattered across four continents pursuing their dreams.
So how did they do it? I asked Ajey. Ajey told me that they met each other the old school way – through a newspaper matrimonial. After a few meetings, they decided to get married. A few years after their marriage, they faced their first challenge.
While their daughters were still young, Sanjana got an opportunity to pursue a masters in public health. She received a fully paid scholarship from the US. At this time their daughters were still small and Ajey could not move to the US.
After all, while Sanjana studied, it was his job to keep the two kitchens running. It was a difficult decision, but they also knew that this was an opportunity that Sanjana could not pass. That’s when Sanjana’s parents stepped in and decided to move to the US with her. They supported her through the entire duration of her program while Ajey visited them often.
This was perhaps the hardest decision they took, but there have been many shifts since then.
When Ajey decided to quit his full-time stable job to start an NGO, people questioned his decision. Sanjana, however, supported him completely and today, he is content for he could follow his calling.
So when I asked Ajey how they managed and what their secret was, he gave me a beautiful answer. He said, “We always visualised and worked at the larger picture we wanted in life. That was what we called our ‘life goal’ and went about getting ‘life ready.’ The two of us are very different from one another. While I am the no-nonsense, grounded guy, Sanjana is the dreamer, the visionary. She’s always planning for the larger picture, thinking out of the box. Sanjana developed the larger vision for our lives while I ensured that we were grounded.”
Then he continued, “There were times in our lives when one took a back seat or a break to support the others endeavours. We were prepared to sacrifice but did not miss a single special occasion to be together. And we created tons of good memories as the two of us and together with our girls. At that time there were none of the modern gizmos to help us remain in touch, but we managed even then through long letters and every day hand written faxes (then it was illegal to keep a fax machine without informing the telephone company!) We even bought a video camera (unheard of, super expensive and one had to pay customs duty to get it in the country) to record our girls, because they were with Sanjana in the US and I was in India.”
“But most important was listening to each other and being honest. Agreeing to disagree. And meeting each other half way. An important aspect of our life has been giving each other the space and the strong support system to fly and soar. We are strong individually but together we are a unit with a powerful invisible bond.”
“And we are best friends! Being silly together is one of our best past times! Bottom line though is LOVE and TRUST. Then you are not competing but celebrating in individual successes together.”
Today Sanjana is based in Abuja, Nigeria, managing the health portfolio of UNICEF and Ajey is running his NGO based in India. Their daughters are pursuing their dreams and are studying in universities of their choice.
As Ajey related their story, I was delighted to see that he mentioned each of the essentials I mentioned earlier – friendship, respect, space, encouragement and safe space. So this Valentines, resolve to be the wind beneath your partner’s wings and help them soar!
Do let me know what has worked for you in your relationship?
A version of this was first published here.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Badhai Ho.
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A full time professional in the development finance space. Wife to a design entrepreneur and
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