How things change! I am writing about Valentine’s Day! My feelings about this day have changed from excitement to derision to a yearning over the years. I remember being excited during school days and secretly hoping year after year that some anonymous admirer will drop a card in my bag – sadly that never happened!!! And then in college when I finally discovered love, I remember how we totally looked down upon Valentine’s Day as being just a cheesy marketing gimmick and that WE, the ones in “true love” would not stoop down to celebrating it. After all who needs a day once a year dedicated to love when all 365 were full of it! But now here we are – 6 years of courtship and 15 years of marriage later, with 3 kids in tow, living in separate countries, away from each other. Perhaps it may not be such a bad idea dedicating a day to just love and nothing else!
Anyhow, all I am trying to establish through this long rigmarole is that after being in love for 21 years, I feel there is a thing or two I can share with you. I believe some relationships can be liberating and others could be restricting. Some could be indifferent. Needless to say, a liberating relationship is one which helps each partner grow and is perhaps the most fulfilling and nourishing. But it is easier to say than achieve. A relationship that is open, supportive and based on mutual respect requires us to let go of our egos, our fears and insecurities and be honest with ourselves and our partner.
Let me distil all that I have learned in 5 key essentials of a supportive relationship:
- Friendship: I firmly believe that friendship should be the foundation of love. (that’s how it is with us!) Some of the strongest couples I have met are each other’s best friends as well. Whether that friendship developed before or after their marriage is besides the point. Friendship brings a sense of togetherness and companionship that pure romantic love may not be able to sustain. Friendship also implies a basic equality between the two partners with no power equations in play. With a friend, also comes the comfort of trust and confidentiality and ability to share your thoughts and feelings. And finally, you will always have fun with a friend whether the going is tough or easy.
- Respect: any relationship demands respect. Much more so, the relationship with your life partner. Respect does not only mean respecting someone’s intellect or talent or achievements. It implies respecting a person for who they are – their thoughts, values, characteristics – regardless of whether they match yours or not. It may sound a bit extreme, but I believe if you can’t respect a person, you can’t build a worthy relationship with them. I have seen way too many spouses or partners belittle their significant others – their dreams, their habits, the way they do things or not – the list can go on. If you are doing that, even inadvertently – perhaps its time to stop that habit. Accept each other’s flaws and respect them despite those.
- Space: give the other space to grow, to build their dreams. Being in love should not be restrictive – it should be liberating. Give your partner wings to fly and explore themselves. Give space even if it means letting go. I remember when a friend turned down an offer of a University in the US because his girl friend could not come along. Or another friend who had to decline a job offer in another country because her husband was not supportive. Quoting from a nice article here, “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 realize how much you two love and want each other in your lives.” This is exactly how it has worked for Kapil and me as well. Always.
- Be a cheerleader: encourage your partner to find their own answers – to be the best version of themselves. Give advice when asked to. Believe in them. Help them out of their self doubt. Do not say, “but how will you do it”, always say, “I am sure you can do it” and then help them do it. Your partner needs to work 16 hours a day? Say yes, go ahead, I will manage the house. Your partner needs to quit his job for his start up? Say yes, go ahead, I will help with finances. Your partner is starting her own Youtube channel? Say, yes, I will also improve my skills in video making and help you. Do not say no. If they fail, help them get out of their misery and be there if they want to get up and start again. Don’t be the one to give “permission”. Think of your role as a cheerleader’s.
- Be their ‘safe space’: be the person your partner can share anything with – fears, dreams, desires as well as their dark side. Because only then can you start weaving your own 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 the phases.
- Express your love: and finally say “I love you” whenever you can! This short uplifting sentence can do wonders! (I hope Kapil is reading!)
If all that sounded like a lecture – then let me tell you about my cousin and her husband. They are a couple I immensely admire – who have managed to retain their individuality and maintain their collective identity at the same time. 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. Ajay 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 quite 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 would be 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. This was when Sanjana’s parents stepped in and decided to move with her to the US and supported her through the entire duration of her program. Ajey visited them often.
This was perhaps the hardest decision they took, but thereafter there have been many shifts. When Ajay decided to leave his full-time job as the head of business at a leading pharmaceutical company to start an NGO, many people questioned his decision. However, Sanjana fully supported him in this decision and today he is content in following his calling.
I ask Ajey how they managed – what was their secret key?! He gave a beautiful response, which I will just quote verbatim, “We always visualized and worked at the larger picture that we wanted in life – what we called the life goal and went about getting ‘life ready’. We are very different from each other. I am the no nonsense, grounded guy; Sanjana is the dreamer, the visionary – always planning for the larger picture, thinking out of the box. Sanjana developed the larger vision for their lives while I ensured we remained grounded.”
“There were times in our life when one took a back seat or a break to support the other’s endeavors. We were prepared to sacrifice but did not miss a single special occasion to be together. 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!
I hope you liked what you read. Do share and comment. And do let me know what has worked for you in your relationship?
Let me end with one of my favourite poems from Kahlil Gibran.