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Being married doesn't mean resigning from your ME life!

27 Feb 2017

Working as a counselor gives us insight into other people’s lives, sometimes in to the psyche of the society as a whole. We often come across newer questions, or new answers to old questions. But then there are some eternal questions that we face every other day, questions that are not answered yet. Let’s take the story of Shania.

Shania was a working woman; she lived in a joint family with her in laws including sister in law and her son. Shania was a college professor, while her sister in law Rupa worked in the family business. Shania’s brother in law (sister in law’s husband) worked in the army, would come home once or twice a year. Rupa’s working in her father’s business did not go down well with her in laws, and hence she stayed at her home and visited her in laws when her husband would come. Shania’s in laws were rather happy about it; their daughter lived with them, and they doted on her child. Her husband Rajiv loved the fact that his little sister lived with him even post her marriage, and he left no opportunities to pamper his sister.

Shania was excited being a part of a new family, she especially hoped to find a friend in her sister in law, they being close at age and both working, but things were a bit different in reality. Rupa never really took Shania as a friend, rather she made Shania feel she was an outsider between her and her brother. She kept reminding Shania that she knew her brother all his life and no one, simply no one could know him better than her, least of all Shania. Her mother in law was another ball game altogether. She kept on remembering her early days of marriage, how early she would have to wake up and do the cooking and chores single handedly, then gave birth and raised two children. Shania understood what was being expected of her, and she left no stones unturned to be an ‘ideal bahu’.

Shania would wake up at the crack of the dawn, take a bath and do the daily ‘puja’, then would enter the kitchen to make breakfast for the whole family; along with that she would pack her husband’s and sister in law’s lunch, prepare the tiffin for her son and then go to her college. Most of the days she would not have the time to have her own breakfast, and would grab a fruit or a slice of bread while going out. In the evening her MIL & SIL would wait for her to come back home to serve them the evening tea. Even if Rupa had come home an hour ago, she would not set foot in the kitchen for a day to make the tea. By the time they had the tea, Rupa and her mother would discuss the dinner menu and instruct Shania to start with the preps. No matter how tired Shania would be, no one ever came to help her.

Rajiv would come back and spend the evening chatting with his mother and sister while Shania would toil alone in the kitchen. Rajiv and Rupa loved to be served hot, hence Shania would have to wait on them till they finished dinner, and was left alone to finish her dinner with the leftovers. By the time she finished cleaning the kitchen and the chores, Rajiv would be deep in sleep. They had no private time as a couple, every time they would go out Rupa would accompany them. While her working in the family business was glorified, Shania’s being a college professor was nothing special. Rupa got tired after the whole day, but Shania had to tackle the kitchen every day after college.

Shania felt it was her duty to keep ‘her family’ happy, to take of their needs and likes. She was happy to do that, though it took a toll on her, physically and emotionally. But she hoped she would be acknowledged and liked for her efforts. But again, the reality was different. Her efforts were taken for granted, it was expected of her, and she delivered. Big deal!! She was there to serve, like her MIL did before her, and may be her MIL too. But the lack of appreciation killed Shania inside gradually. She stopped expecting, as she started to believe her efforts were not enough, that she was not good enough. She was not a part of the family discussions or the happy chats, hence felt like an outsider; but then she took care of them and knew their likings better than anyone ---- she felt her identity slipping away. She did not know who she was anymore. Was she family, was she a household aid, was she a partner or simply a caretaker?

Shania grew silent day by day. She simply did her chores, felt tired at college and took her classes badly, but she could not say it to anyone. Gone are the happy dreams of a married life, the reality took her hard. She would not dare to speak up lest people say her parents taught her badly; that she was rude and uncaring for elders. She did not say anything to her husband in fear of losing him; he would always choose his family over her, right? And she could not go back home, what would people say? Her and her parents’ respect would be destroyed in the society if she left and went home, but then she could not take it anymore as well.

It was by chance that Shania was alone at home one evening; Rajiv had taken his mother and sister to a relative’s place. It was a rare free time, and she glanced upon us at ePsyClinic and came to chat. The chat became a session and one session led to few more. With her counselor’s guidance, Shania understood where she was going wrong, and trust me, she was. She was wrong in trying to live by others’ expectations and opinions; she was wrong by taking the ‘social norms’ as the benchmarks in life. Society expects women to be selfless robots, like Shania was being, but is it what you need to live up to? Women, ask yourselves.

•    None of us want to have fights at home, but it is okay to take a stand for yourself when the need comes.
•    Suffering in silence may seem to be an easy way, but it kills you in reality, like it nearly killed Shania. Be assertive.
•    Society and in laws might have n number of expectations, but you did not get married to live with others’ opinions and expectations. Yours own opinions are good enough to live with.
•    Only you know your strengths and weaknesses truly, so set some limits based on that from day 1. There is no point trying to keep others’ happy if it is hurting you the most in the way.
•    We spend most of our lives thinking ‘what would people think?’ well, if we think about that too much, then what would people think? People might think anything and have any opinion, but in your life, it is your opinion that matters.

Through the counseling sessions, we taught Shania to be assertive where needed and also to create an open communication with Rajiv, but in a way so as not to create fights between them. Shania learned to say ‘no’ and prioritizing her tasks. She started giving importance to herself, and soon found Rajiv doing the same with her. Marital relationship is based on understanding and trust, and if you feel your relationship is lacking either or both, take the step and start working on it today.

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Tags: marital issues, self worth, criticism, expectations, assertiveness, limit setting