In Western countries, the concept of personal space is very well defined, and no one violates it, even in the closest of relationships. But in India, the lines are often blurred between familiarity and intrusion.
Nakul and Aparna’s marriage survives because they have learnt the golden rules of balance.
Shared interests are not this marriage’s strong point. Nakul is an avid sports enthusiast, while Aparna enjoys theatre and the arts.
Initially both tried to convert the other. A typical conversation went: “Nakul, do you have to doze off at such interesting plays? Why don’t you try to enjoy the nuances, the performances?” Nakul would retaliate, “And who incessantly chats through those rocking super league matches? Can’t you even take the trouble to follow them?” Sulking and grumpiness on both sides would ensue.
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They soon realised that they were too individualistic and different. So they wisely started going solo. Nakul has a group of football buddies and plays religiously every weekend. Aparna goes to painting exhibitions with her son, or often with her own circle of friends. She makes it a point to watch a play every fortnight, whether alone or with her pals. This way each partner gets the breathing space he/she needs.
Together, they enjoy watching movies and throwing parties for their common friends, and taking vacations with their children.
“Where is it written that couples have to do everything together? The space we give each other nurtures our marriage and our personalities.” Nakul makes this very clear.
Sonia is a successful PR professional and has to socialise a lot and throw parties at the drop of a hat. She enjoys this kind of lifestyle, whereas Rohit is an introvert computer programmer who enjoys his quiet me-time and the company of his books. Sometimes he resents the incessant stream of visitors, and the endless socialising and networking. Rather than crib or sulk, Rohit accepts that Sonia needs her space and he needs his.
Recently Sonia threw a party for her colleagues and clients. Many common friends enquired after Rohit. Initially, Sonia tried to laugh it off, but the queries became persistent. Some people also commented about how Rohit never attended Sonia’s parties and there was trouble brewing in their marriage.
Sonia took it for some time and then did something unexpected. She took the mike and announced, “Breaking news! Rohit has been reported missing and some of my friends here are desperately on the lookout for him! Rumours are flying thick and fast. So I thought I should announce once and for all, that he’s comfortably settled in his armchair at home, reading the latest Amitava Ghosh offering. And our marriage is not on the rocks, as I’m totally okay with it.”
The announcement was greeted with laughter and applause. Sonia has the maturity and sense not to take Rohit’s absence as a personal offence, which a lot of insecure partners would do.
Denying space to your spouse involves breach of trust too.
A couple of years into their marriage, Meera wanted to know everything her husband did, who he met, where he went, how many female colleagues he had, etc. She believed that men couldn’t be trusted and need to be continuously kept in check. She loved her husband but her trust in him was conditional on his telling her everything. She’d check her husband’s emails and messages secretly, and track his activities. The day Vinay discovered this, he put his foot down and gave her an ultimatum. She could either give up snooping immediately, or he would call it quits in their marriage.
Vinay had had enough of her smothering love, and wanted a break. He still loved her, but he couldn’t tolerate her constant encroachment on his space. He locked his phone with a password and avoided her calls. Meera couldn’t take this and after some bitter quarrels and arguments, left for her parents’ house. It took a lot of professional counselling to make Meera see sense, and for Vinay to work again on their relationship.
This is an extreme case of violation of personal space and trust in relationships, but most Indian couples deny each other space on a fairly regular basis and many opt out of marriage because they feel stifled by the lack of freedom and space.
Allowing your spouse space is just a baby step in respecting their freedom and nurturing a long-term relationship.