How much of yourself should you give to a relationship?

Gaurav Deka
Share password with partner

Should you share your passwords, allowing your partner access to your phone/computer, etc. What about personal space and privacy?

A few days back, I remember a writer friend of mine telling me the weirdest tale of his breakup that I had ever heard so far. My friend, Raj, was doing a residency program in Boston and had fallen for a fellow writer girl, Anna. Both of them were in their early 30s, and were beginning to consider the closeness as well as the seriousness of their relationship after dating for eight months.

One evening, while Raj was preparing for the final rehearsal of his new manuscript, Anna was sitting on the sofa and reading something on her Kindle. After a minute, Raj heard a clinking sound and saw the Kindle falling and breaking into two pieces. Anna immediately broke into a howl and cried her guts out. Raj tried to pacify her and consoled her that it’s only a Kindle, the books are still on the cloud, and he would get her a new Kindle. After Anna retreated back to her room, though sullen faced and droopy, Raj went back to his manuscript and continued with his rehearsals.

The next morning Anna came up to Raj and told him that she didn’t want to continue this relationship and didn’t want to be with him anymore. Raj was shocked at the suddenness of this revelation and asked her what had happened. Anna said: “You didn’t show enough empathy when my Kindle broke. You didn’t accompany me to the room and stay with me. I don’t think I can plan my life with a heartless, selfish man like you.”

Did I not do enough?

While it took time for Raj to even comprehend those words from Anna, in a way he always seemed stuck on one single question: “How much should I ever give (of myself) in a relationship?” And perhaps we all wonder, how much do we need to give of ourselves in a relationship?

We all have been through hardships and an immense amount of struggle in finding that fabled right partner for us. Some of us are still struggling in finding one. Some others are with someone, who they know aren’t the ‘fabled one’, and yet till they find their north, they have decided to be with their east, west and the south. But in all of these situations, we do end up investing a lot. Sometime a real lot more than we should. But why? Because as humans, even unconsciously, we are acutely aware of the constant threat to loss.

Everything may collapse, the person may leave us, they may fall in love with someone else, they may choose their career over us, they may return to where they came from. Anything can happen and that ultimately may lead to loss; and we all want to preserve. We desperately want to preserve love and those we love. And this motivates us to give, invest and nourish the relationship with everything that we have, everything that we call our own.

What gets missed in the process is a single valuable idea.

The thing that we call ‘boundary’. We have to remember that once when we were young children, we perhaps didn’t have a sense of individuation.

We were what our parents were, we were simulations and in places replicas of their behaviour, coping mechanisms and sometimes ‘ways of expressing love’.

Remember the limits

But as we grow up, we also start forming a personality of our own selves. We become the ‘I’ that we so desperately want to grow up to. And when we become that self-identifying ‘I’, we are again on the verge of losing it when we fall in love with someone. In order to hold on to them and keep them where we are, we give so much of our ‘I’ that it turns out dangerously transgressive at times. That’s exactly what happened to Raj, when Anna accused him of not showing enough empathy when her Kindle broke. Ridiculous as it may sound, these stories secretly tell us that something is wrong here. And that wrongness is the lack of an individual structure.

Giving or sharing your password with your spouse or lover, with guarantee, would elicit a fate similar to Raj and Anna’s; of course not in the exact way that happened to them, but in ways that will leave you with anxious retrospections of ‘Why did I not keep tabs on how much I was giving?’. Of 21 clients that I see in a week, 17 of them are dealing with issues of ‘setting boundaries’. Half of them cannot say ‘no’ or have never learnt to deliver a negative response. Half a dozen fear ‘losing their loved ones perpetually’ on account of having denied them things that may be intimate, private and personal to the giver. While we grow up in a culture that motivates and preaches to us to overshare things, what we don’t learn as we grow up is a sense of boundary.

Assess how much to give of yourself

Whatever relationship it might be: be it what you have with your parents, or what you have you have with your wife/husband, you need to inculcate and practice boundaries. Without them there will be no structure, no foundation to fall back on and even to lay down your own individual sense of being and existence even within the relationship. You cannot forget that you are in an adult body and for ‘you’ to exist, there must exist an ‘I’ and vice versa. Sharing passwords of phone and computers can be the ultimate form of self-destructive transgression and dissolution of boundaries.

Having said that, my advice to not share passwords or private details has got less to do with the revelation of a secret affair or a secret sexual kink, and more to do with one’s sense of self-preservation. Therefore, one should be fully aware that even in love, one must remain whole. Only a whole being can be loved and nurtured, not the one that’s scattered. The latter only leads to desperation later and nothing else.

I read my wife’s sexts with my childhood friend and made love to her the same way…

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