“Some people come into your life as blessings. Others come into your life as lessons.” ~Mother Teresa
Going by experience, I should have been petrified of men and marriage.
Forced into an arranged marriage at twenty, something that is common in India, it took me over a decade to draw up the courage to leave a toxic, abusive situation and to chart my own path in a conservative society, with two little kids to fend for.
But due to an inner conviction in the workings of a larger universe, I somehow made it through with my sense of wonder (and humor) alive.
Despite the social stigma, the day-to-day struggle of being a single mom, and the hardship of my first full-time job, I was driven by hope, not fear. When I look back at those difficult, grey years now, I see the magic, not the misery.
Because, you see, I was optimistic when it came to life and love. A voice inside me constantly said, “Life is meant to be joyful. Relationships are meant to make you whole.” I was convinced that my first experience had been an exception, not the rule.
On cue, I met a man who expected his woman to be strong, independent, and to take care of herself. He expected an equal partner, not a legal slave.
We had a torrid romance with no thought whatsoever of the future, and then decided to marry like good Indian folks (and save on the rent).
And so, it’s the vows of matrimony again for me. But this time, I am not the blind, impotent, self-styled victim of the first time around. Every day brings with it lessons—wholeness is a process, after all—as well as blessings.
Here is what I have learnt about love and relationships.
There’s a lot that comes along with a committed relationship besides a new nameplate on the door. Hers is the face you see first thing in the morning when you wake up. His is the mess in the kitchen you clean up after he’s done making fish curry. Hers is the laptop that is never put on charge until you do it.
What’s the solution? Acceptance. What you resist persists, and what you accept doesn’t bother you anymore.
Accept your partner, wholeheartedly, warts and all, for better or for worse.
I used lessons learnt from motherhood and applied them to my relationship with my life partner. Like my child, no matter what my husband does, he is mine after all. Love is best served unconditional.
Keep in mind there is a difference between accepting your partner and accepting abuse.
I walked out on my first husband because I could not accept him as the man with supreme spiritual and legal right over my body and life. In a healthy relationship, both people feel empowered and free.
Respect who you are, your dreams, and your passions. Do not compromise on any of them. Only when we respect and honor ourselves can we truly respect and honor others.
You’re potatoes in a sack.
Relationships and living together cause friction, like potatoes rubbing up against one another in a sack. But the thing to remember is that the bump and grind serve an important purpose; they polish us, peel the dirt off our beings, and clean us out.
Every time your partner behaves in a way that bothers you, use it to search where in your being your anger begins. Every time your partner hurts you, use it to discover your deepest sore spots. Your partner is just the trigger; the anger or hurt is already within you, craving to be heard.
Kids and partners and parents can be irritating to live with, but we must be grateful for the opportunity they give us to become cleaner, shinier versions of ourselves; to uncover our oldest suppressed wounds; and to rid ourselves of them once and for all. (Of course, nothing is permanent but let’s save that for another post.)
Your partner is a reflection of you.
This is a difficult lesson to learn: that your partner is a reflection of who you are. In that case, I must have been a terrible person in my first marriage and I must be a very admirable person this time around.
But, no. I’m the same person. What has changed is the way I see myself.
Our relationships aren’t about our partners. They’re about us. We make happy marriages when we are happy people, when we love ourselves, when we respect our own needs and desires.
We make unhappy marriages when we’re bruised inside, when we devalue ourselves, and when we abuse our own sacredness.
So the most significant way of ensuring a long, happy love life is to love yourself first, above all else.
We do not become whole because our partner is in our life. On the contrary, our partner is in our life because we are whole. (And because wholeness is a process, our partner then makes us more whole. Go figure.)
Love is a verb.
Love is hard work. Love is gritting your teeth because he left the toilet seat down, shaking your head because the bills weren’t paid on time, clenching your fists because she is immersed in his phone during ‘us-time’—and then forgiving it all because you know you’re not perfect either.
Love is giving your best shot, showing up, being there, hugging for no reason, making up after a fight, and doing the laundry in the middle of the night. Not because you have to, but because it’s yet another way of demonstrating your love, and you just can’t get enough of those.
A decade ago, I walked out of a toxic relationship, stoically seeing it as a lesson I needed to learn. Today, I count both my relationships among my blessings—the bad one taught me to value the good one.
That’s the thing about love: it starts from within and works equally in all directions—ourselves, our lovers, our families, our exes, our friends, our past, our future. When we open our hearts to love, love opens the world to us.
Couple silhouette via Shutterstock