Of Confrontations in Close Relationships and Importance of Honest Communication

Yesterday night I had had a phone conversation with my good friend after about 7 months, and any serious conversation between us had taken place even more than 9 months back. He is still in a committed relationship with the same person he was with nine months back, which in all is around two years old. While I know many people online who I admire for the insights they provide me into the workings of many things, my friend is the only person in real life, who I admire tremendously for the insights he offers into the workings of the human mind and the dynamics of interpersonal interactions. He is not very articulate, but fortunately, because of the bond we share, he needs to just begin with a sentence, and I would usually be able to retrieve on that cue a thought from the recesses of my mind that would have been generated from a similar experience he would have related, and I would be in a position to complete the articulation of his thought for him. The beauty of his thought process that I so admire lies in the fact that irrespective of the emotional impact of any event on him, in some time he would be able to take a most honest, dispassionate and detached view of the events, and also put into perspective their long- and short-term consequences in the larger scheme of things, that is his life. His thoughts would not be riddled with anger, vindictiveness or envy on one hand, nor would pity, affection, guilt or wistfulness have a bearing on the other. And most important, his honesty would permit him to say it like it is (in his very good understanding), when with me, with the complete confidence that he would be understood.

With that short background, I want to discuss what he had said yesterday night and my subsequent thoughts on the same.

The last time I had talked to him (around 9 months back) and also met his partner and him (around 8 months back, when ironically we could not have any serious talk), both were faced with a common problem of considerable gravity, and yet, the way they had stuck together and were there for each other had really impressed me and also made me glad. This is the very first relationship he has been into, and to see him display immense maturity in how he had handled issues had amazed me (though, I sort of know what all he is capable of) [his partner, I would say has had to display mental strength and not exactly maturity or wisdom in attempt to tide over the problem, and I do not consider her anywhere as mature or introspective as my friend]. Seeing their affection for each other, I was tempted to infer that nothing could go wrong between them, though I was and am still aware that things do manage to go wrong, and that is what I had discovered to my shock with my yesterday’s phone call. The problem common to them has not yet been resolved, and he told me that they have had many ‘jhagdaas‘ (“fights”) in the interim and that presently he has urged her to not discuss the said issue of contention as it was likely to affect his studies as well as the relationship. I had asked him if these confrontations were serious and if they had eroded the bond they shared between themselves. His reply is what had most amazed and impressed me, and the reason I am publishing this post (unfortunately, I do not remember the exact words, so some amount of adulteration with my words is imminent):

He: Dekh, jab koi kisi ke saath jhagadta hai toh us insaan ke andar ki chhupi hui gandagi baahar aane lagati hai. || See, when someone enters a fight, their baser aspects come to the fore.

Me: Haan, ho sakta hai aisa. || Yes, such a thing can happen.

He: Pehale ek-do baar baahar aaye toh theek hai… || It (the surfacing of baser aspects) is alright on a first few occasions…

Me: …Aur phir baar-baar baahar aaye toh nazarandaaz karna mushkil ho jaata hai? || …And then if that recurs, it is difficult to ignore?

He: Haan, aur phir yeh bhi lagane lagta hai ki kya main is insaan ke liye itna kuchh soch raha hoon? || Yes, and apart from that I also start feeling if it is this person for who I was thinking so much (emotional commitment to the person)? [Context: some of the significant efforts he had to put in, just to stay in that relationship with her. Not that she has not put in similar efforts and made compromises, though. In a way, she has had to show lot more emotional tolerance].

And at that point, we went on to discuss the details of the common problem and if and how his studies were getting affected.

Now it might be tempting for the reader to believe that the above exchange captures the idea in entirety and that there is nothing more to understand, but I do not think so. At least I would not feel satisfied if I do not explain my interpretation of what my friend had meant and the thoughts generated there upon. It should be noted that here I am going to largely speak of highly ‘idealized’ or romanticized relationships, which would have begun at a stage wherein the partners/friends would think very highly of each other and the bond they would feel they share and find it difficult to infer something negative about the other, and on doing so, would likely feel uncomfortable and/or guilty. I believe a very small proportion of the population ever gets into such relationships, so this post is about those few who have entered them, or are likely to enter one some time in the future.

First of all, (my friend’s) entire relationship needs to be put into perspective. The last time I had talked to him, it was not a case that they had not had arguments, but I believe, in none of those exchanges were certain boundaries breached that would have called into question my friend’s judgement of his partner’s core values. And it is these assessed core values that form the basis of the kind of relationship my friend is likely to enter. Thus, till that time he had been able to keep up quite an idealized view of her in his mind save for a few minor differences and unsavory things that he could have dismissed as minor personality defects and mutual compatibility issues. However, when people enter confrontations, and it is some kind of insecurity or fear that drives them, every effort – conscious or subconscious – is expended to have the other person accept one’s own perspective as right and as well the associated demands, if any. In few moments, our beloved becomes our adversary. Somehow, stronger the past affinity, stronger would be the adversarial affect felt, and that is perhaps because we presume we are entitled to our beloved (who would have committed to us) thinking solely of our benefit, and the contention in question would also make us doubt that commitment and deem that as some kind of disloyalty. It is quite possible that even our beloved might be thinking of our ‘benefit’, it is just that ideas on what is ‘beneficial’ might be different. And under the influence of these strong negative emotions one may by design or because of indiscretion end up saying and doing things that would betray envy, hatred, cruelty, apathy, etc., towards our beloved. Additionally, one may end up using one of the dirtiest tricks in the ‘Book’ – emotional blackmail (in its various ranges and shades). Of course, it would be silly to suggest that such emotions always get manifested, or that if they are manifested, they even get noticed. But two things need to be kept in mind – first, people as perceptive as my friend are anyway going to notice such manifestations, and second, even if one summons one’s utmost discretion and ability to remain composed, the knowledge that our mind was filled with such ignoble thoughts during the heat of that moment is difficult to ignore. When they happen for the very first time in a relationship, they lead to a disillusionment. The one noticing such manifestations in their partner for the first time, such as my friend, for instance, would be faced with the kind of predicament he verbalized (in other words, “the one I am so committed to, is he/she deserving of my commitment given how he/she thinks of me in moments of weakness [i.e., when having lost composure]?”). Whereas, the one realizing the cropping up of such negative emotions in their mind, if conscientious enough, is likely to experience a reciprocal guilt (“Oh, shit! How could I think *that* way for my partner? Do I deserve him/her? Do I *really* love him/her the way he/she thinks and I say I do? What happened to all the love I used to feel?”).

In a way, the generation of above kinds of doubts is a good thing. It forces us to question the sustainability of highly idealized view of our relationship that we so wish to hold on to. But whether it indeed proves good or bad eventually depends on how we choose to respond to such doubts. From here, I will try to give ‘tips’ on how such doubts can be addressed. But the key, as the reader would notice, at each stage would be honesty. Honesty, first with the self, and then with one’s partner, which is of course, difficult to summon. And the degree of honesty I advocate and try to observe in matters close to my heart, has been described as “radical” by people more than one. 🙂 So, the reader shall consider themselves warned! Another ability one would have to summon in what I suggest is one of forgiveness. Here I want to emphasize upon the fact that society lays too much stress on forgiving others, but I believe, problem is many times inability to forgive the self. If I would not be able to explain what “forgiving the self” means and entails in the course of this blog post, it will unfortunately seem little more than rhetoric. So, I will just enumerate some things to consider (in the same sequence as given below) that I believe can help us come to terms with the kind of disillusionment I had tried to outline above:

1. We have little control over the emotions we feel and the thoughts that can cross our mind.

I often give an analogy that our emotions/thoughts are like numbers on a dice (and by that I do not mean to emphasize on the randomness involved, though which is also a consideration). Just like how numbers – one through six – ‘exist’ and hence, any one of them can show up each time a dice is thrown, countless emotions/thoughts exist that can spring up in our conscious/subconscious (mind) each time we reflect and react. Any emotion/thought simply by its virtue of having a possibility to exist, also makes itself available to spring up in our mind. So, why get agitated by realization of our harboring an emotion/a thought that could have sprung up in anyone’s mind?

2. Forgiveness.

Once one acknowledges that after all any emotion/thought can manifest in the mind, it should make us free of any shame that we feel on realizing it is us who would have experienced them, or alternatively, enable us to forgive the other person in question to have felt the same. But of course, for most people and in most instances, it is not the occurrence of a thought or an emotion that causes trouble, but rather their manifestations – words or actions – that impact them. But still it is actually the emotion/thought that counts, and I will try to explain how.

Once an emotion or thought is experienced, it makes us prone to do certain things. If those (emotions/thoughts) would be seen as unacceptable, so would be their manifestations. There is only one thing that can stop that thought-impulse from transforming into real world manifestation of word/action – restraint. Just like how in a game you might need 3 on your dice to reach a bonus point, but would not get it on throwing it, there can be occasions when the restraint that requires to be summoned to prevent thought-impulses from converting into words/actions just may not ‘spring up’ in our mind! So, just like how we can forgive the arising of emotion/thought, we can forgive the ‘not arising’ of restraint.

So, in simpler words, it should be possible to forgive the self as well the other person for feeling/thinking/saying/doing whatever they would have under the influence of extreme emotions.

3. Communication.

Up till now whatever I have discussed was restricted to the domain of thoughts. However, these thoughts need to be communicated. E.g., I had been into a committed relationship only once in the past, and needless to say, there had been many occasions of passionate confrontations between my partner and me. However, I somehow never felt any dilution in how I had felt for her at the end of those confrontations, because somehow few of those confrontations had involved the two of us. And also, on most occasions I used to make it a point to ask something on lines of, “are you upset with me?” or “are you angry with me?” also with an attendant assurance that I would be able to ‘understand’ if such confrontation would have left any bad taste in the mouth. But I was always assured that those arguments had not affected her feelings for me negatively. However, when she had broken up with me, though she could not give me exact reasons for her disenchantment, she had told me our many, many arguments had made her uncomfortable. Irrespective of whether that we broke up was a good thing or bad, I had reasons to believe that each time I used to ask her if our arguments had affected her, had she taken the questions more seriously and introspected a bit further and come up with honest (to herself as well as to me) answers, things would have worsened in her mind in a graded fashion. Meaning, each time she’d have thought over the nature of confrontations and her and my emotional responses in light of them, she would have got used to the feeling that something ‘wrong’ (less than ideal) had indeed happened between us. Here of course, it was not a case that I did not feel concerned by the possibility of the relationship deteriorating thus, but my ‘mistake’, if I could call it that, was that I used to respect her and believe her feedback that the arguments were not affecting her negatively.

So, why communicate? Because I think, firstly communication of how we might have felt certain negative emotions for the other person requires us to acknowledge them ourselves, which as the reader can make out, is the very first step in this entire exercise. Then furthermore, just like how you would have felt certain negative emotions, your partner might have also felt them, and it would be easier for them to acknowledge and accept the same negative emotions they might have felt if they see you doing the same [“Hmmm… So, I was not alone in hating her in those intense moments; she felt the same as well. So maybe, it’s alright.”] Plus, on most of the occasions when the two people patch up, which they usually do, at least early on in their relationship, the memories of silly thoughts that would’ve arisen make for funny things to smile at. 🙂 Of course, it need not so happen that the two people’s emotional responses to the same event of confrontation would be in synchrony and reciprocal. [One of the two might have felt intense rage and the other might not have.] But when one knows that it is ‘alright’ to have experienced rage, forgiving and accepting become easier. Also, for the one having experienced these emotions and also the consequent guilt, it would be easier to forgive the self if they know they would be able to forgive the other for doing the same.

Also, one more benefit of this kind of communication that is likely to arise is that both persons would also be emotionally drawn closer because they would also be playing the role of each others’ confidante, which would further strengthen the bond the two people would have already been sharing.

4. Dealing with the disillusionment.

While, by making the above considerations, one can indeed come to terms with the negative emotions felt in one’s own mind and/or observed in one’s partner, it would imminently leave one wondering  whether their perception of the other (and perhaps of mutual compatibility, so to speak), based on which they had decided to get committed to the partner, was right. [This post is also not for those would not want to entertain this frightening prospect of having to revise one’s idealized views.]

The process of disillusionment would obviously be painful, but there are many collateral benefits that accrue. First, no longer excessive emotional efforts would be needed to sustain the idealized view of one’s partner and the relationship. Second, one would know that if one could tide over such a crisis once, perhaps, the next time around emotional responses would be more considered (though that sounds like oxymoron, I understand) and that both the partners would have by then already displayed the requisite maturity to forgive the self as well as the other. Third, each time a confrontation would be successfully ‘tided over’ the confidence that the other person indeed wishes well would ideally get boosted and the the element of insecurity and doubt would (ideally) reduce and that of mutual solidarity would increase.

However, the pain that is experienced when this kind of disillusionment happens for the first time is overwhelming. It shakes one’s core and the very basis of convictions on which the relationship would have been built. So, what is the consolation for still staying in that relationship? First, it needs to be understood, and that though it sounds cliched, no relationship is likely to remain perfect for a long time. One would have to, in its course, either scale down one’s expectation of it (and by extension, of the partner) or learn to tolerate some uncomfortable features of it. And all this one is to do with the belief that the life spent with the chosen partner would be (lot) better than the one spent without (him/her).

Now to apply the above considerations to my friend’s case, imagine the entire conversation I had outlined above could have also went thus (had he not summoned utmost honesty in his assessment of the situation):

He (on being asked if their arguments had eroded the bond they had shared): Nahin re! Aise chhote-mote jhagade toh hote rehate hain! Is mein koi chinta ki baat nahin hai. || No, man! Such trivial arguments keep on happening. There is nothing to worry.

Me: Haan, woh toh hai. Tum donon log samajhdaar ho. Bas yeh period guzar jaaye. || Yes, that’s right. You both are sensible people. (I only wish) that this period passes off.

And what perhaps would have then happened would be, both the partners would have discovered (most likely on separate days, making matters worse) that they no longer felt the love they used to! Because at each stage, they would overlook the instances of development of negative affect (both in the self as well as in the other), which would in turn be dictated by their attempted avoidance of feelings of guilt and fear of facing the imminent disillusionment. However, this negativity would pile up in their mind and hit them suddenly when they would be least prepared to experience such vacuum. And then they would panic. Of course, one could still go through the cycle that I have outlined above, but it would take lot more initiative and proactive interest on part of both the partners, and would thus be proportionately more difficult.

I believe, my friend could foresee all of this, and hence responded the way he had. What makes his response admirable is not that he could think all of this (after all, I am also writing a blog post outlining it in some details), but that he could do so in midst of a crisis and that too without having the benefit of been in a relationship before and furthermore, without talking to a confidante like myself in the process. But of course, for all of that he first needed the requisite honesty to recognize that a crisis was actually brewing.

Just as a side note, the reader would be right in wondering that if one were to apply principles outlined in point 1, viz., there being no control over one’s emotions/thoughts to everyday life and then how the same consideration be applied to ‘forgive’, then there would be nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. Everything would be acceptable. Furthermore, what criteria to apply to ‘like’ someone or alternatively reject someone as friend/partner? In an ‘ideal’ world, yes, if everyone were to be so honest, introspective, broadminded and forgiving as demanded by in this post, there would hardly be any problems in the world! But the purpose of this post was very ‘selfish’, in the sense, the entire exercise I have outlined above amounts to intellectual and moral dishonesty in that such allowances would be made for only a select few people to who one would have pledged their commitment, and would thus be partial. And the basis of this selfishness is the maximization of the happiness one could derive from one’s life by remaining in a secure relationship. If by indulging in this kind of intellectual/moral dishonesty, I am able to rescue my relationship and in the process, live a more fulfilling life without bringing harm to anybody, then why not? Ideals, in my opinion, are subservient to our need to lead a fulfilling life. Following of ideals is not an end in itself. And in that there would be nothing wrong with this kind of dishonesty (that is, inconsistent application of standards to judge and/or forgive people based on how emotionally close we would be to them and how much would we be valuing our relationship with them).

5 thoughts on “Of Confrontations in Close Relationships and Importance of Honest Communication

  1. Pingback: Of Confrontations in Close Relationships and Importance of Honest … « risaberanagk

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