Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Challenge of Relationships

Living together with one's spouse requires enormous tolerance and understanding. The moment either party forgets that, resentment will inevitably creep in. This resentment typically starts small, often triggered by daily events that to outsiders appear trivial; but they accumulate, day by day, until argument errupts. This release of anger allows the resentment to subside a little, but only temporarily. Resentment soon builds up again, leading to anger and sometimes physical violence. The cycle repeats itself ad infinitum.

A marriage is stable when the oscillations of this cycle of resentment is small. Everytime it builds up to a certain critical mass, it is released. Hence the relationship remains intact. Mature couples know that this cycle well. They either consciously, or unconsciously allow it to happen. And this keeps the relationship alive.

Some couples make their relationship work by avoiding conflicts early. Through years of relationship, they would have understood what each other's sore points are. Some kind of compromise is worked out: as long as they agree not to encroach into each other's sensitive territories, everything is fine.

In most marriages, you'll have a bit of both. There'll be occassions where small fights serve as an outlet for the release of pent-up resentments, and they'll also be occassions when such situations are prevented from arising through a well-honed early-warning system.

However a marriage requires more than these two conflict-avoiding strategies to be successful. The foundation of a relationship is held by shared interests, beliefs and values. People get married because they want to share their lives with their chosen life partners. If they have nothing to share, they shouldn't have got married in first place. Remember the places, food, books or movies that both enjoyed together during those early days of courtship? Sadly, couples tend to forget that. A relationship starts to degenerate when commonalities are not emphasized and differences are allowed to be unnecessarily amplified.

How does love fit into all this? Isn't love what brings two people together in first place? Isn't love the true foundation of a strong relationship?

First, let us differentiate love from dependency. Dependency is the result of fear. We fear loneliness. We fear old-age. So we cling to our loved one to ease that pain of fear. That fear becomes a "shared value". We love our spouses because we love ourselves more: we want them to be around so that we don't feel lonely; so that we'll always have someone to be with in our hour of need. Dependency at its worst is a form of addiction.

True love has to transcend addiction and selfishness. Is this possible at all? Yes, but not immediately.

Love is an ideal that one strives for in a relationship. It is not the starting point; in the beginning there's a lot of physical attraction and emotional attachment, fuelled by the fear of loneliness. Temporary relief can be attained in the companionship of one's "loved one"; but inevitably selfishness rears its ugly head and pain results.

There's no relationship without some amount of pain. One should never be deterred by pain. Your partner could be the one in the wrong, but even the party at fault suffers pain. Pain is nature's way of pointing out our imperfections. Understand it. Trace its source. From what depths of fear did it originate? Why did anger arise? Why did such a seemingly trivial matter arouse such strong emotions?

Tracing the source of pain is like debugging a piece of computer software. No commercial application out there is bug-free. Bugs are constantly being traced and fixed. It is a neverending process. The more "bugs" that are eliminated from a relationship, the closer a relationship is to this ideal called Love.

Bugs can never be discovered if an application is not used. Only through the daily ups and downs one faces in a relationship can the sources of pain be traced and eliminated. If all couples adopt this debugging paradigm in their relationships, imperfections can be slowly rectified without resulting in catastrophic system crashes. That way, a relationship grows and matures with the passing of time.

1 comment:

Abstract said...

Very interesting perspective. If only more people realized this...