Why relationships turn sour

Rome visit, June 2008 - 57photo © 2008 Ed Yourdon | more info (via: Wylio)
These days, I am reading Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography – The Story of My Experiments with truth. He writes that he was married at the tender age of 13. Within a few days, he started having arguments with his wife. The thing was, he had very strong ideas about the conduct of people in various roles, including the role of a spouse. He had no problem in carrying out this conduct himself.

Problem was, he expected Kasturba, his wife, to follow that conduct too. She didn’t care about the spiritual teachings Gandhi wanted her to learn. Gandhi tried to assert his authority as a husband.

This resulted in arguments. Kasturba was not the one to bow down and would do more of the stuff Gandhi disliked.

I had a similar problem in the beginning of my relationship with my wife, Jyoti. This was before we were married. I have been a shy person and talked to very few girls. I found it difficult to understand how a girl and a boy can be friends without at least some physical attraction. Jyoti, on the other hand, has been very comfortable with boys and had a lot of boy friends(not boyfriends :)). I didn’t like her frequent interactions with them. We had some big arguments over her friendships with guys. In some ways, she acts like Kasturba!

This caused me to think about my specific problem and about relationships in general.

Why do we need relationships? Do we need them for a sense of security, to have some people to fall back upon in bad times? To not feel lonely? Are they something we cannot do without? Do we have to defend them against falling apart?

Do you see the negativity, the neediness, the fear in all the reasons above?

I think we need relationships for two things – sharing happiness and expediting growth.

A healthy relationship is among people who have enough compatibility to share and enjoy some things together, and enough differences to make them ponder, discuss and grow as human beings.

But even in a healthy relationship, in spite of our best efforts, there will be some differences. We can not avoid them, but we sure can determine our response to them.

Expectations from others.A big reason behind all the frustrations, bad feelings and heart breaks in a relationship are the failed expectations that we have from others. Gandhi expected Kasturba to behave in a certain fashion, I expected Jyoti to avoid guys, a son expects his father to feel sorry for not being their for him in his childhood, the father expects his son to follow tradition and respect him, etc etc.

The ones whom we love are first conscious human beings who are on their own journey through life. Expecting them to follow what we like, is to expect them to be robots who run on our command. Love them, share with them, learn from them, but when differences arise, don’t try to make them do what you want. Discuss the differences, tell them what you don’t like and why. Try to understand their reasons behind what they are doing. These differences are not an excuse for ego clashes and bad behavior, they are opportunities to better understand each other and help each other become better.

If it comes to a point where either of you feels your journeys are taking you in different directions, don’t cling. I believe separation, in essence, is not possible. All of us are connected and part of one whole, we can never be essentially separate. Let go, wish them success in their journey.

Real connections are not just physical proximity. Create connections where there is mutual growth. When one relation goes, others will come. The one who went, will come back. In essence, they had never left.

Need based relationships : In a need based relationship you base your happiness on the action of your loved one. You need them to act in certain ways to feel that the relationship is going good.

When you do this, you take your sense of happiness outside yourself and tie it to the actions of your loved one. If he/she acts according as you expect, you feel happy, your life feels complete. If this doesn’t happen, if your loved one ignores you, or acts in a way you don’t like, you feel unhappy.

Such relationships are so disempowering. Your happiness is no more in your control as it is tied to external factors. Is this the best you will accept for yourself? Don’t you want to be happy no matter what happens around you, no matter what others are doing? It’s possible.

Believe you are creating your life, assume total responsibility. The belief that you are the cause behind everything that happens in your life, is very powerful. If you keep this belief, you don’t blame others when you feel bad, you look where and how you can change your response to this world, to feel better. If you have this belief, you don’t need relationships to feel complete, you already are complete, you attract them to share and grow what you already have and help them grow what they have. This is love.

This belief does not involve blaming ourselves for our problems, but deciding how to change our actions and responses to create what we want in our lives.

Love based relationships : A love based relationship is one where both partners focus on sharing happiness and growth. It is far higher and empowering than a need based relationship. Love is a feeling to share selflessly, not expect something. Since the focus is on sharing happiness, and not whether your expectations are met, no action from the other person hurts you as much.

When there are disagreements in a love based relationship, they become opportunities to understand differences in perspectives and grow. These instances might break a need based relationship but will make a love based relationship stronger! The partners might decide to separate to follow their divulging paths but this won’t involve anger, hurt and other negative feelings. Such a separation accepts the fundamental need of each individual to grow. It’s not the big painful experience that others make it out to be, it’s a step towards higher consciousness.

I believe that, if both partners share this attitude, it’s impossible to feel separate. This attitude will, ironically, bind them together strongly, in the pursuit of the same goal. Physical separation, even if it happens, won’t last long since both are committed to the same goal of self realization and are bound to come together.

If you can’t imagine being separate and alone, on your own, if the thought of separation from your partner or family induces fright in you, you need to re-assess your reasons for being in that relationship.

Who is right in a fight? If you keep getting into arguments where you are trying to prove yourself right, you probably have ego problems. Reality and the idea of right and wrong do not have fixed answers. Every person perceives reality differently and every person has a different idea of right and wrong. You can cry yourself hoarse about why your ideas are right, but this will never get you to a lasting solution. Either the fight continues for ever, with some uncomfortable, tense breaks, or it ends with one or both people loosing hope of it’s resolution and refusing to seek a solution.

We need to understand that it’s normal and natural to have differences in perspectives. It helps even more to put on the perspective of your partner and see things as they look from their perspective. This can be enlightening.

Projecting our fears onto loved ones.In a lot of cases, we want our loved ones to do what we think would be best for them. We like to think we are doing this out of good will. A father expects his kid to take up a certain kind of job, marry a certain kind of person, a friend may want you to avoid certain people she/he considers bad. This is another case of projecting our sense of reality onto others. We want them to act in certain ways, to prevent them from suffering the same pain that we went through when we made certain mistakes.

We forget that guarding our loved ones from trouble, only makes them weak. Struggle makes us strong, struggle teaches us lessons that mould our unique personality. When we say we are guarding our loved ones, we are actually being selfish – we are trying to play out our fears and save ourselves from that which we don’t want to see happen to them. This is not love, this is fear. We are keeping them from real knowledge. We do this because we have ourselves been avoiding struggle and pain, because we have come to regard staying with the safe and known as good. We have become fearful, and we give this fear to our loved one’s too.

Do relationships make us happy? When we don’t feel happy with ourselves, we start looking for happiness in others and may enter into need based relationships. It follows that to have more meaningful and uplifting relationships, we need to raise our levels of happiness and contentment first. To share happiness(as in a love based relationship), you have to have some with you.

Learn to love yourself. Be happy. Find yourself a higher purpose. If we lack a higher purpose in life, we are more prone to feel incomplete and blame it on others. Find a higher purpose in your life, do more of what appeals to you. This will make you happy and contended. You won’t feel as needy and will be looking to share and learn more often. Apart from making you happy and contended, this will open opportunities to make new connections, where you can connect with others with a similar purpose.

Good relationships are an after effect of a happy contented person, not the other way round.


  • Premangshu
    December 31, 2010 - 6:52 am | Permalink

    Great article bro!

    • Rahul
      December 31, 2010 - 7:02 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Prem, glad you like it

  • Jyoti
    December 31, 2010 - 9:16 am | Permalink

    Me and Kasturba…..will read more about her now….and I guess it won’t take much time for me to surpass her rebellious attitude. :)
    Jokes apart, the article is really nice and shows a deeper understanding of a relationship and will be helpful for people who are looking forward to having a positive relationship and feel the ecstasy of being in one.

    • Rahul
      December 31, 2010 - 7:14 pm | Permalink

      I am already repenting this… :(
      Thanks for the appreciation Kasturba!

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