In love, don’t do the apples-versus-apples dance, says Simran Mangharam
It’s rarely a good idea to compare one’s partner with another’s. Seek improvement and change, by all means, but through careful discussion, not blind and hurtful ‘why-can’t-you’s.
It is natural to compare one’s romantic relationship with the relationships of others, whether these others are people we encounter in books and movies or in our circle of friends and acquaintances. When someone tells a story of how their partner proposed, or how they celebrated an anniversary, we want to share a story of our own. Sometimes, these kinds of innocent comparisons can cause immense hurt.
In the case of a couple who approached me for help recently, the woman, Anu, had begun to constantly compare her marriage with that of her sister-in-law (her husband’s sister). The sister-in-law’s husband was raised in the US and relocated to India in his late 20s. He is a hands-on father and shares chores with his wife; when it comes to the children, he and his wife are interchangeable; he takes over the kitchen if the cook doesn’t turn up.
Anu’s husband Karan is not very hands-on. He is a loving father, but admits he is at sea if the nanny isn’t around or the cook doesn’t turn up. He’s not good at things such as organising meals or running the children’s bath. He doesn’t enjoy cooking, and never had reason to learn. It’s important to note here that Anu is a happy wife, confident and fulfilled; Anu and Karan are a loving couple. When I asked Karan to share his thoughts on all that his wife had said, his points of view made perfect sense.
Karan started by asking if comparing him with his brother-in-law was a healthy habit. I clarified that, just as one ought not to compare one’s children, or compare one’s own children with others’ children, the apples-and-apples comparison of spouses was neither helpful nor healthy. Does that mean one shouldn’t seek improvement or change in a partner? Of course not. But it is far better to do so via empathetic communication rather than constant comparison. Rather than say, “I wish you could behave / dress / look / talk / run the house as so-and-so does”, try articulating what it is you need, and how the lack of it makes you feel.
In Anu’s case, this turned into a productive conversation of how she feels overwhelmed when, for instance, the housemaids don’t turn up. From here, it became a conversation about how the couple could tackle such situations better.
It helps, as I pointed out to Anu, to lead up to such a conversation with some acknowledgement of the good in one’s relationship and partner. She immediately began to speak of all that she appreciates about Karan. She spoke of how sensitive he is, how caring he is about her mother, how he is sometimes more patient with her family than she is. She spoke of how he plans all their family holidays so thoughtfully that each one’s preferences are accommodated.
Karan then talked about how he was willing to pitch in when there was a need, but did not wish to become his brother-in-law. Anu and Karan are now steering their relationship with greater empathy, using goals that they have set together rather than points on another couple’s compass.
I think this is so important. I believe that we must be constantly vigilant in our relationships; complacency is one of true love’s worst enemies. But vigilance without kindness and empathy can feel brutal. And it is unnecessary.
Should one seek inspiration from other relationships? Of course. Borrow goals and adapt one’s approach to situations? Certainly. But through a process of discussion, mutual deliberation, consent. The aim, as always, must be to fortify one’s relationship, take what is good and make it stronger; not take a sledgehammer to something one loves, in a vain attempt to mirror someone else’s reality.
(Simran Mangharam is a dating and relationship coach and can be reached on email@example.com)