A few days ago, just after our yoga class got over; our group of four friends came out chatting like always and during our brief jibber – jabber, we came up with the idea of doing something different over the coming weekend. After another round of focussed babble, it was agreed we would organise a pajama (slumber) party and each one of us could bring along another close friend to the party. One of the friends, Indu, who is single, offered to host the informal dinner at her house. While we were still debating what all things we would require to arrange for the cosy – weekend gathering; Indu enquired from the youngest of us lot, Aparajita, about how she would manage things with a small baby who cannot be left unattended. With a wave of her hand, the latter coolly informed us that her hubby will manage things in her absence.
Indu not satisfied with her response probed further if it would be okay to leave the child in the care of his father for a good part of the evening. Would it not hinder his work? To which she replied, ‘He is the father of the child. If the child is alone in the house and needs to be looked after, who else should he turn to? We both are his parents. The responsibility to take care of the baby is not mine alone…we’ve agreed on this.’
Aparajita’s candid response surprised and yet pleased us all. It also struck me that probably the couple had seen this coming at some point and had taken the trouble to talk it through and must have mutually agreed on certain basic rules which would apply to both. Besides, she was right! Why should the father mind taking care of his own child when the mom is away? And doesn’t the mother deserve a weekend night out with her friends, after spending all her waking hours (sometimes even nights) entertaining and taking care of the baby for days together without really bothering about her own self?
Now, that brings me to the topic of this article. We’re all well – aware that in the present times the idea of marriage or a committed relationship has vastly changed. Women are more vocal about their expectations and needs from a relationship than they were a couple of decades back. However, when we talk about negotiations in such intimate – relationships, it sounds very business – like and so in most cases couples, especially women, like to avoid such discussions thinking it may offend their partner and weaken their bond. Still, just like my friend I mentioned above, many young couples in current times are realising the importance of negotiations in marriage and clearly setting out the rules of engagement from the very beginning.
Marriage cannot survive only on love. It takes a lot of adjustments, understanding and mutual respect among partners to make it work. And yet, even in the best of marriages, there are times when couples do not agree on certain things and issues may arise that may worsen the situation further; unless there are certain pre –decided ground rules both parties have agreed to follow.
In one of my short stories, ‘Shikha – she who’s powerful,’ from my latest book THAT WOMAN YOU SEE, a collection of short stories, the lead protagonist, a well –educated and talented young woman, is unhappy in her marriage. Despite having everything in life, she feels worthless and totally dependent on her husband as she’s never been able to openly negotiate the terms of marriage and how she wants to lead her life. Consequently, she feels dejected and bored following the same old domestic routine with no real value addition to her own life. This scenario is not uncommon in our society. Many women neglect or hesitate to spell out their expectations or discuss things with their partner before marriage and end up feeling frustrated and disillusioned with life afterwards.
Here are some benefits that accrue when you clearly negotiate the terms in a close relationship –
1. Promotes mutual respect and understanding – Marriage is a teamwork. When both the partners know their roles clearly and divide the workload equally among themselves; there’s little scope of pointing or blaming the other when things don’t go according to plan. Both partners take equal initiative to resolve the issue. And since both are aware of what is expected out of them and have mutually agreed to it, they’ll do their work willingly. This also instils a sense of mutual respect and admiration for each other as is implicit in the real – life example I shared above. Another example could be a situation when both working partners have guests at home. If the terms are clearly defined, the couple will divide the household chores in a way to ensure the guests are taken care of and at the same time none would have to report late for work.
2. An excellent tool for conflict resolution – Having a set of ground rules help resolve major conflicts. In case there’s an emergency situation where one needs to step in for the other, it’s done smoothly. And since both have already negotiated the terms to cater for such exigencies; the chances of getting into unnecessary arguments or fights are low. For example, in case, a working mother cannot get leave to attend her child’s PTM the dad can volunteer to go instead as both have agreed to chip in equally for their child’s overall welfare.
3. Level playing field – Since such couples know they are equal partners with equal rights and responsibilities; they feel confident and comfortable in each other’s company and constantly strive to enrich their relationship by going the extra mile and doing something extra – special to delight their partner. An example would be to help complete a partner’s routine – task without being requested when one is free or is seeing the spouse struggling with multiple things.
4. Reduces Gender Stereotyping – This is one of the biggest benefits of negotiations in a marriage. It reduces the ‘that is not my job,’ scenarios that invariably leads to ugly fights. The partners strive to make things work without getting their egos in – between or holding onto the ancient hunter – gatherer mind – set. Such a gender neutral environment at home also encourages the children of such parents to be independent from an early age and express themselves more freely without having to limit their choices by worrying about what colour of dress they should or should not wear et al.
Since marriage is a collaboration between two individuals; for it to work effectively, both partners need to openly negotiate and discuss various expectations and needs before arriving at a set of mutually decided ground rules. As societies advance towards a more technology savvy and fast-paced life; and more and more women become economically independent pre- marital negotiations and agreement would become necessary to deepen the trust and respect between partners and ensuring a healthy relationship.
Sujata Parashar is a Novelist, Poet, Short Story Writer, Activist & Director: Fellows Of Nature – FON (A nature writing project).