Marriage: Changing Roles of South Asian Women

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By WomensWeb

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The changing role of women in India today places enormous stress on relationships; how to deal with stress in relationships.

By Sadia Raval and Malini Krishnan

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Over the last few years, our counselling practice has seen an unusually high number of people with difficulty adjusting in their marriage. Often anger against each other is the most typical symptom. Anger is always an expression of hurt and pain within. This is very important to understand and acknowledge. The hurt must be soothed for the anger to be gently washed away.

Women who express anger and negativity towards family members feel that they are not being valued enough by other family members for the effort they make. Their perception of themselves and their role in the family tends to differ from what other family members expect out of them.

At a crossroad: Changing gender roles in society

Today Indian women work in demanding settings with long work hours, tight deadlines and professional pressures in competitive environments. The natural tendency for anyone dealing with a busy day would be to turn home to relax. But for women, parenting duties and household work make it difficult to find this space at home.

Often for the elderly members of the family, the woman’s traditional role – that of a homemaker is of primary importance. This means she probably doesn’t get her time out even after returning home on most days. This naturally creates frustration and over a period of time, anger and despair. Gradually, the woman’s being unable to contribute as much at home is talked about, discussed and emphasized upon much more than the effort she puts in at work. What she is unable to do gets unknowingly more focused on than what she toils at. She then feels her family is being unfair to her and feels angry and rejected.

Also, the woman herself has been exposed to norms which tell her that she must shoulder household responsibilities and be accommodating of her husband’s, children’s and in-laws’ requests. She also feels guilty for not being able to fulfil their expectations, disillusioned because she feels like she’s struggling alone and finally very negative and let down.

How families react to the changing role of women in India

Other family members also grapple with their own struggles. Since the husband also works in a typically demanding setting like his wife, he is better positioned to understand her need to relax at home. However, he feels caught up between his wife and his parents and other family members. He has his own equation with his parents that dates back to a time when his wife wasn’t around. This sometimes makes it difficult for him to step in. As a result, the woman feels her husband takes sides or is generally unable to support her. This leads to conflict between the couple, where both feel the partner is unable to help or understand them.

It’s also understandable why the elders have different expectations. They had a different life, with fewer facilities and a very different work environment to face. This generation gap brings us again to a no win situation.

Though the children of the house may not be directly involved in the situation, often we find that the parents in such a set-up are not able to be there emotionally for the children even though they want to because a lot of energy is spent in trying to resolve the struggles at work and within the family.

Often suggestions from others like ‘these things happen, what to do’ or ‘you need to adjust a bit, they have old ideas so accept it’ are common. However, even if this is inevitable and happens in a good number of homes, we still need to deal with it. Merely blaming each other and thinking ‘you will never understand’ doesn’t make things any easier. Unless each one of us chooses to actively work on ourselves for our own happiness, the negativity continues to stay in our systems, taking some joy out of the day, everyday!

How to deal with stress in relationships and help yourself

Communicate:

Most of us, unknowingly, tend to complain and not express. Complaining focuses on the opposite person. We use sentences like, ‘you are unkind’, ‘you don’t understand me’, and so on. Expressing focuses on ourselves or the ‘I’. When we are expressing, we use sentences like ‘I feel tired when I return from work, ‘I feel I must help when I see mom-in-law cook’, and so on. Clearly expressing what you think and feel about yourself is a much healthier way of communicating than focusing on the opposite person.

Respect your limits:

Inspite of knowing how much our mind and body can take, we often don’t respect the limits of our own capacity. While dealing with issues in the family, it is important not to neglect yourself. You are an important part of the family and if you are exhausted and tired, even for the sake of living up to others expectations, it isn’t really going to make anyone happy. Be compassionate and gently caring for yourself. Accept your tiredness and stop when you need to. Not doing so leads to complying angrily or guiltily with others’ requests and then blaming them.

Accept:

Your family doesn’t find fault with you only because they want to, they do it also because they understand things differently from you. Your in-laws probably want you to do housework not because they hold it against you, it’s because they believe that household duties are to be designated to the woman of the house. Though it would be naturally painful for you to hear them complain, not taking their nagging personally as an attack on you would help.

 

Understand that you cannot control how others react to you; you can only try and have some control over your own reaction. Just as you accept your limits and stop when you are tiring yourself out, similarly you accept the limits of your family members and their feelings about you. To make acceptance work, try not to judge who is right or wrong but instead attempt to neither blame yourself nor anyone else in the family for the difficult situation. Chances are this will eventually reduce the tension in the family environment over time.

Be Mindful:

Mindfulness, is a simple concept of living life as it is, of being in the present. If you think about it, the complaints and arguments with family members last for a finite degree of time, maybe when you come back from work. We unknowingly upset so many other moments of our life by worrying over it and complaining to ourselves!

Being in the present allows you to experience these other moments as they are. It means noticing how the bread packets have been shifted to another shelf in the shop, how your child has managed to solve profit and loss correctly, how the little plants sway when the train passes by them. Whenever you catch yourself thinking away about something, gently remind yourself of where you are. Take a few breaths, and feel your breath as it enters and leaves you. Feel the breeze as it caresses you. You will eventually realize the treasure chest of moments that are not really problem ridden, that are fairly neutral, but positive.


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