Amid work from home, managing the household and seeing to almost every whim and fancy from her husband and kids, Sunita Martis*, a customer relationship manager at a leading retail store in Mumbai, found herself stretched thin, on the brink of a breakdown. The increasing demands of her job (given the pandemic and apparent decline in business) and the never-ending housework that come with having young kids running about didn’t do much for her peace of mind.
“My husband was constantly in meetings, and he couldn’t do much to help with the kids, so I found myself catering to everyone but myself,” says the 33-year-old, adding, “I was near my wits end when I decided that I had had enough of everyone taking it for granted that things would be taken care of, and I decided to put my foot down.”
Martis, who was already tired of communicating her needs to her husband, decided she wasn’t going to do things that were ‘expected’ of her. “I stopped cleaning up after my husband, let the dishes pile up in the sink, and eventually my husband took notice. That’s when we sat down and came up with a schedule for household chores, and seeing to the kids. While unconventional, it has worked for us and things are copacetic,” she admits.
Like Martis and her husband, there are countless couples who are dealing with the nitty-gritties of living in a pandemic while co-working, co-habiting, co-parenting and everything else in between. So, what’s the key to a happy and successful relationship? Boundaries!
A healthy way forward
Whether or not you’ve set boundaries in your relationships, have established what you and your partner are willing (or not) to do to ensure peace and harmony, they are not always easy to maintain.
Founder and CEO of New Thought Therapist, a social enterprise working to expand access to quality mental health support and simplified psychoeducation, Bhavya Raj Arora, says, “Boundaries are beautiful; they are a beautiful way of unloading the burden on your partner to always meet your needs. Boundaries in relationships are a reminder that you can continue to nurture individual identities, hobbies, and pleasures. The happier the ‘I’, the happier the ‘we’ identity gets.”
And she’s not alone. Dr Sagar Mundada, a Mumbai-based consultant psychiatrist, sexologist and deaddiction specialist, concurs.
“Every person has their own unique attributes which need nurturing. This, in turn, fuels their happiness. Setting boundaries helps them nurture their individuality, greatly contributing to their overall well-being. This triggers a natural shift towards wanting to do more in a romantic relationship.”
In fact, Mundada rubbishes the notion that partners have to be available and accessible to each other 24x7. “There’s no harm in asking for ‘me time’, and one should not feel uncomfortable when asking for emotional boundaries to be set.” The surprising result? You feel closer and more entuned to your partner.
Sumeet Manghani, a senior manager at a Mumbai-based consulting firm, says, “I view relationships as two independent individuals living their separate lives together. This means, they can have shared interests, but prioritising their individuality should be part of that equation. This translates into my having the ability to be me mentally, physically, and emotionally.”
Manghani is also of the opinion that not too many people understand the concept of space. “It doesn’t mean distance; it’s simply taking some much-needed time to prioritise yourself. Ultimately, if I’m not happy, I can’t keep anyone else happy.”
Detaching by design
There’s no denying that boundaries are a way to teach people how to treat you, and set a precedent of what you will and won’t accept — whether it’s in personal or professional equations. That said, how you set boundaries matters just as much as setting them. Arora offers a few dos and don’ts when attempting to set healthy boundaries. She says:
--Set them assertively. Boundaries don’t have to be rude; they have to be assertive.
--Check the space you're setting boundaries from. They must come from a space of self-preservation.
--Check if your boundaries are passive-aggressive. For example, ‘I would appreciate it if you’d share household chores with me’, is an active boundary with your partner. Not doing your half of the chores because your partner didn’t do their share, is passive aggressive and counterproductive.
-Establish accountability instead of blame. Saying things like, ‘I would like you to be more polite with me’ instead of ‘You are always yelling at me. I won't take it anymore’, can have a positive outcome.
--Set boundaries and follow them up with action. Boundaries are just words if your actions don't set them too.
--Boundaries are not walls, so don’t use them as a measure to hide, escape, or avoid uncomfortable events or conversations.
--Boundaries can look different with different people, and in different contexts. Feel free to be flexible with them, reconsider them or adjust them as the need arises.
Dr Mundada says, “Assertive communication in a safe, non-confrontational manner is crucial. While you want your partner to respect your space, you have to reciprocate the respect. View setting boundaries as an opportunity to improve your relationship and re-establish trust, rather than viewing it as escape from each other.”
Boundaries don’t have to be rude; they have to be assertive.
Curb the conflicts
For Parag Thakare, an independent cinematographer from Mumbai, setting boundaries wasn’t quite the way he envisioned it to be. “My ex was extremely possessive, so when I asked for space, it was viewed as me breaking up with her instead of me asking for some time to myself. However, what eventually worked in my favour was when we had to move to different cities for work. While it was initially a bummer, it ended up being a blessing in disguise.”
The fact remains, emotional security is established over time, and it’s often rooted in consistency and predictability, acceptance, and respect.
“Setting healthy boundaries early on can save you and your partner the conflicts that may arise from the lack of it. At the same time, it is always meaningful when relationships, even in the honeymoon period, can be rooted in a deep respect for each other's boundaries,” Arora adds.
*Names changed on request