Womens web has invited opinion on adjustments in a relationship quoting examples of three young working women. I have dealt with a slightly broader perspective and reached the conclusion that adjustment based on mutual concern and respect works well enough but it becomes a burden when it is one sided irrespective of whether it is the man or his wife that adjusts.
Adjustment is an ambiguous word that cannot be properly defined. It has one meaning when applied to women and quite another when applied to men. It applies to the wife and daughter in law but never to one’s mother or sister or daughter. Does adjustment mean submission? May be or may be not. It depends on a person’s expectation from those around him/her. An alcoholic’s mother may expect her daughter in law to adjust with her son’s drinking habit but how about handling the alcoholic son for a few days in the absence of her daughter in law? After all he was her son for 30 long years before he became her husband. And perhaps she was the one who got him married to an unsuspecting girl to shift responsibility.
When does adjustment become submission one may ask. It is a difficult question without a correct answer. It perhaps depends on one’s own level of tolerance. May be adjustment becomes meaningless when one begins to feel that the relationship is onerous and untenable. No relationship is an equal 50:50 partnership deal. This applies not only to marriages but to any relationship that involves give and take. But when one is in a mood to adjust if not a perfect 50/50 ratio, a 40/60 or a 35/65 ratio may work. Beyond that it becomes a burden. Think of a situation in which a whole wing of an apartment complex has to share water from a common overhead tank. Of the 6 households in the wing some may waste more water than others. This may be tolerated till the others manage to get a decent amount of water for their personal use. But if those that use water responsibly have to face water shortage due to the callousness of the others there is bound to be tension to the extent of making civil behavior among them impossible. Water, after all is an essential commodity.
In quite a similar manner adjustments have to be made in a marital relationship. In India marriage implies the union of two families. Very often the boy’s family has an upper hand and the girl and her family adjusts. There are also cases where the boy has to adjust with a whimsical wife who has decided to dislike his family from day one. The boy’s family, in such cases, reciprocates in equal measure making life a living hell for him or maintains a safe distance from him in their effort to ensure peace in their son’s life. It is also seen that a whimsical, demanding spouse just uses his/her partner’s family as an excuse to start a quarrel. Their behavior persists even after all demands have been met with and there is no interference from the extended family. So one is forced to conclude that in several relationships adjustments made are one sided and the person who is the more adjustable feels unhappy at the thought of having been at the receiving end of a dominating partnership.
It is often said that a woman is expected to be more adjusting and this is the advice she gets from her own family at the time of her marriage. In the Indian context there are several reasons for this expectation from a woman. The girl child is considered as ‘paraya dhan’ or property that actually belongs to her husband’s family entrusted to be cared for by her parents till her marriage. She becomes an outsider in the very home that she was born into once married. She has to deal with any discomfort she may face in the new set up. If such is the expectation by her own family, her in laws are no better. She has no probation period nor is she gradually initiated into a family of strangers with alternate ways of handling a situation. No one realizes that she needs time to accept the family acquired by marriage as her own.
Another reason for such an expectation is perhaps the misplaced expectation from a son. In the Indian set up a son’s birth is welcomed because he is expected to look after them in their old age. A daughter’s arrival unfortunately seen as a wasteful expense since she would be ‘given off’ in marriage and would be of no practical value to them. Till such an attitude persists girls would be expected to adjust even in the most difficult situations and her return to her paternal home would never be encouraged.
I tend to deal with cases that indicate that the woman is the one who adjusts. These are the more debated examples. But men have also adjusted stretching themselves beyond normal limit to make a relationship work. Society looks down upon a man who adjusts and he prefers to maintain a low profile and never lets on that he too has had to put up with an arrogant boss or an uncompromising wife. It is plain to all who wish to see that adjustments are meaningful only when all those involved in a relationship are equal contributors in an effort to make it a pleasant and long lasting one. This is possible only when there is mutual respect and sufficient breathing space to allow it to flourish.