By Bandana Upadhya
My husband and I celebrated our one year anniversary recently. It was a celebration of not only love and commitment, but also endurance and perseverance. Yes I know it was only a year! But even a year of staying married is a big deal these days; we are living at a time where if you master the art of flicking your thumb to the right, you will be sorted! My apology for offending those who enjoy the right-flicking scene and have miraculously found true love through it. Of course at the other extreme there are marriages that face unavoidable tragedies and circumstances which are hard to resolve, so no offence there either (by the way, here is a glimpse at my incessant and annoying need to apologise for having an opinion).
I would like to share how I have found my first year of marriage. First of all, it has been really fun. Couples who have been married a long time give you the impression that marriage sucks all the fun out of you. Maybe it has been fun for me because I married my best friend and having fun with your best friend is fairly easy. I have also found married life to be very satisfying. I mean I have felt very content with the activity (I must be the first person to describe marriage as an activity! Please no one be outraged, I do have a point). Feeling content with your partner and content with the life you share with them is actually an accomplishment, in my opinion. I struggle to think that contentment can be experienced without work, or that it somehow magically appears. Some people can confuse contentment for boredom and boredom in a relationship is seen to be a negative thing. To check and consider that you may be misinterpreting your feelings in this way requires work. For people who fear commitment, feeling content can be deeply uncomfortable. To work against such fears also requires work. Basically, you might ‘luck out’ in finding a good partner, but luck does not sustain a relationship, definitely not in the long run. For that, you need to put the work in.
Back to our year: yes there were fun and fulfilling moments together, as well as a fair share of tests and hardships. Additionally, and perhaps unexpectedly, there were opportunities for self-reflection and for personal growth. Broadly, there were a number of circumstances or decisions that challenged us both as individuals and as a couple. By attending to these challenges, we managed to strengthen and evolve our relationship. We found that if you lean in to every relationship challenge, you eventually learn to cope with it and in the process you become more resilient as a couple. Sounds simple, but terribly hard to put into practice! There was one such situation that we encountered in our marriage, rather frequently, that forced us to participate in this process of ‘leaning in’ to the problem. That situation was a monthly visit by an unwelcomed visitor.
Our monthly visitor usually stayed for a week, sometimes two weeks. She followed us around our house and anywhere else we went. She was not very nice and borrowed my mind and body for her deeds. The name of this visitor was Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS, hereafter). I am not trying to belittle a sensitive and important issue with some humour. Instead, I am describing the mental, physical and emotional struggle in this way because in my experience PMS makes me feel and behave as though I am being possessed by an evil spirit.
My husband would never admit it (out of fear for his life, probably) so I am doing it for him: I am nightmare to be around during my period. Something happens to my capacity to make decisions – I can’t. Once we went to a favourite restaurant of mine in my possessed state not only was I incapable of ordering my own food, but I requested my husband do it for me. I then became angry and tearful at him because he apparently ordered the “wrong” food. I was even more annoyed because he clearly did not understand my misery and seemed to be enjoying the (wrong) food he ordered.
The visitor intensified my experience with negative emotions. This meant I was either on the verge of tears, for no reason whatsoever, or I was very angry, at most people and most of the time. My window of tolerance was small. I just about survived my working day, but by the time I came home I was emptied out. My mind was chaotic. There is little point even starting to describe the lethargy I experienced and the physical pain that inhabited me. Unfortunately for my husband, I was extremely hard to please. I needed comfort, protection and security more than ever, but struggled to express my thoughts and feelings. He had to guess, and get it right.
The impact of our visitor on me personally was debilitating. The situation worsened when she eventually got in-between our marriage. My husband and I spoke a lot less during her visits. We loved even less. I spoke unkindly to him. I often insulted him and regretted it immediately, but did nothing about it. I was not in the mood to go anywhere or do anything. PMS was not really a problem I developed after marriage. When I was living at home with my parents and PMS struck, I could not stand being in the same room as my brother and my father. I think I generally hated all men for the pain and discomfort I felt; I felt angry that only women went through this tormenting experience. I only noticed these feelings of anger and the changes in my behaviour after marriage. It became noticeable because I could not really ignore my husband for a week every month– that would have been hard. Since I could not ignore him (flight), I chose to fight him instead.
The amount of patience, tolerance and kindness that my husband managed to find in himself every month amazed me. Eventually I decided to start apologising for being mean to him and acknowledge his patience with me. This was not so easy to do while the visitor was around because my own resources were under attack and the little amount of inhibition and conscientiousness I had were used up at work and public spaces. So I decided to apologise after the week was over, and all the bad deeds were completed. I decided to shower him extra doses of love, appreciation and kindness as compensation. I had to accept that the intrusive visitor was going to come every month and so I had to be prepared to clean up her mess afterwards. The other thing I decided was to let him know beforehand (having a period tracker app was useful here) that I might say some harsh things to him and be unfair and that I needed him to bear with it for a week and try not to take anything I say personally. I must say, actively making these changes to the way I approached the arrival and residency of our visitor certainly helped us survive her intrusion and her attacks, and helped us repair any damage caused. This process in fact equipped us to manage and overcome bigger hurts that our relationship faced.
I had originally decided to end the article at this point. I made plans to revisit it after a short break. During this break I could not stop thinking about what I had written, or rather revealed. There was something about what I had written that began to feel uncomfortable to me. I began to wonder whether I was attempting to escape ownership over my bad habits or weaknesses. After a period of reflection I realised that I had written about a “visitor” because I was too afraid to accept that there may be parts to me that was mean and destructive, or at least had the capacity to be that way deliberately. I could not tolerate the fact that sometimes when I was feeling weak and tired I did not care about hurting feelings, not even my husband’s. Using the narrative of a visitor made it possible to keep the good and bad parts of me separated. The good was all me, while the bad was due to a biological and psychological takeover that was beyond my control. I think this is a problem of being raised as a female who is taught (either directly or indirectly) to strive for perfection, at all times. Growing up, I was told that women should not be aggressive, should not be unkind, should not answer back, or even laugh too loud (!). Despite trying to resist or outwardly oppose such advice (I was often called a “rebel” for doing so), I could not prevent the expectations from being internalised and accumulating in my subconscious mind and affecting my thoughts and behaviours. I inevitably became someone who cared too much about other people’s opinion of me.
I wish I did not feel the need to apologise for being who I am, for feeling as I do and for doing what I want. I wish I was not overcome with guilt every time I spoke my mind. I wish my self judgements were not based on others’ perception of me. Seriously, what is wrong with feeling or behaving in a needy way? We all have a need to connect, to love and to be loved. The truth is I need extra doses of love, comfort, help, and affection when I am on my period, and I should be able to ask for it and enjoy it without an internal dialogue of disapproval and/or an internal fear of appearing ‘needy’
The way I see it is that in order to be liberated from social pressures, I need to first be liberated from the pressures within my own mind. My internal pressures previously belonged to society (in the words and behaviours of other people, including media) but are now seated in the deep pockets of my mind, as thoughts, expectations and judgements. I need to disown them. I need not view PMS as an evil spirit that possesses my mind and body. In fact it might be an opportunity to be myself, devoid of the constant and automatic need to follow societal scripts. To be ‘myself’ means to have the capacity and freedom to be nice and to be mean, to be clever and to be dumb, to be generous and to be selfish, etc. Of course, there will be times when a genuine apology will be due, and I still believe in ‘leaning in’ to problems together as a way of resolving them, but I am sure that even if I am chaotic, crazy and feisty for one week, my relationship will not fall apart. My husband will be fine.
If I think about it, my husband has always encouraged me to be myself. He once suggested that other people’s opinion of you reveals nothing about you, only something about them. He is someone whose inherent need to be unique is greater than his need to belong. If you were spend time with him, you would quickly find out that he has no problems being himself even at the cost of being judged as weird or insensitive. He is actually a very kind man, but not because he is expected to be kind, but because he chooses to be.
So, my first year of marriage has been about the both of us encouraging and helping one another along our journeys of self discovery. It has been about of navigating from a state of ignorance to awareness, and evolving into versions of ourselves that give us pride both individually and jointly. Oh and of course it has been really fun along the way.