Sunday, 10 June 2012

Dr. Vijay Nagaswami's Take on Relationships

A few weeks ago, I attended an author meet at Easy Library. The writer was Dr. Vijay Nagaswami, renowned Chennai-based psychiatrist. I must admit I had been eagerly looking forward to his take on relationships, in the current Indian context, having been away from my homeland for the last few years!

The talk was well-attended, with most in the audience being couples, as was to be expected. Writer Shinie Anthony led the group in interactions with the writer, who has authored several books, including The 24X7 Marriage, The Fifty-50 Marriage and 3's A Crowd, among others. According to Dr. Nagaswami, deception was the main issue in most marriage failures. He drew heavily on his own personal experiences as a counsellor. He lamented the lack of good resources in India, since the only congregated data about marriages and divorces available for/about Indians is the national census. The data from the 2011 census is not yet available, he informed us.

Dr. Nagaswami then went on to explain the concept of Toxicity in Marriages. He described how a series of unfulfilled and unarticulated expectations formed the main cause of/reason for toxicity. It is vitally important to de-toxify the toxic elements in the marriage to make it work. He also insisted that affairs happened not just in bad or toxic marriages, but in several good marriages too! Much of it, in the Indian context, he believes, is due to liberal thought processes that have emerged in the last thirty years.

Dr. Nagaswami also detailed how "Template clash" often led to the break-down of a marriage. These templates he alluded to are nothing but the ideas and expectations that we have formed, during our early years, about the institution of marriage. Most Indians have only their parents' marriage on which to base their own individual templates. "Parents do not plan to be anything other than a parent", he declared. Not many Indian parents actually sit down and chat to their children about marriages and what make them work. Hence, to avoid any template clash, what needs to be done is both partners need to create their own "final marriage template", which would essentially mean retaining the best of both their individual templates and rejecting all that would possibly work against a good marriage.

We are a marriage-obsessed society, Dr. Nagaswami noted, which had the audience nodding their heads vigorously in agreement! To ensure that a marriage works, he stressed, boundary definitions need to be set in order to prevent unsolicited advice and intrusions not just from parents and in-laws, but from so-called well-meaning friends and neighbours too...I do personally believe that this setting of boundaries would need to be implemented not just for marriages to work, but in all other personal/private spheres too! Dr. Nagaswami also commented on how a few years at least of nuclearisation would help most marriages.

He then moved on to talk about marriage counselling. There are two types of people who approach him for counselling: the solution-seekers and the enhancement-seekers. Counselling was not just about advice, he reiterated. In India, the concept of counselling has slowly begun to catch on, but it is not yet at the levels seen in the West. The bond, says Dr. Nagaswami, is much more substantive in a live-in relationship than in a traditional marriage. He also felt that intellectual abuse (where one batters the partner intellectually) was becoming more common these days. The 4 Cs in a marriage are what keep it working and make it a "good" marriage: communication, commitment, compatibility and communion.

To finish off, Dr. Nagaswami touched on how, in the present Indian economic climate, women entering the workforce are trying to become more like men. However, the psychiatrist stressed that rejecting one's feminity was not the way to break the glass ceiling. As a final note, he declared that "never" and "always" are to be avoided to make one's marriage work...

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