The day starts by observing his mood. The night falls by making sure that he has a smug and satisfied look on his face. His bout of sneezing is more important than her osteoporosis. The daily menu revolves around his and the children’s likes and dislikes.
He is the centre of her universe. She circumambulates around him. And to keep him happy and satisfied, she will not only do what it takes but she will grossly overdo it. She makes herself the last priority, in every way. And, strangely, in all of this, she gets a sense of being wanted, and perverse pleasure when she says, “he can’t do without me.”
This is every other woman’s story. And this seems almost universal, albeit a bit more in certain parts of the world like ours. We live in a society where a woman making herself a priority almost translates into selfishness. Women let their goals and ambitions take a back seat and lose their sense of self. By ambition or goal, I do not necessarily mean being ruthlessly career-oriented. The goal could simply be weight loss, raising a targeted amount of money for a charity, reading a new book, or, more simply, to be happy. But when compared to HIS goals and ambitions, a woman’s seem inconsequential and secondary.
Are the men to be blamed for that? Not always, I believe, for we, the women, allow for this to happen. Men are not always patriarchal, selfish and chauvinistic. They have to be taught and reminded of both their rights and duties in a relationship, just like women. Then why do women allow this to happen, when they also simultaneously crib about it?
Psychotherapist Anees Fatima Hakeem, analysing this phenomenon from a psychological viewpoint, calls it “co-dependence.
It’s a blind spot for many women, even confident and successful ones. It happens when one partner feeds off the needs of the other. It’s really just a huge manipulation or game with payoffs for both partners. The payoff could be negative or positive.”
Sometimes, the payoff is the joy of self-pity we get out of being walked all over and over doing it. Or it simply becomes a habit. It is similar to how we sometimes keep peeling the skin of our lips or the sides of our nails. It’s cruel. It’s painful. But it becomes a habit.
“An example of standing on her head to please him could be that she spends hours making dinner but at the last minute he tells her that he is eating out with friends. The wife feels resentful and goes into her victim mode. Becoming a victim is a payoff for her in order to manage her anger and resentment. This could become a pattern for her,” says Hakeem, explaining how being a victim and indulging in self-pity becomes a habit.
What, then, ends up happening as a result of this behaviour? “The woman doesn’t know what her feelings are any more. She loses her ‘self’. She doesn’t know where ‘he’ ends and ‘she’ begins. You can notice a change in her choice of words. Instead of saying, ‘I like biryani’, she’ll say ‘it’s great to eat biryani’. Instead of saying, ‘I feel angry’, she’ll say ‘you make me feel angry’ or ‘I have PMS and that is why I am angry’. Worse yet, she’ll even stop being angry because she is too busy cooking, and will take a sleeping pill to handle her insomnia,” says Hakeem, sharing her observations about how, in the victim mode, we stop taking responsibility for our actions.
Naghmana Khan, an economist, feels that religious misinformation and cultural bias force women to overdo and go out of their way to the point of losing their self-esteem in the process. Men are kept on a high pedestal, which conditions women to start believing that their purpose of life is to please him. “Suppose her husband is stressed out about work. Wrongfully conditioned to believe that she is the antagonist, she bends over backwards to please him,” says Khan, pointing out that any and everything that may go wrong with the man, from his health to his career, is supposed to be the wife’s fault. A typical scenario, then, is when the mother-in-law finds out that the son has high cholesterol, and instead of talking to the son about how he can have a healthier lifestyle, she will inquire why the daughter-in-law is not taking care of his diet.
Educationist Afshan Zahoor Jahania feels that realistically “The woman has to be the one to compromise and make a house a home. The man can create a balance by appreciating and helping the woman do this, but he cannot do the balancing act as fairly as a woman does.” In Jahania’s opinion, the solution lies here: “The conservative lot has to identify limits of ‘giving’ and ‘compromising’ , whereas the modern educated liberal woman has to jog her memories and appreciate what her mother did to make the house a home.”
Zoha Anees, finance professional, shares how she used to “go out of my way. Then he chose to step away all together, and I didn’t follow. Now, I have learnt to keep myself happy with or without him. I am the centre of my universe, as are the people I love.”
In essence, someone will treat you the way you allow them and train them to treat you. If you play victim, the person in front of you will play the persecutor. The answer, then lies in balance. Love him, but not to death. Do what you have to do to keep your man happy, but not at the cost of stifling your own soul, or else the hidden resentment will come out in the form of a woman becoming exploitative and manipulating. Love him, but also love yourself. Therein lies the key to a happy partnership.
Published in Dawn: