Love is often not forever -- it can change, lessen and fizzle out with time, leaving two partners drifting away from each other. Sometimes external factors influence its intensity; sometimes it just dies out without any reason. One's age, maturity, persona and circumstances are all factors that affect one's relationship and there are times when the person you thought was the love of your life ends up the stranger who shares your bed at night.
Like in the case of Delhi-based Akash Sharma*, 37, a captain with the Indian Army and Anita Jain*, 34, his wife.
Says Anita, "Akash was always crazy about joining the army and I knew this from our courtship days. He had always wanted to go to the front and be in the thick of things. Initially I found it romantic to have a boyfriend and then a husband in uniform, who was away in the Himalayas fighting for the country. But I thought that with time he would tire of being up in the hills and want to be with his family, opting for positions where he could be with me. That never happened. Akash always wanted to be at the war front. Even when his colleagues opted for transfers where they could be with their family, Akash would always ask for sensitive areas and non-family postings. I was always without my husband and I started feeling like I was on my own. This didn't change even after the birth of our son. We just didn't exist for him. Why stay married if we were going to live apart all the time?"
Today, Anita and Akash are divorced. Too much of distance ruined the relationship. Punit Tandon*, 25 and Rima Gupta*, 24, were highschool sweethearts, having studied together in Burnpur, Asansol. Dating since Class IX, they were deeply in love -- that is, till Punit moved to Delhi for college. Rima also followed suit, but in the big bad city, their sweet smalltown relationship didn't stand a chance.
Although Rima was still madly in love, Punit was dazzled by the glamorous fast life and suddenly realised that he had committed too soon. "I found the girls in Delhi so exciting, adventurous and hip in comparison to Rima. I know it sounds mean, but she just didn't want to change. One goes through various experiences and changes, but Rima held on to the small town values which I had outgrown."
Rima says, "Punit got smitten by the hip, modern girls of Delhi. He wanted me to dress like them and be like them. I can't be like them, nor do I want to."
And so they split. Yet another childhood's sweet romance gone sour when pitted against the fast moving life in a big city!
And now for our third couple. Mumbai-based Rekha and Ashok Bengali* were college sweethearts who married against their family's wishes and were happy together for five years -- they even had a son together. But everything changed when Rekha's mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her father was a heart patient and her parents lived in another city. So she moved her parents to her house in Mumbai, where she could take care of them.
Ashok wasn't too happy about this arrangement. Says Rekha, "Ashok wasn't supportive. They are my parents -- how could I leave them alone when they needed me? Had it been Ashok's parents who needed help, he would have done the same, but just because they are my parents he grumbled."
Ashok admits, "Yes, I wasn't too happy about her parents moving in with us and I do admit it was selfish of me. But Rekha just forgot that there was a life beyond her sick mother. She neglected our son, the house and me totally. I know her mother had cancer, but if I suggested going out for dinner she accused me of being indifferent. The cancer not only killed her mother, it also killed our marriage. In my loneliness, I drifted towards another woman and when I left our son wanted to leave with me. So we left."
Dr Sheetal Khanna, Mumbai-based psychologist and counsellor weighs in on all three case studies.
About Akash and Anita's dilemma, Dr Khanna says, "Akash made the mistake of making his job his life. A prolonged long-distance marriage seldom works." While Anita always knew of Akash's passion for his job, she moved on in life and wanted him to show commitment to the marriage and their family, thereby requiring him to change. On the other hand, his priorities remained the same -- his work continued to remain his top priority and so they grew apart. Explains Dr Khanna, "An absentee partner who is never around can be detrimental to the relationship. There has to be a feeling of togetherness and Akash's repeated choice on non-family postings made his wife feel that she was dispensable, hence the rift in the relationship."
The same can be said of Punit and Rima -- they found themselves on different footings. Dr Khanna comments, "Childhood or college romances often fail to withstand the test of time and other external factors that life throws in their paths -- most often these young relationships don't culminate in marriage. People grow up, mature, move to different cities and grow as individuals. This isn't to say that Punit was selfish because he preferred the company of glamorous Delhi girls to his plain-Jane smalltown childhood sweetheart. He just grew up and out of a sweet romance. His likes and dislikes changed and Rima, unfortunately, couldn't keep pace with his changing attitude."
And what of Ashok and Rekha? Ashok's inability to accept her parents moving in and her lack of attention towards her family were the two main factors that caused the demise of the marriage. They found themselves miles apart, estranged and hurt. "Often, individuals take relationships for granted," says Dr Khanna. "Rekha forgot that she had a husband and a son while caring for her mother. But if Ashok had been more sensitive towards the scenario, maybe things could have worked out differently. With a bit of understanding and empathy, their marriage could have been salvaged. It isn't surprising to know that Ashok sought companionship elsewhere, as Rekha was too preoccupied with her ailing parent. The fact that her son wanted to go with his father and not stay with her is a clear pointer to the fact that even the child realised that his mother's priorities lay elsewhere."
So how does one ensure that both partners are always on the same footing in a relationship and prevent their lives from growing apart? Here are a few pointers:
Don't take any relationship for granted
Don't take advantage of those who love you. Clearly, Akash took his marriage for granted and a break-up was imminent. In today's fast-paced life and times, long-distance relationships aren't uncommon but both partners should work hard to ensure that the distance doesn't get in the way of the relationship. Akash seemed to forget that he had a wife, who wanted and needed his presence. His continuous choice of non-family postings made her feel that she wasn't important to him; he concentrated too much on his own ambitions and too little on his life. In his pursuit of greater military honours, he had forsaken her. How long can a woman live with an absentee husband?
Changing is the biggest constant in life. Those who are willing to adapt and change, survive; others perish. Punit changed, while Rima resisted it. She wanted to cling on to her image of the old Punit who had metamorphosed into someone different. Accepting change isn't important only to keep alive a relationship, but also for one's own personality growth. Rima judged everything about the big city as 'immoral' and 'bad'. Exposure and change can be positive. So be ready to change with your partner for the better and take the relationship to a new plane.
Empathise and communicate
Even if you have difficulty understanding your partner's point of view, try putting yourself in his/ her place.
If Ashok had been sensitive enough to understand Rekha's predicament and helped in caring for her ailing mother; she may have been forthcoming in spending time with him and their son. Rekha should also have understood that life can't and doesn't stop for anyone. If you are caring for an ailing parent at home, it wouldn't kill you to take a few hours off.
Spend time with your partner and communicate your feelings to each other. You will end such conversations feeling refreshed. There's no reason to believe that life has to stop even if it has its fair share of problems.
It's a fact that love has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing at all. But then love needs to be nurtured like a plant, so that it can grow; if left unattended and uncared for, it withers and dies. Human relationships thrive on affection, understanding and empathy and go awry when the partners involved don't work towards keeping it alive.
*Names changed to protect privacy.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh