One can say that one of the strengths of South Asian culture is the value placed on taking care of other’s needs and placing collective happiness over individual happiness. This can lead to a strong feeling of togetherness, accountability to others in your life and high group cohesion.
However, this strength is a double-edge sword, especially when it comes to relationships because this need for collective or group harmony can also function to minimize problems in the marriage.
Minimizing is outwardly dampening one’s emotional reaction to an event while inwardly feeling the full effects of that emotion. It is on the same spectrum as being in denial about the problem. Here is an example** to illustrate how minimizing occurs:
Anjana and Jayant have been married for 8 years. Jayant is a defense attorney and Anjana is a stay at home mother raising their 3 young children. Almost every night, Jayant returns home from work around 9 or 10pm, eats dinner with Anjana and then retires to his office to work until 2 or 3 in the morning.
It upsets Anjana that he works so much and spends so little time with her or their children. She is often lonely, frustrated and resentful that she has to take care of the children and the house all by herself without help.
When her friends ask her how she manages, she says, “Oh I’m fine. I’m just grateful that because of his hard work we can have the lifestyle that we have.”She puts on a smile for her friends despite being tortured inside that she doesn’t have the relationship with her husband that she wants.
**The couple in this example is purely fictional, is not based on a real couple and in no way is intended to represent a real couple. Any similarities between this couple and one in real life are purely coincidental.
While being grateful to your partner is always positive for the relationship, saying it without actually feeling it does not make it true. Feeling resentment on the inside while saying something different to her friends is a clear indication that Anjana is minimizing how she feels for fear of having arguments or asking too much from her husband. She feels compelled to be accepting of the situation that she has even if it is making her unhappy. What she doesn’t realize is that silently enduring this unhappiness will affect her children as well as her marriage in the long run and that speaking with Jayant directly about this will be the only way to improve their situation.
South Asian couples, because of their value for group happiness, have to be particularly careful when balancing the line of staying true to the culture and maintaining a healthy relationship. By not speaking up due to minimizing the problems, an argument may be avoided temporarily; however, those feelings are bottled up inside and they always find their way out.
In Anjana’s case, she may not tell her husband how much she wishes he could better balance his work with their home life. But something like is much more likely to happen:
For the 5th night in a row, Jayant returned home from work around midnight. He put his bag down and walked into the laundry room where Anjana was. “Sorry I’m late again. This case is so difficult. I can’t wait until it is over,” he said.
Anjana didn’t seem to respond so Jayant decided to leave the laundry room stating that he was going to change and get on his computer. As he walked away, she saw a red shirt in their white laundry load.
She yelled after him, “Jayant! How many times do I have to tell you to stop putting colors in the white load? Do you think I have nothing better to do with my time than sort your laundry? Why is it so difficult for you to follow directions?”
Jayant, replied sarcastically, “Wow. You know you’re right. After working 14 hours a day, the most important thing in my life is what color my shirt is and what color the laundry is.”Rolling his eyes, he said, “It’s just one shirt for God’s sake.”
Even angrier than before, Anjana became defensive, “Just one shirt?! Do you think what I do around the house is a joke and not that important? Without me this house would be a disaster and you wouldn’t have any clothes to wear! ”
As you can probably recognize, this is just the beginning of what would be a very long and painful argument because of a simple laundry mistake. The scale of the argument is larger than the mistake; the fight does not match the crime.
Instead, Anjana’s bottled up emotions about Jayant’s work schedule came out through her frustration about laundry. This resentment about his work schedule would remain even if he stops mixing colors with whites. will lead nowhere because they are not actually arguing about laundry and she will still feel
Had Anjana addressed her issues about Jayant’s work schedule with him directly, she would not have had to minimize the problem, trying to tell herself it is not a big deal that she is unhappy. Her emotions would not have been bottled up and they would not have come out in the way that they did.
Next time you are upset by your partner, ask yourself, “Am I really helping the relationship by staying quiet?” If you find yourself still mulling over the incident a few hours, a few days or a few weeks later, the answer is no and you should find a time when you both are calm to address it and avoid hurting your relationship further.
And if you have minimized the problem and you find yourself arguing about something small and insignificant like laundry ask yourself, “Is this what I’m actually mad about?” Chances are the answer is no and that is your cue to immediately set a time to talk to your partner about what is actually bothering you.
The key is remembering that you can complain about a behavior while still being grateful for what your partner does for the relationship.
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