The Story of a South Asian Couple: Repeated Patterns

Sagar and Purvi have been married for 2 years and have been experiencing significant marital strain.

As with any couple, common patterns for arguments and marital stress emerged early on in their relationship. They realized this one day when they found themselves engaged in the same fight for what seemed like the 100th time:

It was Wednesday evening. Sagar had just come home from work and Purvi from a coffee meeting with a potential employer that Sagar had introduced her to the week prior. They were both starving and it was Sagar’s turn to cook that night.

“What do you want for dinner?” he asked looking in the fridge.

“I don’t know. Whatever you want is fine,” Purvi said distractedly as she checked her phone for messages.

“Well can you decide something? I’m starving,” Sagar replied slightly annoyed.

“I don’t care! Pick something,” said Purvi walking away.

“Why are you being so difficult?” Sagar asked raising his voice.

Purvi stared at him glaringly. “I’m being difficult? When I cook I have to decide what to eat and when you cook I still have to decide. How about you learn how to do a task from beginning to end without me having to hold your hand!” she yelled.

Sagar slammed the refrigerator shut. “You want to talk about holding hands? How come you can’t find your own job? Why do I always have to introduce you to people and get you appointments and schedule meetings?”

Purvi stood in front of him, close to tears, and shaking in anger. “If you think it’s such a chore to help me, then why didn’t you tell me before?”

“I didn’t tell you because I am sick of fighting and I figured if I kept my mouth shut I’d get over how annoyed I am about you always needing my help to connect with people in the industry!” Sagar tried to explain.

Purvi fired back angrily, “You’re selfish, you know that? I can find a job without your help.”

Sagar, offended by the name-calling, yelled, “Now I’m selfish? I’m trying to help you and you can’t even accept that!”

Purvi replied, “Ya and I’m assuming that as a loving husband you would want to help me and it wouldn’t feel like such an obligation! How am I wrong in that?”

By this point, Sagar was fuming and he was standing with his hands tightly crossed across his chest. “I should have just kept my mouth shut and not said anything. Clearly you can't handle hearing about what bothers me.”

Purvi had reached the point when she couldn’t take it anymore and had mentally checked out of the conversation. She didn’t say one more word and walked into their bedroom. She stayed there for a couple of hours and when she came out did not speak to Sagar for the rest of the evening.

Regardless of what specifically they are arguing about, Sagar and Purvi end up fighting the same way almost every time. They both get caught in the criticism-contempt-defensiveness cycle that repeats itself until Purvi starts to feel powerless and makes a passive-aggressive comment before becoming overwhelmed by the conversation, shutting down and walking away. This is exacerbated by the fact that Sagar tends to minimize the problem, hoping that will help avoid conflict, when in fact the problem just festers until it blows up in conversations like the one above.

Neither is very good at stopping the argument in the middle, taking a step back and trying to repair it. Instead, they use the other’s words as fuel to their already burning fire and attack back even stronger than before. They miss numerous opportunities to show empathy for and understanding of each other.

If you look past the anger and blame, they both have reasonable points: Purvi would like him to make more decisions and be more independent (in this case as well as regarding his slow pace of cooking, etc.) and Sagar would like her to be more conscientious of how much he’s doing to help her (with helping her find a job as well as remembering household chores they had previously agreed upon). However, they both miss each other’s legitimate points and get caught up in an unhealthy pattern of communication.

To break out of this cycle, both Sagar and Purvi have to improve their empathy and repair skills and address problems as they arise. In addition, and equally importantly, they need to ask themselves hard questions to learn about why they react the way that they do. Knowing a little about them, how do you think they would answer the self-reflective questions necessary to break out of unhealthy communication patterns?

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