Monday, September 29, 2014

Unapologetic

Fights happen in every family. In our family, how we deal with the aftermath of fights is that we cool down for 1-2 days, and the next time we get a chance to talk - we apologize and talk through it. And then we move on. We cannot move on without the key apology. 

Apologizing for something, whether it is deliberate or not, forces you to take accountability for your actions and the way things come across. Even if you didn't mean to hurt the other person's feelings, sometimes you have to accept that you did and say sorry anyway just because it's a considerate thing to do.

One of the things that I struggle with in my husband's family is that nobody apologizes. Ever. 

Early on in my relationship, I had fights with husband-ji and often he would come to me acting like nothing ever happened. And it was awkward. I needed an apology. Husband-ji didn't even know how to apologize. But for me, I needed him to say it out of consideration, and I also wanted to know why he was apologizing. This not only made him take accountability for his actions, but also think more deeply about why we had fought and if he could have done something differently. Therefore, we fought less because we communicated better each time on what we did wrong. It is something that I have had to work on with him over the years. BUT...I can't change his family...

Over the years I have had many fights with both my MIL and FIL. Some big and some small. Several years ago I had a fight with my MIL, in which my FIL had to apologize for her. And then this year I had a fight with my FIL, and my MIL had to apologize for him. It was like a diversion and a lack of responsibility that I didn't like about this. It would just be so much easier if the person who said the wrong thing would just fess up and say a simple "sorry" and explain why and then it would be over. But for them, it would be "losing face". And an elder can never "lose face". Sometimes I think it is embarrassing for them to discuss their emotions. For me, I am a big ball of emotions all day, every day, ready to talk, whenever, wherever! But for them, so much is hidden, pushed under the rug and not discussed. There is pride. There is ego. There is the family hierarchy. In husband-ji's family they have these big explosions and then everyone goes around pretending nothing ever happened, meanwhile I have PTSD!

In other branches of our family, you will see other family members pretending the other doesn't exist or not speaking for years. I think it is so strange. Nobody ever takes the time to sit down and discuss things. It is either: a)pretending like nothing ever happened, or b)never speaking to each other again. Even though sometimes people live in the same city, or even the same house. They can hold grudges for years, even over the smallest misunderstandings. When I ask husband-ji about the no apology thing, he says that "the apology is more of an unsaid thing" (unless of course you are never getting spoken to again!) It's like playing Russian roulette in a language I don't speak.

As a foreigner, I find this absurd and puzzling. I feel that people should apologize no matter who did the wrong, talk it out and understand where the other is coming from. Apologizing humbles you, and it forces you to take responsibility. But then again, I come from a no-hierarchy everyone-is-equal mentality. For me, everyone is equal regardless of age or gender. Whenever family hierarchy is involved, ego is involved. And ego is not humble. An elder person will not apologize to a younger person, on the sole basis of ego. An elder sister-in-law will never apologize to a younger one, on the sole basis of ego. It is such crap!

It is awkward sometimes for me to be in India, and to be in a room with two family members who act like the other doesn't exist. The tension is like a pink elephant in the room. It is worse than watching an episode of the Real Housewives of New Jersey! It is awkward to me when an elder refuses to speak to another family member because of something that the elder said and refused to ever apologize to that person. For 30 years. It is awkward when we go visit our NRI cousins who both live in the same city, yet nobody knows why they do not speak to each other.

Sometimes I wonder if the majority of our Indian family drama could be solved with a simple and humbling, "I'm sorry"...

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16 comments

  1. You hit the nail on the head. Pride, ego and hierarchy. I never get an apology out of my husband and it's hurtful, because I always apologize to him when I'm in the wrong. I used to think it was a "male" thing, but now I think it's also his culture. You just don't talk about your feelings, and it's SO toxic. Just be honest. Drop the bullshit and talk about how you feel. Think about how the other person feels. Think about your actions. These things so difficult for my husband because he grew up in a "saving face" culture. I sometimes wonder if he'll ever be able to truly connect with how he feels or communicate, or if the damage has been done. :(

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    1. Totally agree. My husband spent 25 years in India, and only 9 years with me & abroad....it will take time!

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  2. True! But hopefully, modern Indian families are changing the trend. I feel sorry may not be said but it is often shown to show things are good and the person is apologetic. Do you observe that?

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    1. Yes I do, you can tell it in their voice. At this point I am okay with getting the apology through the other person like a vessel LOL. At least that is something!

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  3. It is not like all is well in the western world

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  4. Soooooo true!!! I have been waiting for an apology for over 6 months now, I don't think I will ever get it. My husband always says 'you cannot say sorry in Marathi' LOL

    I have had to imagine those people have said sorry just to be able to move forward, mental role play really helped but still.... niggles, I WANT AN APOLOGY!

    Going to be a long time waiting....

    It's a pride and ego thing, as well as a culture thing, I am sure of it. Also the fact that elders are never wrong even if they obviously are sometimes :P

    Lots of love xxx

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    1. It is so strange and so cultural. Definitely a lot to adjust to...

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  5. @Alexandra

    It is believed in hindu marriage that once you are married, the bond is for seven births. So, if you are going to end up with the same person seven times, then you have plenty of time to say "sorry" or "thank you" or you can live without them anyway LOL.

    This is definitely a problem not just in India but in most Asian societies based on hierarchy. If you apologize, you are taken to be a weak, somewhat imperfect person. The other person may use this weakness against you. This happens when you live in a society plagued by social and economic insecurities where your social position, clan, gender is the only hope of making you feel less vulnerable. Western and eastern cultures are very different regarding feelings for good or bad. Women are mostly afflicted by this phenomenon because given their lower status in the society, they latch on to anything which gives them some leverage in the family hierarchy.

    There is an anecdote regarding the difference between American and Indian interviewers mentality. If in America, during an interview, the candidate is asked something which he does not know, and he answers in the negative, he is praised for being honest.

    In India, if you say "I don't know" in an interview, the interviewers instantly form and opinion about you that you are stupid. That is why in India, it is better not to admit one's faults. Those who do are considered either weak or stupid.

    There is also something else, due to wide disparity in incomes, social status etc. often there is no other way to get things done without resorting to dishonesty. It is better to pay a bribe and get things done than to wrestle with opaque laws. If rules are simplified and made people friendly, there is probably no incentive for these things.

    The fact is that we have yet to take control of our country and society. The system itself is a colonial system which was made to control Indians and not to serve them. The day an Indian feels that he has a stake in the development of the country/society, he will shun dishonesty. Right now, vast majority of the citizens are dis empowered and do not feel they belong to this country.

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    1. Really really interesting what you have said. It really resonated with me.
      My MIL always says to keep the upper hand you must keep quiet. My FIL always say that you must never let people know they have upset you. It really is something about not showing a "perceived" weakness. What is wrong in being humble or being vulnerable or emotional? I don't know...

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  6. "Apologizing humbles you, and it forces you to take responsibility."
    That right there sums it up.
    I have found apologies to not be worth much when dealing with my Indian in laws, so I don't even bother with them.
    I do think many of these Indian 'family fights' are 'time pass' & entertainment & excitement in otherwise dull & dreary lives.
    My elder SIL lords her hierarchal status (being married to the oldest son) over all the other SILs- (Her goal in life seems to be to sit on her butt while all us other SIL's wait on her.)
    It is so bad they had to build a separate kitchen for her as none of the other SILs wants to eat with her.
    I simply refuse to participate.
    I also refuse to live in the same house with ANY of them, I can't be bothered with the continuous drama.
    And most of all- LEARN TO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY!
    I have heard my Indian in laws say the nastiest, ugliest things about & to each other. Like things you would NEVER say to someone you love.
    I grew up with an alcoholic abusive father so I have definitely had enough!

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    1. God, how horrid, she sounds like a total nightmare who has just been waiting to asset her "queen" status!
      I have also heard many harsh things. My MIL says that Indians tend to speak to each other more harshly and that Westerners use their words much more carefully.

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  7. I think a lot of familial discord is there in American families as well, the key difference is the drama, or melodrama(!), that surrounds the discord in Indian families. There are uncles and cousins of my wife's (who's American) who she haven't spoken to in a long time, even when all were in the same room a few months ago. But they go about in a civilized(?) fashion by not hyperventilating, shouting, or calling names, by calmly ignoring the other person. And I really think that is the way to go. If you cannot get on well with someone, just let go and live your own life.

    Now compare the same scenario in an Indian setting. People will (often) deliberately act boorishly to make the antagonism known to all and sundry. Tears will shed and vocal chords strained.

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    1. Very true. I have noticed the same...it is like a Telugu soap opera...for years!

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  8. Hubby and I go back and forth on this topic. He will say he's sorry often, sometimes he means it and sometimes it's just methodical. Other times he acts like nothing happens and that drives me nuts! Either way, he always seems to be determined he's not done anything wrong ever. He's certain he's never done anything to upset, harm, offend, etc. anyone, especially not me. It is definitely a work in progress. I've had to do a lot of working on him throughout our marriage (and I've worked on myself as well).

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    1. Hahaha my hubby is the same. He thinks he never does anything wrong. I have had to explain to him about perspectives - like even if he did not mean to hurt, he did. And can he understand that.
      That right there took AT LEAST 6 years LOL.

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