Q. Sulagna, I am facing serious problems in my relationship now which are affecting the relationship and also both of us.

A few details on our background:
My boyfriend is also my colleague. He is a Tamil Hindu living with his parents.
I am a catholic from Mangalore, Karnataka. His is a very traditional and orthodox family while mine’s quite liberal.

Our relationship has now become a torture for me.

It is almost a year that we’ve been together. I was in a relationship before him which was more of a Friends with Benefits type. After 4-5 months of being together he found out about my past relationship from colleagues and started making enquiries about it. I realized it’s better to put all the truth on the table now rather than a few years later, which might cause disaster. So I told him the truth, minus the details. That’s when it started.

Past Sexual PartnersPhoto by Geórgia -

For me it was pure shock. I watched as my partner metamorphosed into the kind of typical backward-looking misogynist Indian male I don’t want to be with. Every single day he would remember some bit of my past history and ask for minute details, then abuse me if I refused to answer and abuse me if I did. Once he even caught hold of my neck in a moment of frenzy.

He never trusts me. He wants to dictate every aspect of my life from what I can wear to who I’m allowed to talk to. And to top it all – he makes me swear all of these things on some family member.

But – and this is the embarrassing part – I can’t think of him as just another petty misogynistic abuser. He’s a wonderful person inside. Every time he misbehaves he comes back to me and begs for forgiveness with tears in his eyes.

Here’s the thing Sulagna. We love each other. For real. But my past is something he’s not able to cope with (the fact that I’m the first real sexual encounter of his life makes things that much more touchy). But I can tell you this much – I’ve never really loved anyone before.

I want to be happy again. Tell me what I should do.

-Meredith,

Mumbai

A. One of the golden rules of a happy relationship is: NEVER try to change who you are for someone you love. No matter how much you love someone, you can never live your life under a forced disguise. It will eventually get to you and cause stress in your relationship, if not an eventual breakdown.

Your boyfriend has a very high need for control in a relationship. This approach might have worked with someone else (or in some other era), but given the person you are – this is going to cause disaster because you’re not going to be able to take it lying down forever.

Now since you haven’t left him already I assume that in spite of his interference in your independence and other unwarranted actions, you care for him and want to work through this. So that’s what I’m going to help you do.

The first step to bringing a problematic relationship back on track is to start drawing boundaries. 

What are boundaries?

A relationship is a mutual agreement between two people. Boundaries are terms on which this agreement is based. These are rules which both partners are to follow if they want to stay in the relationship.

How do you come up with these rules?

For that, you need to have a calm, mature discussion with your boyfriend. The objective of this discussion is to come to an agreement on the rules. Remember it’s you who’d be initiating the discussion. Hence you cannot afford to lose your cool, even if your boyfriend does. The key to creating balance in your relationship is to set its terms in the most calm and mature manner. Your boyfriend should realize that this is NOT a blame game but an honest attempt on your part to make the relationship work.

Past Sexual PartnersPhoto by leannaphotographs

So where do you start?

Enumerate clearly which specific behaviours of him hurt you. For example, you can tell him something like, “It hurts me if you 1. Tell me what to wear 2. Make me swear over simple things 3. Ask for details from my past.
These actions and behaviours of yours are causing me intense pain and stress. I know you care for me and you don’t want to hurt me. Hence I’m sure you wouldn’t want to continue these behaviours, now that you know how painful they are for me. So let us please agree on which behaviours you’re going to stop or modify so that our relationship can become happy and deeply fulfilling, like it was. Also, I’m more than willing to listen to and act on anything about me that’s bothering you. Let’s please talk about it.” 
This way you serve two purposes:

1. Lay down clear conditions of what is acceptable to you and what is not. Your mature and calm tone should convey your firmness to him.

2. Open him up for sharing his feelings with you. Through such dialogues, you convey to him that you’re that you’re willing to help him get over whatever is bothering him.  
 
Sex before marriage is an explosive issue in India, with emotions running feverishly high around it (just check the comments section here and you’ll know: Q&A.My wife had sex before marriage! :D) Hence, if your boyfriend is one of those guys who’re really particular about their wives’ virginity, you might have to reconsider your relationship. But before that, give yourselves a chance. If there’s true commitment, it’s possible that your boyfriend would change his views in order to accept you.

All the best.