It’s 2.30 am when Ritika Mahadevan’s (name changed on request) phone pings. Her partner Avinash Mehra’s international flight has just landed and this chat at this unearthly hour is the first proper conversation they’ve had in the last 10 days. The couple has been in a long-distance relationship for two years now. Avinash, an investment banker, is based in Singapore and travels the globe. Ritika, an advertising professional, is based in Mumbai. She has tuned her body clock to be half awake as she awaits these messages from her partner. “Some weeks are really tough, as we barely speak to each other. In moments like these, I sometimes ask myself why I am in this relationship. But our bond is deep and we know we have something special,” says the 35-year-old Ritika.
Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor and her husband of one year, Anand Ahuja, are also in a long-distance marriage. This can impact even the most secure of relationships. The madly-in-love actress often posts Insta stories and images, admitting to missing her businessman husband, who travels extensively. In one such post, she emotionally admitted that nothing is worth being away from her hubby. Anand reciprocated her sentiment by confessing how much he missed her. Being apart is never easy.
But that is a dilemma most contemporary working couples face. Sonam, who shuttles between London, Delhi and Mumbai, admits that the couple gives each other’s work a lot of importance but they also do ensure that they take time out for each other. The dynamics of modern-day relationships are complex. There is no one formula that fits all. But what’s essential is to ensure that the bonds stray strong and true.
Consultant dermatologist Dr Chytra, CEO of Kosmoderma Clinics and mother of a three-year-old boy, emphasises the importance of choosing the ‘right husband’. “A supportive spouse is critical. I travel across the world training doctors in cosmetic dermatology and lecturing at major dermatology conferences across the world. I am out seven to 10 days a month. Hence, it’s important that my husband manages the home front,” she says. Chytra and her businessman husband Ajay Kharbanda have been married for seven years and have their ground rules in place. “I feel that both of us have enough space in life besides the comfort of being together. The time we spend is qualitative,” adds Ajay, Founder of StoneSand.
Disconnect to connect
Radhika Pandit, Sandalwood actress and KGF star Yash have been married for almost three years. “As actors, we are always in the spotlight and we face the pressure of how we portray ourselves on the screen. But for two actors who are married to each other, the pressure is much greater, as fans are obviously curious about such relationships. However, as a couple, we are not driven by such pressures and, ultimately, we are who we are. Even if both of us were to be in different fields, we would have been the same as we are now. But considering that we are watched and followed, we have to be aware of it and conduct ourselves accordingly, and the rest of it is like any other couple,” says Radhika. They try and take Sundays off together, whenever their schedules permit them to do so. While they may play loved up characters on screen, this is a pretty normal couple, that has created its own workable relationship mantras. “Since, we both work in the film industry, sometimes Sundays are also working days for us. We don’t have a particular day or time to go on a date but we get to spend some time with each other as and when time permits us,” says the actress.
While finding time for togetherness remains the elusive factor for most couples, advocate and mediator Vaishali Hegde and senior advocate Phanindra Rao ‘court’ each other in court. “We work for the same law firm and meet in court. So, we go for impromptu lunches when we find the time,” laughs Vaishali. They’ve been married for 21 years and have found their balance. There is an easy camaraderie and a strong friendship. “We knew each other for 10 years before we got married. My husband is my best friend and I share everything, no matter how trivial or silly it may seem, with him.” This is a solid marriage based on mutual trust and respect. “Unreasonable demands and expectations from either spouse are the first step towards disaster,” she cautions. Phanindra is clearly a supportive spouse. He admits, “Stress takes its toll on us sometimes and this, I am sure, is normal in any matrimonial home. In my opinion, the men should really be accommodating since the women are the ones who actually face more stress as they are usually multi-faceted and hence take up several chores (at home even after a gruelling day at work) while men have the ruse of having had ‘a long day at work!’”
The right partner can also open your world up to a new way of life, if you are willing to go with the flow. A relationship evolves in the little moments together. Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra and her musician spouse Nick Jonas travel the world, not necessarily together always. The actress, who has an upcoming Hollywood film and a couple of TV shows in the wings, is just as busy as her musician hubby. So how do they spend a day off together? “We don’t have one as both of us travel a lot. Right now, we are based in New York a lot more than in Los Angeles. When we have a day off, we don’t access our phones, just grab lunch, chat for hours, watch a movie, and take Diana (our pet dog) for a walk… Nick loves walking in NYC and I’m trying to learn how to do that since I’m not much of a walker. But there is something romantic about it, apparently,” she says cheekily.
Lifestyle and fashion blogger Shrima Rai and her businessman husband Aditya have two sons, aged nine and four. “We have to work doubly hard. Though we are married, the truth is that daily routines can mean just that - something routine. It becomes hectic with not just our own schedules to manage but also the school, classes and playdate schedules of our two boys.
Finding time to connect in ways beyond the daily routine is difficult and yet it is so important. Quality time is always lacking in today’s world but we both make an effort with date nights or movie nights. I also make it point to merge my work with my family. So, when I have food blogging/lifestyle assignments, I try to include Aditya so we can both enjoy a new experience together as a couple,” Shrima says.
The American concept of dates nights where a couple takes out mandatory time to go for a meal or watch a movie, works with some couples like Shrima and Aditya, although they do clarify that a date night does not necessarily mean you have to go out. It could be a romantic fun night in too. Others are more fluid and find the idea of date nights superfluous. “We lead a normal life and always try to cherish each other’s company as and when we are together.
We have never felt the need for rigid date nights. We enjoy our casual lunches, coffee or dinners and that is more than satisfying and seems more spontaneous,” Phanindra smiles.
Either way - structured or unstructured - investing time pays great dividends in a relationship. Certified marriage counsellor Joji Thomas opines, “There isn’t a lonelier experience worse than being married and feeling alone. Quality time is one of the top five love languages, which is essential in any marital relationship. Making time for each other is important and has to be intentional. It affirms love and reinforces intimacy. Going for date nights with no mobile phones, snuggling and watching movies at home, cooking together, playing games together all help to cement the bond. Getaways that help you unplug from the virtual world are also a good way to carve out quality time.”
Tiff and make up
Of course, a real relationship is never picture perfect like an Insta account. There are conflicts and grey areas to navigate. Radhika admits to venting her stress on her hubby Yash. The star wife candidly states, “Before marriage, it was my mother and, at present, it is Yash, on whom I take my stress out. It is also mutual, as Yash does it very often too. Moreover, I can sense whenever Yash is in a cranky mood and I remain the chilled and calm person in such situations. It is like we both turn ourselves into a punching bag and stay calm to ease the situation. No relationship is perfect and one has to work at it. It does require a lot of effort. When two individuals come together, every day is like a challenge and it’s a brand-new experience for both partners to work it out in any relationship, no matter if they are film actors or anyone else.”
Not everyone’s relationship may be lit up by the limelight like theirs, but pressure from society can wreak havoc with regular folks as well. Interfering relatives, nosy neighbours, work colleagues who cross boundaries with their questions or opinions, can all unsettle the fine balance between a husband and wife, especially if they are dealing with difficult issues such as financial worries, decisions on parenting, illness in the family, etc. Even the all-pervasive social media can be invasive and destroy domestic bliss, with people feeling the need to live up to their followers’ expectations, partners spending more time on the Internet than with each other, arguments online spilling into real world bad moods, etc.
Thus, arguments can vary from petty disagreements to serious squabbles. Chytra perceives time management as a conflict area in their equation. “Ajay is super punctual. He is the guest who will turn up at the invited time on the dot. I work on Indian Standard Time and will get there fashionably late! This irks him but now I indulge him occasionally by being on time,” she grins. Ajay explains, “We hardly fight, if ever there is an argument on some subject where we don’t align, we change the topic to avoid bitter confrontation.”
In long-standing marriages, the arguments often may appear comical to an outsider. But for the couple, it can be a cause for annoyance. “Sometimes, the arguments could be over something as silly as supporting our respective favourite sports teams (Cricket or Formula One) or sportspeople. Or it could be about getting stuck in traffic jams and whining that taking an alternate route would have been better. It could sometimes be serious issues such as managing finances or opinions on certain subjects. I must admit that the majority of the time, it’s my wife who makes up first,” says Phanindra.
It does appear though like it’s essentially a woman’s job to woo a man back after a fight. “I guess out of ten, eight or nine times, it would be me who makes up first. Yash is really not good at it. So, I do the damage control most of the time,” admits Radhika. “I would say that prioritising time and working on it is the key aspect for any relationship to survive. I still believe in fairy-tale romance and that there is no relationship that cannot be fixed,” she emphasises.