Friday, February 28, 2014

Spoiled Punjabis - Or, I Feel My Codependency Flaring Up

*Note: This post was written approximately 1 year ago. This is not a current issue in my relationship. It's simply a reflection of my feelings at the time I journaled this. Please continue to follow my story for all the drama, updates, highs and lows to see how things turn out.  

I've not led an easy life. After the long-term bullshit my sociopath, narcissistic ex put me through I went to therapy. It was there I learned I had become codependent. He had broken me down in every way imaginable over a course of several years before finally trying to kill me himself twice and trying to force me to kill myself once. Yep, I was one of those abused women who had a very difficult time getting out. I didn't even realize what was going on until things got serious to be honest! I also picked up some very unhealthy coping and survival mechanisms.

I worked on myself quite a bit and my loving Punjabi man helped me tremendously. He didn't try to rescue me. What he did was listen to me when I needed to talk. He treated me like a normal person and he didn't put up with any of my drama. He helped me heal and grow into a much more healthy person.

Now that he's here, I'm learning that healing from codependency is a life-long work in progress. I love my husband, please don't doubt that, but right now we are going through some difficult times. His culture shock has turned him into something I am having a lot of difficulty adjusting to. It's also brought to light some aspects of joint family living and Indian attitudes that I could not come to terms with.

I expected there to be some shock to his system. I expected him to misbehave and act somewhat differently. I didn't expect him to be a completely different person. 

The first thing to cause us problems was food. He would sit in the house all day long waiting for me to get home from a 14-16 hour workday and then spend a couple hours in the kitchen cooking for him. I did not feel capable. This caused a rift in the relationship. He couldn't understand why I wouldn't cook for him and would let him starve. I wasn't letting him starve at all. There was tons of food in the house, including some I bought special just for him that he could microwave. Of course, I had taught him how to use the microwave but I'm not complaining about that at all. Every microwave is different and that was something that would have had to been done for just about anyone.

Hubby's culture shock set in very early - within 3 weeks of his arrival. Suddenly he wasn't being served 3-4 meals a day and no one was dropping everything they were doing to go cook some special meal for him the way his mother did. If/when he cooked for himself - which was rare in the beginning - he was expected to throw his own trash away, put his dishes in the sink and wipe up any mess he had made.

There was no maid sweeping the floor every morning which meant that he had to step on the food and trash he had dropped on the floor. (This was a habit I had broken him of while living in India but I see he quickly reverted to it once I wasn't there to nudge him toward the trash can.) No one changed the sheets everyday so food he had eaten in the bed and gotten everywhere stayed in the bed and he had to sleep on it. (Which btw, just to clarify is actually crumbs, not large pieces of food. No one I know is that nasty.)

Clothes he wanted to wear weren't being washed every single day either. I could go on and on with the lists of things but I think you get the point. Hubby lived like the proverbial spoiled Punjabi momma's boy king while in India and he was not getting the same treatment here. Why you ask?

Hubby got here right at the busy season for work. I could either quit my job and we wind up broke and destitute homeless people or I could take the assignments they gave me and deal with it. Obviously I chose to work considering I just signed all those support papers with USCIS and kind of had to. I was working an average of 65 hours each week with most weeks bordering on 70 hours. (It's now even higher than that!)

Mr. Spoiled Punjabi was making demands left and right. He needed clothes, he needed special food, he needed a lot, just as I had needed things when I got to India. He brought money with him of course but quickly spent that on things he wanted and needed. Hubby is a clothes whore and no matter what he did/didn't have, he wanted new clothes. This is a habit hubby had even in India where he was a compulsive clothes buyer and owned roughly 300+ pieces of clothing and about 15-20 pair of shoes. I let it go.

Gradually hubby realized he had to learn to cook and start doing it more. So he started calling his family and getting cooking lessons over the phone/Skype. Things improved somewhat but then I noticed he had adopted this archaic view on familial roles that is common in India. Next thing I know I'm being accused of not doing my "duty" to him by cooking him dinner and cleaning up after him.

It was very difficult for me not to regress into those codependent behaviors. I wanted very much to avoid his outbursts. I knew where they were coming from, it was the culture shock no doubts about it. My husband had cooked and cleaned in India on many occasions. He also was smart enough to understand our roles were reversed here with me being the primary earner in the home. Still I found quite a few times I was reading things for him because he didn't want to, telling him what answers to put on a job application, spending all of my free time at home cooking and cleaning, etc.

It made me bitter and angry all over again and we had quite a few massive arguments. It became more hostile for hubby to come with me to work than to just stay at home. Either we weren't talking or we were having long drawn out arguments. Then the insulting got ugly.

This is one thing I ABHORE about the Indian culture. Argue all you want, I see Indians do this here on my blog, in online forums I'm in and in real life. You say one tiny thing they don't agree with about India or an observation you have made and they start attacking you personally. I cannot and will not tolerate a personal attack. I found myself more than once snapping back at him and that is not the person I want to be.

Finally I sat down and had a talk with hubby. I let him know he had become the most self-centered, one-sided and individualistic person I know. I told him that we are a couple and he should not be demanding I do things for him that are well beyond my capabilities. I told him that I cannot and will not do all of the working for profit and then do all of the housework. That settled him down for a while.

With each flare up he seemed to get even meaner. Yes, I dealt with anger issues as part of my culture shock but I never attacked him the way he was attacking me. I let a lot of thoughts go through my mind and into this blog back then but I had the common courtesy not to say these things to the person directly. It doesn't foster healthy relationships to throw out spur of the moment and hasty words.

I went out and purchased myself a new book on recovering from codependency. It's called Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. While this book is based on people who were with alcoholic spouses, I did find it useful. I wound up crying through the first 90+ pages. Just reading it was therapy. But I did more than read. I got out a notebook and I started writing things I felt and reactions to the passages and I answered all the questions at the end of each chapter. I used "I" and made each line personal while writing.

It helped me tremendously. It clarified what was and wasn't codependent behavior in my current circumstances. It helped me learn a few new mantras to say to myself as well. Here's a few of the things I wrote today:
  1. I will say no when I want to. (This is not something that is easy to a codependent who seeks to avoid negative reactions. I haven't yet mastered the Indian custom of saying no without using the word 'no' yet.)
  2. I will not take on the responsibility of others, even if they get angry or frustrated. 
  3. I do not have to sit there and allow someone to attack me as if I'm helpless. I can and will remove myself from the situation.
That second one is the most important to me. I get hesitant, scared and frustrated with things that aren't getting done and I wind up doing them anyway. It's counter-productive, makes me angry and resentful and enables others to get out of doing what they are responsible for.

Thankfully I didn't spiral down too far and I was not doing everything. That's where the stubborn streak helped me. I knew deep down from my therapy and self-help before that it was not my job to do everything for everyone. I think this helped me maintain some of my sanity but I still found myself reacting, in the form of stress and anger, to others trying to push me to do their work.

If you think you may be codependent or you want to learn more about it, please see these resources and the ones mentioned in the post. There is a significant amount of codependency that goes on in India with the current Emotional Blackmail: (When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You) and reward system that is in place. It could easily happen to you and you wouldn't know it until you were so far gone you needed therapy as well. Both of the books linked to in this post I have personally read and they helped me a considerable amount. I hope you find them useful as well.

Drew University: Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Good Therapy: Codependency
Imagine Hope: Codependency
Jennifer Musty Reeves: Codependency, It's a Family Thing
Counseling, Assistance and Referral Services: Codependency: Caring Until It Hurts


  1. "You say one tiny thing they don't agree with about India or an observation you have made and they start attacking you personally."

    Actually disagreeing with an Indian, criticizing an Indian about ANYTHING or if an Indian just isn't getiing his/her way can lead to these sorts of hissy fits & tantrums.
    Some of the things my Kashmiri husband has said to me in fits of anger are just unbelievable.
    One example-
    Me- I never said I was beautiful & that has nothing to do with what we are discussing.
    Me- So what? That's called 'confidence', don't like it? Effing divorce me & marry some village girl you can denigrate to your idiotic level.
    Husband- Looks extremely befuddled & can't figure out a 'safe' way to back his way out of the conversation.
    Me- You know you ALWAYS do this crap when we disagree - throw a HUGE EMOTIONAL TEMPER TANTRUM like a 5 yr old & say a lot of STUPID things you later REGRET. Now can we please try a MATURE CONSTRUCTIVE way of dealing with this issue so we can RESOLVE it?????!!!!!
    Husband- Pauses for 30 seconds, then you can see the 'light bulb' go off in his head, his eyes roll up then down & a big smile covers his face & he runs to hug me.
    At least my Kashmiri husband is EVENTUALLY REASONABLE & willing to try & work things out in a mature & constructive manner - ( if he wasn't I really would divorce him.)
    Why he has to repeatedly resort to insults is beyond me - it obviously doesn't go anywhere positive. I guess it is an immediate response culturally ingrained in Indians to protect the ego by verbally attacking the 'perceived enemy' every way possible?
    (I realize this is a bit of a rant but I think my example will help your Indian readers see what our point of view is as 'westerners' is in resolving arguments & disagreements - we are looking for a positive outcome which often requires a compromise on both part & hopefully a situation where both parties 'win'.
    In contrast the Indian way of resolving agruments/disagreements is an "I will WIN at all costs by ANY means" & you will lose" - compromise (or even listening) is not even an option. VERY immature & not constructive. Maybe it's one of those Indian 'honor' things we westerners find so bizarre?)

  2. Couples all over the world fight and the fights are nasty. Overtime, good sense prevail and both understand their mistakes and sort it out. After all, husband and wives love each other. This has nothing to do with culture. Men often don't want to escalate a fight. We back down and say sorry for two reasons. One that we love our wives even if they are not right all the time and second it is better to preserve your sanity and the sanity of other family members with you. Sometimes, it is just not worth proving somebody wrong.

  3. Your examples are great and mirror a lot of what I see/hear. My hubby has told me he wasn't going to giggle and cut up with me like I was great. It was odd to me to hear that lol. I don't ask him to do that (me and my family crack jokes and pick at each other and bond over silly antics and he's not that type most of the time). I just didn't react because I had no idea what to say to that one. I've heard some nasty phrases myself. I don't get it. It's maddening!

  4. This isn't about proving anyone right or wrong. It's about stopping a habit that is detrimental to the marriage. It's about causing someone to see that their behavior is absurd, childish and unacceptable and won't be tolerated. No one deserves to be talked to this way.

  5. I always try to focus on the positives even in very difficult circumstances. I try not to give the evil eye

  6. I love history! I've always been interested in stories about the evil eye!

  7. Interesting read. The only time I've really heard of the Evil Eye was on an episode of the Real Housewives of Orange County. It's nice to read about its true meaning.

  8. I sometimes give my hub the evil eye. I did not realize the true meaning until now.

  9. I have never heard of the third eye or evil eye so this was quite interesting to read about!

  10. Codependent No More and The Language of Letting Go are two good books by the same author. I lost both my parents and my beloved grandmother in a period of 9 months when I was 19 so needless to say I was at my lowest point in my life where I clinged to unhealthy and going no where friendships and relationships. Those books really helped me and I recommended them to anyone that is going through codependent issues.

    Anyway, I cannot really contribute much to this topic as I never experienced what you and lots of other Indian-Non Indian couples may be going through but I believe that relationships between a very traditional person and one that is not regardless of culture never really work unless there are some serious compromises in place. Love sometimes is not enough you know.

    These types of differences should be hashed out before a serious commitment takes place. I would have never married my husband if he was a traditional Indian man and he would have never married me if I was a traditional Latin woman; the differences would have been to great in my opinion to overcome in the long run. We work well together because we first honor one another then our families and then our respective cultures.

    But to be fair, the beginning stages of a relationship are often times than not a "peaches and cream" period so everything seems to be perfect and in place.

    Good luck to you and other couples going through this :)

    I truly enjoy your posts!

    Millie B

  11. Alexandra MadhavanMarch 1, 2014 at 6:28 PM

    The food thing is a hard one...he needs to learn how to cook. I didn't even know how to put rice in the rice cooker when I met my husband, and now I cook 3 meals per day! He can do it with a little encouragement. It took me about 5 years to learn my way around the kitchen.

  12. This is a great comment! Thank you for sharing. For as much as we butt heads, I do think hubby and I are a good match. We both have some strong traditional views and some more modern views on things. We're both stubborn but also both willing to be more accepting when we get over that stubbornness. It's just a bit messy sometimes getting to that point. I try to do my best to realize when it's my problems causing the issues and he's doing okay learning when it's his problems that cause the issues. It's a work in progress to say the least.

  13. I never did! I think it's sweet that you did though. I hope the letter was well received. :)

  14. People are people, you should never just assume things but sometimes stereotypes fall right into place and are true..kinda sad sometimes

  15. JadeLouise DesignsMarch 3, 2014 at 6:13 PM

    Actually i don't' think I wrote a letter to my Mother-in-law. We met on my first date with my husband. We are of the same culture so there wasn't a barrier like that. And my first date with my husband was a blind date, and we doubled with some of his friends and had a big party at his parents house. So actually it was a lot of fun and since we weren't serious at all, it was easy meeting his family. So as our relationship grew, so did my relationship with his family. I actually really lucky to how easy our relationship developed with his family as we dated.

  16. I am not as close to my in-laws as I would like to be. We are just so different.

  17. That was such a sweet gesture. I have never written a letter to my mother-in-law but I think it's so important to keep a good relationship with all parts of the family.

  18. Aw what a lovely sentiment - I actually think this a beautiful idea as well as letter. x

  19. This was so informative. I remember reading The God of Small Things in college, and I was surprised at how Indian culture still held on to certain stereotypes. Then again, we do that in the US too. I guess it takes a very, very long time for everyone to stop judging each other.

  20. Unfortunately, I've never had much luck with my mother in law even though I've always wanted to have a relationship with her.

  21. Really nice and I am sure it was appreciated. My mother in law left this world all too early and I have missed her ever since. She was really easy to get along with and never interfered.

  22. I am married to someone who's family is from a different country to me and he was raised different than i was. But the first time i had to speak to his parents i was nervous luckily they speak English but we all hit it off straight away.Now i get more attention from them than he does lol.By the way the letter you wrote was really lovely.

  23. That is a really sweet sentiment. I bet she will really appreciate the words. I would probably have done the same thing if I thought about it, in your situation.

  24. I never thought about writing my mother in law, but I do send her flowers on Mothers Day to thank her for being such a wonderful woman and raising a great son

  25. That is a fabulous way to start off your relationship with your future mother in law. I am sure she will appreciate your effort to not only be a part of her son's life, but hers as well. Beautiful!

  26. I think what you did was really smart; a very smart move. It gave you M-in-L a chance to hear what you were thinking and to set aside any criticism she might have planned to hurl at you.

  27. Starting off without the tension must have been great. I wish I could have started off that casual. I think my relationship with my MIL is great so far but it could have been easier in the beginning if we hadn't had the tension of being potential family at the time.

  28. That does make things harder. Finding a common ground helps you bond. I'm still looking for some common ground with my MIL. The more the better.

  29. Thank you. Building strong relationships is very important to me. I try to reach out to the rest of his family as well.

  30. It looks like it does take too long to let go of old habits and ideals. Of course, media like Hollywood and modern music doesn't really help dispel these stereotypes. They're in such a powerful position, they could easily do so but many times they don't.

  31. That's sad. Some women you just can't win though. Some don't want to like you, some don't want their son's to marry anyone. As long as you do what you know is right, you can't be responsible for her beyond that.

  32. That's sad. It's good you cared for her and were able to experience that bond though. You will always have those memories.

  33. That's great! I remember the first time I spoke to MIL and FIL. They waited for my hubby to leave the room and then they asked me if I liked him. At that time I had no idea that was the standard question for whether or not I would accept marriage with him. LOL. Its funny to think of now though.

  34. That's great. I think it's important that MIL's know we remember and appreciate them.

  35. Thank you. I think this did make a big difference in her acceptance of me and the efforts she put forth to welcome me to the family.

  36. Aww, thank you! I hope you and your future DIL get along good and that she takes the time to make you realize how important all the work you did all these years was.

  37. That is a beautiful letter! I love the detail that you put into everything for it!

  38. I'm sure your letter was well-received. It was thoughtful and shows how much you care want to start a relationship with her. Great job!

  39. That is a lovely idea and beautiful letter. I love the thought you put into this!

  40. Very much right to the point Bhaabhi. Though my wife never said so but just one month after marriage I was expecting the same things from her. She is very calm and reasonable and rather than complain on my orders, she tried to change my habits. Actually I didn't even know that I was being co-dependent until one day my uncle (massar as you know Indian culture) asked me to really see what I was doing. After that I really tried to change it and I am trying. We talk about this now.
    Even though I was doing it unknowingly, your post it really makes me feel like an accused ;)

  41. Thanks for sharing your response. I did not mean to make you feel accused. I'm also glad your wife was able to help you. Codependency can destroy relationships but since you've gotten help, your marriage will be very strong. My husband didn't respond well to sensitivity and doting lol. I know that sounds bad but I really have to push him to get him to change. He's so stubborn...just like me. :P Overall though, I think it's going well considering some of the things we've had to work on.

  42. Self-reflection forces us at some point we made a mistake. Those with fragile self-esteems or inflated egos will not be able to admit to their mistakes, let alone learn from them in retrospect. Spirituality is a hallmark of Indian culture. All good cultural ideals are ideals for that very reason- everyone aspires to them, but few find them easy to practice in reality (we have them in the US, too.. like we say 'don't gossip', but how many Americans gossip?).