How to Cultivate a Healthy Relationship: Tips from a Desi Therapist

Relationship conflicts seem to be a regular theme among my clients. From problems with communication to issues being vulnerable with a romantic interest, relationship stress can snowball into bigger issues.

In my experience counseling couples, I’ve learned that partners only pursue therapy when relationship problems begin to interfere with daily life or when there is uncertainty about continuing the relationship.

I’ve seen that chronic relationship stress can aggravate depression or anxiety for one or both partners. Additionally, relationship problems can affect a person’s self-esteem leading to feelings of guilt, shame, or anger. Sometimes, one or both partners employ substance abuse to cope with the conflicts rather than confronting the source.

The specifics of each person’s relationship vary, and no relationship is perfect, but simply put: A healthy relationship makes you feel confident, respected, and supported. Some characteristics that define the health of a relationship is mutual respect, compassion, trust, honesty, safety, and effective communication. While some of these characteristics seem apparent, it can be challenging to put all those into practice.

How to Cultivate a Healthy Relationship

First, it’s essential to lay down the foundation for the basics of any relationship. Bear with me—while some of this information may seem obvious, it is a crucial exercise for a long-lasting healthy relationship.

There are three fundamental principles to building a strong romantic relationship. They are:

1. Knowing Your Wants

While this may seem pretty straightforward, navigating the dating landscape is arguably harder than ever. Most of the single clients I’ve worked with have described to me the constant exhaustion and frustration in trying to find a romantic partner. From short-lived relationships that fizzle out to those that come to a dead-end, the underlying trend seems to be that either one or both parties don’t fully understand their wants.

Knowing what you want is critical. Let’s say you want tacos—would you go to a Thai restaurant? Ridiculous example, I know, but the answer, I hope, would be, “no.” Why? Simply because the Thai restaurant doesn’t specialize in tacos and probably doesn’t make them either. So if you went into said Thai restaurant with the expectations of Mexican fare, you’d be hard-pressed to find what you’re looking for.

What values are you looking for? Do you want marriage in the future? Do you want children? Where do you want to settle down? What personality traits are you looking for? The list goes on. And the good news is that we’re free to choose whatever we want, but with so many conflicting messages, it’s hard to know what it even is that we want sometimes.

Therefore, taking inventory and stock of what you want in a partner is key to starting a healthy relationship off on the right foot. If not, resentment can start to creep in because one or both parties will be unyielding to change.

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2. Choosing the Right Person

Yes, I know, obvious. But how do you go about choosing the right person? The key can be to actually look to the past. Look at your past relationships and romantic interests. What has made you happy and what has made you miserable? If you take a moment to ask yourself if there was anything you didn’t like about individual relationships or qualities in previous partners, it will help you make a more refined decision for the next partner you date.

Dating itself is a process of self-discovery, and sometimes we end up in the same relationships over and over again because we ignore red flags. Slow down and reflect on the type of relationship that you imagine having, and notice if there are any differences between that vision and the partners that you have been with.

Selecting the right person is challenging, but important qualities to look for is a partner who is empathetic and supportive. The rest are personal preferences, but reflecting on your choices are essential to make the right decision.

3. Practicing Healthy Relationship Skills

Look, having a healthy relationship takes work in the same way living a healthy lifestyle takes work. Don’t be discouraged if you feel that you don’t have the skills for a healthy relationship—it’s something that’s pre-programmed. Healthy relationship skills such as insight, mutuality, empathy, commitment, emotional regulation, and commitment, along with many others, are things that require regular practice.

Practice makes perfect is the old adage. As you practice the skills, you become better at implementing them into your own relationship. Incorporating healthy relationship skills also has the added benefit of helping you to reduce unhealthy relationship habits, which increases the rapport you have with your partner.

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The Five Skills Every Healthy Relationship Needs

This list of relationship skills is not exhaustive, but from my experience working with couples, these five skills are the key for a healthy and stable relationship. Each of these skills can be learned, but they do require a lot of practice to incorporate into your current or future relationship.

1. Insight

Insight is the ability to understand yourself and the ability to understand your partner. The benefit of insight in a relationship is that you can understand the causes and consequences of your behavior as well as learn from your mistakes. When you fully cultivate insight, you’ll have a much better understanding of yourself and your partner or potential partner. Because how can you expect your partner to understand you if you don’t understand yourself, right? Insight allows you to learn from mistakes that have caused issues in your relationship as well as help you develop foresight into decisions that will either help or harm your relationship.

2. Mutuality

Everyone has needs, wants, and desires. Mutuality is recognizing that you and your partner have needs, wants, and desires, and it understands that certain sacrifices need to be made so that there’s a high probability that both yours and your partners’ needs can be met. When mutuality is fully developed, you can communicate clearly and effectively, meet your partner’s needs with full support, and consider your partners’ needs and preferences into your decision-making process.

3. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing. Often when couples have come into my office after years of relationship conflict, the biggest thing that seems to be lacking empathy and support for one another. Each partner becomes entrenched in their position and refuses to see things from the other’s perspective. Empathy is natural early on in the relationship, especially in the “honeymoon phase.” Over time as the inevitabilities and stressors of life happen, empathy can erode and turn into contempt or criticism.

To cultivate understanding requires a few things. Firstly, it requires being present and being vulnerable with your partner. To be more empathetic, it also requires that you consider your partner’s needs, be more compassionate, and sometimes even take on some of your partner’s responsibilities to lighten their load. All of the strategies mentioned above help you to really put yourself in your partner’s shoes, but it also helps deepen the trust that you have with your partner. Empathy also increases the respect and admiration you have for your partner.

4. Commitment

Commitment is an essential ingredient in any healthy and long-lasting relationship. Any time we commit to something like either a cause, ambition, or activity, we oblige ourselves to do something. A relationship is no different. When we commit to a person, we’re inherently saying that we’re willing to make a sacrifice and dedicate ourselves to working through something. As a word of caution, commitment doesn’t mean ignoring abusive or manipulative behaviors in a relationship.

Many of us have committed to jobs or academic pursuits, and those endeavors don’t always have the most relaxed or most forgiving days. Despite that, we continue to push through. A relationship is similar when you commit to someone. Sure, there are hardships, but it means that, despite the difficulties, that you and your partner are both loving, trusting, open, supportive, sacrificial, and patient.

5. Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is the ability to regulate your responses in a variety of situations, and it’s vital for relationship confidence. Additionally, emotional regulation is critical because in relationships there are situations that try our patience or our ability to cope, so being in control of how you feel can help you make sound decisions with your partner. Oftentimes, when we act on emotions, we can make less-than-ideal choices.

Emotional regulation is the ability to tolerate the discomfort, maintain your self-respect, all the while keeping your feelings leveled. It allows you to keep things in perspective so avoid becoming overly dramatic. Emotional regulation itself enables you to think more clearly about your decisions and actions, as well as how that impacts yourself and your partner.

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Everyone deserves to be in a healthy, loving relationship and with the right person by their side, and it is entirely attainable But as with any healthy lifestyle change, it requires dedication and consistency to implement.

In addition to incorporating healthy relationship skills, we need to check our own motives above all else, so that we don’t bury our self-worth in the opinions of others because when we know who ourselves and our beliefs it empowers to move forward along our chosen path. It is only then we can develop our personal emotional and relational maturity, and have realistic expectations of our partners.

Finally, the overall mark of health in a relationship is understanding that people change. And that every relationship is dynamic. And growth is vital — but we have to be sure we’re growing in the same direction as our partners.

By Steven Jacob

Steven Jacob hopes to help others gain insight by starting a dialogue on the issues that affect millennials. His writing … Read more ›

In Conversation with Karan Singh: CEO of the Sunburn Music Festival

Karan Singh Sunburn
Karan Singh Sunburn

From receiving his MBA from Harvard business school to being the CEO of Asia’s largest music festival brand Sunburn, Karan Singh combined his interests to push his passion for music! Singh received his bachelor’s degree in management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked as an investment banker for three years at Ambit Corporate Finance before working at Sunburn which is a part of his family’s business. Sunburn started providing the music festival experience starting in the year 2007. The first festival was in Candolim, Goa. The music festival brand has put on over 5,000 events over the past 15 years. In 2022 The Sunburn Festival will be in it’s 16th year. Continue reading to learn more about Karan Singh’s journey with the Sunburn music festival!

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What does the Sunburn brand offer and what made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?

We believe that Sunburn offers a really unique experience and is a melting pot of diverse people & cultures from not only across India but around the world. Goa is the ideal setting for this as there is something magical about Goa in the winter-time and truly enables us to tap into that global audience.

Safety at live events has always been a concern among concert goers. Considering recent, events more individuals have asked brands and artists to do more to ensure audience safety. What are you doing to ensure safety for live concerts?

Safety is a huge priority for us. We work with the best-in-class security agencies as well as closely with the police and requisite authorities. For anyone in the crowd a Sunburn safety officer will always be close by and easily visible. We also run an awareness drive on both social media and on ground.

What was the first Sunburn Festival like and what did you learn from this experience?

The first ever Sunburn Festival was in December 2007, and I had actually attended it as a fan, not part of the crew. However, it was absolutely eye-opening as the first proper music festival on Indian shores and opened up our minds to a world of possibilities.

As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians who have been your favorites throughout the years?

It is difficult to pick from the list however the favorites for Sunburn, in no order and because of the amount of love they have shown Indian audiences, are Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren.

Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?

We have already expanded into different formats like Arena, Campus, Club, Reload and things like merchandize & academy. In terms of genres, we have been dabbling with genres like rap, hip-hop and pop, however our focus remains on electronic dance music.

What can someone expect from the festival as first-time goers?

Apart from a state-of-the-art production & line-up, one can expect a special experience, meeting interesting people from all over the world, and embarking on a creative journey of the theme for the year.

How does the festival help local musicians from Goa as well as the surrounding areas in India?

This year we had set up for the first time a special stage and village in the festival only for Goa which gave a platform to local Goan artists. But beyond that a huge focus for us has always been to showcase domestic home-grown talent and indeed 60-70% of the line-up each year is locally sourced.

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A post shared by Martin Garrix (@martingarrix)

What was the experience like this year in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?

The biggest difference was that this was the first time the festival was back to its full scale since the pandemic hit after 3 long years. It was a fantastic release for everyone there. Our theme was “the future is now” and this was reflected across the festival experience and particularly in the main stage design – termed “Cyberpunk City” which received rave reviews from all.

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What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?

Afrojack and DVLM are both Sunburn & India veterans, it was amazing having them back crushing the main stage after very long. Black Coffee for us was something very new and exciting, to have a special artist and a unique sound like that close the main stage on day 2. However it was very well-received and took our experience to the next level.

As you have had the artist Avicii back in December 2011 how do you feel he revolutionized Electronic Dance Music?

Avicii is one of my all-time favorite artists and his show in December 2011 was actually my first one working on Sunburn so will always be extra special. There is no doubt that he revolutionized EDM by taking massive risks and introducing an entirely new sound which a lot of others then followed, but no one as well as he did.

How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?

It feels great, we have a very young but ambitious and hard-working team and our primary focus is to continue delivering the best possible experiences for our fans, artists and partners. India is such a vibrant and exciting market that I cannot help but be pumped about what the future holds.

Do you feel Electronic Dance Music is a misunderstood genre?

More so in a country like India possibly yes, where people who are not exposed to these experiences sometimes have preconceived notions about EDM festivals and the like. Oftentimes those people are also in a decision-making capacity and can directly affect the industry. However, things are certainly improving as the industry overall gets bigger and gets more acceptance.

What does music mean to you, Karan Singh?

Music provides a sound-track to life, it is something which is always there!

How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?

Well, you have to be able to differentiate between those which are just trolling and those which are constructive or fair criticism. The latter is very important as it helps us to look at ourselves and continually improve, we are still a long way from where we eventually want to be.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

I hope it allows us at Sunburn to reach a wider audience of the desi community around the world and hopefully get some more people to fly down to Goa for Sunburn Festival 2023 which I can promise you all will be the best one yet!

Artist Testimonials:

Dimitri Vegas Like Mike

We have had a long connection with India. The first time we played here was more than a decade ago. Going from clubs to being a regular feature at one of Asia’s biggest electronic music festivals which is now an institution in itself. It’s been an exciting evolution to see how Sunburn has grown over the years. The fans at Sunburn are some of the most insane and every show is a special one. We’ve always had an incredible experience at Sunburn.

DJ Snake

Honestly, the energy I feel when I am in India is one of the most amazing things. I would say the culture and energy is what keeps me coming back! India is like a second home to me, just like Sunburn. I feel so comfortable and welcomed here. I’m always excited about coming to India and playing at Sunburn, experiencing new cities, meeting more of the people, hearing more of the music, and seeing more of the country that has influenced me so much.


Sunburn has helped dance music artists world over to tour India and connect with their Indian fans and I’m always excited about performing at the festival.


I’ve a long history with the Sunburn team. They are a great team to work with and they also give the fans amazing experiences. As an artist, I want to be a part of providing fans with lifelong memories and so we all share the same vision.

Alan Walker

Sunburn is one of the pioneers of the dance music festival scene in India and has been instrumental in creating a truly world class platform that supports the dance music industry and all of its stakeholders. I’m always excited about touring India with Sunburn.

Photo Courtesy of DNH Media

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

Moving on After Breaking up With Your Cat

“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.

Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.

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Take what you want//Take everything

I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.

A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.

It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.

Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.

I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.

I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.

She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.

I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.

I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.

Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.

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By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›

Pyar is Pyar: A Celebration of Queer Brown Love

An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.

The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.

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Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.


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Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.

“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”

“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.

Jain and Mehta are leading a legal effort to bring marriage equality to India, taking them to the country’s Supreme Court. The couple was denied recognition of their marriage in 2020, despite the country’s Foreign Marriage Act that allows the marriage of Indian citizens abroad to be recognized.

“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”

“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”

“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.

Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.

Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.

Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.

“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”

Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need. 

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“Your coming out in support of us is the pivotal shift that we need to change attitudes in our community,” she said.

Among the South Asian queer leaders and allies in attendance were actors Kal Penn and Sarita Choudhury, activist Alok Vaid-Menon, and the legendary DJ Rekha.

To learn more about Desi Rainbow, visit their website

Photo Courtesy of Lara Tedesco-Barker

By Stephen Jiwanmall

Born in Philadelphia, Stephen has family roots in India and Pakistan. He lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with his husband and … Read more ›