Vidya Bhat, relationship counsellor, Happy Relationships, presents a case study of a passionless marriage that is on the verge of a break up and suggests solutions that anyone in the same situation can apply to rekindle a dying marriage.
My phone rings. It’s an unknown number. I pick up the phone and the voice on the other end introduces herself as Mrs. Mina. She informs me that she has seen my profile on LinkedIn and has called me up after thinking a thousand times on whether or not to share theemotional conflict she is going through. She says that I am the first counsellor that she has picked up the courage to call. She had gone through many counsellor profiles and did not feel comfortable to share hersecrets.However, she intuitively felt comfortable when she went through my profile, and I had not yet said a word beyond ‘hello’. She had read my articles on LinkedIn and felt that I would be the person who would understand what she was going through. She pleadedwith me to maintain confidentiality as she had never shared what she was about to tell me even with the closest member of her family, her grandmother.
I remain quiet but listen attentively as she continues speaking. Suddenly there is a pause as if she was looking for reassurance that she was doing the right thing. I tell her that I respect her as an individual who has picked up the courage to speak about something that is troubling her, assuring her that confidentiality will be maintained. I inform her that I am not a qualified counsellor, but a facilitator who, being interested in the well-being of people is doing my bit to help and support anyone who needs a listening ear. Knowing that it was a spontaneous call and understanding that it would have taken her all her courage to dial my number, I listened to her woes. I realize that I do that many a times, lending a patient ear to another person, a stranger sometimes, and often ithelps them ventilate and initiate a catharsis.
Mina’s Story (name changed)
She takes a while to compose herself. Her voice is shaky and tense. I tell her to take deep breaths a couple of times and share her story. She says that she is a 35-year old woman, with two kids, aged 8 and 5 years, a good husband who is an IT professional, and on tour most of the time. She belongs to a small town in Karnataka, got married and moved to the big city of Bengaluru and has been here for over a decade now. The family is fairly well off, with their own house, has travelled abroad on holidays and quite broad minded in their outlook. Her husband is doing well and is the Technical VP of a medium sized software company. She was working before the arrival of the kids and has not worked since the subsequent births.
The Primary Problem
She says she is a bored housewife. As she is a one-woman army most of the time due to her touring husband, she does not get enough time for herself, to take up some hobby or study and is at her wits end as she feels she is going into a restless, angry, bitter, resentful world. There is a feeling of disconnect with her husband and she feels unloved and uncared for,though she enjoys all the material comforts.There is no support system as she is not keen to leave her children with a maid and prefers to be with them the whole day. She says that off late, her husband also seems to be distancing himself from her and while she has spoken to him about it, she feels that he does not seem to understand her situation.
The Secondary Issue
The problem started when she decided to attend a 2 day workshop and met someone who seemed friendly and nice. The friendship continued post the workshop and blossomed with stolen moment’s together, meeting for breakfast or lunch, when the children were at school. A couple of months have passed and now she feels deep attraction to the man and he too has expressed his attraction to her. She is guilty about her feelings towards him. She goes on to add that nothing physical has happened between them yet, but she is tempted to give in to her feelings.She also thinks that she loves her husband and is responsible enough to understand that she is a mother of two lovely kids.
She argues that her husband, though a nice man, is not so romantic anymore and does not even give her attention. He is busy with work even at home, does not have time to play with the kids, and does not even talk to them sometimes due to his busy schedule. She also feels that he does not take his responsibility at home seriously. She is tired and wants her break and is feeling irritable, angry and upset with her husband. She agrees that he is working to keep their family comfortable and secure, but she feels that he too has a responsibility in parenting and should make time for his personal and family life.
I listen to her ventilate and then tell her that no marriage is perfect and there will be some conflicts especially with the growth of the family. All relationships need to be nurtured. While she would have heard this many times, she seemed keen to listen. I continued. Complaining about not spending enough time with her and children was only going to increase her aggravation and anguish. I agreed that as she is a home maker now, but was a working woman in the past, her responsibilitiesseem larger than life.
She should take steps to make him aware that his work is impacting their marriage, his relationship with his wife and kids, and communicate to him to make changes in his work schedule, lest it can have a very negative impact. This is to help him become aware of the seriousness of the problem that they are going through and to take action before it is too late. Red flags should be raised when the woman feels that she cannot handle the situation alone and needs her spouse’s support and co-operation. Help him notice the family situation and gain his support bit by bit.
I suggest that she can write down the issues to discuss with her husband and talk to him, request him to take over the kids for a short period of time, even 15-30 minutes at first, so that there is some shared responsibility. It is natural for her to vent her frustrations of the day on the husband. However, putting herself in his shoes, she should also understand that while his professional life spills into his personal life, he may also be finding it difficult to share his problems at work because of her constant venting and involvement in her own world.
She could begin by asking him what his family goals are and what has he done about it so far. What are the reasons for him being a workaholic – go to the root of the issue. Many times, an insecure childhood with the loss of the breadwinner parent is the main cause of children becoming workaholics as they become adults and they consistently work harder to have a secure financial future. Check if he can change jobs or how much time he can take out of his busy schedule to spend with the family on a regular basis and make sure he follows up on his promise(without nagging). Is there an opportunity to take up a different role in the company or delegate work so as to reduce his work load? Whether it is a holiday or making time for the children’s sports day or school day activity, share options where he is needed most so that he can prioritize which responsibility he can make time for.Make sure you ask for YOU time too, where both of you can spend time together alone to renew and rekindle the romance of your marriage. If these issues have not yet been discussed openly with him, make the time to do it and create the opportunity to do so.
What about your role, your priorities and goals for marriage and family? Be honest to share this with your husband. Fair play on both sides. Playing the blame game is not the answer. Motherhood is not a glamorous role and has its side effects. Expectations also have to be adjusted so as to not be disappointed when things don’t go as planned. Have you contributed to him becoming a workaholic? Are you the nagging kind, constantly venting out your frustrations, the problems you are facing with the kids, the maid, and the neighbours? Does your husband feel that with the babies, your attention has shifted from him to the babies and he feels lonely and left out and sometimes jealous? Did you deny him sex due to your tiredness or lack of libido and did he feel lesser and unloved? Check with him any other issues that you feel are a concern that needs to be addressed.
I continue. As for the second issue, being attracted to another man is something that does happen naturally due to the circumstances that you are in, your feelings currently and the situation under which you met.You probably saw him as attractive and friendly as you find your husband boring and inattentive with the passage of time. (It happens to most couples. They get bored with each other over time). Use this incident as a wakeup call to focus your attention on your marriage to bring the marriage alive and be honest with yourself. Go in for marital counselling, discuss the issue with the family counsellor if not with your husband and rekindle the sparks of your marriage. Right now, it is only an emotional affair and a fantasy. Consider the consequences of losing your husband and children and the relationship you have worked so hard and long to build and nurture. Is this man worth giving up your marriage and husband of so many years?
She listened attentively is what I could gather from her silence and occasional ‘yes’. She told me that she had not thought about how she should address it as she was confused. The conversation had helped her sort out the issues she wanted to address and she would plan out an evening to speak with him without his work getting in the way. She said she was glad she spoke with me and felt that she had some answers and was emotionallyrelieved. She also mentionedthat she wanted to strengthen her relationship with her husband. She thanked me for helping her see some of her blind spots especially about the other person being just a fantasy, a crush.
And the phone call ended. Just like that.