Difficult times are a part and parcel of life. The cliché goes, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do”. When it comes to relationships though, it's not toughness that outlasts the adversity, but the ability to maintain a sensible hold of the situation without letting emotions or impulsive reactions call the shots.
After I retired from the armed forces in my mid-forties, I picked up an outstation assignment in the corporate sector almost immediately. Though all went well for a couple of years, due to some personal and health issues I had to quit my job and come back home. This resulted in a professional hiatus longer than I had planned for.
While I did expect a period of budget cuts and tighter purse strings, what I did not anticipate was the emotional turbulence, which affected my marital and other relationships with family and friends. I had always prided myself in assuming the mantle of the prime provider and the problem solver of my family.
The sudden restriction of means was definitely frustrating. But more than
that, it was the negative aura surrounding the word ‘unemployed’ which
left me feeling helpless and angry.
Since by nature, am not the kind who expresses feelings, a sense of failure sat very heavily on me. Every unmet need or aspiration of the family increased the tonnage of that weight, pushing me deeper and deeper into the mire of helpless despair.
In my effort to calm the turmoil in my head and bring some semblance of balance to my thoughts, I was teetering between anger and apathy. I was either blowing hot or totally cold. I made the cardinal mistake of internalising the anger. As I subsequently realised, and a tad too late in life, unexpressed and suppressed angst has an ugly way of showing itself at wrong places and times. And what’s worse, directed at wrong people.
My sensibilities bottomed while my sensitivities peaked. I felt slighted for trivial reasons and sometimes even when no reason existed. My responses became unkind, rude and hurtful. The collateral damages were many. My marital life became strained, distance crept into close relations and friends became alienated. The pressures of getting through life that constantly threw up new challenges and financial burdens only added fuel to the already simmering cauldron.
All these would have been more than sufficient for any marriage to shrivel up and die. But ours continued to survive, thanks to the resilience of my spouse, a determined lady who stoically bore the storm.
She steadied the ship, with minimum disturbance and conflict by manoeuvring through all the emotional minefields and running the household on a shoestring budget. It came at a price though. Stress manifested itself physically as chronic ailments. Being the better person, she fought her demons, battled the rising blood pressure and sugar count, till she found her peace in a world of canvas and colours and strength in yoga and Isha kriya.
The life we have experienced is nothing unique. That’s how it unfolds for every regular individual. The cause and effects may vary but the potential to wreak havoc on domestic and individual peace remains the same. But the outcomes of similar situations have not been this fortunate to many.
Life is not mathematics, where two negatives make a positive. When domestic crisis hits, it's paramount that at least one partner retain positivity to become the calming factor. When we learn to stop being reactive in our responses the positive changes begin to appear. That pause in our response, enables us to look beyond the sound byte, at the reason for the dissonance. And more often than not, that alone diffuses most trying situations.
I was fortunate because I was married to a wise woman who looked beyond my barbs and temper tantrums. Despite her disappointments in me, she still had some residual belief in my credibility. I am still in the learning process, first, to make peace within myself. And to look beyond words and actions of others, beyond perceptions of slights and insults, to find the original sweetness that got buried deep under the bitter façade. I know it's there. It always was.