Stop…Please…Both of you…Let’s refocus. We have to try and not get derailed. Why don’t you tell me exactly what happened?
The Husband: Yes, let me. It was a pretty normal evening. I came home early enough. She was a bit late than usual. Probably purchasing that huge torch on the way over….
The Wife: No unsubstantiated accusations or assumptions. We have talked about it many times. Now who is the one not following the rules?
Yeah…okay…not again please…She is right though. You don’t know what it was so let’s not succumb to conjecture.
The Wife: ….and if you must know, we already had that torch.
The Husband: So why were you late?
The Wife: It needed new batteries.
I must insist…this is about finding a common ground for discussion…please continue.
The Husband: Well….as I said… a fairly mundane day. We had dinner at about 9. I was tired so I went to bed early. She probably took advantage of that…yeah ok…anyway, I remember waking up and there she was, kneeling on my bedside with that huge torch just lighting up her face as she stared at me like one of those dolls from horror movies. Don’t laugh. You see, she still doesn’t care.
Please, let me finish.
The Wife: Oh, you would have laughed too, if you had been there. He yelped….and yes, yelped not yelled…like I imagine our six-year-old son would have.
The Husband: That is not the point here. You are so juvenile.
The Wife: Well, it should be a point….and I am not juvenile; your reaction to a harmless prank was though.
Why did you do it?
The Husband: Why do you think? This is the sort of thing that gives her pleasure.
The Wife: Stop behaving like a child. It was nothing.
It was pretty harmless, though, like she said. You don’t think so?
The Husband: Of course, but let’s not mask over the fact that it was very mean spirited.
The Wife: Now you just are embarrassing yourself.
No he isn’t…let’s be a little more generous here. Go on.
The Husband: Thank you.
But why do you think it was mean spirited?
The Husband: I didn’t at first. Even she would agree to that…
The Wife: Not particularly
The Husband: …the point is, I felt a little embarrassed initially, but the more I thought about it…and the ensuing events after that, convinced me that it wasn’t simply a “harmless prank” as she puts it.
No…I must stop you before you interject again…let him finish what he has to say. You shall get your chance.
The Husband: The first part is the effort. She sat in that position near my side of the bed for I don’t know how long. It wasn’t as if she prodded me so that I woke up. She waited for it to naturally happen. And she has bad knees.
The Wife: It wasn’t that long. About forty minutes. And my knees are fine. Better than yours I suspect.
The Husband: Let’s kneel right now; both of us. We’ll see who can stay that way the longest.
The Wife: You’re being a child again.
40 minutes, I must say, is a lot of time. Your knees must have started hurting, irrespective of their condition.
The Wife: Well yeah but that wasn’t the toughest part. The light of the torch really burned my eyes, but I couldn’t risk shutting them because he could have woken up at any moment. They started watering from the strain. Don’t look at me like that…Let me assure you, it was all worth it.
The Husband: Don’t you think that this is psychotic behaviour.
The Wife: Hey, I think one should be committed to the cause.
This is a little unusual for sure…But, ok, let me ask you again. Why did you do it?
The Wife: I like pranks
The Husband: That’s not true! You just like to prank others.
The Wife: Isn’t that the point?
The Husband: I mean, you don’t like pranks when you are the victim.
The Wife: Oh please! What you did, wasn’t a prank.
Wait a minute here, you pranked her too?
The Wife: It wasn’t a prank.
The Husband: Why don’t we let him be the judge?
The Wife: Gladly! It was a weekend, but I had some work in office. He was probably getting bored at home…
The Wife: Right…I got a call from our son. He was speaking in a very weird voice…
The Husband: I told him to “talk like a grown-up”
The Wife: and he said that something is wrong with Dad. Please come home quickly.
Oh I see…
The Wife: Exactly! So I rushed home and the two of them were just sitting in the living room, playing Monopoly.
The Husband: And then she got so mad, yelled at me for like an hour, that too in front of our son.
Well, it was a bit of an extreme prank
The Husband: See! He agrees it was a prank.
No…I mean, let’s not get caught up in terminologies. Prank or not, I am sure you can understand why your wife got angry. She must have been so worried on the way over.
The Wife: I was! I could have had an accident on the way over.
The Husband: And I could have had a heart attack the other night.
The Wife: You nearly did.
The Husband: There she is laughing again. Everything is a big joke for her. She even told our son about her little prank.
The Wife: So what? He is our son, not a stranger.
The Husband: You told our neighbours too
The Wife: Well, technically, they are not strangers either.
Okay, let’s pause and unpack this. Did you feel embarrassed about your son and your neighbours finding out that your wife pranked you.
The Wife: He sulked for days…
The Husband: I did. I am not particularly proud of the way I yelled out…
The Wife: Yelped
The Husband: Yelled out. It’s not fun to see your own son laugh at you.
The Wife: He is six. He has probably already forgotten about it.
The Husband: But I haven’t. Not to forget our neighbours. It was humiliating.
And how long after this incident did you decide to prank your wife.
The Wife: Not a prank.
The Husband: A few days later. I was angry and just wanted her to feel what I was feeling.
And did you feel better afterwards?
The Husband: Not exactly. She was more angry than scared. That sort of ruined it.
The Wife: That’s because it wasn’t a prank! It was a very poor joke.
The Husband: Well I am sorry I don’t have your level of expertise in this! Or your decades of experience.
Decades of experience?
The Wife: He is exaggerating of course. Just a few years of experience. Have you seen that show “Just for Laugh?” I used to work for them.
I have seen it, yes. You were on that show?
The Wife: Not on TV. I was one of the writers.
How long ago was this?
The Wife: About 9 or 10 years. I was still working for them when we got married.
The Husband: I remember you had just started working for them when we met for the first time.
The Wife: Yes. You had loved that about me. You thought it was very cool.
The Husband: I did.
The Wife: Remember the first time I had pranked you…
The Husband: I had loved it. I told everyone about it.
The Wife: And not just the first time.
So, what do you think has changed?
The Husband: I don’t know. It just…seems harder to laugh at myself now.
Did it have anything to do with becoming a father?
The Husband: I don’t think so. Did it?
The Wife: You did become progressively more sensitive to this.
The Husband: Why couldn’t you have just stopped?
The Wife: I didn’t want to give up that part of myself. A part of us, really.
Would you like her to stop?
The Husband: Yes…No…I don’t know.
How would you feel if he asked you to stop?
The Wife: I would be a bit disappointed…yes. But…it’s not that big a deal. We are talking about pranks. They are supposed to be silly, supposed to be things that people laugh at. If we start taking them seriously, then I suppose it is better not to do them at all.
The Husband: That just makes me sound like such a spoilsport.
The Wife: That wasn’t my intention.
Have you both noticed this in other aspects of your marriage? Things that you both used to like or agree with before but don’t do so anymore.
The Wife: Oh, that’s a dangerous question.
The Husband: I don’t know. Small things maybe.
The Wife: We don’t watch movies together anymore. Can’t tolerate each other’s tastes.
The Husband: True.
What are your individual tastes?
The Wife: He likes all the Marvel stuff. I like most movies except them.
The Husband: I like some of the others too.
The Wife: But you wouldn’t want to see them at a Theatre with me.
The Husband: Not always. But I do sometimes.
The Wife: Grudgingly.
The Husband: Well it’s tough to be accommodating and enthusiastic at the same time. And you don’t watch my movies with me either, by the way.
The Wife: Those are not movies.
The Husband: See! That’s not fair. I could say the same thing.
The Wife: But in your case it wouldn’t be true.
Now then, let’s ease off. And, in the past, you both would have agreed to go with each other, right?
The Husband: More times than not.
The Wife: And not grudgingly.
The Husband: Almost willingly.
Does the change bother you?
The Wife: A little bit. Now that I’ve been reminded of it.
The Husband: But those were early days. I…I know it sounds bad. But, surely, it’s natural for such changes over the course of a relationship. Isn’t it?
It doesn’t sound bad. That’s why I wanted to bring it up. It’s perfectly okay to not get excited about the same things that you used to.
The Wife: But how do you know this course doesn’t go on and on and….
The Husband: …and make many more changes. Permanent changes.
Well that’s why you two are here, aren’t you? To rein it all in.
The Wife: Yes
The Husband: Yes
When was the first time you began to feel that your relationship was going a bit awry?
The Husband: I don’t know if I can place it specifically. It was gradual.
The Wife: When our son was born.
The Husband: Really?
What makes you say that?
The Wife: Well, not when he was born. Maybe it started at the time and I didn’t notice. But definitely when he turned around 3 or 4 and started having basic conversations with you. You just became so uptight and so particular about things.
The Husband: I wanted to be a good father and just not slip up in front of him.
The Wife: You so overdid it; you weren’t yourself. It was as if you were trying to be someone you wished you were.
The Husband: And that’s a bad thing? To be better than oneself?
The Wife: Not at your own expense. You just vanished. You went away from me.
And you did not mention any of this at the time?
The Wife: I was just confused. He was trying so hard…I didn’t want to…
The Husband: I was trying hard because I wanted to and also because you weren’t.
The Wife: Excuse me?
The Husband: I was nervous. I was trying to do the best I could. And…you just seemed so casual about it. Even a little dismissive. I am sure it was all a joke to you. Everything’s a joke to you.
The Wife: Only if it’s funny.
You felt she was dismissive of your attempts to be closer to your son.
The Wife: That wasn’t what he was doing. And I wasn’t dismissive.
The Husband: Yes
What do you think he was trying to do?
The Wife: I don’t know. There was an element of fantasy to it. It just bothered me, and yes, I tried to play it cool but only because he was so rigid and fixated.
Did you feel neglected?
The Wife: Maybe
The Husband: You were envious of our son?
The Wife: What you were doing to him could never invite envy. But you became distant, ever so slightly, every day.
The Husband: Maybe, but only because I wanted to be close to him and be the best father I could. I don’t care if that means I was being, as you are implying, inauthentic. I wasn’t trying to be distant.
Do you two realize that you both are principally in agreement with how things transpired? But label them differently.
The Wife: Isn’t that obvious?
I mean, you more or less agree on each other’s allegations, but just don’t see them as that. You agree that while he was trying to be more involved with your son, you took a backseat and a casual approach to parenting. And he agrees that his actions were not really in sync with his personality, which might have alienated you a bit. So, in a sense, you are taking each other’s accusations and reframing them as natural or obvious responses to the situations in which you were. What does that tell us?
The Husband: That we are both right and wrong?
No. You see what’s right and wrong differently, which is perfectly okay. But what’s not ideal, is declaring it as right or wrong in your own head and not having a conversation about it and letting it become a point of contention, only for it to come out years later on a day like today.
The Wife: So, we should communicate more? Is that your million-dollar diagnosis?
Are you looking for a million-dollar diagnosis? One simple trick or solution that will put you two back on track?
The Wife: That would be helpful.
The Husband: Of course we are not.
The point is not to tell you to communicate more. You rightly alluded that that is obvious. But to make you realize, through an example of conflict that you yourselves presented, how your lack of communication let fester a simple misalignment of views. And to ask the bigger question – what stopped you from talking about this with each other?
The Husband: Avoiding a conflict
The Wife: Evidently, more like postponing it.
Until it becomes something bigger than it is. More contentious. Are you afraid of hurting each other, thus avoiding a difficult conversation to not inflict emotional pain?
The Husband: That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case during these sessions.
The Wife: You do bring out our worst sides.
Seriously, think about it. All couples fight. It’s natural.
The Husband: We did fight sometimes. It was never very serious.
The Wife: And we managed to resolve them too. That always helped.
The Husband: You were always much better at resolving our disagreements. As usual, saw the funny side of things. That was good.
The Wife: Until it just wasn’t so funny. And it became more and more difficult to resolve them. I guess that’s when we started to avoid the conflicts.
The Husband: I suppose we thought we were good at this, until it became difficult and we discovered we weren’t.
Let’s go back a bit. The time when you both started to feel it was getting difficult. For you it was more markedly so after your son was born. But you said it was gradual and couldn’t point to a specific event. But did that gradual nature also began post your son’s birth?
The Husband: Maybe. I think so, yes.
The Wife: Are you trying to pin all our difficulties on our son, when he is clearly the only good thing we have with us right now.
The only good thing?
The Wife: You are reading too much into that.
No, I am just reading it differently. I think when you say “only”, you mean “obviously”. It doesn’t take any energy to think of him as a positive example of your marriage. So, after his birth, he has replaced all other examples you would have had.
The Husband: This does feel like you are blaming him for our troubles.
That is not my intention. Children can often be inflection points in a marriage. I am trying to see if that’s the case here. It is obviously not your child’s fault.
The Wife: Yes, it’s all our fault. We are well aware of that. Thank you very much.
The Husband: So, what if that’s the inflection point? We cannot go back. This is where we are right now.
And it is where many couples find themselves after they have had children. So, there’s no reason to be too dispirited. It’s good that you two have recognized that there is a problem and chosen to address it. The idea is not to go back before the inflection point but to learn from those times when you both mostly saw eye to eye and employ that in the present.
The Wife: So basically, learn from the time he used to love my pranks.
The Husband: Not again.
The Wife: Learn from the time he had a sense of humour.
The Husband: I grew up and matured while you still behave as if you are in your twenties.
The Wife: I’ll take that as a compliment. And please don’t equate being matured to being humourless.
The Husband: You know what I mean. Don’t take a sentence literally only when it suits you. And after all that we have discussed, is it just this that upsets you? That I don’t find you as funny as I used to?
The Wife: Not just that. But it’s what you always liked most about me. Without it, I don’t know what I have.
The Husband: No…that’s not true…that’s not the only thing.
The Wife: What else then?
The Husband: Sorry?
The Wife: What else did you like about me?
The Husband: Come on. That’s not fair.
The Wife: Hard to think of any, right?
The Husband: What if I asked you the same question? It’s not as easy as you might like to believe.
The Wife: Well, it should be. But it isn’t. Isn’t that a problem?
You both are expecting a bit too much out of yourselves right now. It’s good to strive for ideals when you are sailing in calm waters. Difficult times need a more practical approach.
The Husband: Yes, we’ll do it.
The Wife: You are always too enthusiastic about “being practical”.
The Husband: Isn’t that what you always liked most about me? And so, what am I without that?”
The Wife: Touché. Alright then, towards practicality. But not without a bit of humour.
Good. I would say that’s a nice point on which to stop for today. See you next week.