In Mumbai, April is the time of the year when the exams season end to give way for summer vacations. A good number of families take this opportunity to head out of the city for a long holiday. Like all other service industries, the medical community also experiences a major fall in the number of clients it services during this period.
The first Monday of 2011 "vacation" season" was as expected, quite sedate. Fewer than normal patients allowed me to dedicate more time for those who had come. It was rare to see myself having finished all my morning clinic appointments before lunch time. I returned after lunch for the 2 "telephone consultation" appointments of the day.
The first one went very well. I had a small 15minute breather before the next. This case was a little special. Most people who consult me on telephone have previously had an online dialogue with me. But today's second call was a little different. I just knew the name of the caller and that she wanted to talk to me about some problem of hers.
15minutes later the phone ranged.
As I answered the phone, a gentle voice of a young lady politely answered from the other end of the line,
"Hello, Am I speaking to Dr.Hemant Mittal?"
"Hello, Yes Dr.Hemant on this side, I suppose I am talking to Mrs.Reena?” I responded softly.
"Hi, Doctor, Ya Reena here, how are you?"
"I am fine Reena, tell me how can I help you?”
With Hesitancy in her voice,
"Well, hmm... Oh ok, I don't how to put it, but before we continue ahead, can I ask you something?"
"Sure, I am here to help you, kindly go ahead"
"Hmm, don't take me wrong, but I would like to know what is your moral point of view about relationships? And can you tell me how this counselling will help me?"
(From experience I know that many of those who call me or consult me are always initially apprehensive about talking to a psychiatrist. After all who wouldn't??? Everyone fears being labelled as "mad", so I proceeded ahead to explain her that I was not a conventional psychiatrist and my job was not to label her but to help her find solutions for emotional and behavioural problems that she might be facing.)
"I am nor a moral preacher nor a mad-labeller. As a counsellor, it’s my professional job to listen neutrally without judging you. It's my duty to understand the emotional difficulties you might be facing and help you find a solution for the same. It’s highly unethical and unprofessional to label someone with a "social tag". I can promise you I am extremely professional..."
After a pause of few seconds, with a little more comfort in her voice,
"You see doctor, I just want someone to hear me. I know my problem and its possible solutions... Just to tell you, I have already spoken about it with a few of my girl-friends and also a counsellor but I just get irritated when they start preaching about it."
I kept a silence, and let her continue,
"So if you are going to preach, I frankly wouldn't mind cutting our conversation short at this very moment?"
Understanding the frustrations in her voice, I softly replied,
"As I already told you, it's not within the professional definition of counselling to preach. And let’s keep this an open ended discussion, at any stage you feel I am preaching you can tell me so."
This gave her a confidence and she proceeded forward,
"Ok, it sounds fair enough!" she said,
She took a deep breath, and continued,
"Well Doctor, I am from a good affluent family. And after completing my post-graduation, like most Indian girls, I got married."...
... “I got married to Mahesh 7yrs ago. It was an arranged marriage"
With a slight happiness in her voice,
"I don't want to sound cheesy, but it was love-at-first sight. We were on the same page since day one. And we knew it."
Her voice told me, how she was enjoying going into the past,
"It was a fairy tale wedding. It had everything I wanted. I got an amazing dress, a wedding planner designed all the events. Grand and great celebrations. We followed it with an amazing honeymoon in Europe"
"2yrs after marriage my son Dharmesh was born. It just made life Perfect."
A deep sigh...
“I don’t know if you believe in it or not, but I feel someone couldn't take our happiness and casted an evil spell on my family"....
"After Dharmesh's 1st birthday, everything went wrong. Initially we started fighting on small issues. Slowly slowly insignificant topics became major ego-wars.... The fights moved from dining hall to bed room, and we started drifting apart emotionally and physically."
Another deep sigh, with sadness having taken over her voice,
"By the 5th year of our marriage we had become total strangers. We lived, ate and slept in the same house, but we seldom talked to each other. There was a period of 6months, were we avoided each other.... My in-laws, my parents, everyone tried to intervene, but we were just adamant...
It was a war of egos, it was as if we were waiting for the other to accept defeat before making any move towards normalcy"
By this time, I could sense she was silently crying on the other end of the phone. I decided to keep quiet, as I knew this wasn't the main topic why she had called me for. She continued,
"It was October of 2009, I had just returned from a weeklong stay at my parents house, when Mahesh said he wanted to talk to me. We sat down and spoke face-to-face after 6 months. We discussed our relationship at length. We discussed what had gone wrong, how it was affecting our family and friends, and above all how it was affecting us...
...That talk was one of the scariest experiences of my life. Many a times during it, I felt it will end with him asking for a divorce. For the first time in my life I realized I was an inch apart from losing him, and losing my entire world...."
(A deep silence followed. Re-living this moment was emotionally draining for her. The sigh and heavy breathing continued for a few seconds, and like the hero who uses every bit of energy left in his badly hurt body for that one last action move, she continued,)
“Midway through that conversation, Mahesh told me that he had spoken to Atit, his best friend, about us. Atit had recommended that since we both were a new age, open minded couple, we should broaden the boundaries of our relationship and explore new ways of improving our relationship. I agreed to whatever he would think fine, we would do it..."
"... A few days later, Mahesh came back home early. He was very excited. I hadn't seen him so excited in a long time. He grabbed my hand and hurriedly took me into our room. He had spoken to Atit in the morning, and tonight at one of our common friends farm house, there was a private party for couples who wanted to rejuvenate their vows. He asked me to get ready and that we will be leaving within a few hours..."
With slight anger in her voice, she continued,
"... Frankly, even thou Mahesh was shielding the truth from me, I already knew what this "rejuvenating experience and exploring newer borders" meant. Atit's wife was a close friend of mine, and had updated me months ago. It’s a private gathering, where known couples meet, have few drinks, and at the end of the night inter-change their partners. Wife-swapping or partner swapping, whatever you might want to call it. She had already extended the invitation for same more than once.... Men think they know everything and we are fools... ughh!!!!"
I briefly interrupted her train of thought to avoid her going into negativity and helping her continue the venting out process,
"Hmm, sorry to interrupt you Reena, but would you tell me what was going in your mind at that time?"
Since my interruption had no "moral preaching" it helped her realize that I was actually listening to her,
"Hmm Doc... well, while I was getting ready for that night, I had hundreds of thoughts. It was a mixed bag of emotions. I had anger, fear and excitement all happening at once... We had been living like strangers for last 2years. It was as if I was alone in some deserted island in middle of the sea. I am human and I was longing for some emotional and physical satisfaction. I knew he also needed that...."
Suddenly she busted into a small childish laughter...
"Ha Ha Ha...Don't get me wrong, but while in the car on our way to the party, Mahesh tried his best to explain me about this "new experience" we were in the best politically correct way possible. It was so hilarious. Otherwise a dominant businessman, he was fumbling, nervous and sweating to talk about it. It was like a small kid who just had his first kiss and wants to confess about it... ha ha ha ha... the look on his face was priceless...
... Since I didn't want to break his ego, I continued with the flow and let him explain me how important this could be to us... I just acted like the typical Indian housewife who initially reacted but finally accepted what her husband said... ha ha ha ha.. If the poor guy knew what was going inside of me..."
A deep breath, to regain her composure, and then she continued,
"We reached the venue, there were two other couples present there. Atit /Neha, and Suresh/Tanvi. Both of them were our closest friends. Secretly we all had known about this going on for long, but first time Me and Mahesh would be part of it. The evening went well... I did spend the night with a man other than my husband. And in the morning, it was a very different feeling that took over me..."
"... I won't deny that the next day I didn't feel a little disgusted on what had happened. But the excitement of having done something so different and probably morally-illegal just kept taking me into a different pleasure zone. The next few months helped me kick out all guilt from my system, and we became regulars at such meetings. There were a few more couples who joined us and it became a sort of monthly ritual for us...."
".. As for Me and Mahesh, it did wonders for our relationship. Suddenly there was a new spark. Among a lot of things now we had a common topic of discussion. We secretly discussed and criticized our friends and their mannerisms in bed... It just took us out of our bad phase..."
(Even thou she was mentioning about a new happy moment in her life, her voice didn't have the earlier excitement, it was still too composed and professional. As if the director of a company making a presentation to the management.)
She continued in the same style,
"We are still part of this ritual, but now it's now things are changing for worst... 6 months after initiation I noticed how Mahesh would always try his best to get a particular lady as his date. As I was not comfortable with strangers being part of this activity, he would always insist we invite her and her husband to any such party we would be attending.... I discovered that he started spending time during the day talking to her. He would also meet her for lunch or coffee without informing me...
... I confronted him a few times, but he would always deny any such thing brewing up and would always have a great excuse.
.... I believe that trust is the soul of a relationship and its based on emotional connect. And slowly the soul of my relationship is going away."
The old sadness reincarnating within her voice,
"I am just losing him emotionally and I cannot accept it. Now I feel it was better when we were avoiding each other. I have become a sort of barbie doll. In people eyes I am the great wife, and we are the perfect couple. Even for him its the same, but I am dying a slow death every day. We cannot leave our group, and if we stay it will ruin our relationship."
(The following was a lengthy discussion I had with her on how to improve her relationship and what decisions she could take)
(The names in this article have been changed. The client in concern had asked me to write her story so that it can be heard by everyone. Others can learn from her example that many times playing with fire can hurt yourself. She has given all consent for the same to be written and published.)
(This article is not meant to hurt anyone moral values or preach any moral values. Its focus is on relationship issues and the emotional pain they cause)
Thanks for reading,
Dr.Hemant Mittal (MBBS, PGDPM, MD)
Consultant Emotional, Behavioural and Sexual Health at Mind Mantra
Free online counselling - firstname.lastname@example.org