Communicating when both hurt

I am writing a dialogue I had with someone this evening.

He- I am very angry with myself and with everyone, for I could have done something or maybe I could have saved my baby.

Me- But what happened to the baby?

He- She suffered burns, as her mother put her in a tub of hot water and did not check the temperature of the water. The baby started to cry, and even I went in to the bathroom to check that she was crying, and instead went into another bathroom.

Me- And so?

He- In a few seconds she came after me saying that the baby had been scalded.

Me- Oh no no!

He- Yes her skin had been scalded in the hot water and she was crying…

We both agreed this was a big mistake as the baby is only an infant and naturally has no vocabulary to express that the water she was being dipped into was really hot. But at the time of meeting me, this episode is already a few days old, and both parents are upset, perhaps blaming themselves or one another and not communicating with one another.

Me- Why are you not communicating with your wife?

He- I am so angry…i feel upset that this should have happened. I did not even want to inform my parents or her parents about it. She is not communicative either- talks in monosyllables and when I ask anything she is evasive, or just averts communication completely.

Me- Do you think she could be hurting?

He- Hurting? Why?

Me- Possibly because her baby is suffering in front of her eyes and she is completely helpless? And that does not make her want to communicative. Or who knows she could be holding herself responsible and thinks that everyone else is also blaming her, but nobody is saying it.

He looks at me thoughtfully. I have always known this young man to be a very sensitive, gifted person, and someone extremely responsive to the environment. Few months back I had seen him anxious at the prospect of fatherhood and now I was seeing a young father agonizing over his child’s suffering, yet unable to connect that both he and his wife were suffering and shutting out one another.

U and Me- Communicating in Moments that Matter by John Stewart (Taos Institute) is a wonderful book and in writing this sentence the title came to mind. Often in marriages and relationships of intimacy when both partners  suffer, they shut themselves behind doors and neither wants to recognize the other’s suffering for they are so overwhelmed by their own. But these are the very moments when communication that was established in moments of love, needs to be remembered. Marriages can suffer, if partners suffer alone. And if both are new parents then their suffering due to the suffering of their child, may not even have a voice yet.

Add to this the woman who is an educated professional, still enmeshed in child rearing and her own career at a standstill due to the baby. Plus possibly due to weight gain, additional loss of self esteem. I bring these issues up to the young man, and he is surprised that I mention them, because obviously he is not focusing on anything apart from his child’s and his own pain, due to its pain.

He- I see no reason why she would be suffering, my wife.

Me- On the other hand, I can think of multiple reasons- possibly one of the reasons she is not able to take up a job is due to how she feels about her body and the weight she gained postpartum.

He nods his head acknowledging the possibility.

From the outside I can see that in these moments that communication which can cement their bond is being ignored and left aside, as both are agonized within and angry at their own helplessness.

I point out this to the young man and invite him to open new dialogue with his wife, and not be angry with himself, for whatever has happened is already over and done with. Now the task at hand is to support his wife, his child and be the father he is capable of being, and the spouse his wife hopes him to be, connect back with them. He, in his own, mood is unable to recognize that his wife is suffering in multiple domains- as a mother, wife, career woman, daughter and daughter-in-law, and possibly as a human too.

I hope by shedding light on the various aspects of their lives, they would engage with one another differently, bearing in mind that nobody is to blame (notwithstanding that someone wants to be responsible for it), everyone can take responsibility and they all have the option of starting a new chapter in their relationship by dealing with this issue as a question they have to jointly solve and not see one another as adversaries. They are co-sufferers and on the same side of the fence.

With this insight I bade him bye bye and hope that with his own kindness and wisdom, with the possibly of a (new) recognition of his wife’s suffering, he would handle the scenario to everyone’s advantage, and create peace in his domestic life.


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