The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 9, 2000
Life Ties

Life TiesGuarding confidences fiercely
By Taru Bahl

A COUSIN dropped by last week. She was distraught and guilty. She felt she had wronged her closest friend by creating a rift in her marital life thanks to "unforgivable indiscretion." As a result, her friend had called her all the unprintable names she could think of and had forbidden her from ever getting in touch with her. The curtains had unceremoniously and prematurely been brought down on a relationship which both had thought would last till death did them part.

After listening to the fragmented pieces of the episode, I cajoled her into starting at the beginning. The tale went something like this: Both girls were thick as thieves. They shared confidences, unburdened themselves of their worries, talked of their insecurities, laughed about their eccentricities and even gossiped about friends, spouses and in-laws. Most of the times it was not out of malice but out of the sheer need to share and talk about the most intimate feelings. Their outbursts were cathartic, in that once the outpouring was over, both were ready to go back to their lives, switch over to the role of mother-wife-daughter-in-law and cope with the demands and pressure of day-to-day living.

The friend’s husband had long-standing differences with her parents. He told her that while he did not object to her maintaining ties with them, he did not want any interaction with them. An unfortunate state, but one which the family had reconciled to. When they were building a house and they ran short of money, the wife turned clandestinely to her parents and brothers for help.

  They helped her arrange for soft loans, identified architects and ghost managed the entire construction of the house. The husband who was in a touring job and used to keeping late hours, believed whatever his wife told him at the end of the day which was basically that she was using the services of professionals in the field. At some point he got suspicious and called up my cousin, asking her point-blank if his wife’s parents had anything to do with the construction and if a certain bank manager had been helping her with the financing. My cousin was completely unprepared for the assault. She is one person who cannot lie with a straight face. Her voice, body language and eyes give her away. This time, stumped with the directness of the query and conscious of the repercussions, she kept silent, not trusting herself to open her mouth. The husband taking her silence as concurrence, unburdened his hurt feelings, telling her how he was always made to feel small, inferior and worthless by his in-laws.

My cousin who is fond of him and who has been witness to some embarrassing situations in the family had empathised with him all the time. She had told her friend repeatedly to tell her parents not to say anything or behave in a manner which would hurt the husband’s ego and also try to bridge the gap between her husband and parents. When my cousin was silent over the phone, responding to the husband’s tirade with a huh and a hanh, he was convinced that his fears were not unfounded. The conversation ended. He went home and confronted his wife. Somewhere during the fight he told his wife her best friend had told him all that had happened.

This wasn’t the end of matter. He had for some time been suspecting his wife of being more than just friends with the bank manager who was also her parent’s neighbour. He did some mental calculations, jogged his memory, filled few blank spaces and assumed that she was having an affair. It wasn’t the truth but he was convinced that it was.

The friend turned around and vent all her spleen on my cousin, blaming her squarely for everything that was now wrong in her marital and familiar life. The husband no longer trusted her. He was always doubting her, listening in on her conversations, reading her private correspondence, putting motives to her simplest of reasons for going out, checking and cross checking the instructions she gave to the maids and children and going over the family finances minutely. Her life had become "a living hell" and it was my cousin who had, according to her, turned a loving home into one which was full of accusations and violent tantrums.

What the friend refused to acknowledge was that her marital relationship had been flawed for a long time and that there was no respect and understanding in it. Their marriage had survived so far only because both had blotted their disappointments and had willed themselves to taking each day as it came. The resentment was there, but suppressed. Now since they had been exposed, both could see each other for what they were and the relationship for what it had degenerated into.

Was my cousin then justified in feeling guilty? Was her friend right in feeling let down and devastated by her best friend’s ‘betrayal’? Did the husband do the right thing by first forcing his wife’s friend into a morally defensive position, then interpreting her silence as confirmation and finally telling his wife that her best pal had spilled the beans?

According to a family therapist, "while being truthful may be the highest virtue, there could be times when it could destroy not just the other person’s happiness but the entire foundation on which his very existence rests." In the case of my cousin’s friend, the marriage, whether good or bad was surviving without any apparent signs of being on the rocks. If there were unspoken grievances and disappointments, they had learnt to live with them. But with this outburst, which could have been avoided had my cousin categorically denied knowledge of any such incident, taken up for her friend vociferously, defended her, allayed her husband’s fears and laid to rest his doubts, their marriage may not have had to bear such strain. It is possible that sooner or later he may have got wind of his in-laws’ involvement but then it was something the friend would have handled.

Although my cousin did not add credence to the husband’s doubts by giving him details which her friend had disclosed to her, he took her silence as a confirmation of his doubts. It took the shape of an indiscreet disclosure which became the cause for acrimony, scarring their relationship forever. The friend felt so betrayed that it became almost impossible for her, the ‘hurt’ and ‘wronged’ party, to repose faith and trust in another person. Each one of us should uphold the highest virtues of truth and honesty but when someone confides in us, places faith and trust in us, tells us some of his/her darkest secrets and deepest desires, we must safeguard these without being told to do so. It is something which should come intrinsically. Just the way a freedom fighter or soldier when caught, chooses to swallow a cyanide capsule, afraid he may blurt out his country’s secrets while being physically tortured, a good and honourable friend keeps the faith, whatever the provocation.