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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Are you a spouse whisperer?
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Are you a spouse whisperer?

You need to be one if he or she has stopped listening to you, says Shoba Narayan

Spouse whisperers come in many guises, your job is to figure out who they are. Photo: ThinkstockPremium
Spouse whisperers come in many guises, your job is to figure out who they are. Photo: Thinkstock

What you need this Valentine’s Day is not flowers or candles, but a spouse whisperer. What, you ask, is a spouse whisperer? Remember The Horse Whisperer, the movie in which Robert Redford made a horse do things it didn’t want to do? Spouse whisperers do the same thing to spouses.

There comes a time in every relationship when you realize a simple truth: Your spouse doesn’t listen to you. The harsher truth will follow: Your spouse listens to someone else who says the exact same thing that you’ve been repeating for days, months, sometimes years.

You could have been telling him to buy mutual funds for years. Suddenly, one day, he will return from his haircut and announce: “You know, Billu barber is buying mutual funds. I think we should too." Before you froth at the mouth, take stock. If you are as smart as I think you are, you will immediately see the need to cultivate the barber, tailor, hairdresser, golf and drinking buddies, who shall henceforth be referred to as spouse whisperers.

Take a simple example that is the source of much discussion in many households these days: the amount of time that your spouse spends on social media. As her well-meaning husband, you believe she is spending far too much time on Twitter and Facebook. It is not a belief; it is a fact.

Being the software engineer that you are, you have ingeniously set timers to detect when she logs in and out of Facebook and Twitter on all her devices. You have wads of proof that you have collected on your daughter’s graph paper—pencil marks that go up and down like an ECG, plotting the amount of time she is on social media on a minute-by-minute basis.

One evening, you begin a discussion about this, little realizing that it is a path to self-obliteration. Let’s figure this out rationally, you say. As you speak, there is a series of reactions in rapid succession. First, she doesn’t listen. Then she pretends she doesn’t understand what you are saying. Third, she says that you are wrong! Flat out. Without discussion. It is all in your head, she says.

That’s when you bring out your ammunition: those green graph papers that you clutch in your hands. Proof. Going back weeks. That’s when her eyes go cold. “Have you been spying on me?" she says in that deceptively quiet voice you have come to fear. That is when you realize that all your meticulous tracking of her time on social media, and rigorous collection of proof, was not just suboptimal; not just a waste of time. It was worse. It was like digging your grave, jumping inside it, and smearing yourself with dirt just to save your face.

The tone of the discussion changes entirely after that. Your spouse spiritedly argues with you about how you are wrong in your perception of her. She has the gall to call it “perception" when you were waving around scientific proof. Then she turns the tables on you. She isn’t the one spending too much time on Facebook, she says. You are the one who is constantly on the phone—checking messages, texting colleagues, giving the thumbs-up to lame jokes on all the superfluous alumni groups that you are part of on WhatsApp. You are the one with the addiction, not her, she says.

At the end of 4 hours, she is packing her bags to go to her mother’s house. The present scenario is so far removed from the image you had in your head that it makes you doubt how somebody in your office called you empathetic and insightful.

In your imagination, she sees the validity and truth of your statements. Her eyes fill with tears of gratitude. “Thank you for showing me the way," she says. What follows is a night of merriment.

What has ensued is the exact opposite.

The worst part isn’t the fight or its aftermath. It occurs during a casual dinner a couple of weeks later. As she sips soup, she says casually, “You know, there was an article posted on Surekha’s Facebook update about how women are addicted to social media. It causes our hormones to go entirely out of whack; and turns us into raging psychotic beasts. Do you know that the most aroused emotion when you are on social media is envy?"

“Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I tell you?" you feel like shouting. But you hear the word “aroused" and stay silent.

Your lovely wife proceeds to blithely tell you that Surekha and she have made a pact to stay off social media for a week; to “detox", as she calls it. You may wish to dump all those graph papers on Surekha’s head; you may wish to avoid her at all parties. But that would be a wrong approach. You need to cultivate Surekha so that she can deliver your messages to your wife. Silly Surekha, as you call her, is your spouse whisperer.

Spouse whisperers come in many guises. As a sneaky spouse, your job is to figure out who they are; and how you can get them to pass along your messages. It could be the office peon; an astrologer; or a gym trainer.

If your husband is tight with his golf buddies, befriend them. Get them over for lunch or dinner. Then, have a quiet chat with the man your husband respects: “I think it is so great that you are strict with your children. You should mention that to (insert your spouse name). He spoils our kids and leaves me to be the bad guy."

The last bit of advice I have for you is to cultivate a tag-team of spouse whisperers, because you never know when your spouse will wisen up to the fact that the driver is giving him suggestions for vacation destinations—particularly if those vacation destinations happen to be the ones you are pushing.

Shoba Narayan has ruined all the whispering by revealing the concept to her spouse through this column. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com

Also Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns

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Published: 14 Feb 2015, 12:56 AM IST
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