Sometimes the most insightful discoveries come at the most unexpected times. Like what happened as I was doing my weekly ironing recently.
I had been puzzling over a counselling session the day before. The couple in their late thirties looked comfortable with each other. They exchanged warm smiles throughout the interview, unlike couples who are so at odds with each other that they either shoot “dagger looks” or refuse to look at each other.
At the same time, the pair expressed deep distress over their frequent quarrels. A key bone of contention was the husband’s failure to take out the household rubbish daily. Sometimes, he said it slipped his mind. At other times, he felt the rubbish bin was not full enough to warrant a trip to the common refuse chute. His wife took a dim view of his tardiness, seeing it as reflective of an irresponsible person whose word could not be trusted.
I have seen my share of scoundrels, wife-beaters and irresponsible gamblers, and heard all sorts of upsetting tales. This husband’s misdeeds paled in comparison. Granted, I felt little sympathy for the man, who could have tried harder to be more consistent in doing something he hated for a wife he professed to love. I must admit, however, that I joined her husband in having difficulty understanding the wife’s profound distress, to the point of talking about divorce!
After 70 minutes of recriminations punctuated by tears streaming down the wife’s cheeks, she presented a nugget of information – the husband announced about four months ago that he had given up his faith.
Our time ran out so I did not pursue it, but now whilst ironing clothes, two insights struck me.
Firstly, was the wife considering breaking their marital covenant in response to his breaking with their common faith? If so, was this her desperate way of getting him to return to God? Secondly, did his rejection of his faith set off alarm bells in her head that he was not the man she married? That he could not be trusted, not only with clearing the rubbish but also as a man of God and head of their household? The juxtaposition of the two was intriguing. If true, I wondered if she had voiced her concerns. If she had, perhaps they could understand each other better and have avoided this crisis.
Two other thoughts arose from this interaction.
The first is about keeping our word. As men, we sometimes think: What is the big deal? After all, we look after a lot of the BIG stuff like bringing home the bacon. However, if it annoys our spouses when we do not attend to the other stuff, perhaps it is time to review our priorities. Thus, our priority is not so much about clearing the rubbish or lowering the toilet seat but about showing how much we love and are considerate to each other.
My second thought concerns what I think this husband may be experiencing. After years of struggling with his job, abandoning his faith may reflect an existential crisis – a crisis that involves questioning a whole host of fundamental beliefs, values or even life direction. Some of us experience such a crisis point after a period of spiritual dryness and disappointment. For others, it may stem from ill health. Lest we find ourselves slipping into the abyss of an existential crisis, each of us needs to stay close to our God.
Background picture by Kzenon/Bigstock.com
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.