Life for Aman Gupta, a software professional, seemed to be simply perfect when he got engaged to his fiancée in Pune in early 2001. He was doing well in his career, and celebrated by taking his to-be wife to five star restaurants and buying her expensive gifts. But soon after they got married, the dotcom crash happened, and Gupta began to panic about keeping his job. He cut down on luxuries and explained the situation to his wife. But her response wasn’t what Gupta expected. He came home one day to find his wife had packed her bags and left.
Unlike Gupta, these days, as an even bleaker recession looms on the horizon, couples seem to be more sympathetic to each other’s needs and fears. Far from blaming each other (or, indeed, deserting the ship), spouses seem to be voluntarily cutting down on expenses, making allowances for their hardworking better halves and preparing to ride out the storm.
Smiles, not strife
Girish Dalvi, who owns a printing firm, is vocal about the changes that the recession has brought about in his personal and professional life. “Printing is one of the first industries to feel the pinch of any downturn,” he says. Dalvi has had to let go of staff and now manages key clients himself. “This means that I get home by 10 pm most nights, which is something I have never done before,” he says. “But my wife has been very understanding about the whole situation. She also has been doing her bit by ensuring the household expenses don’t get out of hand.”
Dalvi has also had to cut down on going out of town on weekends and entertaining friends and family. “But my wife sometimes disagrees with me about the latter,” he says. “The other day, I wanted to skip taking my parents out to dinner and she insisted we go. But usually, we’re on the same page.”
Adds Sudha Radhakrishnan, whose husband is a marketing professional, “Since we are a single-income household and have a two-year-old, we’ve really downsized our life. These days, we no longer go out of town on a long weekend or spend weekends at the mall. I do miss that, but don’t complain – I’d rather save the money now so that we can use it for school fees and other necessities in the future.”
The dark side
It isn’t easy to make such a change when you’re used to not thinking about money, but Radhakrishnan acknowledges that her attitude has been tempered by hearing of people who attend the same church as them, who have still not told their families they were laid off. “They spend the whole day at the park,” she says, “Or do odd jobs like selling cars or arranging catering for parties for a commission.”
Dalvi too has come across close friends who, he says, are making a lot of sacrifices as the recession bites deeper into their lives. “I know some people who have sold their flats in Mumbai and moved back to their home towns,” he says.
Dr Tushar Guha, psychologist and managing director, Nrityanjali, says that lately all the sessions he conducts with clients – whether it’s on parenting or counselling students – turn to discussions on the recession and how it affects peoples’ lives.
“I find that anxiety and worry about the recession is more prevalent amongst two kinds of couples,” says Dr Guha. “When both the husband and wife are part of the workforce, they are both aware of what a recession is and how it can affect them. An ‘enlightened homemaker’ may not go out to work, but she is aware of the situation, and her fear of the unknown may put pressure on the husband as she may repeatedly question him about the recession. However, if the woman is an old-style homemaker, she remains largely unaware of the situation.”
Guha recently counselled a couple who confided to him that they had put off their plan to have a baby, although they were very keen on starting a family, because of the prevailing financial situation. “They were unhappy because they’ve been married for seven years and really didn’t want to postpone this any longer,” he says. Guha advised them to rethink their decision. “I told them there’s never going to be a perfect time,” he explains.
Guha’s also come across couples deferring foreign holidays and moving kids to less expensive schools to cut down on expenses. “The recession is also affecting the sex life of couples,” he states. “As it is, most working couples have a very bad situation when it comes to sex – sometimes it’s as infrequent as once in two months, and now, the worry about money and jobs is only making it worse.”
According to Guha, it’s commendable that many couples are dealing with the present financial situation in a mature manner. “These days, since both partners have jobs, they’re both aware of how much hard work is required to earn a living,” he explains, “So there usually isn’t a situation where one has to persuade or argue with the other to control their spending habits, for example.”
However, Guha does feel that in some cases, couples are being a bit alarmist. “If both halves of a couple are doing well in their careers, there’s no need to panic unnecessarily,” he says. “Don’t get into a situation where you could place stress on your relationship.”