Man, too optimistic about relationships, jumps out of a hotel after an argument with his wife

Karl Slym was middle-aged and putting on a bit of weight – as one does. But his career was going well. Born in the UK, but working in India, he was settling into a major role in the global car industry. He was in Bangkok, with his wife, for a high level business meeting. They were staying in a lovely room on the 22nd floor of the elegant Shangri-la hotel.

Then they had a blazing row. It raged on for hours and hours. Around midnight his wife gave up. She stopped shouting and arguing and sat there in the room writing a long letter trying to explain what she felt. She gave the letter to her husband to read. Then she got into bed and fell asleep. Sometime during the night, Karl worked himself out of the small opening in the window and fell fifty meters to his death.

We will perhaps never know quite what happened that night – though, on the face of it, it looks like suicide.

It can seem very sick to be interested. It is all so sad – and we are not relatives or friends. What has this got to do with us?

A lot. Really we should be deeply interested in this story. In terms of news, it is up there with insights from Davos or the IMF’s latest report on global growth.

What happened in the hotel room was a tragically extreme version of much more familiar events. In moments of utter fury, we too will think that we can’t take any more and that it would be better if we, or our partner, were dead. Rage and despair are the universal stuff of rows. It’s only the last act that sets Kari and his wife apart.

We should treat the news like a life-simulator: it allows us to experience, in safety, at second-hand, an extreme version of life’s most distressing experiences – in order that we might learn from and avoid them. The goal is not just to read of the disasters of others, but to use them in order to be less likely to suffer them ourselves (a mission that the news too seldom makes explicit).

The horror of Karl’s death is that, from where we are sitting (outside of rage), we know there must have been less appalling ways of ending the night if only the right ideas had come to mind. There might have been trouble still, but not the ultimate catastrophe. What thoughts might have prevented the fall?

Anger is so intense in close relationships, because that’s where we have the greatest hope of being understood. Anger and hope are twins. People almost always keep their extremes of anger for those who are close to them – that is, those in whom they believe. We brush off being misunderstood by a stranger; and we usually cope when a colleague seems to be willfully missing what we are saying. It is only in long-term relationships that we feel optimistic enough about our partners that we start to swear at them, break things and, at really extreme moments, often when we are tired, feel that we’d like to kill them or ourselves. Hope is at the origin of rage.

This signals a vital consoling and calming manoeuvre. We must learn to disappoint ourselves serenely, deeply, in our own time, about aspects of our relationships before our partners let us down, at a point of their own choosing, when we are not quite ready. We don’t get angry in all situations, we only get angry when we believed that particular kinds of pleasure, sympathy, kindness and understanding might be available – and they turn out not to be.

The calmest relationships are those in which we have, in certain areas, without too much bitterness, learnt to give up. Melancholy has advantages over murderous anger. To be misunderstood by those close by is the fate of most decent people – a dark message that should be inscribed in our hearts, and in elegant letters on the walls of hotels. As the philosopher Seneca observed: ‘What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.’

We should love our partners of course, but it would also be kinder – to them and to ourselves – if we also learnt not to expect very much from them either.