We Need To Talk About Our Obsession With ‘Stable Marriages’

Posted on October 11, 2016 in Society, Taboos

By Sudha Shashwati:

Indians love weddings. We love marriages. We love big fat weddings and marriages that last a lifetime. We also hate complaints about dissatisfaction in marriages, and we absolutely abhor divorce. Majorly, the women. We have no patience with the present generation that treats marriage as something they can get out of and believes that ‘romance’ and ‘autonomy’ are important parts of a marriage. They are misguided, we say, and can only be saved by going through the route of arranged marriage. If you don’t like where you are, you work at feeling better and not planning to get out.

As a culture, we take a lot of pride in our stable marriages. People sticking it out in marriages, (most often for the sake of their children) no matter how miserable they are with each other; the number of years for which the relationship lasts means far more than the quality of relationship. We are highly disapproving of the apparent ease with which the present generation can and does get out of marriages. We lament it as a bad influence from the west. What we don’t seem to recognise is the fact that there can be bad marriages too! There’s a limit to how much you can achieve by having great intentions and trying to adjust. Everyone cannot be healed or changed. And every relationship cannot be salvaged. In fact, toxic relationships can be extremely damaging to people’s mental health, especially that of children. So, having options other than staying put in an abusive marriage is actually a lifesaver and needs to be given due credit.

It is true that there are marriages that break up in a matter of days or weeks for the most frivolous of reasons and people are right when they say that such cases are more of a recent phenomenon. During my internship in a family court in Mumbai, I came across several cases in which I sadly noticed that people don’t take marriage as seriously as it deserves to be taken. Cases that made me lament the fact that marriages are not considered sacrosanct anymore. Yet, I also came across cases of marriage fraught with all sorts of abuse. It made me glad that the sanctity of marriage is not absolute. It made me thank god for divorce.

It is said that the best legacy that parents can leave their children with, is their happiness. Whether you fight or choose to keep it all brushed under the carpet, children are perceptive and the impact of marital discord on children’s health development is huge! Often, children pick up similar behavioural patterns, have more adjustment problems and may show a variety of internalised and externalised problems that may last well into adulthood*. If not for anything else, the child in question is going to have no role models for a healthy relationship and may grow up believing that what happens in his family is the way relationships play out everywhere. Contrary to what we may like to believe, it’s better to get out of an abusive relationship than staying put and roughing it out.

You don’t deserve a medal simply for staying in a relationship for life! We need to talk about the quality of that relationship first. Yes, all relationships have their ups and downs-every marriage entails hard work. But there’s a difference between putting an effort into one’s relationship to keep it healthy, and tolerating abuse simply for the survival of the relationship.

I read this harrowing, yet inspirational story from Humans of Amsterdam, which made me want to write this post in the first place. It’s the story of an Indian woman Haritha, working in Amsterdam. She had a history of emotional abuse in her marriage and was looking for divorce:

I had goosebumps while I read this woman’s story, and couldn’t help but think about the plight of women who are not as educated or have the financial means to actually get away from a rotten marriage. Why lay so much emphasis on staying together when the life of the relationship has been sucked out already? Why are we so tolerant of abuse?Why do we think that a relationship can get back to normal after a series of abuse and no measures being taken by the couple to process it and by the perpetrator to get help for it? Why make it so difficult to get out of a dead relationship? Is ‘not incurring society’s wrath’ such a worthy goal that we as parents are ready to sacrifice our children’s happiness for it? Also, why are such archaic laws still in place that require the signature of husband/father on documents? Doesn’t it help keep domestic violence alive? Are we so obsessed with marriage and maintaining patriarchy that we don’t care about our women’s safety, let alone their well-being?

Of course, we don’t care about women’s safety. We still don’t recognise marital rape. We truly have a long, long way to go before we can claim to treat our women fairly. Happy Dussehra folks! And more power to women like Haritha who are an inspiration to women everywhere, and the true manifestation of goddess Durga.

* Jenkins, J.M., & Smith, M.A. (1991). Marital Disharmony And Children’s Behaviour Problems: Aspects Of A Poor Marriage That Affect Children.


Image Source: Nishanth Jois/ Flickr