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'The rules of marriage are changing in India'

Last updated on: February 17, 2009 17:50 IST
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Last week, we conducted an interview with psychiatrist and relationships counsellor Dr Vijay Nagaswami about the dynamics of a marriage and how a couple can work on theirs. Today, we bring you an excerpt from his new book, The 24x7 Marriage: Smart Strategies for Good Beginnings.

Presented below is Chapter 4, The New Indian Marriage.

It is evident that the rules of marriage are changing in India. And about time too! As we discovered, marriage is not just a state one enters into, but a life domain that needs to be nurtured, so that it may provide us what we are all seeking in life -- emotional fulfillment. Put differently, the new Indian marriage is growing into a substantial entity that is far more consciously experienced than it ever used to be.

The fact that divorce rates are on the increase doesn't worry me too much. As said earlier, people are still getting re-married. But the way I see it is that increasing divorce rates are just a part of the early reactions to the phenomenon of liberalisation of the new Indian thought process. After years of suppression, we, as a nation, are suddenly discovering that we have the power of choice. So we make our choice more consciously today. However, some of us, intoxicated by this sense of personal empowerment, tend to go over the top a little. Add to this the fact that our levels of tolerance have decreased over the years, and you find more people taking impulsive decisions that they are hard pressed to reverse.

Uma and Satish were married for one miserable year before they decided, by mutual consent, to seek dissolution of their marriage in the Family Court. The reason for their unhappiness was Satish's discomfort with Uma's obsessive pursuit of her career. He had expected that after they got married, she would scale down her career aspirations and pay more attention to their home, which in recent times served pretty much as a hostel to both of them. He could not get his long-suffering mother to live with them, since they were hardly at home, both busy in the pursuit of their respective careers in the IT industry. Their sex life was virtually non-existent, even from the first month of their marriage. Both were simply too exhausted during the week to even contemplate intimacy. And weekends were usually spent recovering from massive hangovers.

Out of the blue Uma was offered an opportunity to go to Ireland for nine months on work. This would mean a huge jump in earnings as well as a promotion. She accepted immediately, without consulting Satish. He was furious, both at being a non-party to the decision-making process, as well as at the fact that she was going away for such a long period. They fought every day on the phone, e-mail and SMS. Many nasty things were said. Her boss, a recent divorcee, planted the idea of separation in Uma's head. Uma liked the idea and proposed to Satish that they take a nine-month break from each other and see if this improved their marriage. 'What marriage?' Satish demanded and suggested they call it quits once and for all. She agreed. The very next day a lawyer was sourced from the Internet, and within a week they submitted a petition for divorce by mutual consent.

Fortunately, getting a divorce by mutual consent in Indian law is not all that simple. You first have to establish that you have been living separately for at least six months, after which you have to wait a further period of six months just in case you change your mind. Little more than a year later, nine months of which Uma spent alone in Ireland and had an opportunity to reflect on her life and aspirations, for she was not as overworked in Ireland as she had been at home, they met at the Family Court. Uma had half a mind to withdraw the petition, but pride prevented her from doing so. Satish too, in the past year, had missed her terribly. He too had half a mind to persuade her to change hers. But since he heard her speak with a faint Irish accent, he concluded there would be no point in attempting a reconciliation with someone who had grown so alien and held his tongue. The divorce was granted. They met again when they picked up their respective copies of the divorce decree and decided to be civil and have a cup of coffee together. Six months and several litres of coffee later, they decided to get married again. Four years on, they remain married.

This is what I mean when I say the new Indian has low tolerance when it comes to dealing with frustration. Admittedly, Uma and Satish were having a very hard time and their respective personal goals appeared to be discordant. However, if they had gone a little deeper, they may have been able to handle things a little differently. On the flip side, if they had not gone through the process of divorce, they may never have discovered that they really did care for each other. Wee they then correction doing what they did? I don't think there is an answer to that, but the way I see it, the fact that they had a choice (divorce), which had perhaps not been available to their parents, did serve to subtly empower them to exercise their right to choose.

I am not saying that this power should be taken away from people. But we do need to remember that, until we reach a certain level of maturity, we may, in the interim period, exercise our choices indiscriminately and without proper application of mind. But this is only a transient phenomenon, not something we should overly concern ourselves with. Think of it as a correction of a situation. Many of the 'older Indians' would have dearly liked to have divorced their spouses, but could not owing to the social stigma at the time. Today the New Indians can. And sometimes, they may overdo it. But, I believe they are smart enough to realise that they don't always have to.

Coming back to my original point, merely because more divorces are taking place now does not mean that marriage is irrelevant in today's life. What it does mean is that the new Indian marriage has to be structured differently than its older counterpart. You might well ask, 'In what way?' That is what the rest of this book about. But to just give you a broad overview:

The new Indian marriageĀ…

  • focuses on emotional fulfillment for both partners, and not merely procreation or recreation.
  • is owned by both partners in the marriage and not by anyone else.
  • Recognises two sets of personal spaces ('I' spaces) in a marriage, but pays due attention to the marriage space ('We' space) as well.
  • appreciates that fights, issues and conflicts are inevitable when two individuals engage in a close and intense relationship.
  • uses rational processes to manage these fights, issues and conflicts.
  • employs a zero-tolerance policy towards abuse -- whether physical, verbal, sexual or emotional.
  • pays adequate attention to the experience and expression of sexual and emotional intimacy.
  • believes that parents and children need their own spaces and that these should rest outside of the marriage space.
  • works towards transparent and honest communication styles.
  • does not hesitate to seek professional help when things get sticky between the partners or they find it hard to find solutions to their issues.
  • understands that divorce is a legitimate option (if the marriage does not work despite the best efforts of both partners), but only the final one.

As you read the following chapters, you will realise that the New Indian Marriage is something that every Indian couple can aspire to. All we need to do is to stand back a bit and take fresh stock of our thoughts, beliefs and ideas, and learn how we can work smart on our marriage. We will also see that the earlier we start doing this (preferably in the first year of marriage), the more fulfilling our marriage will turn out.

Excerpted from The 24x7 Marriage: Smart Strategies for Good Beginnings (Rs 250) by Dr Vijay Nagaswami with the permission of publishers Westland Ltd.

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