Thursday, October 14, 2010

Love ain't easy!

Parents encourage their children to opt for divorce when there are problems during the initial months. There is no attempt at adjustment or compromise. As a result, divorce rates have skyrocketed in Kerala

By Shevlin Sebastian

Soon after her marriage, Menaka Rao, 22, realised that her husband, Raghu, 25, was under the complete dominance of the mother. “She spoiled him,” says Menaka. Raghu would work for a few months, then say he is not well and resign and stay at home for months together. “Because I had a job in the bank, I was able to pay the bills,” she says. But after a year, Menaka could not take it any more and walked out. “I don't want to spoil my life,” she says. Menaka has just filed for divorce.

At psychologist Dr Prakash Chandran’s clinic, at Kochi, Dilip and Meera have come for counselling. They are in their late twenties. At first glance they look like a successful middle-class couple. Dilip is wearing a blue shirt and trousers, while Meera is in a green salwar kameez. He works in a multinational company and earns Rs 60,000 a month. She is a housewife.

The problem is that, despite being married for one and a half years, they are unable to consummate their marriage. “When he was in college, a girl told Dilip that he was not good at love-making,” says Prakash “It affected him deeply.” Whenever Dilip attempts sex with his wife, those old fears crop up and he is unable to perform.

“There are very few young people in Kerala who know how to go about the sex act from the beginning,” says Prakash. “Most girls have a rudimentary knowledge. So they feel tense and nervous and are unable to enjoy it. Some girls think that sex is just hugging and kissing. Sometimes, a man suffers from temporary impotency, owing to various psychological and physical reasons. So, he is not able to perform satisfactorily.”

But the couple feels a pressure, because the family and society keep asking whether the girl has become pregnant. One day, unable to bear the trauma alone, the girl will tell her parents, “My husband is impotent.” Immediately, the parents will ask her to leave the marriage. No opportunity is provided to the husband to cure his problem. “Psychological or partial impotency can always be healed through counselling,” says Prakash.

Meanwhile, the boy's family will refuse to accept that there is a problem with their son. The battle-lines between the two families are drawn. And it is a matter of time before a petition for divorce is filed.

Sometimes, when the girl experiences pain she will hesitate to participate in the sex act. Then the man will feel frustrated and ask for a divorce. “Men have been put off by something as minor as mouth odour and broken their marriages,” says Prakash.

Interestingly, the psychologist blames the parents for the rapid rise in divorce among young people today. “The parents only discuss educational topics with their children,” he says. “They don’t teach the children about how to overcome troubles and setbacks. They are not taught how to get along with each other, and how important it is to adopt an attitude of ‘give and take’, so that a relationship can flourish.”

Instead, the children are pampered and are given whatever they ask for. As a result, they become egoistic and selfish. Whenever they encounter problems in their marriage, they are unwilling to resolve it. Instead, they walk away. What gives young women the confidence to leave is that they are all financially independent, thanks to well-paying jobs.

Lilly James, a High Court lawyer in Kochi, says, “If you compare the trends over the past twenty years many more women are initiating divorce these days. Undoubtedly, economic independence is allowing them to take this extreme step.”

The increasing confidence of women is also a threat to the men. These days, daughters receive as much exposure as sons, especially in nuclear families. By the time she is 24 and ready for marriage, a young woman has a pronounced individuality.

“But when she gets married she suddenly loses this freedom,” says Lilly. “This surrender is very difficult to adjust to. This is one of the major reasons in the breakdown of the marriages. Women want a 50-50 sharing of the work at home which the husbands are unwilling to do.”

Another reason is that divorce is no longer a stigma in society. “Nowadays, parents tell their daughters that if they cannot get along with their husbands, they should walk away,” says Prakash. The thinking is: why waste your life. Since their daughter is financially independent they are confident she can get another husband.

Many people are influenced by stories in the media about people who have had successful second marriages. “There is a widespread perception that, if the first marriage has failed, you can get it right the second time around,” says Prakash.

Breaking up is hard to do

The road to divorce is never easy, especially if there is no joint petition. Prakash remembers the case of a 26-year-old woman who was unhappy at the way she was treated by her in-laws. She walked out within weeks of the wedding and filed for divorce.

She also wanted the gold jewellery back. The boy refused. He filed a counter petition stating that his wife suffers from mental instability. The case has been going on for seven years. “They are bitter, but refuse to compromise,” says Prakash. As a result, both are unable to remarry. Their life is stalled.

In this type of situation, to overcome their loneliness, several women have affairs, usually with married men. “But this usually leads to frustration for the woman, because eventually the man does not want to leave his wife,” says Prakash.

So what is the way forward? Prakash says that young people should not confide everything to their parents. Instead, they should seek expert advice. “It is easier to solve marital difficulties when only two people are involved, instead of the entire family,” he says. “Most of the times the reasons for the strife are very minor and it can be solved. Many marriages can be saved.”

Lilly says that when a person wants to become a priest he has to spend years to qualify. So is the case if you want to be a lawyer or a chartered accountant.

“Similarly, there should be training for marriage for youngsters,” she says. “They should be taught on how to handle the financial, emotional, psychological and physical aspects of marriage. Young people should have an idea of what they will encounter when they get married.”

Lilly says that parents should teach the children about all aspects of life. “They have an erroneous thinking that if a child is economically sound, he or she will have no problems,” she says. “But this is not true at all. I know of many young people who have successful professional lives, but a miserable marriage because they don’t know how to balance a career and family life.”

What also causes unhappiness in marriage is the lack of joy in work. “Many parents force their children to become doctors and engineers,” says Lilly. “Some children do not have the talent for it. They find it difficult to cope and suffer from enormous stress. They become very unhappy and this affects the marriage.”

What is clear is that in an India of rapid social and economic changes, marriage as an institution is being rocked like never before. Young people have no idea of how to lead a happy married life. The result: a wreckage of hopes and dreams.

(Some names have been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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