Marriage Sans Statutory Warning

It's not in the ad for the honeymoon package. The condom companies don't mention it. Nor do grandmas, beauty parlor attendants, aunts or cousins. There's no statutory warning that comes with the marriage marketing campaign in Indian society. But, as the ceremonial mehendi fades, so do myths like equality, sharing and marital bliss.

Most urban women - whether married by choice or arrangement - find themselves grappling for space within with the ageless format of marriage. Low levels of marital satisfaction are very common among urban couples, say marital therapists and researchers.

"At our family psychiatric centre, we see about 250-300 families/couples in a year, of which more than 60 per cent are seeking help for marital issues," says Dr Anisha Shah of the Department of Clinical Psychology, at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bangalore. "Across many studies on married couples in Bangalore, we have found that even those couples who do not actually have problems, experience poor quality marital relationships. Dissatisfaction maybe quite common though it may not manifest as fights," she adds.

Gender stereotypes play a vital role in the invisible pressure on married couples. A study conducted by Rathna Isaac and Dr Anisha Shah on gender stereotypes, marital roles, and marital adjustment involved 20 couples with marital problems, and 20 without marital discord. "Routine drudgery", which is hardly considered "work", was found to be a great source of conflict among all the couples.

Among all 40 couples, husbands and wives had disagreements over the division of labor in the house. Apart from this, this study also revealed that women felt they had more freedom than their mothers had, and wanted more financial freedom and independence for their daughters. Men felt that they were much closer to their families than their fathers had been to them. On the whole, the researchers concluded that the trend was shifting towards more democratic marriages.

Different levels of change in different aspects of societal life also add to the conflicts that married couples face. Education, for example, is no longer a domain that urban women are kept out of, but household kitchens are still largely free of urban men. While building a career that she considers important, a woman is expected to be "a good daughter-in-law" - home-manager, laundry manager, relationship manager, hostess, lover, mother, mistress of the house and so on. Inevitably then, she seems to experience more stress in marriage.

A student researcher at NIMHANS identifies three reasons for women experiencing greater marital stress: Being a homemaker is seen as a job with no prestige. So the woman takes on multiple roles and thus more stress. Secondly, women are basically more prone to stress and depression. Thirdly, while women are unconsciously tuned in to derive their sense of self from assessments around them, men derive that from achievements. The message for boys is "perform" while the message for girls is "relate". Also, women instinctively attach a lot of importance to their parental role and this increases the stress.

Dr Sarbani Banerjee, from the University of Netherlands says, "Now that women have also taken on the role of providers for the family, they sacrifice a part of their natural instinct towards motherhood and nurturing. They are not as comfortable or prepared mentally 'for their reproductive careers'. Yet, they look at marriage and motherhood as a means of gaining social acceptance' and 'fulfilling their purpose'. This is the dichotomy in the lives of Indian women."

The researcher from NIMHANS adds, "The greater freedom women have in the world, the more marital conflict there is. That's because women are changing but men are the same. While women have to learn to let go of the feeling that only they can best do certain jobs around the house, men have to understand that the home is also their territory and that they are not just helpers."

Call it marital angst or sub clinical depression (few symptoms of depression but not enough to warrant a diagnosis), it happens to most women, although the degree may vary.

In another study, (Shah, Gaur, Gaonkar, and Raguram) 20 women with depression were compared with 20 women who had "family difficulties". Within this group of 40 women, there were 29 homemakers and 11 working  women. Nineteen of these women had completed or studied beyond Class 10, and 28 were from nuclear families. What was clearly revealed was that 75 per cent of the women in the second group showed depression on a psychological scale. Their levels of depression were almost similar to those women who were seeking help for depression. In addition, similar patterns of family problems and marital issues existed in both the groups. And all women reported a poor quality marital relationship.

For women, the core conflict is between what they want to be and what they are supposed to be. There is implied pressure to live up to people's expectations, says Padmini Sridhar, a working mother. The marital  dissatisfaction increases as the gap between expectations and reality increases.

"After a few years of marriage, men still want to emote, if at all, only through sex. For women, sharing, talking about life etc is important. Women want to be cherished and constantly reassured that they are loved," says  Lakshmi S, an artist, who was married for many years. Women are always under invisible pressure to lurk in the shadows, she says. Even very successful women have to hold on to their husbands and keep pushing them into the limelight, saying they are responsible for her success.

Writer Shashi Deshpande however, views it differently. Marriage, she says, brings with it expectations and there are role models and ideals to be followed. When the impossibility of reaching these ideals is realized, stress and depression set in. Deshpande blames "the institution of marriage" for this. "Men have this capacity to slip out of smaller responsibilities in the marriage. The root of the problem is (women) not  being able to say no," she says.

In traditional marriages, women received wider social acceptance because they performed their roles in spaces defined for them by society. Consequently, social pressures and conflicts surfaced only to a limited extent.

But for the new age woman there's a conflict around many a turn. She has to keep struggling - until a new beginning. 


More by :  Charumathi Supraja

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