Let me say at the very outset that I am not comfortable with the wording of the current issue of our blog – ‘From marriage to Divorce – the journey of an intimate relationship’. There are several assumptions made in this statement - that an intimate relationship can exist only within a marriage, that marriage is the starting point of a journey, that divorce actually marks the end of that journey. I refute all these assumptions and would like to present a different viewpoint. I am neither a social anthropologist, nor a social scientist, and I shall not even attempt to provide a savant discourse on this issue. My opinions, as expressed in this article, derive from my own observations & experience.

I shall first start with the word ‘intimate’. What indeed is an intimate relationship? The word ‘intimate’, in the form used here, comes from the Latin word ‘intimus, meaning ‘innermost’. When applied to relationships, it means, according to the dictionary, ‘having a very close relationship - very warm and friendly; very personal or private; involving sex or sexual relations. So an intimate relationship can belong to any of the above categories, or a combination, or all three. However, an ‘intimate’ relationship, in common usage, often signifies a sexual relationship. The word ‘intimate’ is rarely used to define a relationship between siblings or friends. This is why marriage is deemed to be an ‘intimate’ relationship, because of sexual relations between partners. Which in turn raises the question as to whether a sexual relationship is a necessary and sufficient condition for an intimacy? It is necessary, certainly, but does not seem to be sufficient in modern society. Other types of incompatibilities, intellectual, emotional, financial and sometimes religious are often cited as causes for a broken relationship which, in the case of married couples, often end in divorce.

So if we take the physical & sexual relationship between man & woman as a major component of the so-called ‘intimate’ relationship, why is the institution of marriage at all necessary? Why do people get married in the first place, especially since in most societies all types of relationships are legal and permissible today? Should not the institution of marriage disappeared by now in most countries? But it has not. This makes me wonder what the causes can be. Religion certainly plays a major role – marriage is sanctified in all religions, and whether we practice or not, the tenets of the religion are firmly anchored in our mental makeup. In other words, getting married implicitly means that the relationship is ‘blessed’ by whatever God one prays to. It does not matter where or how the wedding takes place – temple, church, mosque, and synagogue, or in any other ‘abode of god’ or simply in a prosaic office building – the relationship between two individuals get sanctified by god or by society. Security is probably another major reason – a marriage is a social, economical, legal & moral contract that gives a set of rights to each contracting party. Responsibilities as well, but I shall deal with that point later. Now till a few decades back, marriage was the only way to benefit from such a contract - ‘from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part’. Whereas the wedding vows are differently worded in different religions, the basic idea is the same. A lifelong contract, come what may. Except that these days the legal systems in different countries give the same rights to couples who live together, whether they are married or not and irrespective of their sex – same sex couples enjoy exactly the same rights as others : legal and financial rights ensuring economic and financial security to both partners. So in my opinion, the institution of marriage promises something that goes beyond the mere issue of worldly goods. Marriages, after all, are supposed to be made in heaven, so goods & chattel, undoubtedly important, can’t be the only reasons.

I think that it is the moral contract that plays the all important role, the promise to love and cherish, to stand together through good times and bad, to share the happiness and the sorrows, to face the vicissitudes of life together. Maybe the marriage vows, spoken out loud and clear in front of an assembly of people or even an officer of law, are deemed to be more powerful and binding than a whole load of legal documents signed in the private offices or courts of law. Maybe a promise made in front of third parties is considered sacred. Maybe the idea of a sacred union, sealed by artifacts – a piece of jewelry, a veil, a vermilion dot – have a special effect on those who get married. In the Western society, I have often noticed that couples get married when they decide to have children. So maybe somewhere deep own the idea of procreation is still linked to the religious traditions of the yore.

Which makes me wonder – if marriage is perceived to be so special and sacred, why do they break up? What makes men and women break the promises they made to each other and to the society? What overpowering factors force them to break up, irrespective of the time they spend as a married couple? Of course, there can be no generalization as to the reasons – they are unique to each couple. But the consequences are often the same - bitterness and acrimony, lack of trust, suffering children. The price a married couple pays for a divorce or a separation is very high indeed, both in monetary and emotional terms. I think it can be safely assumed that such a decision is not taken lightly in most cases. So what are these overwhelming reasons?

This makes me come back to one of the questions that I raised in the beginning of this article – can marriage be considered as a ‘journey’? Life in itself is a journey, so is marriage a subset of that? Is it a journey or lack of one, which is in direct opposition to our subconscious desire to move on? As far as I am concerned, these are complicated questions and I have no answers. I can only chronicle what I have seen and felt. I feel that when marriage actually integrates the life’s journey of the partners, taking into account their individual motives and destinations, it is often a success. If marriage is perceived to be a separate journey that runs parallel to the individual voyages, things become more complicated, because then there are at least two sets of goals for each partner, and couples often struggle to meet them all. I think that is when the first rift in the marriage appears, and the necessity to compromise soon becomes an impossible burden to bear. Because such compromise often jeopardizes the possibility of attaining individual goals precious to each protagonist. Even when both partners participate willingly, which may not always be the case, there is a deep seated regret that quickly grows corrosive. And then starts the battle of egos and self interests which snowballs rapidly into direct ugly conflicts and most often result in a termination of the marriage and the moral contract.

Let us be lucid here. It is a myth that marriages are made in heaven. They are not. In some societies like India, a marriage is before and above a business deal between two families, especially when they are arranged. The prospective bride and groom come last in the scheme of things. Often they don’t even have a chance to meet before the ceremony and hence go straight to the wedding bed. So here we have two entities that don’t have the faintest notion about each other, thrust on a combined journey, in a complicated derivative of the patriarchal society where the woman is expected to make all the necessary adjustments and sacrifices to keep the marriage alive in most cases. Brought up to be submissive, the Indian woman puts up with all sorts of pressures, and often abuse, to stay in a relationship that brings her no personal fulfillment. Very often, she is dependent on men – her father before marriage, her husband after marriage and then her son if she has one. She does not simply have the means to walk out of any relationship and bears the burden silently in most cases.

Now on to the last question – does divorce signify the end of a ‘journey’ that started with marriage? As far as I am concerned, divorce is a legal term that seals the act of ending a relationship and grants a degree of independence to the couple to lead their lives as they choose. On the ruins of a broken home, traumatized children and a certain amount of social ostracism, depending on where they live. Can anyone really shake off a marriage and continue as if it was just a temporary affair? I think not. A marriage leaves in its wake a lot of responsibilities, especially if there are children. Each parent need to accept the responsibility for the well being of the children. This, in the society I live in, is a constant source of friction and negotiation. The kids are shuttled from one place to another depending on the convenience of the parents and their current partners. The parents, now no longer together and probably reluctant to communicate with their ex-spouses, are forced to maintain some sort of contact for the sake of the kids, resenting it every moment, and taking out the frustration on the poor hapless children. Kids spoilt rotten, each parent trying to assuage their guilt by plying children with lavish unnecessary gifts but often absent at the crucial moments of crisis. Deprived of a normal home, children often learn to play on the guilt of the parents, sometimes playing one against the other, consciously or unconsciously. A divorce leaves a permanent scar on all concerned, especially on children. Maybe it is better than children growing up in a totally dysfunctional family – that is what I’d like to believe.

I am neither for nor against marriage. I do not believe that marriage is indispensable for happiness. I do not believe that there is anything special about the institution of marriage. I do not believe that the relationship between two persons needs to be sanctified by the state or any religious institution. But I do believe that we go through life looking for our missing halves that will make our lives perfect, and if we are lucky, we do find them. Not always, not systematically. But it does happen. And it has got absolutely nothing to do with marriage, but is a pure communion of body & soul.

Aparajita Sen


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