Monday, December 13, 2010

The One Year Itch

I recently read an article on how the seven year itch has become passé. Couples have started facing issues in their marriage within the first year itself.

Let me say at the outset that this wouldn't apply to every couple, obviously. This is a general trend that's seen to be developing in Indian society of late. And I agree.

All around me I hear of and read about people getting divorced. This phenomenon is not restricted to celebrities anymore. There are quite a few people I know personally who have divorced/are in the process of getting divorced within a few years of marriage.

As far as celebrities go, we're reading about an ex-Bollywood actress contemplating divorce for the second time in her 3-4 year old marriage. The first time around, the couple took a vacation together and somehow managed to save their marriage. Will they be successful this time around as well? Are they even trying? Notably, the couple got married within a month or so of the actress breaking up with her then fiancé, so one wonders whether her decision to get married to her current husband was a hasty one. This morning I also read about a British actress splitting from her Indian industrialist husband. They've been married only two & a half years.

Closer home, there are two friends of mine who got married within a year of meeting each other. They come from very different social and financial backgrounds and the girl could not deal with the conservative thinking and financial habits of her in-laws as well as their constant interference in her life. The couple started having issues within 6 months, and 2 years later they're separated and waiting for their divorce to come through. Another friend filed for divorce 6 months after getting married. Her husband is a habitual cheater, and 6 months after marrying him she decided she couldn't take it anymore! I wonder why she got married to him in the first place? Did she really think he'd clean up his act? Does that ever happen?

My views on marriage aside (on which I've done very many posts & will spare you the brutality :), I've been thinking of why marriages have come to have such a short shelf-life.

Come to think of it, when a friend/relative celebrates, say their 5th marriage anniversary, many of us react by saying "Oh wow, 5 years together!", without even realizing the implications of what we just said. 10th anniversary, and this surprise turns into marvel. "Oh man, 10 years!!!!!" This is a sign of the times we live in. It's a sign of how the dynamics of relationships have changed.

So obviously, since I've been thinking I've reached a conclusion. If you're interested I'll tell you why I think fewer marriages work these days (this is my opinion alone and I'm no marriage counsellor :) If you aren't, you can skip the rest of this post.

To begin with, our generation is in a tearing hurry to get married and I don't know why! People decide to get married within a year, two years, and sometimes within months of knowing each other. That makes me wonder if they even know WHY they're getting married? I'm sorry but "I love him and can't live without him" is just not a good enough reason to take such a big step because once the reality of life kicks in - which will be sooner rather than later once you start living together - you will not be so much "in love with him" anymore.

I don't mean to preach, but we've got to have clear reasons for getting married. We should get married if we want to build a life together or share some of life's experiences together, not to prove a point to our family/friends or society.

Before we take the plunge, we need to make sure our basic philosophies in life are similar and if not, we need to have a clearly defined action plan on how we'll combat situations where we don't see eye-to-eye. We need to have common goals and aspirations for ourselves as a couple (though personal goals may vary). We need to be sure we can live with the habits (some of which WILL be irritating) and idiosyncrasies of the other person 24x7 because these things have a way of getting magnified when you're living in close proximity with someone. But most importantly, we need to be sure that we're mentally and emotionally ready for marriage because it takes a lot of commitment, hard work, trust, understanding and compromise. And all of these come from maturity.

Our generation is also low on patience and tolerance levels. We want quick solutions to every problem, and with increasing career demands on both partners we have neither the time nor the energy to work on a troubled marriage. Getting out of it seems to be the easier way of dealing with the mess, particularly since divorce no more connotes such a huge stigma as it used to, and plenty of divorced people do go on to date new people, start new relationships and get married again.

Financial independence has given a new sense of confidence to women. Working women in bad or even indifferent marriages feel there's no reason to suffer silently. They're simply less conditioned to give in than they used to be, and if they're not happy in their marriage they prefer moving on.

Then there is the issue of not working out the details of life together before taking the plunge. This ties to my first point of getting married in a hurry. We forget to work out answers to some pertinent questions that may give rise to marital disharmony later and become the basis of a failed marriage. What expectations do we have of each other as husband & wife? Are we willing to/able to fulfil those expectations? How will we deal with conflicts? How will we find solutions to problems where our points of view differ? What kind of spending habits will we have? How much interference by parents-in-law and other relatives is OK? How important are our respective friends going to be? What do we think of having kids? What kind of lifestyle changes do we expect each other to make? How are we going to share our space? These questions may seem trivial but trust me they can be fatal to a marriage. Married people may agree with me on this!

Then there is the issue of growing infidelity and the toll that the constant suspicion takes on a marriage. Is our generation really less loyal than the generations before us, or is it that the cases of infidelity are being exposed more? Are people who cheat on their partners less afraid to admit they slipped up than they used to be? Are people more aware and open about their sexual and emotional needs and less hesitant to pursue gratification with people other than their spouses? Whatever the reason might be, infidelity stares us in the face whichever way we turn, and we have become more intolerant of it because we know divorce is easier to get now than it used to be and it's not the end of the world.

This is the age when all the myths associated with marriage - such as marriages are made in heaven, there's only one person for all of us, when you meet your soulmate, you'll know he/she is the one etc. - are getting debunked. Marriages come with a 'fragile' tag and we can't breathe easy once we've tied the knot. On the contrary, that's when the real work begins.
Are we up to the challenge?


Moonshine said...

A and I complete 5 yrs!!!! Ahem.. lol

But yeah, I agree with you on the first point.. the most important part of marriage is the practicality of actually living together and being with each other's families!!! So you need to think realistically before taking that decision!!

muddleglum said...

You might want to go back through your post and ask yourself how many of your points have "lack of (honest) communication" behind them.

I know that another problem is changing expectations. I was getting irked at some of my wife's impulsive ways until I realized that was one of the endearing traits that I enjoyed pre-marriage. Oops? So I can only kick myself if I want to be honest. Rats!

Inlaws and finances are considered one of the biggest problems in marriages. My family likes my wife better than me ;-) and she hasn't much respect for her own family's life decisions so they cause little interference. I hand her my paycheck knowing that she rarely throws money around.

35 years and counting.

Scarlett said...

@Moonshine - I did say this post may not apply to all couples. You & A are one of them :)

@Muddleglum - First of all, congrats on having completed 35 years together. That deserves respect.

I think open & honest communication is important in all relationships & it becomes even more crucial after marriage.

In-laws are a big aspect of Indian marriages since as a society, children continue to have very close ties with their parents even after marriage, often even continuing to live with parents. It's a common saying here that when you marry someone, you also marry their family! That's just how Indian culture is, and parents feel it's their birth-right to interfere in the lives of their children - though they don't see it as "interference", rather as "guidance".

Gopikaa Ramanan said...

Love is given more importance pre-marriage. Money is given more importance post-marriage. And this is where the problems arise. And yes...a 'detailed thinking' post! Nice to know you can think as detailed as this!huh...jus kidding!

Anonymous said...

Scarlett - all your points are very valid. Just to add to it, I feel our generation is caught between prioritising ourselves and balancing social obligations. In this muddle unfortunately a lot of us end up taking very wrong decisions. What I mean to say is a lot of people still marry for social obligations, but once they are married they realise their folly cuz the 'self priority' that has set in tends to go for a toss. Herein lies the problem that you rightly pointed out i.e. not putting in enough thought before taking the decision. What is really scary is people stay in unhappy marriages cuz they believe eventually things will fall in place like it did for my parents / brother / sister etc...but at the end people do stay together not realising what a marriage / relationship is supposed to be. It is a lot more than fulfilling an obligation, having and raising kids & eventually retire with your kids who you have pretty much brought up in the same way. This entire concept is so sickening and worse still 99% of our population think its right to compromise your happiness for the sake of your family or stupid norms set over the years

Scarlett said...

@Gopika - It's not only money that becomes very important post-marriage. There are tons of practical, day-to-day things as well. I've been thinking about marriage in detail for quite some time now & wondering whether I'm ready for it.

@Anonymous - I'm glad to let you know that I'm part of that 1% that doesn't give a damn about societal norms/conventions :)