Growing up, I often heard my father say that he had four kids: my two younger brothers, me, and my mother. He said it fondly as to my mother, he was more of a guardian than a companion. My parents have a good partnership, but my father, being the ‘man’ of the house, has always been the decision-maker. When I got married in 2021, it was important for me to ensure that my spouse and I share a bond that’s based on companionship and equality. I am an adult, and I want to be treated like one. Considering the baggage that words like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ carry with them because of years of conditioning, we decided never to use these labels for each other from day one of our marriage. He is my partner, my friend, my buddy, but he doesn’t like being called a ‘husband’, and the vice versa is true as well.
Leo Tolstoy spoke for many of us when he wrote in his book Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. In India, where the divorce rates are extremely low and the idea of separation still a taboo, many kids end up spending their childhood with unhappy families. S.N., a marketeer based in Delhi, chose to get married under the Special Marriage Act a couple of years ago because it allowed for consensual divorces. He believes his parents are good individuals but terrible as a couple. “I am okay with the idea of open marriages because it’s natural for a person to get attracted to someone else outside of a marriage. I realised this after I got to know about my father’s extramarital affairs. As an ardent atheist, I also think that both partners in a marriage should have the freedom to practice or not practice a religion,” says S.N.
He chose to get married for practical reasons. The couple wouldn't have been able to buy a house on a single income; they wanted to show the bank that they were legally married. His wedding had no rituals because he doesn’t think marriages are ‘holy’. “Which God would set my parents together,” he adds.
Aarti Krishnakumar, a freelance content creator based in Pune, got into her first serious relationship in her forties. She spoke about what it’s like for her to live together with her partner. “I saw my mother constantly in the kitchen, with my father expecting his meals to be ready at specific times, and becoming upset if they weren't. When I started living with my partner, we, from the very beginning, decided to divide all the household chores among ourselves. We have a chart in the kitchen at home where we write who will do what, be it buying groceries or taking care of certain bills,” she says. Doing this ensures that Aarti never pushes herself to a point where she starts resenting the relationship.
P, who chose to be anonymous, works as a secretary at a law firm in Bengaluru. She has been married for 25 years now and has two daughters. Growing up, she blamed her mother for always being angry and too harsh on her. “It’s only recently that I realised that my daughters have also borne the brunt of all the miscommunication I had in my marriage. Now that I think of my mother, I sort of understand where her anger stemmed from,” she says. She also grew up seeing a few of her aunts stay in terrible marriages, and wondered why they weren’t able to leave. Unlike many other parents today, P does not encourage her daughters to get married. She wants them to live their life as they see fit and not be constrained by anyone.
While there are many aspects of marriages we saw growing up that we may choose to leave behind, there are also some that might be worth carrying forward. Saania Khan, a designer based in Bengaluru, got married in 2021. She affectionately recalls how her parents and grandparents ensured that dinner was always eaten together, without the distracting presence of the television. “With my generation, we don’t do stuff like that anymore, but in my marriage, this is a rule we choose to follow. Dinner is done at the dining table together unless it’s a movie night.” Khan also admires how her parents share responsibilities effortlessly. “The clear division of labour is a good thing; it’s the sexism and the lack of respect for domestic work that’s toxic,” she says.
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Since the views on the subject vary depending on the families that people come from and the experiences they have had, it is important to get an expert opinion, too. Dr. Chandrima Mirsra M, a couples therapist and co-head of psychological services at Artemis, Gurgaon, says, "People often replicate patterns they grew up seeing in their parents or grandparents' relationships, whether it is emotional closeness or distance, and may be surprised when their partners expect a different dynamic." She believes that the marriages within one's family of origin can significantly influence how individuals establish boundaries and expectations in their own marriages. "We all carry certain relationship templates within ourselves, but when these templates hinder our current relationship satisfaction, seeking professional therapeutic help is advisable," she adds.
As someone who is navigating a relatively new marital relationship, I understand how challenging it can sometimes be to recognise behaviour and patterns that are detrimental to the relationship. It’s also not easy to figure out where a certain marital conflict stems from. However, the hope is that in addition to identifying and unlearning the traits that aren't worth carrying forward, we also develop our own rituals to strengthen the relationships we share with our partners.
Prakriti is an independent writer. She writes on gender, cinema, and relationships and tweets as @kritipraa