There are certain accepted reasons for a marriage to break. The most common ones are infidelity, domestic abuse, sexual violence, emotional abuse, addiction, and the sexual orientation of the spouse. All of these are extremely tough, and in cases of violence, dangerous situations to be in. Our society's framework accepts these as valid reasons to quit the relationship.
However, what happens when such reasons do not exist, and yet you reach a point of wanting to quit?
Over the last decade, Ajanta De, co-founder and counsellor at InnerSight Counselling has seen a sharp rise in couples seeking counselling to decide whether to continue with or quit the marriage. “When they start, the couples are obsessed with what is not working. They are unable to see the aspects of their relationship that work. Intuitively, such couples know that there is another view they need to consider before taking a decision,” says De.
N is married to an investment banker. They live in a posh gated community. They have a daughter who goes to a very expensive school. For the last 4 years N, has been volunteering with an organization that works for poverty alleviation. Her world view, due to this exposure, has changed so much that it pains her to live her life the way she has been. “From getting up in this lap of luxury to even ordering expensive grocery items, I cringe and often weep, knowing there are many who spend in a month what I spend before noon on a regular day,” N says. Her husband is unable to fathom why she is questioning her privilege and why she insists on curbing the lifestyle he had always aspired for, one he has worked hard to get. N and her husband understand that this is a fundamental shift in their thought processes. Both know they are at a crossroads in their marriage. Even as they started couples counselling, N also reached out to me to coach her on how to communicate better with her husband.
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According to De, besides the philosophical difference a couple might have, like in the case with N and her husband, there are many other reasons for a couple to question their marriage. This includes the stress from caring for and living with parents, each of their attachment styles (insecurities of a spouse), suspicious nature of a spouse, as well as lack of sex and physical intimacy. Spending habits or even geographic career moves can make couples think of ending their marriage.
G and A got married five years ago. At that time, both wanted to be a child free couple. A few months ago, A changed his mind and now wants to have a child. What started as a polite ask changed to begging G to also change her mind. G on her part feels that she should not be subjected to this as she had made it very clear at the outset that she did not want to have children. A’s suggestion of adoption, if she does not want to bear the child physically or promising to be the primary parent drives G up the wall. The undercurrents that fill up their home are hard to live with on a daily basis. G loves A but is unable to come to terms with his change of heart. She is hoping that this phase will pass, and that eventually, one of them will be able to see the other’s point of view. If not, this could be the beginning of the end of their marriage.
When faced with such situations of a fundamental change in a person or their opinions, on a matter of importance to a relationship, any couple will go through an emotional roller coaster. In my opinion, external help from a professional counsellor then becomes a requirement. It gives you a view from the ‘outside’ that helps you make the right decision, whether to stay or to not. You might know what is not working in your marriage, but a good counsellor will also help you see what’s working. You will be asked the right questions, like “what is it that you are looking forward to once this relationship ends?” or “would you feel happier outside or inside the relationship?”. These will prompt you to see beyond the fog of only what is wrong.
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De adds that often the couples’ unstated expectations of their relationship also become a point of discord. People think that all their needs are going to be fulfilled by this one person they marry – everyday companionship, humour, great sex, gossip and an unfaltering understanding. It’s a huge ask from one person to be everything for you. But here, there is no fundamental misalignment of values and aspirations like it is in the marriages of both N and G.
The key aspect is to give yourself and your partner time. Consider seeking external help, so that when you arrive at the decision, whatever it is, you feel confident about it. We have one life and we should lead it with as little residual regret as possible.
This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org