As a society, we are obsessed with getting others married and are equally also obsessed with giving them advice on how to make it work.
Over the years, how we find and decide on our partners might have somewhat changed, in that elders and friends — at least to a certain extent — let us have our autonomy on this. What has not changed however, is their unsolicited advice on how a young couple’s troubled marriage can be saved.
Have a child, it will cement your relationship.
The question one needs to ask though is whether you be putting more pressure on a relationship whose very foundation is weak. Will having a child together fix everything?
Recently, a young couple who is in their late twenties, reached out to me. M and B had met through their friends. Both were in stable jobs and hence the pressure to “settle down” was immense on both of them. Within four months of meeting each other, they decided to get married. It’s now been two years since.
According to B, they should have waited a bit more, perhaps lived together first before they decided to tie the knot. She says it’s hard for her now to recall a time when they were both on the same page about anything — whether it is about how they want to keep a home, their work-life balance, the kind of holidays they want to take, or even about how they treat the staff. In fact not being on the same page is the one thing they agree about, M says.
They are not even physically attracted to each other anymore. The logical move then seemed to be to get a divorce. When they brought this up with their respective families, there was a push back. Their parents just could not understand what M and B meant when they said that they were two very different people who should have not gotten married in the first place.
Since M and B were always civil with each other; no one had seen them fight or even have arguments. Just this was perceived as a sign of a “happy” marriage. No one saw or understood the deep despair that both M and B were feeling, of being with the wrong person. A passionless relationship can be as disconcerting as one which is too volatile.
Instead, the advice they got from family and friends was this: to have a child. It will solve all you issues, they said. Bringing up a child together will create a permanent bond that will keep them together, they added.
Intuitively, M and B feel this will be another mistake on their part, perhaps with more damage not only to their relationship but also to the person they would bring into the world.
For the sake of their parents, they are now working with a counsellor and me simultaneously to see if they can still make their marriage work. For them, this is the one final attempt before they call it quits.
I couldn’t agree more with M and B. Contrary to the view of their elders, having and raising a child together puts a lot of stress on any relationship. The fact is that the problems you were facing before having a baby will remain, and the stress of parenting – especially for first time — will only add to them.
Nothing can prepare new parents enough to sail the uncharted waters of raising a child. The concerns, tiredness and often not being able to figure what one is supposed to do, shakes the confidence of even those new parents with a solid relationship.
Also, a large part of good parenting is about parents being in agreement on how they will raise their child. If M and B can’t agree on daily, mundane of things, how are they going to figure out how to do this with more important questions and principles that should inform their parenting?
I have seen this happen in my personal life, too. G, my 27-year-old cousin had also received similar advice from my aunt. G wanted to leave her husband a year after being married. Her husband didn’t treat her well. G however was told that our family does not believe in divorces, and that the best thing for her would be to have a child. Having his child will give G the respect she deserves from him – this was the desired outcome of the advice.
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She had the baby. Six months after her daughter was born, G left their home and moved back to her parents’ place. A year later she got a divorce. G is now in depression, and is not able to enjoy any aspects of her life – whether motherhood or the freedom from a toxic relationship. It’s a hard time for my aunt too, to see her child suffer.
We are all acutely aware of the negative impact this will have on G’s daughter. What pains the entire family is that all this could have been avoided had the relationship ended when G wanted to call it quits. While the divorce did happen, its delay caused a lot of emotional scars, which will take a long time to heal.
What M and B did right is to not blindly follow the advice they received — to have a child to save their marriage. This is a balance approach. Their attempt to first make things work with each other, signals to their families that they are not ending their marriage on a whim.
That being said, I do feel parents also need to step back and reconsider this advice. It might be better to advice a couple to seek external help to improve their relationship and see how that pans out for the couple. The couple might be able to work things out together or they will know for sure that they are happier and at peace outside by parting ways. Whatever their decision is, it ought to be one that makes their lives better — whether together or otherwise.
This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org