Marriage has always been an important social institution, it is one that sanctions several permissions for who we want to be as individuals and how we want to define couplehood. From the very fact that you can now walk together in public without fear of reprimand by the moral police, to the possibility of guit-free sex, marriage grants permissions to small couple freedoms that we will take because our elders and other institutions okay that. Infact, we perhaps allow small couple freedoms outside of the wedlock with the assumption of a permission already sought, given you are going to be wedded together soon.
On the other hand, from a very young age women are asked to prepare for marriage, some of us even dream of it. They are expected to learn all the household chores, to prepare them for their married life so that they can ‘impress’ or ‘serve’ their in-laws. Since before the birth of the girl child, parents start to worry about her marriage, start saving for her dowry, showing how important marriage is in life and that it is inevitable. Women are made to feel that marriage is a paramount life goal or a milestone that they need to reach or achieve. If a girl is not married within her twenties, society makes it seem as though something is wrong with her.
Hence, undoubtedly, divorce is frowned upon. If a woman happens to get a divorce, then she becomes a social pariah, she is faced with gender stereotypical social stigma, regardless of her age. Divorce can be painful and difficult for both the parties involved. It can completely change their lives. However, for women, getting a divorce is deemed as shameful and is seen as a sign of failure. The severity of divorce for them is enormous. Once she is divorced, not only does the patriarchal society view her as incompetent, but she is made to feel like a disappointment, that she couldn’t even keep her house together.
In a country where marriage is considered to be a sacred and holy act, and where there are finishing schools still present to teach women how to be good wives and daughter-in-laws, getting a divorce is regarded as a sacrilege, a taboo. Many couples who decide to separate feel a sense of shame and don’t feel comfortable opening up about it. Women, especially, are hesitant when making the decision because of the fear of being ostracised by society, for the lack of support from family, both emotionally and financially. They have a hard time finding a proper job to sustain themselves and their children, if they have any, because being divorced in this patriarchal society means that you are not good enough anymore. This social pressure forces them to prolong or stay put in an unhealthy relationship.
Even though the divorce rates are rising at a considerable pace in India, it is still riddled with cultural, social and religious stigma, and due to this still has the lowest divorce rates in the world. It is viewed negatively by the older generations, who tend to have a sense of entitlement over their children, no matter their age. Hence, the couples endure or remain in a toxic relationship for the sake of their families, children and for their reputation in society, to avoid being labelled as part of a failed marriage.
The decision to end a relationship can be traumatic, distressing, chaotic and full of paradoxical emotions. This decision does not happen overnight, it is the result of the emotional breaking up process which takes place over several years. There are many reasons as to why couples decide to file for divorce. It could be the lack of communication or infidelity or family conflicts.
In recent times, due to the increased awareness and knowledge regarding the rights of women, they have started to initiate or ask for a divorce, despite the social stigma they might face. This is something many traditional cis/het men are not accoustomed to and are finding it difficult to adjust in a relationship where a womxn expects equality and freedom. Read more in this article why women have started to ask for divorce more than men.
Divorce can wreak havoc on the mental health of everyone directly involved in it. For those who are facing a potential divorce, might feel overwhelming anxiety, depression, aggression, hopelessness, resentfulness and might wonder why things are going the way they are. These emotions could last for several months or even years if not properly acknowledged. It is a stressful situation in a person’s life and all these emotions can lead them into destructive habits like alcohol abuse, drug abuse, overspending on unnecessary things to help cope or even suicidal thoughts.
How to break the Internalised shame around divorce:
Here are a few suggestions as to how the stigma surrounding divorce can be broken and how we can normalize talking about divorce.
Acknowledgment Of Emotions: Working on a deeper level, acknowledgement of the feelings, emotions, is the key. Being aware of these emotions and honoring them is important. This acknowledgment process allows one to address all of the emotions one goes through during the separation process. These emotions may be anger, shock, guilt, sadness, doubt, loneliness, shame, feeling unloved, lost, unworthy, insecure and loss of trust. It is okay to feel these emotions, have the ‘why me?’ thoughts. It is part of being a human being.
Don’t Label Yourself: Getting stuck in the labels can restrict the way one lives their life based on how they see, describe and see themselves. Each individual is so much more than their relationship status, be it single, married or divorced. These statuses do not define a person. It is important to move beyond these social stigmas. Seeking professional help can aid a person through the hard days. Surrounding oneself with positive and supportive people can also alleviate one’s emotional state.
You should decide the tone of your future relationships and not the labels attached to you by the patriarchal society.
Stop Blaming Yourself: The first question that might cross one’s mind when thinking of divorce is: Where did we go wrong? Individuals, especially women, tend to internalise the blame and the shame of getting a divorce. More than often, they end up thinking that they did something wrong to cause the relationship to end. That is not the case. For one, it takes two to tango. It takes two people to make a relationship to make it work. So, you may have done everything and given the relationship your all, but it still would not succeed if the other person was not giving their share of effort. Just because the marriage did not work out, it does not mean that you failed or are not capable of love. It just means that the one you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with isn’t your life partner anymore, and that is okay.
No Shame: If you feel like there is something to be ashamed about if your marriage did not work out, there is not. It is important to remember that feeling ashamed is not a weakness, it is normal. It’s the patriarchal system that we live in which makes us feel like our hands are tied once married. The saying ‘Till death do us part’, should not be the reason to stay in an unhappy or abusive and toxic relationship.
The changes brought about by separation can be overwhelming, but it is imperative to take care of one’s mental as well as physical health, showing self-compassion. It is also important to remember that you are not alone. Getting through the social stigma of divorce can be hard and we are here to help. At Pause for Perspective, we have trained therapists who have experience in working with couples who are seeking to improve their relationship or even considering a cordial separation. The notion of the “better half” needs to be rectified and the patriarchat patterns surrounding divorce need to be challenged.
This article is written by our writer Insha Fatima.