What are the reasons for the growing incidence of divorce in the city?
They say marriages are made in heaven, but they're not lasting long in our little corner of the earth these days. Divorce rates are climbing steadily in the city, with more and more couples - mostly young, educated professionals - going to court within a few years or even months of marriage.
"There were about 2,000 divorces in Chennai, last year," says Uma Ramanathan, high court lawyer. "But we've crossed the 2,600 mark by July this year. And this is just in the three courts in the city."
Let's put it this way - there's been a 200 per cent increase in the number of divorces in Chennai. And the bulk is between professionals in their late twenties or early thirties, say counsellors and marital therapists in the city.
"I've had couples come to me for counselling after as little as a month of marriage," says counselling consultant Saras Bhaskar. "And most of them have been together for less than six years."
Many are beginning to refer to it as an IT or ITES syndrome because in several of these cases, both husband and wife work in the software or BPO industry. "These couples have irregular sleeping and eating habits, high levels of stress, and hardly get to spend any quality time with each other," say Dr. Nappinai Seran, psychologist and marriage therapist at the Family Court psychological counselling centre. "We're seeing a rise in infertility and more and more cases where marriages aren't being consummated at all."
But the rise in the number of divorces can't be attributed entirely to IT careers, says Uma. "I think it's an indicator of a larger societal change," she says. "Increasingly, people believe they should live life on their own terms."
This is especially true of young women, says Saras, who were traditionally expected to be accommodating to the needs of their husbands and adjust to the family they marry into. "Young professional women are financially independent and more empowered, and men, who still cling to the past, need to learn how to handle them," she says. That doesn't mean the fault is all the man's. "Some of these women become unwilling to settle for less than perfection, searching for some ideal or fantasy man rather than working with what they've got," says Saras.
Lack of tolerance
The result is a lack of tolerance on both sides, leading to divorce on the most frivolous grounds. "I've seen couples divorcing because she feels he doesn't dress smartly enough or because he feels she spends too much," says Dr. Nappinai. "These are not reasons to end a marriage; they're reasons to sit down and talk to each other."
Families can play a pivotal role in all of this - sometimes a bit too much of a role, in the Indian context. "Often, the boy and girl aren't allowed to discuss issues or make their own decisions," says Saras. "Families on both sides get involved and a lot of mudslinging follows."
There's also a disturbing trend of some women and their families abusing laws such as the dowry or domestic violence laws that have been put in place to protect them, according to Uma. "Once it becomes a criminal case and the husband's whole family is dragged to court over some minor domestic dispute, it becomes very hard to save the marriage," she says.
So what next? One implication of this steady rise in divorces in the city is a corresponding rise in the number of single-parent families, bringing a whole new set of challenges along with it. "Parenting today, even in a two-parent family, is a tough job," says Shaila Rao, who conducts workshops for single parents in the city. "Bringing up a well-balanced child without another parent to share the responsibility is difficult."
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of sympathy in society for a divorced single parent, she says: "The attitude tends to be 'you made the mess, you clean it up.' But these parents are often very young themselves, and need all the support they can get." That's why her workshops try and help them come to terms with their emotional state after the upheaval of divorce.
This is a process that's crucial for anyone going through a divorce, says Dr. Nappinai, so they can understand what went wrong and give themselves time to heal. "Too often, they rush into a second marriage to prove to themselves or their former spouse that they aren't to blame for the ending of their marriage," she says. And having married again, they tend to hold on for dear life to that relationship even if it's failing, according to Uma. "They'll do anything to avoid the stigma of being 'twice-divorced'," she says.
There was a time not so long ago when the word 'divorce' was taboo and ending even abusive or unhappy marriages was difficult in the city. Now, it appears we may be poised to swing in the opposite direction. But as the saying goes, perhaps the pendulum has to swing to the other extreme before we can find a balance.
- High stress jobs and irregular timings
- Lack of quality time spent with each other
- Marriages not being consummated
- Lack of tolerance and willingness to compromise
- Family interference