Shashiprabha Daté, 70, Pune
I am not one to fight or raise my voice in a court room but through my 33 years in family law, I have seen some of the cruelest human behavior in family relationships, things that left even a battle-scarred warrior like me shuddering.
There are several reasons why marriages break up – infidelity, alcohol abuse, squandering of money. Wife-beating and abuse are not confined to the poorer sections of society; they are widespread, and even well-educated, well-off families are guilty of abuse.
But one reason for divorce I have seen most often is interference from in-laws, both from the woman’s and the man’s side. Mothers-in-law think it is their right to boss over their son’s wife. In most situations, the son sides with his mother. It may be for dowry or she may just be shouting at her daughter-in-law for supposedly bad cooking. In both cases it is harassment and puts a strain on marital relations. The opposite it also just as true. Berating the husband, especially by the wife’s family who may be wealthier or more powerful, is also common, and can ruin the couple’s relationship. I strongly believe that in-laws should not interfere with the upbringing of their grandchildren as this can also be a source of friction, especially since most Indian couples still live in joint families.
Couples need to have a basic sense of give-and-take in a relationship. After all these years of observing warring spouses, I have realised that understanding each other’s point of view and not taking the other for granted are vital tools in any marriage. Do not berate or belittle your spouse in front of other people including your own children or other family members; on the contrary, stand united when facing problems. Respect each other’s feelings and opinions, especially when you need to take important decisions together, such as large purchases, delicate family relations, or child issues. Men should not consider their wives lesser mortals, and neither should women assume their men are fools! Give time to each other and enjoy each other’s company.
When things go wrong in a relationship it is rare for them to improve but unfortunately many women, and particularly Indian women, stay on and suffer. I believe that once relations have gone badly in a marriage, it is difficult to salvage the relationship or to be happy in that relationship. It is then better to part ways. It is sad to see people divorce but after so many years in this field, I have noticed that people don’t change and it is better to accept that and move on.

As told to Rita Date

Published in Marie Claire, January 2011

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