Whither Marriage?

With the new strains and challenges that have emerged for the Indian family, it has been going through a transition. Due to the impact of globalisation, families have been wavering between traditional and western models. The family values and priorities are also in a flux, with increasing emphasis on individualistic, materialistic and self-oriented goals over family wellbeing.

Not so long ago husband was the provider and wife the home-maker. It’s no longer so. The economic liberalisation, which opened markets in India, has generated more employment, especially for female members of the families. Thus, it has facilitated more and more women to come out of their traditional space into male bastion. However, the growing number of women in the work force, the stress of occupational life, large-scale shifts in the economy, constant mobility of family, and the enormous challenges of raising children in a fast-paced, media-centered society, in which values are constantly changing, are affecting marriage.

Although globalisation has paved way for more and more women to enter into labour market, it also made it imperative for both husband and wife to earn in order to cater to family needs. The rising cost of living and the declining ability of men to earn sufficient wages along with the growing need for cash for family maintenance has resulted in an increasing number of female members in the family engaging in economic activities. In many households, both husband and wife have full time jobs, and commute an hour or more each way to work.

For many, work is no more a cushy 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday job. With globalization and people working across time zones, the concept of fixed working hours is fast disappearing. Instead people spend close to 12-16 hours every day at office. Moreover, having incredible advances in information technology, coupled with increasing competition in the talent supply market, has led to a “performance-driven” culture. This creates an enormous amount of pressure to perform. Men and women find it difficult to say “no”, especially to their superiors, and usually end up over-burdening themselves. This is due to concerns people have that if they don’t put in long hours, they may lose their job. “Nowadays there’s this pressure that if you don’t work 50 to 60 hours a week, you will get laid off when your company is downsized.” Working overtime and weekends, and being on call 24 hours a day, is common for employees at many companies.

The result is a rushed, hurried lifestyle for everyone in the family. Even in families where only one of the spouses is working, life is still more hectic nowadays than it was in the past. Weekends are usually taken up with house work, grocery shopping and other errands. Everything is so fast, so mechanical and so much is demanded of each person. People have to fight to find time to be alone and to be together without interruptions.

For women, managing responsibilities in office along with domestic affairs, and managing children at home take a toll on their health. Although women have come a long way with regards to the traditional family set up, in most cases men have not been as willing to come along. Women are expected to carry out significant domestic workload. Individual career ambitions, intense competition at workplace and the pressure to cope up with family may cause problems for the smooth functioning of the family. The working women expect that both husband and wife should be equally responsible for the provider and housekeeper roles. They expect cooperation and adjustment from their husbands. This demands a radical restructuring of marriage relationship and functions. From a dominant-submissive relationship, marriage has to transform into a relationship of equals. While women have become assertive, many of the males have not learnt to adapt to the new demands and situation. The result is frequent ego clashes.

With the lack of time to interact with their husbands and lack of time to provide adequate love and care for their children, women end up having unsatisfactory relationship with their husbands. The other reasons are physical and mental exhaustion due to heavy and never ending work, and indifferent attitude of their husbands. This puts a lot of strain on the marital relationship, which might result in marital conflicts.

It’s almost impossible to keep a healthy perspective on life and very difficult to have the emotional presence needed for healthy relationships if you are constantly working 50 to 60 hours or more a week. Many of us find ourselves too pressured and stressed out to devote much time to the cultivation of lasting relationships. Nearly everything in life is moving at rapid pace, and most of us have probably joined the rush to keep up. James Gleick in his book Faster writes, “A compression of time characterises the life of the (20th) century.”

In this fast paced life, we are ignoring what matters most in human life: our relationships with one another. We are becoming increasingly disconnected from family, friends, relatives and neighbours.

Apart from the fast paced life, another factor that is contributing to the decrease in relationships is an emphasis on individualism. Laura Pappano, a journalist, says that often we may want to connect with others and to have a deep and meaningful relationship, but we want it on our own terms. “We have moved from a society in which the group was more important than the individual,” she says, “to one in which the central figure is the self…From the ashes of duty we have risen to claim not merely a healthy dose of freedom but individual supremacy…We want success, power and recognition. We want to be able to buy or command caring, respect, and attention. And today so many of us feel deserving of the service and luxuries once accorded a privileged few. We may live in a more egalitarian society, but we have become puffed full of our own self-worth.”

Pappano says that the concept of self-sacrifice is no longer a significant part of our modern cultural makeup and is often seen as weakness, not strength. More and more people are evaluating their relationships in terms of cost-benefit analysis and weighing friendship in light of investment and return. Today, instead of considering others, people are more likely to put their own needs first and ask, “What’s in it for me?”

By promoting individualism and competition, the present economic system has succeeded in driving people into isolation. As people are cutting themselves off from one another, they are surrounding themselves with the consumer goods – latest electronic gadgets, cars and material things. People are trying to derive from THINGS what they have wilfully forfeited in human relationships.

We are becoming too much of a consumer society – discarding the old and acquiring the latest. This consumer mentality is also affecting marital relationships. If problems between spouses persist for sometime, and either one of them or both come to a conclusion that “it does not work”, they break the relationship and move on. “If this marital relationship is not working, I’ll not waste more time in fixing it. I’ll go shopping for a new relationship.” Because it is always more exciting for people to develop a new relationship than to stay and work with an older one. It is no longer “old is gold”. Now the slogan is “new is gold”, atleast with regards to relationships. Commitment and loyalty to a relationship are fast disappearing in this consumeristic Indian society. Assertion of independence and diminishing urge for adjustment have become the order of the day. The increase in divorce, once a taboo, and its increasing acceptance in the society are evidence for the way globalisation has affected marriage.

Mind you, the present economic system requires the basic unit of society (i.e. family) to be weak, vulnerable and broken in order to have an unopposed sway in the society. When family is weak or broken, individuals become vulnerable to the enticement of an alternate value system based on consumerism promoted by the greed-based economic system. To a large extent globalisation has succeeded in doing that in India. Divorce rate and cohabitational relationships are on the rise. People are not willing to have commitment to marriage. Promiscuity and cohabitation express that people have become very self-interested and are not willing to sacrifice anything, and don’t value the importance of a long term relationship.

Sustainable marital relationship requires a different outlook than a worldview based on self-interest. The worldview based on self-interest undermines our ability to gain what we aspire to: lasting fulfilment, security, satisfaction and happiness. Sustainable marital relationships must be built on love that is selfless, giving and unconditional. It seeks for the welfare of the spouse. This relationship is characterised by selflessness, sacrifice and service. This kind of marital relationship strengthens marriage commitment, and adds stability and willingness to help and support each other through both good times and bad.

The essence of success in marriage is “understanding” between spouses. This helps in marital adjustment. Conceptually, the two main elements of marital adjustment are cohesion and affection. This does not mean that there would always be perfect adjustment. Since marriage involves two persons with unique personalities, perfect adjustment is a myth. Some differences at times are inevitable.

From the practical standpoint, the concept of adjustment between spouses “is not that of assimilating the one into the other but of togetherness and simultaneity in behaviour with the greatest possible level of feeling for each other. Marital cohesiveness is the glue that holds partners together. The other side of cohesiveness is marital commitment…Commitment springs from emotional bonding and the belief about the permanence of marriage per se.”

David H. Olson, professor emeritus in family social science at the University of Minnesota, suggests four ingredients that make up a strong marriage: communication with each other, skill to resolve conflict, closeness and feeling intimate, and being flexible. He says, “Those who have these four things are the ones who are going to make it in our society. The ones that don’t have them are going to be pretty frustrated and end up in divorce.”

The hope is that in this consumeristic culture, where permanence is not valued, couples may see more clearly that there are advantages in staying together “in sickness and in health, in joys and in sorrows, until death.”




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