Is Marriage and Family Life Becoming a Pretty Rainbow?

A rainbow appears on a rainy day. It is very beautiful to look at. But after a short time it disappears. Is marriage and family life becoming like a pretty rainbow in terms of survival? Beautiful at the beginning, but doesn’t last long! Or has it become beautiful only to look at from a distance or in one’s dreams? The obnoxious increase in divorce rate in India seems to indicate this. In 2010 there has been an increase of 70% in divorce cases. Those who seek separation are mostly of 25-30 age group.

Gods are invoked during the performance of marriages, but later family courts are involved to revoke marriages that have hit the relationship roadblocks. With marriages having a short lifespan these days and couples unwilling to persist with a marriage that has been going through rough waters, there is a lot of pressure on family courts to deal with divorce applications expeditiously. In order to meet the demand, more family courts are set up in some Indian cities.

Indian family is going through a lot of strain and challenges due to the impact of globalization and western lifestyle and value system. Movies and media also have major influence on youth to live in an unrealistic world and to dream of the artificial “marriage and family life” watched in movies. As a result, young couples are not prepared either to face or to accept the REALITY after their marriage. Moreover, family values and priorities are changing, with an increasing emphasis on individualistic, materialistic and self-oriented goals over family wellbeing. Also time has become a casualty due to higher demands of work/job. The desire to maintain higher social status is encouraging some to choose money over time. These are robbing the family time. There are people living under the same roof, but hardly have time to connect with one another. This has resulted in a new form of “homelessness”. The question “Is there a home in this house?” is increasingly becoming a befitting one in many families.

Some of the reasons for the strain on the relationship between spouses are:

1. Change in Gender Roles

Not so long ago husband was the bread earner and wife the homemaker. It’s no longer so. Globalisation and economic liberalisation have generated more employment, especially for women. They have also made it imperative for both husband and wife to earn in order to cater to family needs due to rising cost of living and children education, and other expenses. In many households, both husband and wife have full time jobs, and commute an hour or more each way to work.

Moreover, the concept of permanent employment and fixed working hours is fast disappearing. Due to “hire and fire” policy in private companies and the resulting fear of losing job, people are forced to spend about 12 hours every day at office. Office work is also encroaching family space, as more and more employees are forced to do their office work at home. In addition to that, superiors call their subordinates as and when the work demands. 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.

In a way the understanding of an “employee” has changed drastically. Previously employees had fixed working hours, rights and were treated humanely. But now-a-days “employee” is treated as a means to produce profit, but not as a being of intrinsic human dignity, value and rights. In other words, employees are reduced to mere “things” or “machines”. This is nothing but “thingification” of persons. The present day working culture of corporate companies creates asymmetrical socio-economic power relations with those at the top enjoying power and luxury, and those whose labour is indispensable to produce profit becoming mere “productive voiceless machines”.

When both husband and wife are employed, a lot of problems are likely to arise with regards to household work. Unless there is proper cooperation and understanding between spouses, it might lead to ego clashes. With the stress of occupational life, managing responsibilities at home by wife alone take a toll on her physical, mental and emotional health. So the working women expect their husbands to share in the household work. They expect cooperation and adjustment from them. This demands a radical restructuring of traditional marriage relationship between spouses and their functions. From the dominant-submissive relationship, marriage has to transform into a relationship of equal partners. Household work should be shared by spouses according to the need. Understanding and cooperation is the key. While women have become assertive, many men have not learnt to adapt to the new demands and situation.

Never ending work and indifferent attitude of their husbands lead women to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. This puts a lot of strain on the marital relationship, which might result in frequent marital conflicts.

2. Professional Jealousy

Attitudinal problems arise because most men prefer being the bread earners and expect their spouses to do the housework. Men tend to do less housework than women, even if their wives are employed.

But the situation gets worse if women start to earn more than their husbands. Not many men are comfortable with a woman who is more successful than them. Jealousy may creep into marital relationship. Women are equally at fault because not all highly paid women can adjust with a low paid husband. They find it hard to respect a man who earns less than them!

Women need to value and respect husbands who earn less than them, and men need to put aside their egos when faced with a woman who earns more. Cooperation, adjustment, respect and understanding between spouses are necessary in a changed scenario in family. This results in narrowing the gap between the couple with two different personalities and backgrounds.

3. Assertion of Independence

With economic independence at a very young age of 21 or 22, assertion of freedom and the need for personal space, characterised by ambition and fast pace of life, have created new pressures on marriage. For many career-oriented girls and boys, their career, success and money are more important and get priority over family. Priority of job over relationship and of money over time with family is a present day phenomenon. Their financial freedom and priorities may encourage them to assert their independence, and not to see things from spouse’s point of view or for that matter, from the point of view of family welfare.

In addition to this, today’s Indian woman has a mind of her own and asserts her independence which unsettles the “traditional” Indian husband. Obviously, it results in ego clashes. With intolerance soaring, there is decreasing capacity for adjustment. So even small differences get magnified. Words like “I hate you”, “I can’t stand you” have become common. “Me” and “you” are replacing “we” and “us”. In many ways, these are the stresses of changing times and arise from work stress and changing culture. Psychological tiredness is one of the new realities.

This psychological tiredness and economic independence motivate couples to choose out of a “bad” marriage, particularly when they have no children. Because the present day work environment provides for employees more time and a closer interaction at the work place and liberal views about “freedom” or “independence” which is devoid of responsible living, extra marital relationships, including sexual relationships, have become a common disease, especially in the context of failed or failing marriage.

The assertion of independence that does not take family welfare into consideration, decreasing capacity for adjustment and confidence of securing alternate relationship and of satisfying carnal desires, quickly give rise to the emergence of a feeling of incompatibility. The so-called temperamental differences get highlighted. So the couple are tempted to conclude that they are incompatible to each other.

The chronic self absorption, termed as independence or individuality, leaves people with little time and patience to think about spouse and children. Often times we may want to connect with our spouses and to have a deep and meaningful relationship, but we want it on our own terms. Laura Pappano, a journalist, says, “We have moved from a society in which the group was more important than the individual 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.”

She 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 marital relationships in terms of cost-benefit. Today, instead of considering others, people are more likely to put their own needs first and ask, “What’s in it for me?”

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 serving. It seeks for the welfare of the spouse and family. 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 times.

4. Incompatibility

Incompatibility is cited by the majority of young couples as the reason for filing for divorce. Incompatibility of personalities has existed even in the past, but what is new today is that the tolerance threshold seems to have slided down while the egos of individuals have risen remarkably.

Incompatibility may arise from a number of factors such as: differences in values and beliefs, differences in educational, socio-economic status, differences in lifestyle, differences in personality characteristics, including temperament differences, differences in sexual behaviours, and differences in likes, dislikes, tastes, hobbies etc. However, the fact is that no two persons can be totally compatible in temperament and behaviour, even siblings may not be. In marriage two individuals with often different backgrounds come together. The thinking, attitudes, mindsets and behavioural patterns cannot be expected to be similar or exactly matching. It naturally takes some time to know and understand each other. The understanding, resulting in compatibility in marriage, can thus develop only gradually, and if there is a desire to adjust with each other.

The essence of success in marriage is “understanding” which also means understanding each other’s needs. This demands adjustment and sacrifice. Adjustment requires closer interaction to complement each other for mutual satisfaction and the achievement of common objectives.

5. Affluenza

According to John De Graff, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor, affluenza is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” This is a disease that has infected the Indian society, particularly urban India. People want to buy more and more things. Greed causes stress. In order to satisfy this greed for material things, one has to work more time. So people have less time to spend with spouse and children because they work more. They work more because they want more to maintain a higher standard of living. But one thing most apparent is that in spite of possessing the things most desired, happiness and contentment still elude those infected with affluenza.

Greed for new things has a negative impact on human relationships. Along with “hire and fire” employment system, affluenza makes people not to be attached and committed deeply to anything. They do not value permanence. Due to this mindset people choose out of a marital relationship, if there is some inconvenience or conflict.

6. Sanctity of marriage   

In India, traditionally and from time immemorial, marriage has been hallowed as sacred. It is an institution established by God. Marriage is a commitment, not a contract, between two persons. This commitment is expressed through taking vows in the holy sanctuary before God and people. Once couple enters into the bond of marriage, the relationship is considered perpetual – till death does them apart. In other words, marriage is supposed to be for life and it has worked as a bulwark against social vulnerabilities. Marriage and family are considered to be the two pillars of any society.

In the present day Indian society, sanctity of marriage has taken a beating. People’s attitudes towards marriage itself are changing. As a result they do not work hard at it as before.


When two people get married, numerous drastic changes happen in their lives. For the most part these two individuals should become one. They eat together, sleep together, play together, talk together, walk together, and do things together. But the union goes deeper than purely physical activities. Their hopes, dreams and ambitions should blend and become one. For a marriage to truly last, both the partners should discover to think always, from now on, in terms of “we” and not “me.” Everything they do, every plan they devise and every decision they make should now consider what is for their mutual collective interest. When there is a difference of opinion and one partner thinks about self then there are more chances of separation. Factors such as poor communication, financial problems, a lack of commitment to the marriage, a dramatic change in priorities, and infidelity may be the major causes of divorce.

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 present day Indian 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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