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Why Do Women ‘Stay Put’ In Bad Marriages?

Posted: January 7, 2014

Any literature on marriage speaks of marriage as an ‘institution’.

Institution?” I used to wonder. The word institution typically conjures up images of a physical structure of concrete and steel which has a physical connotation, a specific ‘name’, a history and a legacy to boast of – and of course, people.

So what does ‘Marriage’ have in common with these? Well, most married couples live in houses made of concrete and steel (which are just as physical as you can possibly imagine) that they call ‘homes’ (there are exceptions, but then that’s a minority few); most of them usually co-habit in the same physical environment. They are supposed to live, love, care, share, laugh, grow and pro-create (!?)

But sometimes (just sometimes), you don’t let each other live, you claim to hate each other (or say that love no longer exists), you hardly care for each other, you don’t share every little detail of your life; and also sometimes, you laugh at the other. At times, you also hurt each other. At times, you cry together, for each other or because of each other. At times, you give and sometimes you receive.

And therein form the ‘cracks’ in the marriage. The thing about cracks is that as much as you try, you can probably not make them fully disappear. Some cracks can be ignored. Some cracks can be restored. But over time, some cracks start paving the way for permanent ridges.

Until a few years back, I used to ponder about, “Why is marriage so important for a woman?” especially in India. Trust me, IT IS! If you live in India/have any connection with India, you’d know.

But over the past few years, I’ve seen so very many ‘paper marriages’, i.e., marriages which are pretty much confined and restricted to the marriage certificate. The couple have no real physical relationship, no emotional connect, are not really there for each other to provide any kind of mental support – and they are definitely not soul-mates. There is some level of financial dependency, some level of dependency on every day operations and functioning and some pseudo-masks worn to put up a decent face in front of society. But behind closed doors, its another story! Rather a sad one…

Then why do women (irrespective of social standing, economic background, education levels, financial independence) stay put in shockingly unhappy marriages? A few reasons top the list:

Children: Too many women I know hold on to their marriages with all their might after the children are born. I know of mothers from well-educated, respectable, modern and financially well-to-do families who endure in silence domestic violence, mental/emotional harassment almost daily, different kinds of abuse, torture, unreasonable ‘family expectations’, varied kinds of threats, public humiliation, extra-marital affairs and so much more. The most common reason and justification from many a mother is that the social construct of a ‘family which includes both parents’ is critical in a child’s growth and development, and that they don’t want their children to come from ‘broken homes’. Possibly valid reasons, but at what cost (especially for the mother) is the more important question?

Society: – Need I say how unsafe a girl is in India? A single woman? A married woman? A divorcee? I can’t decide which is better or worse. Suffice to say, too many woman prefer to endure the ‘everything’ with the husband, than to deal with ‘that one thing’ with all the many men (and women) all around in society.

Financial dependence: Money does indeed make the world go round. If you are financially independent, then this may not be a consideration. But for the very many women who are completely dependent on their husband financially, there is really no option but to stay put in spite / despite everything!

Parents: Again, too many women (irrespective of age and how progressive they are in thinking) stay put in their marriages because they don’t want their parents to have it hard during their sunset years. The parents of the previous generation had it hard in life (compared to this generation). They worked hard, sacrificed, and endured all the challenges that came their way to live a decent life, and earn respect/social standing in society. Needless to say, this means the world to them and they guard it will all their might and heart! Too many women just don’t have the will or heart to make their parents endure/suffer through their twilight years by being witness to the storms and rough waters in their married lives. And hence stay put. When I quizzed so many women who are living meaningless marriages, the only reason they said that they’re in it is because they simply can’t imagine what it would do to their parents. Again, I don’t really know if its worth it in the long run. To each his/her own!

They don’t know any other way: I was surprised to discover this. Many married women don’t know any other way out.  They can’t think/dream or imagine their life in any other way! They have been groomed, conditioned, programmed to believe that this marriage only has an entry point, and no real exit point. The only way to exit is ‘Till death do us apart’, and so they live/bear and endure till the very end.

Why do you think women stay put in marriages? Leave a comment below.

Image: Pixabay

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  1. Agree with you..it is more social conditioning that makes women stay put…In India, everyone is curious about the other..every single aspect is judged by neighbours and relatives…it is this gossip that parents fear..they don’t want to be the butt of people’s enquiry..maybe that’s why they don’t support their daughters…

    As for the women themselves, it is mainly kids and financial dependence..while well-educated women are popular in the marriage market, they are expected to stop working after marriage/kids…in such a scenario, staying put in a bad marriage makes sense..better a known devil than an unknown angel!

    • Sri – You are so right! Many times it is the judgments and reaction of those around that compel women to make the choices they do! And yes – It does not matter what you have studied or what you are doing, women are *EXPECTED* to give it all up, sacrifice, comprise and just do as expected – esp. after marriage and motherhood. !!! Tx for reading

  2. Agree with you, Nischala, but also, I am seeing this changing. Especially the financial dependence bit – women are getting smarter now, and making sure some assets are in their name. Although, yes, absence of an income can make things harder. Personally, I feel its important for women to try and hold on to careers as long as they possibly can. Too many cases I have seen of homemakers being left to fend for themselves in the event of a divorce, or even sadly, spouse’s death.

    • Ritika – Thingaa are changing, but very very slow and gradual. I agree with you on the importance of a career and financial independance.. being completely dependant changes your thinking, outlook to life, options and choices to a large extent! I’ve seen those women too who are left to handle everything by themselves.. it is so so TOUGH! and it makes them really TOUGH – no other way!

  3. The above points notably India is place not really supportive of single mothers, lack of social support system, for the benefit of children( girl needs a father, son needs a mom) coz the men outside are lecherous and they have to make a living. These are all factors that hold the insitution of marriage

  4. Kids and parents are the reasons primarily. Parents, not just because of the ‘sunset years’ thing. True, Indian society is not conditioned to accept the single woman, but most of the times, the girl’s parents will be unwilling to mentally support the girl after the split up. In India, men are always their parents’ kids, but this is sadly not true for a majority of the Indian women.

    • Interesting point Arunima. Sometimes parents are supportive, but many times they make it harder. The thing is not that the parents mean harm, but they don’t really KNOW any other way. Some of the things we see today were unimaginable in the earlier times.. and yes! kids change everything

  5. its is probably more to do with the social conditioning of India…the mindset so to say. However i see a change. I know young people saying no to bad marriages. We should show support to those who dare to break a path and move ahead

    • Dear Minakshi – Yes! The “conditioning” makes all the difference. BUt even those who say NO to bad marriages don’t have it easy once they are out! The fact is that the *real world* can be ruthless to a single woman! And you got to be a tough nut to survive!

  6. Divorce is a very painful process, even when the marriage has turned bad. That is usually because there are so many shared moments, memories and relationships that one has to let go of. It takes a couple of years of life away. It takes away trust and many times leaves bitterness in its wake.Also, its change- and who isn’t resistant or afraid of change?
    In India, women are expected to hold the marriage together. Divorcee women can face an onslaught of attention that they are not prepared for. Children suffer because they are helpless.All in all – its painful and that i think is the reason many people hold on – in addition to what you have stated.

    • Shree – Very very true .. What you say! It is the emotional investment that a woman makes which makes it all that much more HARDER to let go! The thing is the time and emotions are gone forever, and many women just don’t have the strength to fight a battle everyday, so they simply stay put! Thanks for reading

  7. Very well written and argued. The next point I wanted to make is this…there is a social pressure to get married by 28. Secondly, this is an age where men and woman hardly know themselves or what they want in life. They are then hauled into a state of marriage and forced to cope. In truth, its important to find yourself to have your own identity before dedicating yourself to a marriage.

    • Thanks for reading Dr Rita. One is probably never fully ready for marriage.. But once you take the plunge, you have to have basic respect for each other, and help each other grow. “Finding your identity” today is so damn tough, especially since so many of us adapt and wear masks (in the real and online world) that sometimes we ourselves our confused about who / what we are!

  8. I think that the Society is the root cause, all other consideration arise from the thought “log kya kahenge, sochenge”, “beta divorce kiya to papa SOCIETY ko muh nahi dikha payenge” and so on. Of course things are changing gradually and I belive the 1990’s generation would accelerate the change.

  9. I dont think in India ppl get married on the basis of love. They take grated that once u get married love will happen. People get married after seeing few characteristics like family background, financial condition, education , social name, etc and they take for granted that once you are married you will fall in love. But I wonder really love happens? As after marriage you become so busy in fulfilling responsibilities of life one really dont care love is there or not.
    We all are brought up with strong rites, values, ethics that this is the only way things happen. So we accept it easily. Adjustment and sacrifice are tag comes as birth right for girls.We are taught “Commitment is most imp” so strongly. Even after education financial independence we value these things. So its very easy to stay in marriages.
    But now current generation is getting changing, they are getting more open with feelings. so things might change …….

  10. I believe that this is mostly about bygone days! Divorce rate has increased drastically in India in the recent past, and woman are saying a big ‘NO’ to bad marriages and walking out. All this could be happening only with women who are not financially independent, and nobody is to blame for this too. Women who are well educated also are not ‘in a mood’ to take up a job and slog these days, in a lot of communities! They get educated to get a decent alliance, I regret saying this!

    The very idea that ‘woman is weak’ is not acceptable to me. We are not weak!! We may be emotional, soft spoken, not comfortable with the society’s judgments, but definitely not WEAK ! Women are responsible enough to take the right decision without being influenced by any outer sources!

  11. manjiree Dhodapkar -

    very well written and very true indeed! But things got to change! And the change should be for sake of society.Unhappy individuals do not produce happy children and do not make the society better.
    we must stop telling our girls to take any nonsense lying down
    Unless they get their self respect ,they cannot raise children into mentally healthy adults.
    may be you have missed one point.at times a girl is manipulated to the extent that she cannot apply her mind.

  12. I completely agree with all your point Nischala…and this is coming from experience. Yes, I’m a domestic abuse sufferer myself who is still living with the abusive husband because of the child and unsafe environment for separated/ divorced women. But on a brighter note, the suffering has hardened me a lot and now I’m not afraid to look into the eyes of the abuser and tell him in a stern voice that I’m NOT going to take this any longer. In fact, got physically abused by him 2 nights back but I’ve not caved in. The fact that I now have a well paying and good profile job has given me tremendous confidence. After suffering quietly for almost a decade, I have also resolved to let the family and friends know so that his facade of being a caring, loving family man comes off.

  13. Completely agree with each point here. But there are a lot of men who have the same reason to be in bad marriages. Somewhere you and I as women are also responsible for advertising the institute and the ‘divines’ of it. Everyone wants a respected & socially high fame life and marriage is one route where one gets it easily (as Indian Society). Just to highlight my observation on this post too…there is nowhere the name of the author highlighted but yes about the author where it writes all the various roles the author plays and most importantly is this part – ‘Daughter / Sister / Mother by “Divine Grace | Wife by ruling of the Heart”’ itself somewhere propagates the institute of marriage & reason to be there no matter what. How many of us in the rural urban areas would like to read and learn about marriages from a single or divorced woman? That’s why we still use our relation names (be it daughter, sister, mother, wife) for a lot of life marketing – consciously or unconsciously… and so do men.

  14. At times relations go bad because of in laws interfering in petty matters. However Indian girls are groomed for bearing everything loaded upon them. They r groomed in such a manner that even if any unjust situation arises she is conditioned right from childhood to as accept it the way it is and let it go. I wonder when girls in India would be groomed and taught to stand up for their own and stick to their views. It all begins from your own home. Teach your daughter to express her views let her be independent on her likes and dislikes her opinions instead of nurturing her as somebody’s daughter or sister let her have her own individual identity.What makes them stay back is their involvement in kids and lost self confidence post marriage! They can’t even dare to imagine situation where their parents have to bear agony of a divorced daughter and uncertain future. Also is indian society open for their children marrying to someone whose parents are single as they r divorced?

  15. Well written causes of why women choose to live in bad marriage till their death. Another reason may be suppression of women’s voice against all those reasons and lack of support from family, culture and law. For a woman to raise her voice against it, she needs to be so courageous that can endure all scars from society, culture and family which may arise due to lack of support from them to affected woman; and at the same time she can live a new life without her family support, with new friends and new culture.

  16. It is nice to read all the overwhelming responses, but I beg to differ. I sincerely believe that if woman thinks, she can do anything, she can go to any extent to keep herself and her kids safe. And so, if a woman is staying put in a bad marriage it is because she wants to and is not ready to take the world, why blame the society or man for it?!!! If an educated and working lady is living with an abuser or violent man, I definitely wouldn’t sympathize with her… she needs to walk out or teach the man a lesson by complaining to the police about him. And I still believe that in India, the scenario has changed for the good. Girls are thinking about it, reasoning with it before even getting married, you would definitely notice that there are more single girls now than before .

    What I mean to say in one sentence is that Woman needs to resolve her problems and stop being dependent on someone to help her out of the situation, stop craving for sympathy and stand up and voice her thoughts and punish all wrong doers!!!

  17. Hey, Nischala it’s a rather unfortunate situation what you rightly pointed out. However, it is better to be liberated as a human being rather than lead a life of life. I agree children are important but if parents are unhappy, children won’t be. Individuality and happiness do matter in life.

    • Vishal – Thanks for reading. This ‘liberation of women” you speak about is so damn tough in the real world.. I don’t know any woman who does not want to be liberated. point is, possible always? A resounding NO! as for kids, either way some + and some – for either choice.. Tough one indeed

  18. I think society and parents are the main reasons. Very thoughtful article!

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  20. hi nischala ,very nyc article! i am making a documentary on indian marriages ,can you please help me on that.i ll be very thankful to you.

  21. very nice article

  22. I think it’s our own sense of true worth. Also we hark back to happier times when we chose this life and hope that it may repeat.

  23. Perfect Discription of the Women who are not bold enough in deciding things for themselves.

  24. Koi karan nahi hota bas ek himmat Hi nahi kar pati hai Indian women kyuki usko sanskar Hi nahi diye jate hai bachpan se aisa karne ke.agar himmat kar leti hai to koi karan stand nahi kar pata or khush bhi rahti hai

  25. women are conditioned to think marriage and its success afterwards is the responsibility of the woman. Kids, parents and for some financial dependence is also a major factor to stay in a bad marriage. i think even the trauma of shared memories cost a lot in taking a decision either ways.

  26. Pingback: Breaking To Heal : 10 Reasons To End A Loveless Marriage – Wiseberries

  27. Indian society is made as such that they have a system where the marriage should not break at any conditions. However that has many drawbacks. Divorce in India is seen as if it is a crime. if the person is not happy in the marriage. Rather than suffering till death one should come out of it and relive themselves. This is applicable for both Women and Men. One should not think much about society as from my personal experience so called “Society” does not help when You need, only comes in picture when something goes wrong with an individual, In order to blame. One should think about future and if the marriage is not working and is going to be like hell for rest of Your life one should come out of it, End Your suffering.

    If unemployed women keeps on being in the relationship just due to insecurity, Suffering is going to be more intense as You are making Yourself dependent on somebody with whom You are only going to suffer. Women should find out a way to start earning. Being dependent in bad marriage is like being slave of somebody. Do not accept that situation come out it find ways to earn.

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