Are Abusive Men More Easily Violent To Their Partners In Live-In Relationships?

If society, the law, and a woman's family is supportive of her in a live in relationship, the man will know that he cannot get away scot free with such violence, protecting these women to a large extent.

Trigger warning: This deals with graphic violence against women, domestic violence, murder, and may be triggering for survivors.

Barely three months after we heard about the gruesome murder of Shraddha Walker by her live-in partner, another very similar and equally gruesome incident came to light.

Sahil Gehlot and Nikki Yadav had been in a relationship for over four years. Hours after his engagement to another woman, the two of them had an argument, which ended with Sahil strangling Nikki to death. He then hid her body in the boot of a car and went through his wedding ceremony, before returning to move the body to a freezer. Unlike in the case of Shraddha,  a neighbour noticed that Nikki was missing and alerted the police who were then able to track down the perpetrator. Around the same time as Nikki Yadav’s murder, a man Hardik Singh killed his live-in partner Megha Torvi, a 37 year old nurse. Hardik Singh then stuff her body into the bed cavity before escaping from the city.

Why is this happening more in live in relationships?

What could be the reason for this spike crimes by men in live-in relationships towards their female partners? Could it be that neighbours are more vigilant now and the crimes are getting reported early enough, or could it be that men in live-in relationships feel more entitled and that they can do this with impunity to women who are extra vulnerable, because their relationship is not a society sanctioned, legal one? It is most likely a combination of both factors.

In India, circumstances make live-in relationships inherently unstable and stacked against the women. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, there is a mismatch in expectations in most live-in relationships

Women, in general, enter live-in relationships because they care about the relationship enough to invest in it. Though thoughts of marriage (or other long term commitment) may not be in the immediate horizon, they care enough about the person and the relationship to try to make it work.

This is often not the case with the men who do not seem to see the need to invest emotionally in the relationship. “Why pay for the cow when you can get milk for free” is an expression used by many entitled men to refer to live-in relations, especially the sexual aspect of a relationship. Though a very crude statement, going by the response to that post, it does seem to sum up the attitude of several men. In general, men do not seem to approach a live-in relationship with the same seriousness as women do.

Secondly, society judges women and men quite differently when it comes to live-in relationships

A woman is “marked” if she has been in a live-in relationship, and not only is she under a lot of pressure from her family to formalise the relationship, she knows that she will be subject to immense public scrutiny if the relationship breaks up. This is often a factor in her continuing to invest in the relationship even after she realises it may not be the best relationship for her. Often, she ends up pressurising her partner to formalise the relationship, which further destabilizes it. Men, on the other hand, are not subject to any such pressure.

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In case the relationship breaks up, it is held against her, but men are not subject to any such pressure. In fact, even when they are in a relationship, they are often pressured by their family to get into a formal relationship with someone else. Often, families of the male partner hold the fact that the woman is in a live-in relationship against her, and therefore deem her unsuitable to be a wife.

Thirdly, live-in relationships are still not ‘accepted’ by society

Live in relationships haven’t got much social sanction. Neither have any norms developed around how the partners behave in such a relationship, nor are there formal support systems that partners can fall back on if the relationship fails. When the female partner wants to walk out of a relationship, the male partner might be affected emotionally, but he knows that it will not affect him socially in any way.

On the other hand, when the male partner wants to walk out, the female partner knows that it is something that will be held against her forever, so beyond the emotional trauma, there is also the societal reason why she is unwilling to let go. In such a case, the man might convince himself that the only way to “free” himself is by silencing her completely.

Lastly, by getting into a live-in relationship, a woman often ends up distancing herself from her family

This is especially so in case of inter-religious, inter-caste or inter-class relationships which are not acceptable to the family. By insisting on remaining in the relationship, she loses the support system of the family, and this makes her more vulnerable to abuse. If a woman chooses to keep her family in the dark about a relationship which she knows they will not approve of, she ends up putting a distance between herself and people who know her family, thereby leaving herself vulnerable.

What, then, is the solution?

While society tries to blame women for going against the wishes of their family and getting into live-in relationships, that is little more than needless victim blaming. The solution cannot be, as many suggest, that women should stay away from live-in relationships.

The solution is that society as a whole should start normalising live-in relationships. It should be possible for two people to live together, without the expectation that such a relationship will culminate in a wedding. We are gradually coming to accept that marriages last till “death or divorce do us part”. Similarly, as a society we should accept that a live-in relationship could continue as it is, could result in marriage, or could end with the couple breaking up, and that all three are equally acceptable outcomes of a live-in relationship.

Once the stigma of having been in a live-in relationship is removed, it will go a long way in helping women take better decisions on the future of a relationship.

Equally importantly, families should continue to stand by their daughters, even if they do not approve of a relationship. This is the case with live-in relationships, but also the case with any other relationship which society calls “unsuitable”. Not only is a woman more empowered to take decisions when she knows her family is with her, the male partner will also think twice before indulging in violence and abuse when he knows that his partner is not alone.

A couple might be in a live-in relationship out of choice (because they want to live with each other, but do not want to get married), or out of necessity (only heterosexual marriages are legally accepted), or out of other reasons (interfaith couples may fear getting married because the SMA potentially exposes them violence from the public at large). Whatever the reason, it is time live-in relationships were normalised.

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About the Author

Natasha Ramarathnam

Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...

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