Why Your Husband Or Boyfriend Often Can’t Stand Your BFF

Your women friends, the sisterhood they form, can be your safe space, your haven, a safety net when stuck in an abusive relationship or marriage.

Trigger Warning: This speaks of domestic abuse including emotional abuse like gaslighting, and may be triggering for survivors. 

*Names may be changed to protect privacy.

We have often heard that a woman is a woman’s worst enemy. But in many divorce battles, women have often had strong support from their women friends and family members. The support has been so strong that the men disapproved and felt threatened about the friendship/ sisterhood and did everything they could to break it.

I can’t help but wonder if this is why our patriarchal society talks more about women being women’s enemies than the beautiful sisterhood we form with our friends.

“In India, marriages are breaking like biscuits,” says Sima Aunty on the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking season 1. The truth, however, looks drastically different, and women are breaking like biscuits in inescapable marriages.

Divorces in India are still not ‘accepted’ easily

Numerous studies point out how India’s divorce rates are low.

Divorces, when they do happen, are more lopsided than people acknowledge and are generally a terrifying experience for women. Their poor financial status makes most married women extremely vulnerable if they have incompatible or abusive husbands. The popular notion of till death do us part reinforces the expectation that women must submit to marital eternity no matter their suffering, including spousal rape.

The reasons for divorce in India include domestic violence, dowry demands, compatibility issues, problems with in-laws, sexual incompatibility, and many more. It’s no surprise then that the stigma around divorce is lethal. Divorced women are frequently labelled problematic or aggressive and responsible for their failed marriages.

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Divorce battles can be testing times. Husbands often hold enough clout to force families to isolate their wives. What we often don’t acknowledge is that women going through divorce get unwavering support from their women friends.

And yet how often do we hear that a woman is a woman’s worst enemy? Being a fundamentally patriarchal society, we thrive on pitting one woman against another and never highlight the sisterhoods we form during our lifetime. Our pop culture continues to project the villainy of a mother-in-law against a daughter-in-law without focusing on the patriarchal trap and how women are forced to play roles where they see other women as rivals.

When friends become family

*Janani Sachdev is a Bangalore-based security specialist working for a tech company. Her marriage was in trouble right from the beginning. She had to manage chores at home, and her commute to work involved 6 hours of travel daily. She had little to no support from her spouse or in-laws. After 3-4 years of marriage, her mom had cancer; her health took a toll. She had PCOD, which aggravated slowly, leading to heavy bleeding, anemia, and depression. She needed all kinds of emotional and physical support, none of which she got from her husband’s family.

“The tipping point for me was when my husband threatened to cut himself with a knife to kill himself over a silly argument after we moved into a new house without my in-laws. I couldn’t manage myself; how would I handle this baseless marriage?”

That is when her college friend *Sushma Nathani, an Information Security Analyst, played a crucial role. Sushma took her in and gave her a place to live. Janani lived with Sushma for over two months until she recovered. “Since I had PCOD, I had some special dietary requirements. She gave me time to figure out things in my head, allowed me to do it at my own pace, and shared her home and resources. She is a single woman, and because of that, I was often told that being with singles like her could be dangerous for a married woman. She doesn’t know what it means to be married, but my friend stood by me, rock-solid,” added Janani.

Brainwashing the wife

In another instance, every time Mumbai-based *Anushree, a stay-at-home mom had huge disagreements with her husband, she would come and stay with her only son at her best friend *Srividhya’s home, who not only became emotional support but also provided for Anushree and her son.

“What struck me the most was that my friend’s husband thought his wife couldn’t handle her own life. He felt that he should convince her that it is not his failure but ‘bad external influence,’ like friends or parents making his wife do it,” said Srividhya, a Mumbai-based techie. Srividhya stood by her childhood friend Anushree who lived in an incompatible marriage for years before she decided to part ways with her husband.

“I think men tend to abuse and gaslight their wives more when they know the wife has nowhere to go. Instead of stopping their wives from maintaining the friendship, if only they focus more on bettering themselves, why will the wife leave them?” asks Srividhya.

There is no definition of a workable marriage, but by and large, people agree that a marriage has to have openness and create a safe space for the people involved. It needs to have kindness towards each other, in every way, including sexual compatibility.

No safe space to discuss issues in marriage

But the marriage story of Chennai-based *Jiya is one of lack of safe space between her and her husband to discuss things, which leads to multiple issues in her marriage. “When I am with my husband, I don’t take phone calls from two of my very good women friends who truly understand me. When I meet them, I am so happy. But my meeting with them has to be discreet; it is almost as if I am hiding an extramarital affair. My husband hates my friends,” said Jiya.

Over the last few years, Jiya has begun growing incompatible with her husband. “If not for my son, I would have divorced him long back. He is so conservative and also feels that women cannot have a mind of their own. He feels insecure knowing I have my friends’ support,” she added.

As the Jiyas of the world explore their life beyond a marriage in which they are stuck, we need to acknowledge the role these women play, who are near and dear, who stand by us during the worst of our times. In nurturing the camaraderie, we sometimes nurture ourselves and build a space to always be our most authentic selves.

Image source: a still from the film English Vinglish

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About the Author

Shilpashree Jagannathan

I am a journalist from India. I now live in Toronto and have worked as a business reporter for leading newspapers in India. I have tracked telecom, infrastructure, and real estate news developments and have read more...

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