The moment to walk out of a relationship

The latest post on IHM’s blog is a heartbreaking story of abuse. Once a person is deep in an abusive relationship, they can’t really get out so easily. Their self esteem is broken, their movements are curtailed, and even their life is at risk. Yet, given how common abuse is, why don’t parents and daughters ever have a conversation before the wedding*? Why don’t parents ever tell their daughters up front, the doors are open if you need to walk out? Why don’t daughters ever tell their parents what they need or expect?

This is my list of red flags and the issues I discussed with my parents before I even agreed to an arranged marriage. I don’t think how a woman chooses her spouse makes a difference to the list, however. These are also conversations a woman needs to have with her partner before living together or getting married. A couple needs to set expectations from each other.

Before the wedding:

  1. Any mention of skin colour or appearance or mention of socially acceptable standards of beauty. Some people would ask my mother if I was good looking. My mother’s stock reply was, “Beauty is a personal opinion. How can I not call my own child beautiful?” We never called any of them back.
  2. Any subtle (or not) probing into my family’s financial status was unacceptable because it was none of their business. Some were interested in what my brother earned.

The wedding itself. I was clear that I would break an engagement or even walk out of a wedding at:

  1. Any mention of the word dowry, gifts, gifting of saris, demand for customs, expectations from the scale of the wedding and so on and.
  2. Anything at all said against my parents or any expectations from them because they’re the “girl’s side” before, during, and after the wedding would not be tolerated.
  3. Unwillingness to share expenses was a massive red flag indicating entitlement. I couldn’t convince my dad as much as I would have wanted to but it was still progress from my aunts’ weddings.
  4. Any mention about me quitting work or relocating without having an equal discussion was out. A dependent visa was out. If I moved to another country, I’d move on my own visa.

After the wedding. Cause for separation, if not divorce:

  1. Any hint that I need to change anything about myself after marriage because I’m a woman including coercion to wear symbols of marriage I didn’t want to or giving up contact with male friends or any restrictions on my behaviour, movements, finances, etc.
  2. Any implications that I “belong” to a certain family or not.
  3. Any expectations that I need to perform a certain traditional role because I’m a woman including the kind of chores I’m expected to do, unwillingness to share household work, etc.

Would result in me walking out without a word:

  1. Verbal abuse including name calling by anyone, not just the guy
  2. Any hint of physical abuse including something including grabbing my hand with too much force by anyone, not just the guy
  3. Forced sex/marital rape. This I did not explicitly discuss with my parents but they knew what I meant by physical abuse.

The most important relationship we’ll ever have is the one with ourselves. Everyone might have a different line for what verbal abuse is. What’s more important is deciding for ourselves – before we make a lifelong commitment to a spouse – what our limits are and to honour ourselves and those limits.

It’s not one sided. A man can feel equally stifled by a jealous or insecure spouse. He can feel pressure to earn more or be more “manly”. He needs to be upfront about it. In fact, when The Hero and I were engaged, the level of frankness in our conversations alarmed his parents and mine who thought it was too much honesty to last. This was only based on what was reported. πŸ˜‰ But that’s how our marriage works to this day. The Hero and I can get passionate and argue loudly about the silliest of things and make the most ridiculous of statements and fume (him) and cry (me). Then, we can just shrug it off and go out for ice cream because we’re secure that we agree about the things that truly matter. That approach might not be for everybody but everybody needs to know what they need.


* Yes, yes, not only women get abused but let’s stick with the woman’s side of the story this time, eh?


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18 thoughts on “The moment to walk out of a relationship”

  1. Love this post.

    ‘The most important relationship we’ll ever have is the one with ourselves.’

    Such wise words! This should be printed out and stuck in everyone’s vision everywhere. We teach children so much about how to treat others, be polite, be nice, respect them and almost nothing about how to treat themselves. Nothing about respecting themselves.

    1. Thank you! πŸ™‚

      I think it’s especially true for Indian women. We’re expected to be wife, mother, sister, daughter in law, friend but never just us. We never owe anything to ourselves

    1. My life, my happiness, my rules. Interestingly, I’m in a marriage where these rules are a non-issue. Don’t you find it sad that we need to articulate rules such as “no hitting”, “no verbal abuse”, and “no leeching off other people out a sense of entitlement”?

      Out of curiosity, which of these things do you think a woman can afford to be “flexible” about?

  2. >> My life, my happiness, my rules.

    Inflexible much? πŸ™‚

    No really. First, I found almost all your rules excessively simplified. Perhaps, the limited real estate in a blog post makes it difficult to write something that is not easily misunderstood.

    Second, It seemed from both the tone and the specifics of your rules, that they were quite rigid.

    Thirdly, the Indian match-making setup is deeply flawed and parents are suddenly thrust into the deep end of the “polite engagement” pool. With no experience, concerns are not worded right and even absolutely well intentioned dialogue is easily misinterpreted. See S1R1.

    Some examples (can’t go into all of them, even on a Sunday!):

    S1R1: Standards of beauty. This is such a complex topic! Some parents, genuinely feel that their sons/daughters are not great looking and are worried that others may lay too much emphasis on it. When they ask “Is your boy/girl good looking?” – they are actually trying to ask – “Do *you* value looks?”.

    S1R2: Matching financial status. I am going to get flak for this. I feel that it is an impractical and childish fairy-tale chase to imagine that very large differences in financial status among spouses can be worked out smoothly. Will go into that later.

    If we assume that that view has some merit, then some “probing” of financial status is inevitable. Hopefully, it is gleaned as a side effect through just plain vanilla interaction. [At the other extreme, we as a country love being blunt and direct. Our matrimonial classifieds tend to start with a persons salary! I cringe every time when I see an ad that goes M32/175/60000.]

    S1R4: The first line of your post included the “discussion” clause. Then you followed it up with a blanket “no dependent visa”.

    Hey! Your spouse does not set the visa rules! The cons from the restrictions of a “dependent visa” have to be weighed against the pros of having the family together or the overall necessity (or pros and cons) to move countries.

    Also had issues with S3R1, S3R3 and S4R2. This reply is too long already. Maybe over email!

    Peace,
    TSCI

    1. Simple examples that I’m hoping will make you re-think:

      Why is it that no one ever asks the mother of a son whether her child is good looking? Or whether he is fair? Why was it a matter of routine to inquire about my looks? I’m not as charitable as to imagine it’s because someone else is worried that I’m being shallow. What does a person even mean by asking about looks over the phone when it’s just a matter of time before you get a photograph in the mail? You’re going to see for yourself anyway. What kind of question is it to ask a parent?

      For family finances, it’s one thing to try and look for a partner who shares your socio-economic status but yet another to go deep into how much property the others own or what kind of car the prospective bride’s brother drives. It smells a bit fishy. Just sayin’.

      And for the dependent visa, It’s not a fault of the guy but I for one was not willing to risk moving to a foreign country with a (relative) stranger with no legal status of my own. Where would I go if things went wrong? And I’ve heard enough horror stories, thank you.

      It comes down to this. Every rule on my list can be flipped around to judge me. And I don’t mind it either. Judgment is a two way process. However, look at it this way. The more factors stack up, the more likely there’s going to be an issue down the line. How likely is it that a person who asks about looks, finances, and expects the wedding to be conducted a certain way, and throws tantrums over their perceived ill-treatment will also turn out to be rigidly patriarchal?

      Also was I willing to stake my life – and in abusive marriages it is quite literally the case – on the hope that my initial instinct was wrong? I chose not to and I’m happy with my decision. Perhaps the people I judged harshly were in fact just tactless but meh! I what kind of way is it to start a relationship when you’re constantly, secretly afraid they’ll turn out to be abusers? It isn’t fair to them either.

      I’m not foisting my standards on other women but I do think everyone needs to find their own comfort zone before not after getting married. I for my part am fairly risk-averse in all aspects of my life. In this case, I’m happy for it.

      If you’ve made it this far, yes, we can debate via email. I quite enjoy reading your perspective. πŸ™‚

    2. Passive aggressive much? She has already answered your questions and you call her inflexible a second time around?

      Ah, your handle says it all!

      1. From his web-page:

        “As the first son of TheVeryChauvinistIyer, who was himself the first son of TheRidiculouslyChauvinist Iyer, I encourage you to notice that things are improving.”

        Things are changing, but perhaps not as quickly as we’d like them to πŸ™‚

  3. Now that you have confessed that there was no dowry whatsoever I hope you will not file false dowry cases when you DECIDE to leave him. Also please don’t demand alimony in any form. I have seen most off the women who are so knit picky like you filing false cases and claiming victim hood when there r differences..

    1. Sure! Thanks for the tips! I’ll also be sure to not file false domestic violence reports and understand the hypocrisy of my ways at some point. Meanwhile, want to share some gyan on child support?

    2. Right, because you know beyond a shadow of doubt that SB will leave her husband some day.

      Given the harsh reality of Indian family courts, where a child support payment of Rs 6000 per month is considered “generous”, where the victims of domestic violence get very little financial compensation, your comment underscores the all that is wrong with our society.

      Please talk to divorced women to know the reality.

      I am divorced, and it took me two years to convince my ex-husband to pay half of the lawyer’s fees for a divorce filed by mutual consent.

      After enduring two years of abuse and disrespect, I was just happy to have him out of my life, even without a financial settlement.

      During divorce proceedings, he didn’t want to pay the nominal court fee of Rs 100.

      If course, a man like you doesn’t want to hear this. You just want to paint all women as evil, deceitful gold diggers, the truth be damned.

      1. Thank you for your spirited defense! I know things were pretty pathetic in Indian courts but I had no idea things were this bad. I cannot imagine how terrible things must have been for you.

        I think this person has already bought his popcorn and will be sorely disappointed if The Hero and I are happy together.

  4. Going by your list, I should have quit my marriage long, long ago! Thank you, it helped mitigate a lot of guilt I felt/still feel about distancing my in-laws.

    P.S: I went through ALL the points you mentioned.

    1. I’m glad to hear that my post helped you. It’s still only my own perspective, however, and based entirely on my fears. So I’d love to hear where you think they’re too rigid or too unrealistic or even too hypothetical and maybe what truly resonated with you.

  5. It’s interesting to me that the two men commenting here consider this list “picky” and “over-rigid”. Picky, to me, would be expecting Hrithik Roshan with an Ambani’s bank account. The Goddess didn’t do that; all she did was lay down a few simple, common-sense guidelines that will enable her to avoid physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and financial abuse. Frankly, from reading Indian Homemaker’s blog, I get the impression that all too many Indian women sleepwalk into marriage with no clear idea of their rights and no way to defend their own boundaries. Considering how exhausting and enervating escaping from an abusive marriage is, isn’t it better to have a clear idea of what you can and can’t put up with before you get married? If some people consider that picky, so be it.

    1. I should have been grateful to marry first person who condescended to liking me. Instead, I’ve been demanding human rights! Isn’t that terrible?

      In due fairness TSCI’s issues seems to be more about how judgmental and prescriptive the rules are than my demand for equality.

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