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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Any mention of the word dowry, gifts, gifting of saris, demand for customs, expectations from the scale of the wedding and so on and.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Any implications that I “belong” to a certain family or not.
- 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:
- Verbal abuse including name calling by anyone, not just the guy
- Any hint of physical abuse including something including grabbing my hand with too much force by anyone, not just the guy
- 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. 😉 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?