The New Indian Woman and Divorce

Educated women have more choices

Here is a controversial topic. While on one hand being an independent career woman is a source of pride and self esteem – it’s also a harbinger of ‘choices’. Whom to get married to (no longer decided by “neighbourhoood aunties” and extended family “kakimas”), how to live after marriage (not influenced by ‘his’ or ‘hers’ families) and finally where do I draw the line at “marriage expectations not met consistently” and therefore this relationship is a dead one.


Is there a corelation between level of education and employment among women and divorce rates? Global studies that test socio economic factors related to the break up of a marriage seem to indicate so. As women become more independent financially, their acceptance levels come down in direct proportion to their financial stability (Dobson, 2006). Women are said to become more vocal and are willing to sacrifice less – for the sake of more independence. You can read more about the Indian perspective here (


Is Marriage a dying institution?

Chennai based Marriage Counsellor & Psychiatrist Dr. Vijay Nagaswami answers some often asked questions marriage in his new book “The 24×7 Marriage: Smart Strategies For Good Beginnings”. He says that increasing divorce rates in the urban milieu are not a cause for concern as they are all keen for re-marriage. In other words their conviction on marriage as a union that benefits and enriches their life is not diminished, infact they may actively choose to end the present unsatisfactory union in the hope that a better, more companionable partner awaits them.


Pressure to be Super Women

In contemporary Indian marriages – there is greater pressure on the woman to achieve at the work related front and at the home front. Role models such as ICICI Bank MD in waiting Chanda Kochar/ HSBC India Head Naina Lal Kidwai/ Kiran Bedi are celebrated in the media where they are shown as having managed home and corporate career with great élan. International role models like Indra Nooyi for instance talked candidly about how difficult and fulfilling balancing career and family are.


While on “balance” some divorce analysts have argued that given that the lion’s share of unpaid household work is done by the woman – she is probably better off after a divorce (!)


Low tolerance

Despite the dismal statistics, reluctance of Indian males to adjust around a career wife’s schedules, higher expectations that women have from themselves and their careers – what really bothers me is the alarming decrease in tolerance displayed at the individual level in a marriage.


I myself am guilty of a tremendously short fuse that interferes a lot with the communication that I have with my spouse. Increase in external stressors is really not an excuse as that is a reality for all urban beings. However I now have first hand interactions with female friends who are not willing to ‘compromise’ (according to them) / ‘adjust’ (according to me) to a reasonable degree. The whole point is of ignoring the smaller issue in favor of the ‘larger good’ (marital compatibility) is lost. Unfortunately these seemingly trivial issues tend to pile up, snow ball and lead to a relationship souring to the point of no-return.


Admittedly it’s really frustrating when your spouse and you have differing expectations from marriage and even differing goals.


In the final analysis one’s level of tolerance gets defined by how much you value your partner and the relationship you share. I write strictly in the context of non-abusive marital relationships. If physical abuse is involved then I have a zero-tolerance approach to that situation.


Dispelling Myths

Studies have shown that in India – however depression rates after divorce tend to be much higher and remarriage rates are lower for divorced women compared to divorced men.


Does this mean that women are to blame more than men for a break up of a marriage? And do they end up paying a higher price?


On the contrary I would like to dispel this myth. I believe that essentially Indian women as much as elsewhere in the world are actively focused on ensuring that they have a satisfying and happy marital relationship. They probably work harder, are more concerned and take more steps to keep their marriage strong and nurturing as compared to their husbands. I say this on a generic note – there may be a few exceptional husbands who make a greater effort at ‘working’ on the marriage.


I strongly believe that women are socio-biologically wired to be more ‘relationship’ oriented and hence seek lasting partnerships.


Women report more marital complaints and report them earlier than do men. It has been shown that men are more likely than women to remarry, and they do it quicker (Bernhardt, 1995; Cherlin, 1992, Whitehead and Poenoe, 2006).  I also think that women tend to take on a ‘responsibility’ or ‘dutiful’ orientation to ensure that their marriage is working. They may strongly perceive their divorce/ separation to be a ‘failure’ on their part.


So what makes a good marriage?

Psychiatrist Dr. Vijay Nagaswami says that the key lies in you and your partner matching your attitudes about what you expect from the relationship. According to him each of us behaves according to a ‘mental marriage template’. This template in each of our heads is acquired from our own observations of our parent’s or grandparent’s marriage/ close relatives’ marital relationship.


Dr. Nagaswami further says that “the templates we have acquired before we get married is called the primary marriage template and if both partners have similar primary marriage templates, which does occasionally happen, this makes things extraordinarily easy indeed. (In fact, this is why arranged marriages of yesteryears were based on finding alliances from similar backgrounds, resulting in more or less similar primary marriage templates that required the least adjustment from both partners). So, we have to get on with the task of defining our final marriage templates more consciously than our forefathers had to.” You can read more about his opinions here (


It may be worthwhile to explore one’s own and one’s partner’s conscious and unconscious thoughts on marriage. The above also indicates that you may want to explore your partner’s take on his/her parent’s marriage.

Thank you for your responses my piece on the big debate and I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Last 5 posts by Sophie


  1. Ano

    You are so right about pre conceived templates based on parents. This is true not just for Indian women. But templates are also based on Hindi movies I saw! I think Education does make you more open to divorce as Indrani said in the previous post, its also related to financial independence

  2. Anonymous

    Sophie, thanks for bringing up a controversial topic on many peoples minds. In the US you have the concept of house husbands. That helps many marriages. But in India that is still a foreign concept, especially when it is related to child care or housework.
    I especially like what you said about ‘tolerance’. And the definition of happiness

  3. Khushi

    I think you dont divorce a person – but a part of your life and an indentity you are ready to shed and move on. That is why when people get exposed to a different life or even themselves evolve to a different stage often it becomes an issue. With Indian women it is often maturity and self confidence (with education) that leads to this evolution.

  4. UrbanIndianmale25

    This post was quite insightful. I’m just starting to look for that special some1 to spend the rest of my life with & I’m some1 who’s very interested in having a superb & meaningful relationship.
    I found ur post abt the changes in the relationship dynamic, particularly those that have resulted from the changes in the attitude & mindset of the modern, working, & urban Indian women. While I’m all 4 their increased expectations (as I’m sure most men looking 4 an equal partner are), u do have a valid point abt making minor adjustments 4 the sake of the more imp. things.
    Maybe it’s the pressure, maybe it’s the constant battle that they’ve got to fight against prejudice (it has reduced now but still it’s present as a subtle undercurrent in many Indian middle class families)…added to the level of competitiveness that is necessary in today’s world that makes them very focused on their own individuality, their own needs… & leads ultimately to an inability to tolerate anything less than a set “minimum” from their spouse.
    But I hope we don’t have reasons like “evolved into a different person” (as mentioned by Khushi) cited for divorce. Such reasons are self-serving, convenient & misguiding… if a person can change so much so as to renege on thr marital vows… well then they should never have married in the first place (why make a false vow for a lifelong commitment if one is not sure ?!) would any1 cite the same reason to abandon the care of their children (shed a part of my life & decided to “move on”)…. I think not. Some parts of us change, some parts do NOT. If some1 just uses such reasoning conveniently to move out of a marriage that is a reflection on how little they value their marriage & their spouse & also of their character (for such a person needn’t have gotten into a lifelong relationship in the first place)

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