I want a husband to approach me like Salman, speak like Aamir, and kiss me like Shah Rukh, you told us. As millions sat transfixed by your swayamvara you sifted through sixteen thousand men around the world and finally from four wannabe husbands in your quest for non-filmy love. Now as you stand on the threshold of married life, I want to congratulate you Rakhi but as a clinical psychologist, who has been interviewing Indian couples (both in India and abroad) for over a decade, let me also caution you.
Yes, marriage is about love, but let’s not forgets the hard facts. Statistically, even though modern Indian couples continue to live together, only 30% of them have a chance of being in working marriages.
I know you may not quite see it that way. Love had you flummoxed yet it’s all you wanted. Do you love me? You urged, beseeched, and challenged all your suitors. The slippery Manmohan evaded your question with, ‘What do you think?’ You wanted them to say I love you but also did not want them to lie. When Chittiz admitted he wasn’t in love with you, you were adamant he change his feelings if he had to succeed!
At night you tossed in agony; wept over rejecting ardent suitors; berated others for questioning your virginity, defended your past item-girl image; flirted with your mile-long eyelashes; opened the painful past of your parents’ estrangement; walked bare-feet in the sands of Rishikesh, suffered heart-break and even threatened to leave the show. It was tough but you were prepared to do anything.
But dear Rakhi, getting hitched is just the easy part. Marriage is in trouble today and guess what – love is the culprit. 94% of the husbands and wives I interviewed said that while they were happy, 38% regretted their marriage and/ or would marry someone else, if given another chance! We know divorces are soaring today: 7% of Indian marriages are dissolving (higher in metros) but it is still a far lower figure compared to the marriages that don’t work but where couples remain together. Also, did you know that 80% of divorces are initiated by women in India — many of them independent professional women like you?
Like you, they dreamt of having love in their marriage, either by choosing their own spouse or reassuring themselves that love would follow if they were entering arranged or love-cum-arranged marriages. In fact the biggest difference between our generation of women and our mothers is this expectation of love — we want intimacy, empathy, support, validation, trust, and equality, not just a husband who puts a roof over our heads. Over 90% of the wives I spoke to were unhappy because they didn’t get these in marriage. Lack of intimacy contributes to high depression in wives; 72% of wives reported mild to full blown depression. Not only this, how wives perceive their marriages had a critical impact on their health. Indian husbands in my research were often incapable of showing affection and empathizing with their spouse. I found over the last ten years that they were happy to spend their money on a new car but refused to go to therapy. But although men had not moved on, women like you had – and wanted more.
So here are some things to watch out for as you stand on the threshold of marriage:
Contrary to what you hope, the early years of marriage are neither fairytale years nor romantic. The early years described as the honeymoon years for couples all around the world are in fact, usually the unhappiest years for Indian husbands and wives.
The number one reason husbands and wives fight today is due to in-laws. So don’t fool yourself that you will come first for him. Statistically there’s a higher chance that he will side with his mother than you. In fact the biggest battles for an Indian couple are what I call ‘culture wars’ where husbands and wives fight about in-laws (particularly, if they live in a joint family) or ‘proper behaviors’ (usually if they’re living away from home or are NRIs) where husbands and wives constantly try to influence and control each other over issues such as a spouse’s attachment to their family and friends; work; management of the kitchen; how they entertained and managed relatives; control over the dress and appearance of the wife; wife’s movement outside house and so forth. While American husbands and wives fight about money, work, and sex, Indian couples fight about in-laws, children and then, their own relationship; other issues taking precedence over love. I’ve spoken to many bewildered wives who say that their romantic, loving boyfriends have utterly transformed once they married. Be warned.
I know you are a celebrity with a fat bank balance. But I want to caution you that money does not necessarily win wives more power. Husbands may claim they want wives who are earning but the influence of earning wives is still limited. Equality in marriage is still a myth for Indian wives. Through my research I found that over 70% of such expectations of intimacy and equality are mirages, alienating wives from their important life goals when marriage begins.
Finally, I don’t mean to be vulgar Rakhi — but what about sex? Is an orgasm important for marriage? Sexual pleasure in modern India is a powerful barometer of how good a marriage is. Today, a greater number of Indians especially in the metros – as high as 75% – are reporting sexual encounters before marriage; both husbands and wives are reporting sex with partners other than their own partner during marriage; married individuals state that they practice oral sex in addition to intercourse and find themselves thinking sexually of others even while they are married to someone else. For example, three times as many husbands compared to wives fantasized, reporting that they often thought of making out with someone else other than their partner.
Whether sex is fulfilling for both husband and wife and how sexually satisfied they are boosts marriage quality. And yet, only 16% of wives report having orgasms, the biological signal of female satisfaction, suggesting that it may not be part of the normal sexual fabric of marriage for many. A whopping one-third of husbands and wives were not sexually satisfied in their marriage. Sex without pleasure is one of the reasons for the ailing marriage in India. I hope, for the success of your marriage, you experienced chemistry with Elesh, instead of being a shrinking violet as we witnessed you with Chittiz!
The above is but a brief peek into marriage; the topic of the Indian marriage is vast and complex. Your swayamvara just brushed the tip, no pun intended, but I do hope my letter provides somewhat of a roadmap in achieving marital bliss.
Dr. Shaifali Sandhya is a licensed clinical psychologist in Chicago, USA, an expert in couples and family matters, and a Professor of Clinical Psychology in a doctoral program. In October 2009, Random House India will publish her book: Love will follow: Why marriage is burning in urban India.
Disclaimer: It is made clear that the author has never met Rakhi Sawant and the observations, comments, opinions contained in this blog are in no way based on any personal or professional interaction between the author and Rakhi Sawant.