ask; wont’ tell
Trust: The essential ingredient in a marriage.
Even in the newly liberalised India, most marriages tend to
be arranged by families, either through a marriage broker,
a newspaper classified advertisement, a web-based marriage
portal or the long-established oral tradition: word-of-mouth.
One would therefore expect that the rigorous screening process
that takes place would result, particularly when endorsed
by the family astrologer, in a reasonably compatible couple
who have all the potential ingredients for a long and satisfying
marriage. However, as any family court regular will tell you,
the number of arranged marriages that break down within two
to three months of the wedding is alarmingly on the increase.
The reasons for these are many and include sexual as well
as emotional adjustment issues, but one reason that keeps
cropping up with astonishing regularity is, I feel, an eminently
preventable problem: premarital non-disclosure. To get a sense
of what I mean by this term, take a look at these three randomly
selected marriage scenarios…
22-year-old graphic designer by training but a homemaker by
choice, is told that the bridegroom identified for her in
Australia is a chartered accountant working in a large international
bank. Two months after living in Australia with him, in a
chance conversation with her neighbour, she comes to know
that her husband, has actually never been to college, and
works in this large international bank as a teller.
two reasonably happy years of marriage, an engineer prepares
to take his wife to Muscat. When he takes her passport to
apply for a visa, he realises that she is eleven months older
than he is. Both are aghast. He, because this was not what
her father had told him at the time of the alliance. She,
because she thought he was aware of it and was liberal enough
in his thinking not to mind.
months after the wedding, when they are investigating the
cause of her husband’s erectile dysfunction, a young stewardess
learns from his doctor that her husband’s anti-epileptic medication
could be the cause of the problem, but under no circumstances
is he to stop the medication, for he had his last fit as recently
as eight months ago. She is shocked, for, this is the first
time she is hearing of his epilepsy.
is what I mean by premarital non-disclosure. Some facts are
actively suppressed (“this matter should never be revealed
under any circumstance”), some not made explicit (“but you
never asked!”) and some just “hinted” at, before the wedding
takes place. How the “deceived partner” reacts when matters
come out into the open, as they inevitably will (how long
can you keep information about things like your job, your
age or a major illness under wraps?), cannot really be predicted.
Of course, it is unreasonable to expect disclosures on everything
under the sun, for, many facts are completely irrelevant to
the present and the future, but some of the things that families
suppress are quite extraordinary: that one of the partners
is previously divorced, that one of the parents practises
a different religion, that the person has not got a masters
degree from the U.S. even though the profile on the matrimonial
portal said otherwise, that one of the partners is dependent
on alcohol and/or marijuana (not just a recreational user),
that one of the partners suffers from a rare genetic disorder
that obviates the possibility of having children, and so on.
And when the truth finally comes out, further creative mendacity
attempts to locate the problem as post-marital (or at least
not known to anyone before the wedding) and the quagmire just
becomes deeper and deeper. And the marriage is driven squarely
on the rocks.
time I speak to the non-disclosing family and ask them why
they did what they did, they are invariably filled with remorse.
They tell me that the primary reason for non-disclosure was
the fear that the truth might mean the loss of a perfectly
good alliance. What they never contemplated was that the truth
would come out at some time or the other, and when it did,
however long the couple had been married, however strong the
bond they had developed during this period, the “non-disclosing”
partner would come under severe pressure, and experience indescribable
humiliation. Even if such a partner were not aware of, nor
party to, the non-disclosure, they are not believed by their
partners. The essential trust in the partner and the marriage
is lost and if the “deceived” partner does decide to stay
in the marriage, a long and painful process of re-building
trust has to be gone through. Also, the balance of power in
the marriage tilts and the “non-disclosing” partner is expected
to shoulder the primary burden of this re-building process.
the best way to deal with this is prevention: making sure
that no relevant fact is kept away from the partner before
the commitment is made. To do this, one first needs to deal
with the popular feeling in middle class India that “marrying
off the children” is the parents’ primary responsibility and
that this has to be done at any cost. If one of the children
seems to be a little “less appealing in the marriage market”
and is therefore unable to land a partner easily, padding
the résumé or glossing over critical facts or
stout denial, can never be the recommended courses of action,
for, although they may ensure that a wedding does indeed take
place, they, more often than not, also result in mortification
and visits to the Family Court. Marriage is not the only guarantee
to life-long happiness. Urban India has enough content single
people as role models to testify to this. The price for non-disclosure
is simply too high and investing in career pursuits may be
the better option if a partner is not to be found.
are, of course, no formulae to decide what precisely needs
to be disclosed. As a rule of thumb, anything major that will
have some form of impact on your partner’s perception of or
comfort with you, is better shared. There’s no need to overdo
it either. Your partner does not need to know that you had
chicken pox when you were nine and measles when you were six.
However, if you had mumps in childhood, as a result of which
you’ve become sterile, you might be well advised to consider
telling your prospective partner about it, because this has
a direct bearing on the future of the marriage, in terms of
child-bearing. When you do disclose, the risk you run is that
a potentially “good” alliance may be nipped in the bud. However,
if you are making a decision that is meant to last you a lifetime,
you need to know all the facts before doing so. So does your
word to the “deceived partner”: Try not to be too harsh when
you come across a non-disclosure of this sort. I do agree
that it can rock your trust in your partner, but try and understand
that it took place in a certain context. Because you were
considered a good alliance, your partner’s family probably
did some window-dressing, which they, in hindsight, perhaps
should not have done. If you find that in other ways, your
partner is reasonably good for you, try and practise some
forgiveness, and you could still end up having the long and
stable marriage that you sought when you said “yes”.
VIJAY NAGASWAMI. Originally Published in The
Hindu. The writer is a psychiatrist, columnist and author.
His latest book, ‘The 24x7 Marriage’, is due out in late 2008.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org