"They'd laugh at me and see me as weak"
Divorce is still a taboo subject in South Asian culture, where customs and family values are intricately knit into the social fabric.
This is especially true for men.
The stigma associated with divorce is prevalent despite communities becoming more modern and other taboos being dismantled.
And, whilst the argument for divorced women and their struggles are rightly highlighted, divorced men seem to go under the radar.
Desi men are particularly reluctant to talk candidly about ending a marriage.
This piece aims to clarify the nuances around this silence by analysing cultural norms and sharing personal accounts from Desi men who have experienced the difficulties associated with separation.
A Lack of Awareness
To comprehend the landscape, it’s essential to ground our exploration in data.
According to a study conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) in 2019, divorce rates in South Asia have been rising steadily.
However, the stigma attached to divorce remains prevalent, causing many individuals to keep their struggles within the confines of their private lives.
Some couples break up mutually without making it official, others reluctantly divorce through their parents, many of whom don’t share the news openly with family or friends.
The extent of the divorce taboo was highlighted by psychologist Jyothsna Bhat.
She said in an article for Psychology Today:
“Divorce can be ego-crushing for a South Asian family, as it may be viewed as selfish or self-serving and seen as going against the grain of collectivism.
“In collectivist thinking, the individual ego is subservient to the greater good.
“Although this has both socio-political and spiritual merit, taken too far, it can create an internal conflict and an ongoing dismissal of the self in service of others.
“Boundaries are blurred – and given the patriarchal underpinnings of South Asian culture, women are often the ones to experience the fallout.”
Whilst Bhat’s comments are true that marriage is put on a pedestal, therefore divorce is almost ‘dishonourable’, she doesn’t take into account men’s feelings.
But, this shouldn’t take away from the truth in how she presents the hardships of South Asian women during divorce. She later explains:
“There is considerable guilt placed on women’s shoulders around keeping a marriage together.
“Women often feel defective if they cannot manage their marital issues.”
“There is also the persistent view that women can handle more than men in terms of hardships, sacrifice, and emotional turmoil, and so have a responsibility as the “fairer” sex.
“Being able to weather such storms is considered the mark of a good daughter-in-law.”
Whilst she presents a fascinating insight into divorce, the lack of consideration of those men who suffer from divorce contributes to the wider argument of why they stay silent about their emotions.
As rates of separation are rising, it’s interesting to note the reasons for this.
In a DESIblitz poll of over 2000 people, we asked “Divorce rates are increasing in Desi people due to”. The results are as follows:
- Differences and Intolerance (34%)
- In-laws and Family Problems (27%)
- Affairs (19%)
- Arranged Marriages (12%)
- Work and Money Pressures (8%)
Whilst this is respective to both men and women, the reluctance to discuss divorce openly is particularly pronounced among men.
It reflects a broader societal expectation that views marriage as too valuable and enduring.
In areas like the UK, Canada, and even across South Asia, where societal norms still heavily influence personal choices, the pressure to conform to these expectations often results in silence.
The stats and quotes may also hint that men are less likely to seek support due to the lack of coverage of others in their situation.
Yes, for South Asian women, divorce can be gruelling and even more insufferable.
However, it doesn’t take away that Desi men can also feel like that.
Therefore it’s more important to shed light on such cases and why it’s vital for there to be safer spaces for Desi men.
Desi Men & Their Experiences
To get a first-hand experience of the situations that Desi men go through concerning divorce, DESIblitz spoke to individuals in different areas.
This is to gauge a better understanding of why resources for men are needed and to spotlight a range of emotions.
35-year-old Raj from Mumbai told us that his parents orchestrated his marriage.
They envisioned a harmonious union, yet, as the years unfolded, communication became strained. Raj stated:
“Our marriage just didn’t work out. We tried, but things fell apart.
“It’s tough when your family expects things to go a certain way, and you can’t meet those expectations.”
The pressure to maintain familial harmony and societal expectations weighed heavily on Raj.
Unable to articulate his feelings, the silence grew, leading to a chasm that ultimately ended the marriage.
Aryan from Delhi, explained he got divorced when he was 40. The downfall of his marriage was due to his wife cheating:
“I found out she was cheating. It hurt so badly because we met when we were kids. Our parents lived next door to each other.
“I didn’t talk much about it because, well, what’s there to say?
“I didn’t want to broadcast my personal stuff and didn’t tell my parents till a year later – I was ashamed even though it was all her fault.”
The expectation for men to stoically endure adversity kept Aryan from openly sharing his emotional turmoil, leading him to internalise the shame that was not his to bear.
Furthermore, 32-year-old Ravi from London had an arranged marriage.
However, cultural clashes and differing values created issues that widened over time:
“We had differences and couldn’t make it work.
“But you know how it is, everyone expects you to have the perfect marriage.
“I didn’t want to deal with the questions so my family and I kept it quiet.
“We came up with excuses as to why she didn’t come to parties or gatherings, but eventually, people caught on.
“As soon as they did, people treated me differently. They would look at me differently – no sympathy, just disgust as if it was all my fault.
“I’m still struggling to come to terms with it and I’m alone in doing that.”
The facade of a perfect marriage is widespread in South Asian culture and compelled Ravi to keep his struggles hidden.
We also heard from Sanjay, a paralegal from Birmingham who explained:
“We split amicably. There were no hard feelings.
“But society thinks men should always be strong providers and admitting that things didn’t work felt like admitting failure.
“The actual separation was the easiest part, it’s the aftermath which I’ve found hard.
“My parents thought we could get back together, and when we declined to, even they left me to it.
“It’s unfair that Desi people pick and choose on what is right and wrong.
“If they had a business failure, they’d feel upset and try and dedicate themselves to making things right.
“But if it’s a marriage failure, they get angry and don’t offer any support or compassion.”
38-year-old Arjed from Kashmir added to this:
“I couldn’t have kids, which we found out after a year of marrying.
“My wife told her parents and they decided to divorce me. When I had to tell my family, they blamed me and people in our community also judged me.
“I tried remarrying a year after this divorce and no woman wanted to because I’m infertile.
“It’s tough when everyone around you expects you to start a family. I feel like a failure.”
Additionally, Karan* from Karachi added his experience:
“I was abused by my wife, she was very controlling and would hit me a lot.
“I’m not proud to say I hit her back one time, but it was after months of torture.
“The marriage wasn’t great but there should be no victims in a marriage, right?
“I had to leave because I quickly became so sad. I didn’t tell her and sneaked away.
“We are men and are supposed to be strong. If I told my family or friends my wife was beating me, they’d laugh at me and see me as weak.
“So, I’ve stayed quiet about it for three years now and I don’t think I will marry again.”
We also conversed with Vikram from Ahmedabad whose divorce unfolded against the backdrop of financial struggles:
“Money issues led to problems. It’s hard when everyone expects you to be the provider.
“We filed for divorce a month after I lost my job because my wife didn’t see me as a protector.
“It broke me. My parents moved my wife in but refused to help because it would bring shame to them in the village.”
Sameer, a doctor from Nottingham, stated his feelings regarding his divorce:
“Our strict upbringing made it tough for those marrying.
“We always heard of people gossiping when there was a divorce or something wrong in a marriage.
“So, I knew that my marriage had to be perfect otherwise I would be the one being spoken about.
“I put so much pressure on myself for things to be perfect that I wasn’t truly happy.
“I was doing things so everyone else perceived my marriage as perfect.”
“When I finally thought about myself, I knew my wife wasn’t happy and I wasn’t also.
“We ‘divorced’ but we kept it quiet as we knew what our families would say.
“We haven’t filed for divorce, we’ve just gone our separate ways and are now living our own lives.
Everyone expects you to have the perfect marriage. I didn’t want to be judged, so I kept quiet.”
These stories and emotions offer a glimpse into the multifaceted reasons why South Asian men remain silent about divorce.
Beyond statistics, these narratives underscore the weight of societal expectations, cultural norms, and ingrained stereotypes that contribute to the lingering taboo.
As we navigate the complexities of modern relationships, fostering a culture of empathy and understanding is paramount.
Breaking the silence requires dismantling the stigma associated with failed marriages.
Only then can we truly challenge the prevailing taboo around divorce in South Asian culture.