Is divorce contagious? It is, if you believe my mother's sister, her daughter, their daughter's sister-in-law, their sister-in-law's cousin, their aunty from the village and her grandmother's uncle. That's not the only thing they have an opinion on, of course. In India, you are constantly evaluated by the "marriage you make" and the most stringent evaluators and string-pullers are your "beloved" relatives.
They are the ones who arrange matches between prospective brides and grooms, they play a key role in deciding the customs and rituals to be followed in the wedding, they are part of the negotiating team that works out the gifts and money to be exchanged. So it's not surprising that they easily slip into the same role in a divorce. In fact, since they have been an integral part of the marriage they feel entitled to assume a magnified role even in the divorce. It is quite common to see the relatives accompany the litigants for legal consultations and even to the family court. While they are ostensibly present to provide emotional and moral support, the reality is a bit more complicated—often, they also call the shots in how a divorce plays out.
Since they have been an integral part of the marriage they feel entitled to assume a magnified role even in the divorce.
It's not uncommon to see relatives air their views about the way the case is progressing, what the spouse ought to offer as a settlement figure as alimony, what should be the role of the warring husband and wife as parents. It's not as simple as them merely airing their views—they pull the strings as well and their influence is palpable, even if not in a formal capacity, in the divorce proceedings in court.
Relatives may "make a marriage" but they are also key players in a divorce. For someone who hasn't grown up in India, it is difficult to fathom how a relative can actually break up a marriage, but almost every Indian knows that behind the "happy aunty/uncle" façade lurks a plotting politician whose underhand tactics would put Machiavelli to shame. These supposedly harmless relatives are often instrumental in engineering or contributing to the breakup of a marriage, adding fuel to the fire even in the divorce.
As they did in mine.
Why do we let them do it? In my case, I didn't grasp the hidden meaning behind their well-intentioned advice, which actually comprised veiled barbs at my husband (now my ex) and his family. I'm wiser now and stay away from their advice, comments, recommendations, opinions and "guidance" on how to live my life. Our social fabric may bind us and our blood may relate us but nothing compels me anymore to let relatives be the guiding light in my life. The ethos of the country is such that we may never be able to tell our relatives to completely back off from our lives because "hey, we are still in India" where our social ties are sacrosanct. Whether we like it or not, relatives will continue to be a part of our lives –in marriage and divorce, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.
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