To love and marry or marry and love?

Your parents have started making subtle hints about you getting married soon. Only half joking, they say your uncle or aunt knows someone who would be really perfect for you. “Maybe you should just meet him/her once before you say ‘no’”. You have this scary feeling that they won’t just be joking about it in the near future. For many modern young people of today’s generation, an arranged marriage does not hold much attraction. However, it is a fact that about 90 % of Indians still have arranged marriages. While not all of these marriages are successful, some of them certainly are.

A marriage is not just a union of two people but a coming together of two families, two social networks which are now more closely linked than ever before. An arranged marriage focuses on this family union. While looking for a partner for their son or daughter, parents will first check if the potential bride or groom’s family is compatible to theirs. Do they share the same background (cultural and religious), socio-economic status, level of education, similar values? If so, they feel they can safely marry their son or daughter into this family, knowing that they will be taken care of and live a life quite similar to their parents’. Security and stability seem to be the most valued things looked for in an arranged marriage. While this might seem like an unemotional way to go about it, the value of a stable marriage is undeniable. Perhaps this could be one of the reasons why India has such a low divorce rate.

Critics of arranged marriage would say that not enough importance is given in such marriages to how the couple feels about each other. Emotional and physically compatibility is overlooked in favour of practical considerations. If you say ‘I don’t feel anything for him/her’, family members might respond saying ‘Love will grow in time’. Another drawback is that the couple might not have enough time to get to know each other, understand each other’s feelings, values and opinions, about different issues. So, once the wedding happens, there is a tremendous need for adjustment. Each partner will have to learn to understand and accommodate the other and begin to appreciate the good things in the relationship.

When I talk to people who are about to get into an arranged marriage, I often sense that many of them feel a strong sense of obligation and duty to their parents. They feel that they HAVE to accept their parents’ choice of a life partner for them. To do otherwise seems to be perceived as disrespectful to their parents and a betrayal to their family. Sometimes such people enter a marriage in which they know they will be unhappy just so that their parents are happy. On the other hand, love marriage is also often misunderstood as an expression of freedom or rebelling against one’s parents. Finding a balance between one’s own desires and satisfying our parents’ wishes is a hard task which we all struggle with.

Love Marriage:

On the surface, love marriage seems perfect. We find our soul mates, get married and live happily ever after. What can possible go wrong? Many things, actually. As F. Scott Peck says, ‘Love is not effortless. On the contrary, it is effortful’. A love marriage needs as much work as an arranged marriage. It has its own share of strains, which sometimes are increased by the fact that we have to take full responsibility for our choice of a partner. We don’t have our parents or any others to blame if it doesn’t work. Even though we have known our partners well before marriage, being married and living together is a whole new experience which will have its own ups and downs. On the other hand, a love marriage allows us to freely choose our mate, to find someone we are intellectually, emotionally and physically attracted to. We can build a life with them on our terms and make our own happiness.

A statistic says that ‘love’ in an arranged marriage apparently reaches its peak when the couple have been married about 5 yrs. In contrast, the peak of a love marriage would already have been reached before this time and started waning. This could be because people enter love marriages with a lot of expectations. The most common one is that those passionate, romantic feelings you are feeling now will stay the same for the rest of your lives. After the first few months when the honeymoon stage is over and the mundane realities of marriage have set in, people begin to feel dissatisfied wondering if their partner still loves them . In contrast, one might enter an arranged marriage with much lower expectations and not expect everything to work out immediately.

There is no perfect formula to make a marriage work. Both arranged and love marriages have their own strengths and faults. Many of us might currently be facing issues like how to choose a spouse, choose between arranged or love marriages, resolving our own fears about marriage, wondering what to expect in a marriage etc. If you have been struggling with these or similar issues for a while, and talking to friends or family members has not been enough, you might consider talking to a counselor. It could help you look at the issue with new eyes and develop more awareness of your own opinions and priorities. At TalkItOver, we provide individual, couple and family counselling by qualified counsellors to our clients for a range of issues. To find out more, click on the button below.

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About Sarayu Chandrashekar

Sarayu Chandrashekar is a qualified Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). She has an M.S in Marriage and Family Therapy from Purdue University, USA, an M.S in Psychological Counselling from Montfort College, and a B.A in Psychology from Christ University, Bangalore. She has worked in a de-addiction centre and a family therapy clinic in the US as well as with the Association for the Mentally Challenged, Bangalore in the past. She has also completed a research study for her MFT degree on Indian couples living in the US and their marital satisfaction. She has nearly 1000 hours of counselling experience. She incorporates a combination of systemic family therapies and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) in her work. She has a passion for couple and family therapy and group work.