Should couples move out after marriage?
As soon as an Asian couple ties the knot, they are confronted with an all-important question — to live together or move away? Both situations have their complexities and unique impacts on a couple's relationship, personal growth, and wellbeing, but what is most important, is that the final decision be taken with maturity and on the basis of mutual love and understanding.
When a couple gets married, they are either already in love with their partners, or in the case of an arranged marriage, trying to fall in love. It is felt by many an expert, that this is the time when partners form crucial and lasting bonds with each other and need privacy the most.
Priya, a middle-aged empty-nester reminisces about her own marriage. "My husband and I decided to move to the States for the first few years of marriage and I cannot be more thankful for it. For the first time, I was seeing my boyfriend as a husband. I was discovering his quirks and idiosyncrasies. I needed to see this transition myself, and figure out his expectations of me as his wife — without a third person around."
Ageing parents, on the other hand, usually have a silent (and sometimes not-so-silent) expectation, that their son will continue to live with them, and not sever the umbilical cord to flee the nest. Society takes pleasure in driving this notion with fervour, often colouring the new wife as the evil witch that stole the son away. The end result is an unhappy son/husband caught in a tug of war between parents and wife, with no way to let go without hurting either party.
Unfortunately, the Asian culture is full of examples where in-laws have glorified the idea of a "joint family." Clashes of new-age thoughts with old-school traditions are not uncommon, giving rise to resentment and discontent within generations.
"My parents-in-law and I did not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things," 33-year-old Maliha remarks. "I knew that disagreements would turn ugly with time, and Shaakir (my husband) and I wanted to move out before there was bad blood."
In the Indian subcontinent, to be the mother of a son is a matter of great pride. Additionally, since a woman has been seen as a caregiver all her life, it is more than likely that her life has revolved around her son(s), whom she has doted on, and controlled, in equal parts.
According to Rumana, a 57-year-old mother, who has recently had her son and daughter-in-law move out of her home, unless parents evolve in their roles and give their sons free reign to build their lives with their spouses, without feeling displaced or feeling the need to create drama, things are not likely to change.
"Parents often mistake distance for a lack of love," says Rumana's son, Amir. "Fortunately, this was not the case with my folks. They know they are loved no matter where we live, and have been a driving force behind the idea that my wife and I get our own space."
On the other hand, Sami, a young-ish banker on the rise, has a different, refreshing view to offer. "I have seen my wife and my mother bicker. But I have also seen them make up over tea and a game of late-night Ludo. We have recently had a baby and my wife is glad for the help Ma provides, just as Ma is more than happy to oblige."
Dr Md Zillur Rahman Khan, Associate Professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry, Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, feels that there is no cut and dry solution for this situation, saying, "If parents-in-law accept the new member as their own, and the bride reciprocates the feelings, then things become smoother. The effort needs to be there on both the sides, if the goal is to live together as a family." However, he adds that if the members in the family are simply unable to maintain mutual respect and peace, it is infinitely better to move out. "This way, families remain courteous and respectful towards each other."
The diverse perspectives point to one simple thing — personal choice. Some people thrive in a clan, others are more individualistic. While there are no winners in this debate, they can all be winners in real life. Parents and children can be equally happy, if there are healthy boundaries and genuine respect in the relationship.
Names in the article have been changed to ensure anonymity.