Do Westerners divorce too easily or do Indians stick around too long? – 17 Mar 16

I yesterday told you of one of our first experiences at Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant. The four of us, Purnendu, Yashendu, Ramona and I, have committed ourselves completely to our new work and love getting fully involved in everything surrounding it! We are thus often talking to our guests before or after their order, collect feedback, help serving and constantly improve our new venture. One of these conversations which Ramona had with a female customer was rather interesting, as it mirrored a very Indian view on westerners and their relationships!

The lady had come from Delhi together with her adult daughter. It was their first time in Vrindavan and they were happy that they had found our restaurant so that they could relax during lunch after a busy morning of visiting temples. Ramona started a conversation and soon they also asked where she was from and how long she had already been in India. They got to know that we were married and the moment Ramona told this, I was just walking by, so I stopped as well to greet our guests. The older lady got serious and told Ramona: ‘You know, now that you are married here, you should stay. We Indians believe a marriage is forever!’

We replied she should not worry, Ramona would not run away from me!

Obviously, we laughed but the fact that this woman had mentioned this shows a widely popular perception Indians have of relationships and marriages in the west: they believe western people easily break up and even leave their spouses much more frequently and maybe even without thinking much about it.

In a way, it is true: the divorce rate in the west is significantly higher than the one here in India. It is also true, the average Indian will have a lower number of relationships throughout his life than the average westerner.

There are a few different thoughts and facts to this however, too: In India, relationships before marriage are not appreciated which is why people don’t normally make it known when they are in a committed relationship. Or they don’t regard physical contact or emotional attachment as a relationship, as it is not a usual concept in this society. It happens in hidden and when it is over, it is simply as though nothing has ever happened. That’s how in the west, there seems to be much more trial and error – while in India, it also happens, just not officially. Maybe less, but it does happen, too.

When it comes to the divorce rate, it is very clear why exactly there are less divorces in India: not because people are much happier in their arranged marriages with people they had never known. No, there is the same amount of unhappiness and failure to communicate in between spouses – but divorce is such a taboo in society that most people just don’t think it is an option! Women are dependent on their husbands and cannot sustain themselves or their children, families offer little to no support to relatives that want to get a divorce, religion opposes the very idea of ‘turning against your fate’ and especially as a divorced woman, life can be difficult and even insecure at times.

So while many Indians think westerners divorce too easily, I often think Indians make divorce too difficult. Men and women often live in misery due to this. Of course, some people in the west don’t try to work on issues in their relationship in order to solve them – but sometimes Indians just don’t see that nothing helps and it would be better if each went his or her own way!

Sometimes you may just need someone far away to talk to – 8 Sep 15

I was talking to a friend on the phone recently. He lives in Austria and we met when I was giving workshops there about six years ago. We have been loosely in touch over the course of years and updated each other on what was happening in our lives. Last week he called me, not for just asking about the weather but to ask for the help of a friend.

Everyone always says friends are there for you when you need them. There are situations however when you cannot show your close friends this need, where you hesitate to share with those who are nearest. In those times, it is good to have a friend who is a bit further away and can see the situation from a distance. This was the case with my Austrian friend.

When I got to know him, he had just moved into his own house in his home village with his wife and two small sons. They were happy to start a new chapter in life, their elder son was about to start school and everything was good.

On phone, he told me that the situation had changed drastically. He had found out that his wife had cheated on him, over years, with a common friend. He thus wanted to separate and get a divorce. It was something he was heartbroken about but he had already taken his decision: he could not forgive her, he needed to break this relationship.

In order to understand why he could not speak about this with his friends, you need to know two more details: my friend lives in a small village where literally everybody knows each other. Any such news as a breakup or even problems in a marriage make the rounds in the marketplace and everyone immediately knows about it.

The second detail is that his wife has an alcohol problem and has had that for a while. My friend has tried to help her but has always actually made every effort to cover it up, to avoid letting the whole village know. He wanted to protect his wife, their reputation as a family and their sons as well.

And he was still doing that now. He did not want to share his heartache with his friends, he didn't want to talk about his relationship problems, simply because the whole village would know right away. The next problem however was that he didn't want to leave his sons with his wife due to her alcohol problems! This again he could not tell anybody without harming her, at least from what he thought! Everyone would know – something which he had been trying to avoid for so long!

That's how he called me to ask me what to do.

First of all I told him to stop worrying about what everyone else would think about him and his soon-to-be ex-wife! It didn't matter. What mattered was his heart and feelings and his children! It didn't matter what everyone else said or thought, his children had to be safe! So while stopping to worry about that, I suggested him to go find a good lawyer and first of all talk to him.

After that, he should go and talk to his best friend. You have to share what is inside you! His wife needed help for her alcohol problem and that would not happen by hiding it any further. So it would not be a favour to try and keep it quiet – and his sons need him now!

I explained him how it would not be a big issue to move to another town either, to start over new and just get out of the gossip for some time. Everything would cool down one day and those who are his real friends will stay with him!

He was happy, most of all that he had been able to share with someone. And I am happy that I have friends who call me when they really need someone!

Divorce is not an Option – not even when Husband and Wife only have Sex with other People! – 6 Apr 15

In the past week, I have been writing about sex and explained the necessity of being more open about it. Unfortunately in the past week I found an example of how people are too open about sex: when they just keep on cheating on their spouses. There we get to another one of India’s big problems: the arranged marriage.

These days, I see more and more men cheating on their wives and women cheating on their husbands! It is true, there are so many cases just within reach that I wouldn’t need to go and search anywhere to find. Last week, we got to know about another such couple.

Both, the man and the woman, are former employees of our Ashram, now working at another Ashram. This man has been cheating on his wife for a very long time. We have heard of it before, we got to know about their fights at home due to this before but we never openly talked to them about it – because that’s just not what someone usually would like to discuss with the public. Usually.

I emphasize this word because now it is just not possible anymore to hide. They have got into trouble with the Ashram they are working at because the husband obviously had sex with some of the Ashram’s wealthier Indian supporters. As you can imagined, that is frowned upon and they may be about to lose their work there.

Obviously, this sparked a major fight at home, with the wife demanding why he could not keep his private parts where they belonged. On the other hand, she was in favour of leaving their work place, as he had so many opportunities there to get into bed with women other than her!

When she said this, however, he laughed. It was not a threat to him, as he openly told her – and anybody who came to talk with them about this topic! He explained: even if she makes us all go anywhere else, I will find women there, too!

Now here is the big joke of the situation: he is not the only one to cheat! His wife does, too!

They have a whole set of other issues as well, which includes domestic violence, him beating his wife, as well as gambling and losing lots of money. Their individual situation is not what I wanted to write about though – I wanted to point out one thing in this whole sexual disaster: they don’t love each other. They don’t have sex with each other. They are not happy together. They are only together for one reason: they are married. Why are they married? Because their marriage was arranged by their parents.

They have to carry on this marriage, they fight, they beat, they cheat, they talk about moving and changing jobs but not once do they mention separation or divorce. No, to the outside, everything has to seem alright.

In this case, the outside would be anybody who has never met them – because now everyone knows about the situation in their marriage!

Again, I want to repeat: this is not an unusual situation! There are so many of them and I think arranged marriage and in addition the big taboo that sex is in this society is at the root of these problems!

Social and religious Reasons that keep Indian Women in abusive Relationships – 2 Dec 14

I told you yesterday about the mother of a school girl who doesn’t even consider leaving her husband although she earns money and he drinks and beats her. I wanted to write a bit more about the reasons why Indian women often stay although the situation in their home is abusive, sometimes worse than one can imagine.

As I mentioned, financial security is normally the very first reason. Many women have not learned anything, have never worked anywhere than in their homes and have thus never earned their own money. Obviously, they have the feeling that they cannot provide for themselves, let alone for their children!

Another reason, and the bigger one I believe, is the view of society on divorce. How horrible it is for a woman to be divorced. To have had a partner, no, a spouse and now not anymore. The blame usually goes to the woman, not the man. Even if she says that her ex-husband had been drinking and beating her, she might get a response like ‘Clapping never happens with one hand’, indicating that she must have done something wrong as well and he thus had a right to lay his hands on her. Domestic violence is unfortunately also still too common for people to be shocked by this accusation!

Another reason for staying in an unhappy, abusive relationship is religion. Yes, I believe every religion tells spouses, and especially women, that matrimony is sacred. That you should take care of your partner. As a woman, that you depend on him as well. That you have to obey.

In Hinduism, leaving your husband is a sin. A marriage is holy and you are not supposed to break this sacred bond which has been blessed by the divine. In fact, when you marry in Hinduism, you don’t only marry for one life but for the whole long time of seven lives!

When I told this to Ramona, she answered dryly: ‘So what? Maybe this was the seventh life already?’ and I had to laugh. Of course – how would you know?

In this religious country in which a majority of people puts much emphasis on traditions, old values and trying to live their life in a ‘decent’ way, a woman who stands up for herself is not greatly appreciated. A woman who seems to destroy her marriage, who takes the father away from their children or brings shame on her family.

Or a woman who actually values herself. Who respects her own life, herself, her body, mind and emotions. Who wants to be able to look into the mirror without bursting into tears. Who has the strength to face all that goes against her and do what is right. To protect herself and her children.

Stand up for yourself, get on your feet and take your life in your own hands again. You can do it – and although there will be many against you, you will also have those who are with you!

Relationship Problems: Completely different Interests than your Partner – 18 Dec 13

Day before yesterday I described how it may happen that your friends or family members have a completely different opinion than you do. Yesterday I wrote that you may just need to accept that, even if it means that your friendship cannot go as deep as you would like it to be. When you change, people may not change or change in another way. The worst case however is if your life partner is one of these people. What can you do if that person with whom you really want to spend the rest of your life doesn’t change the way that you do?

I unfortunately know many friends who are in this situation, whose thoughts have changed over time but whose life partners did not develop in that direction. Then you have this person by your side to whom you vowed that you will be together until the end of your lives, whom you really wish to love more than anybody in this world, whom you want to devote your everything to – but your thoughts and emotions don’t match!

You both have the intention to love each other, but there are just so many topics that you cannot really talk about because you know that the other one won’t like your ideas, would criticize your actions and not support your emotions. You don’t feel like sharing and feel how you are drifting apart with every day that passes.

Obviously, you cannot make a system just like with your friends, to call once a week or meet once a month. You are very close to each other physically and you want to be, too, but then there is the question what to do with each other? The connection of your hearts got disturbed, you cannot have long or deep conversations and only talking about weather and politics just won’t do in a relationship!

You can imagine all the problems that follow. Disagreements, fights, silence, no wish for sexual intimacy, maybe after a long time even the desire to have sex with someone else, anger, frustration and unfortunately for many people at the end a separation, if they don’t manage to find a way of closeness together.

If you are in that situation, I just can ask you to talk and talk and talk to your partner, open your heart and pour out all that you feel and why you feel it. I hope that the one that you love and who loves you will be able to understand you. Even if he or she doesn’t completely feel the same, maybe it is at least possible to accept and know your feelings and motivation for what you are doing. Be open and never hide.

You, too, need to do effort to understand why the other one is unable or unwilling to follow you on your way. You, too, need to respect another view and you have to give support to your love, even if that means finding a way in the middle. Find something that you both care about and emphasize those areas of life where you both think in the same direction. Create passion together – and you will find passion for each other again.

We all are different but when we love someone from the depth of our hearts, we need a small point of similarity and be it just that we all are human!

Why Divorce is too difficult in India and too easy in the West – 7 May 13

I have mentioned that a lot of people who have problems in their marriage do not show anything of it to the outside world, not even to good friends. As I see this a lot in India and witness how people spend decades fighting with each other, I wrote that people in the west don’t make themselves unhappy with such problems for too long but rather decide to break up and get divorced. I was asked, rather excitedly, by some Indian people whether I really supported this culture of breaking up and divorce. Let me explain you my thoughts to this topic.

My idea is that you should be happy in life. Obviously, we all have the wish to be happy and we try to reach there. Some of us however have the impression that they can only be happy if the society, the people around them, think good of them and they are ready to sacrifice their personal peace, the peace in their home for their outer reputation. You get a little bit of satisfaction that you get from knowing that others think you are a good person in a loving relationship but in my opinion this is just a tiny bit in front of the big happiness that you would have if it really was like this! As it is, there are many people who accept fights and tension in their home just so that they don’t have to get divorced. When your unhappiness is so big and you know that nothing can be fixed in your relationship, I believe you should not fight any longer.

I believe it is easier in the west for people to take this step as the stigma of a divorce is still scary to people in Indian society. The individuality that people live in the west is helpful in this case. At the same time however I feel that this may even make it too easy for people to quit a relationship. The result can be seen in the on and off that many people have with different partners, changing them like other people change underwear. Each time you meet them, they have another boyfriend or girlfriend and each time they introduce them to you as the love of their lives. When you ask them what happened to the last one, they say ‘Oh, it didn’t work’.

The problem is that it has become so easy for some that they don’t even really try anymore to make it work. While I say that young Indians’ dreams shatter when they have their arranged marriage, western people often stick so much to their idea of how their significant other should be that they don’t even agree on making tiny adjustments! They often don’t realize that there is no such person as they are dreaming about and forget that the other one may also have some imagination of his own.

When the ego of two people clashes, there are problems, regardless which cultural background they have. I have the feeling that you should always follow your heart and keep your ego in check. If there is a way to make it work by just telling your ego to take a step back, do it but don’t let such adjustments take away your happiness. If you feel that you have to compromise too much and you lose your joy of life, don’t try for decades to manage. Life will just be over before you know it.

If there is no way to fix the relation, don’t surrender and hope that it will be better in your next life. This life is too precious for this.

India’s High Class – Divorces prevented by Fear of losing Reputation – 3 May 13

In the past two days I described the situation of lower class and middle class married people who stay in their arranged marriages even though they have problems. I explained the reasons for keeping up the relationship and the pretension to be happy while actually having big fights at home. I know people have been waiting to read the reasons for the high class to react in the same way – after all they would have enough money to cope with a divorce. Today I will explain why they, too, avoid a breakup and a divorce.

You can imagine, if people of the lower class take loans to afford marrying their children and the middle class has long-time saving funds to be able to pay for dowry and celebrations, how much the high class would spend on their weddings! For them, money is not a problem and it is normal that they celebrate in the biggest five-star-hotels with countless different food items, a first-class entertainment program, waitresses and dancers from abroad, lots of jewelry on the bride, on the groom and being exchanged and obviously a dowry in huge amounts! Millions and millions of rupees are spent, the guest list is enourmous and it is the biggest show-off of all times!

This is what this class does a lot: showing off money. Every function and celebration has all this, so wedding planners have to come up again and again with new, expensive ideas for sensational weddings that top the ones of the previous wedding season! Their weddings are extravagant and you will meet the most reputed people on those events. It is an announcement of the wedding with fanfares and trumpets!

The bride is welcomed into the huge mansion of her in-laws. There is enough space, they don’t have the problems of the middle class that they are 24 hours together on small space. All the money of the world cannot prevent tension and problems when there is no love and lots of ego.

After such a big show on the wedding however, how could they accept failure? How would that look like in front of society? They know so many people, all of them would be gossiping about them! No, they cannot afford that – so they pull a curtain in front of their private life problems and show a different face to their surroundings. Nobody might ever know, except maybe their employees who hear their fights through the doors of their bedrooms.

Additionally there is the fact – and that is true for all levels of society – that it is difficult for divorced people to find another partner. They may find someone who is divorced as well but on the market of arranged marriages, nobody would like to marry his son or daughter to a divorced man or woman. Damaged goods, when the women are concerned. Men who have been left – who knows for which reasons? Maybe he was beating or a drinker… it must be something really bad, otherwise why would someone go until a divorce?

There is the catch-22: if you stay in your marriage, you are unhappy because you don’t have the happy married life you wished for. If you get divorced, you won’t find a partner again to found the family you are wishing for. Why? Because everybody thinks you are such a bad person that someone even took a divorce from you. Which is the lesser evil?

What I have been writing about arranged marriages comes from my experiences, from what I have seen all around me and my own personal opinion. Of course everybody is an individual and there are many arranged marriages that work just fine because of the partners’ mindset. The number of problematic marriages is high though and that is why I tried to point out reasons and difficulties.

Middle Class Girls in India – You cannot divorce after saving so hard for your Wedding! – 2 May 13

After yesterday’s explanation why married couples of the lower class prefer pretending to be happy in their marriage rather than breaking up or even getting divorced, I would like to write about the middle class today. This means I will write about people who have enough money to live without worrying about survival, who have money to send their children to school, buy them good clothes and feed them well but who still need to consider well before doing bigger expenses.

They start saving money from the day their daughter is born for the girl’s wedding day. Knowing that the day will come when they will have to spend half a fortune, they go to a bank and take a marriage saving fund according to their income into which they will monthly add a certain sum of money. Usually after about twenty years, they get that money and are now ready to make big expenses for the wedding of their daughter.

It is a big party for them and everybody says ‘You marry only once in life!’ It is thus the biggest and most important day in the life of both, the bride and the groom. Once the marriage is over and they realize that it doesn’t really work out, they are in a precarious situation. Their families have spent so much on their wedding, putting all their money and their love in this one day, how can they seriously say that they would rather not be married than live with this person and in the girl’s case his family?

You have to understand that people of this financial situation try very hard to have a good standard. They do big efforts to manage their finances in a way that they can show a good standard of living to their surroundings. For them, it is important to show that they are not as poor as the lower class. They earn more and they could spend more on their wedding. It is a lot of money though, a lifetime’s savings, that would be lost on the wedding if the couple decided to get separated! They know that and everybody would see the money spent on the wedding as a big waste!

It is however not only financial reasons the keep middle class couples from getting divorced. The more money people have, the more important it is for them to put up a show for the people outside. They believe that it is a matter of the social level how happy you are in your family. If you are fighting and maybe even talk about breaking up, it is something that the low class would do, something that doesn’t suit people of their standard.

Their girls may be educated and could do a job to earn money on their own even after a divorce. Unfortunately working is seen as something that only women do who are needy and it would reduce your reputation, something that the ego of a lot of women does not allow. They prefer the difficult situation in their home, fighting with their husband and his family.

Often this leads to the separation of the home, the man and the woman moving out of the husband’s childhood home. It makes the financial situation a bit tighter but it is the only way they see to reduce tension in their marriage. Divorce is not an option.

Lower Class Girls in India – Difficult to afford a Dowry and impossible to get a Divorce! – 1 May 13

In the past days I have been writing about the various problems of arranged marriages. While reading my entries again, I thought one might get the impression that I am writing only about one certain class of society. Many people in the west to whom the concept of arranged marriages is something new, may think that only people of a certain class would remain in their marriage even though there are problems. They don’t know that the problems related to those marriages are common to all different levels of society and that all of them tend to accept their ill fate rather than break up and divorce. It doesn’t matter whether you ask a couple of the lower class, the middle class or the high class, arranged marriage is not successful but they nevertheless remain married. It is only logical if you look at the structure of society – let me explain you why.

We start by looking at those people whom you would call ‘lower class’ according to their financial situation. They don’t have much money and surely not enough to save for an Indian wedding, which usually means a whole lot of expenses. They work every day to get enough money to eat in the evening, buy some clothes and raise their children. They rely on other people for bigger events. When their daughters get married, they ask for support wherever they believe they can get help. Individuals give some money and charity organizations pay, too, so that they have a dowry to hand over to the groom as well as the money to organize the wedding party and ceremony. They make every effort to get enough money but if it doesn’t suffice, they take a loan from a relative, a friend or someone whose business it is to lend them money and earn interest when they pay it back.

The high financial effort that the parents thus have to do is one of the reasons why many people wish for a boy – if they have several girls, they have to pay for all of their weddings and the dowry on top!

Once they have the money together and have found a groom of the right price class, the girl gets married. That can also happen quite early, especially in poor families. Girls get married at the age or thirteen or fourteen already, even though it is by law illegal to marry below the age of 18. In villages however, there are every year lots of child marriages. These girls are not mature enough to do anything else than what their parents want them to do. Her whole life she has done what they told her, so even if she gets married and doesn’t like the husband to whom she was married, she will go and tell her parents. They will reply that she should accept him, adjust herself and make it work somehow.

Imagine the daughter’s situation! She has not learned any profession and would be depending on begging or hard labour to make her living on her own. Her parents will hardly be able to take her back either! Maybe they would do so out of love but imagine her guilty feelings if she really did come back and make their financial situation problematic again! If she has children already, it is even more difficult.

For the boy, the new groom, the situation is also not easier. If he realizes that his wife cannot deal with his family and maybe searches for fights with him, too, what is he supposed to do? If they did get divorced, he would be laughed about for not being able to keep a wife with him! And wouldn’t he feel some responsibility for her, too?

So they stay together, no matter what is wrong in between them. They suffer and fight, often clearly visible to the people around them as they live close-by others. Nevertheless they don’t change anything.

"I hope you get back together" – a shocking Wish to a divorced Man! – 14 Oct 12

In November 2004 there was an event that made a change in my attitude towards marriage and divorce. My whole life long I had seen the loving relationship in between my parents. We did not have any aunts or uncles in our home whose marriage problems I could have witnessed and so for me marriage was the embodiment of love. Divorce was, frankly speaking, a very weird idea.

In my first years in the west I met some people who told me that they were divorced. I assumed something very horrible must have happened that had caused the couple to break up. Whatever that was, it was in any case my heartfelt idea that it would be the best for them to get back together again.

In this very spirit I had a conversation with an Australian friend who had grown dear to me. I really liked him and I knew he was divorced. He had children and we were sitting together, talking about love and relationships. At that point, I had this feeling of love and best wishes in my heart and, innocent as I was, I turned to him, saying with a warm voice ‘I wish for you that you and your ex-wife get back together!’ I have to laugh today myself, thinking of the response in his face to this. There was horror at the idea of living again with his ex-wife, amusement at the idea that someone might wish this and something else, understanding of where this sentence came from and in the end thankfulness for my love and friendship. ‘Swami Ji,’ he answered. ‘Thank you for wishing me what you think is best but this is never going to happen and it is good as it is!’

In that time I heard his words and accepted them but I still thought that he could just not understand how great it would be if the family was united again! In November 2004 however I started understanding my friend’s feelings. After a lot of trouble and many problems, Purnendu got separated from his wife and I understood that there are cases in which it will be better not to try and fix a relationship.

Just as it had been my thinking before, the community of Vrindavan reacted by trying to mediate, talking to Purnendu, talking to his wife, talking to us, wishing that they can help reinstate peace in their marriage and in our home. Purnendu had made his decision however and we all agreed that it was over.

From that time on I could see divorces with other eyes. In the west nearly every second person I met in my counseling sessions was divorced, so it was just good that I had got to know another point of view and could understand them in a better way – and not wish each of them that they may get back together with their ex-partners!