Natasha and Deepak Verma have been married 15 years, have three children, and have made a home in Noida. They also live apart for three, perhaps four, days a week. Natasha is currently on holiday with the kids, without Deepak. “My husband travels a lot and I’m very used to it,” she says.
Natasha is part of an increasing number of Indians for whom ‘space’ is the operative word in a marriage. When Natasha says she is ‘used to it’, she is covering a host of situations — used to taking household decisions without consulting her husband, used to living alone, used to looking after the children on her own, used to her own ‘space’.
Backing up her stand is a Hindustan Times-C fore survey, conducted in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chandigarh among 2,026 respondents aged 16 to 40, which shows exactly how much the face of the modern Indian marriage has changed. Of the 10 questions to which the survey sought answers, two were: ‘If you had to have more space in your relationship, would you consider spending a designated time apart?’ and ‘Do you believe a long-distance relationship can work?’ Answers: ‘Yes’ from 55 and 53 per cent of the respondents, respectively.
Kavita Rajwade (30) and Joel Pereira (29) of Mumbai have been married for a year-and-a-half. She loves sport, he runs from it. They have three TV sets, and Kavita spends a lot of time in the living room watching sport, while Joel is in the bedroom, surfing the Net or reading. “I hang out with my male friends to watch various sports events. Joel may or may not join me, and we are okay with it,” she says. “We kind of co-exist, but we aren’t stuck to each other.”
The issue of space in urban Indian marriages has now caught the attention of experts. “Along with family, today, friends and lifestyle choices are equally important. The institution of marriage is undergoing a change to accommodate these choices,” says Ameeta Sanghavi Shah, a Mumbai-based hypnotherapist and relationship expert.
Kolkata-based marriage counsellor Anuttama Banerjee says many more couples are reluctant to make emotional investments in a marriage. “They look at marriage from a realistic angle, to make it conflict-free,” she says.
There is increasing acceptance of the fact that it is reasonable to need or want space in one’s marriage, which doesn’t necessarily mean that the marriage is in trouble.
Mumbai-based media professional Aastha Atray, 28, and her audio engineer husband Kishore Banan, 31, are at opposite poles when it comes to socialising.
So instead of forcing him to go out with her, Aastha plans night-outs with girlfriends. She thinks the freedom to do what one likes is important, because “if we do everything together, we will get on each other’s nerves”.
So widespread is the emotion that it is now even possible to categorise the kind of space one is looking for, as many experts are doing. So you could be looking for ‘away space’, for instance — holidays alone, time without spouse or kids — or ‘financial space’ — separate bank accounts or investments. You could want ‘working space’, ‘emotional space’, even ‘creative space’.
Delhi-based psychotherapist Neeru Kanwar Chaudhury, a member of the Indian Association of Family Therapy and founder trustee of the Psychological Foundation, talks about “this new term” commitment phobia, and how, in the past 12-15 years, “more and more couples mismatch with regard to space”.
Across cities, experts describe how couples that spend 90 per cent of their waking hours in office are overworked, stressed, and unwilling to risk their careers to have children. As work makes one or both partners travel extensively, distance is bound to creep in, says Chaudhury. “If distancing is a convenient method to not confront an issue, sooner or later, something will backfire,” she adds.
Of course, there are allied questions: does distance encourage more couples to philander? What happens when two spaces occasionally collide? “You need not live in separate towns for an extra-marital affair to happen. It boils down to trust. If you want to make it work, you will,” says Natasha. Aastha feels the time spent apart helps couples cherish time spent together. “If possible, I’d love to have my own room,” she says.
Naysayers notwithstanding, the face of marriage is changing in India. For better or worse. As Chaudhury says, “Achievement has taken priority over intimacy.”