Priya Joshi, 25, (name changed on request) a banker, had decided to marry a childhood friend against her parents’ wishes. When the relationship started deteriorating before the wedding, she neither had the courage to get out of it nor go ahead with it. At this time, confused and depressed, she sought premarital counselling. Today, after having called off the wedding, she is focusing on her career and hobbies, and is relieved and happy.
Joshi is part of the steadily growing number of youngsters seeking premarital counselling today, either to address dilemmas about marriage or simply to understand the institution better.
“The confusion and stress had reached a level that left me miserable and unhappy,” said Joshi. “Counselling helped me tremendously because without it I would not have reached any conclusion by myself, and instead would have continued adjusting and having fights. Now I am in no rush to get married and will focus on myself for some time.”
The rising need for premarital counselling was also reflected at a state level Marathi essay competition organised in the summer by three NGOs working in the areas of women’s rights and family law. The results, announced last week, revealed that a majority of the total 55 participants voiced the need for premarital counselling in an age witnessing more and more failing marriages and stressful lifestyles in urban areas.
Gynaecologists too have noted a surge in premarital counselling for medical reasons, such as doubts about sexuality, misconceptions about the wedding night and contraceptive methods. Non-profit organisations working in the field of women’s rights and socio-psychological issues say that though they always got a lot of enquiries for premarital counselling, actual participation has increased by about 10% to 15% in the past three to four years.
“As people are seeing a breakdown of traditional marriages, they want to address the issues more systematically,” said Jai Vaidya, head of Samanvay, a non-profit organisation working in family law. “We were surprised to find that people want to go into minute details about financial responsibilities and the upbringing of children even before getting married.”
A majority of the youngsters signing up have doubts about the institution of marriage, disagreements with parents, apprehensions about sexuality and conflicts with their partner over long-term plans. However, a small number of people also come because they want to prepare themselves better even before starting the process of living together.
“I learnt a lot about myself as well as about compatibility,” said Bhumika Padiya, 22, a jewellery designer, who signed up for a premarital workshop in June out of curiosity. “I will go for an arranged marriage in a couple of years but whenever that happens I will be clear about my priorities and limitations. For instance, if am setting up a business here, I will emphasise that I cannot move out of Mumbai.”
Counsellors say that recent socio-cultural changes in urban India are too large for children or their parents to grapple with on their own. In a competitive and stressful work scenario, household chores, expectations of in-laws and career management are all causes for concern.
“The matrimonial ads from 1960s and 2011 read exactly the same,” said Vandana Kulkarni, a counsellor at the Institute of Psychological Health that has been conducting workshops for several years. “Yet the generation gap is widening so parents have to understand the changes that are taking place in society. Marriages are arranged in a vague manner and traditional expectations will not work in present times.”
Parents and the youth are beginning to deal with these issues only recently, but Catholic churches have always had a compulsory premarital counselling course before registering a wedding in a parish.
Lavita Fernandes, 27 and Martin Vaz, 33, who got married last year, swear by the course. “We dated for five years before getting married,” said Fernandes. “But we had not thought of so many issues, such as how to balance the needs of your parents and spouse.”
“One thing I took from the sessions was how to end a fight before sleeping by praying together,” said Vaz. “There will be conflicts but this course teaches you to deal with them in a mature way.”
Medical concerns are another integral aspect of premarital workshops. “As the age of marriage has gone up girls are keen to know more,” said Dr Kiran Coelho, a consultant gynaecologist at Bandra’s Lilavati Hospital and Khar Hinduja Hospital. “It is a healthy sign that girls want to know about fertility, first night phobias and misconceptions about communicable diseases.”
With different kinds of help available for those planning to tie the knot, counsellors hope that more people will overcome the stigma of seeking advice and be better prepared for life-long relationships.