When software engineer Sheila Kamat got married the second time, she did so with only a few apprehensions. After all, although Aatish, her husband, had not been married before, he was aware of the circumstances under which her first marriage had broken up, and that it had not been her fault. But some months later, Sheila was distressed to find that Aatish’s mother kept probing her regarding the break-up. Matters reached a head when she asked Sheila, “You look pretty, why did your first husband leave you?”, which upset her. However, Aatish brushed off the matter, saying his mom should be ignored. Says Sheila, “I feel hurt by her comments, but since Aatish does not take it seriously, I don’t feel confident enough to speak up either. After all, I do not want any friction in this marriage.”Like Sheila, many people who marry again find that while adjusting to a new spouse can be challenging, it is more demanding to manage other relationships from both first and second unions. These lead to a tangled weave of relationships – that have to be negotiated with care.
The situation: Staying in touch
Pooja Shenvi, who obtained a divorce in 2002, says she kept in touch with her ex-spouse for almost a decade after that. “We had a mutual consent divorce,” she explains, “And even used the same lawyer, so there was no bitterness, and since we were friends before, we stayed friends. But now, with my own remarriage, we have drifted apart,” she adds.
Expert Speak: According to clinical psychologist and traumatologist Seema Hingorrany, keeping in touch with an ex need not be ruled out. “It’s no problem if the persons involved are mature enough,” she explains. However, there are some riders: remember to keep some emotional distance from the person, and don’t cross the fine line of intimacy. And above all, recognise in some circumstances that you have to let go.
The situation: Family is still friends
After her 1999 divorce, Maria Dias found it awkward to stay in touch with her ex-husband. “But my brother, who always got on well with him, still talks to him on the phone and emails him as well,” she says.
Expert Speak: According to social psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty, Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai, family members sometimes still carry on relationships with their siblings’ ex-spouses for a variety of reasons. “Sometimes, it is professional; in other cases, a brother-in-law, for example, may be financially obligated to his sister’s ex-spouse; or there might be genuine affection,” explains Dr Shetty, adding, “However, although people accept the need for a multiplicity of relationships today, women still find it tougher to do so because they have to make more compromises in a second marriage.”
The situation: We have kids together
When Rahul Saxena’s parents separated 25 years ago, he was the only person to stay in touch with both of them. “I lived with my mother, who got sole custody,” he explains, “And my father moved cities, so I only saw him about once a year. Every time I went to stay with him, in my summer vacations for example, that was the only time my parents spoke, to discuss my travel arrangements, and the length of my holiday.”
Expert Speak: Mirroring Saxena’s situation, experts say that the one case in which there seems to be less tension about keeping in touch occurs when there are kids from the first marriage. Hingorrany explains, “Partners are more understanding of the need to maintain contact when kids are involved. Many women keep in touch with their ex-in-laws for the sake of the kids. But in such circumstances, the talk only pertains to the children.”
Adds Dr Shetty, “Kids make the situation easy and complicated. If the divorce is mutual, then there is greater acceptance among parents that a child is more important than either of them. However, in the case of a second marriage, the new spouse’s attitude becomes a determining factor. If that spouse has been married before and has had a healed divorce, it’s easy, but not so if that person is still bitter from an earlier marriage.”The situation: There’s still bitterness
Ranjona Dixit is still scarred by her first marriage, which broke down in five years, among a sea of complaints and mental torture. She has broken off all contact with her ex-husband and in-laws, and says she lives in dread of meeting her ex.
Expert Speak: According to Dr Hingorrany, it is very important to enter into therapy in the case of a failed marriage. “There are many cases of people coming in for therapy before getting married again,” she says, adding, “Often, they need validation and want to clear their emotional baggage before their second marriage. That’s because however confident they are about this second relationship, a broken marriage leaves behind scars.”
In such circumstances, Dr Shetty advises that people “feel the pain and the anger, and then get it detoxified”. He adds, “The next step is to separate the person and the anger. Also, recognise that you can’t always have a rapprochement with the former spouse. What is important is to accept yourself as you are, and that if people don’t like you, you need to stay away from them.”
Why this is happening
Increasingly, such complications are coming about because of the rising rate of divorce in urban India, say experts. Clinical psychologist and traumatologist Seema Hingorrany explains that five to six years ago, people intending to seek a divorce would opt for counselling, hoping to save the marriage. But now, she says, less effort is expended on trying to retain the relationship.
Adds Hingorrany, “Also, a large number of divorcees are relatively young. That’s because the first marriage fails when the person is aged 27 to 30 years, and they feel the need for companionship. That’s why they, very quickly at times, decide to embark on a second marriage.”
From HT Brunch, October 30
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