and they lived, HAPPILY EVER AFTER!
By 2021, divorce is somewhat an acknowledged taboo but, PMD-Post Marital Depression is still an unbelievably rejected and overruled topic in Pakistani society
Why do marriages fail? Why do individuals, especially women, go into depression after marriage? Why is the rate of divorce increasing with every passing day? Why are girls of the younger generation labelled as ‘becoming incompatible’, and why do they prefer to stay unmarried in many cases?
Whether it be the pressure of religion, society, or individual needs; Marriage carries great significance. It is one of the most looked-forward-to-acts in our social setup. It takes hundreds to plan a single wedding. The ridiculous part of all this planning is that we like to believe that similar to a Disney-World movie, the story ends at the Walima reception with the note of, ‘and they lived happily ever after!’
Why do people get married? Is it the need for companionship or the halaal coitus? The social pressure of being in a legitimate relationship hardly leaves any room to put the other possible alternatives under the spotlight. “There are men and women who, by choice or by destiny, would not marry at all. Some hitched would say that they pity those as they’ll have no children to look after in their old ages, while others would raise their brows, blaming them for being less in a way that they could not find a match. However, to some extent, the married class envies them: their freedom, spirit, and spontaneity but would never admit it openly. Our mindset is so stiff in this context that nobody dares accept it as a usual way to survive. It’s abnormal to live in a Pakistani society without being married. You want it or not, you feel yourself fit for it or not, you will marry; if one marriage fails, you’ll go for another because unmarried people are an outcast.” says Abida Saeed, working as a matchmaker for the last 20 years.
While getting prepared for marriage, we are never attentive towards the practicalities of the relationship. Religion, clan, race, age, complexion, physical features, academic qualifications, and financial stability is taken into account but, the most important elements required to maintain the relationship are neglected. Mental health, persona, temperament, nature, behavior, and sexual competence are never even considered. It’s concluded that whatever the case may be afterward, both the spouses would compromise. Especially for females in a Pakistani setup: living with another person under the same roof, adapting with his values, understanding the ways, with the complications of in-laws and customs; gives no chance to enjoy being in a relationship. Over time, if not taken into due deliberation, the relation which never got to strengthen is bound to rot.
Fiza Sarwar, a victim of domestic abuse, PMD, and a traumatic divorce says, “My ex-husband, a well-educated man, and successful professional in his life, was diagnosed with Bipolar Mood Disorder and he was a Narcissist. I spent 22 years in that relationship and did all that I could to make it work. He was cheating on me. One day, he just uttered those three words and left me with three children. In Pakistan, people don't even know about the term 'Narcissist Personality Disorder' and what damage such people can do to others. It’s been nine months ever since, but I haven’t recovered!”
In a majority of cases, the female has to cooperate and stay put because once she leaves, there’s no returning to her parents’ house. She’s never been encouraged to build a career thus her mind is paralyzed even after earning a Masters’ degree. Inheritance is the least she should expect, from her parents who are more interested to oblige their sons, as they have their vested interests. In all of this, her habitat is destroyed.
Although there are two parties to the contract of marriage: man and woman, there’s a third party who has a variety of vested interests in this whole agreement i.e., the SUSRAAL (in-laws). These are the people, a lot of people, who become relatives just because of the two people getting married. In a majority of cases, this third party plays a negative role and in fact a hindrance in the strengthening of the bond between both the spouses. According to the investigative surveys, 87% of Pakistani women suffer the failure of marriage and Post Marital Depression because of the negative attitudes and unreasonable interference of the in-laws. The compulsion of living in a joint family system brings frustration. For women, it’s been a norm to relocate and live apart from their parents, but men find it very hard to move out and establish a separate unit. Together with the financial reliance of parents upon the sons, the hegemony of older women is the highlight. The girl added to the family is conveniently expected to just understand and start practicing the norms and traditions of the husband’s family, instantaneously. Amna Abbas says, “I run a group on Facebook. To my dismay, 99% of the time, I receive posts that are rants regarding the family members. SIL (sister in law) and MIL (mother in law) are the new additions to the modern abbreviations.”
EXPECTATIONS & NEGLIGENCE:
As usual, expectations play a role in the psychological and emotional suffocation after marriage. Before entering into this religious and legal contract, the couple experiences a charm and excitement in seeing each other. After marriage, all the charisma vanishes, the attraction diminishes, and the love evaporates! As if it’s no more important to praise and appreciate each other as if it’s supposed to be understood automatically that love and relationship change after marriage. The emotional commotion majorly owes to the absence of attention on the part of a life partner. The females are more dependent on the husband. Especially housewives are more dissatisfied and depressed due to the consecutive playing of a specific role with almost no sense of achievement. There’s no physical image of their accomplishments to reassure them of their strengths. As a result, their demands of romanticism and companionship hardly change; since unfulfilled and unmet, lead to depression.
Mrs. Rabbiya Faisal, diagnosed with PMD is under treatment these days. Her words depict the emotional vacuum inside her and how she feels neglected. “I often imagine my husband bringing flowers and chocolates, giving surprise hugs and praising me…which he never really does. He thinks it’s too filmy to give me the same attention after a child. We live together in the same house, sleep under the same roof, yet I wish he realizes how much I miss him!”
Dr. Hajra Tariq states,” A female is more likely to be facing PMD. The families of the girl and boy have set such high expectations from the girl that even if she feels low, she is unable to communicate her actual feelings. She has to keep everyone happy and keep a lot to herself.”
DISHONESTY AND CENSURING:
Saba Shafi says, “My husband was impotent. During the early weeks of marriage, I thought it was because he was giving me time to feel comfortable but, gradually, I understood that something was wrong. I stayed quiet and tried to compromise with the situation. I believed it was indecent to discuss such a thing. Months after months, it was becoming difficult. I had crushed my needs but was constantly blamed, and criticized for being infertile. His family never gave up a chance to taunt, and it was never that he defended me. Hopelessness and despair took over me. Before I could know, I was suffering from severe clinical depression.”
The breadwinners undoubtedly enjoy an elevated rank in our society. Muslim men are allowed to keep four wives simultaneously. However, perhaps due to the financial and social accountabilities, they don’t usually opt for another wife. Instead, they prefer to cheat on their spouses. It’s an immense agony for a wife; Not just the feeling that their husbands are sleeping with someone else, but also the realization that their love is meaningless and entity worthless. Women become insecure, their confidence shatters. A survey conducted to record the reactions in such scenarios reveals that 50% of the women stay quiet. They’ll suffer emotionally but avoid mentioning it ever. The reason is that they’re worried about their children or they’ve no place else to go. 40% of the women, when finding their husbands guilty of cheating, will fight back and retaliate yet, try to keep the marital bond intact. Only, in 10% of the cases, a woman would speak up for her rights or file for khula.
An astonishing fact is that women are blamed for the dishonesty, cheating, and Zina committed by their husbands. They’re told that it’s all due to their negligence and lack of some specific qualities that their husbands ended up cheating and sought the company of other women. “It was in the initial weeks of my marriage that I was time and again told by my husband that I’m not attractive enough. He often said that he could not feel aroused. Often, he made me do things that I never felt like doing but had to, to make him want me. I often felt like a prostitute because of the ways he used to treat me.” shared Zunaira Iqbal. Men generally lack wisdom and courage in such scenarios. They’ll cheat but not admit. Men adopt secrecy and prefer lying instead of being vocal and addressing such issues logically.
MOTHERHOOD AND PARENTING:
"Pregnancy was the worst thing ever! Although, I wasn’t sure whether I was ready for this responsibility or not but, my mother and mother-in-law pressurized me. It gave me hope that things would get better. He'd start realizing his responsibilities. I went through many health issues: both physical and mental. Contrary to what people made me believe, my husband became more distant after the baby. Being a mother wiped out our occasional intimate moments too. I had to fight through a severe postpartum depression where I was blamed for my own condition by the same people who pushed me into it.” says Sadia Jalil.
The early phases of motherhood are overwhelming for both partners. As prudently planning a family is a bit too much to expect from the majority, a child happens! Couples are not genuinely ready for the responsibility as they’re themselves not through with the real meaning of being in a relationship. Not bearing a child even after a year of marriage puts the couple under the scrutiny of our hypercritical society. Primarily, a baby is given birth just because of social stress and customary judgmental attitudes. Once the child is here, a woman loses all her personal space. Life changes; the spouses adjust to just being parents. That’s the time when men start getting bored, and women face the baby blues, left untreated becomes Post-Partum Depression. Mental and physical exertion drains her. In a typical Pakistani setup, motherhood brings exhaustion: the nagging and criticism of the relatives, undue and unwanted opinions from everyone. Deleterious interference during parenting and raising children makes a mother feel that she’s not good enough. Even after doing their best, women suffer through performance anxiety and depression.
Momina Ali emphasizes, “There is a dire need of change in the approach of raising children. We’re generating psychologically disturbed and disordered personalities. Instead of sending kids to the elite schools, the focus of parenting should be teaching morals and ethics along with facilitating awareness about mental health.”
JUSTIFIED PATRIARCHY AND RELIGION:
In Pakistan, especially for girls, everything revolves around their ultimate goal of getting married and being happy, no matter how compellingly! Fortuitously, the mindset on marriage has started to change. Girls are becoming career-oriented and more motivated towards building an independent entity of their own. Feminism surfacing up a century ago in the USA has started to light a few fires here too. The refused rights of women, portrayed as Islamic for years, finally started to exhibit an anti-Islamic image. Religion might no longer be a tool to repress. The most alarming fact is that a ratio of women themselves aren’t ready to accept the inflicted barriers as un-Islamic or even unfair.
The crazy yearning of bearing sons has proved to be another cause of PMD. It’s been a dilemma, and it won’t leave us; unless the women themselves put an end to this. Unfortunately, it’s a woman making another woman regret giving birth to a female. No matter how much we profess to be educated or contemporary, the notion would haunt us!
The ages of living as suppressed, are now creating a predicament. Women, unknowingly persistent in justifying patriarchy are more focused on suppressing their kind. The scenario can be easily witnessed in households, workplaces, and on social media and female-only forums where repeated instances of bashing each other, being judgmental, and trying to create a hegemony speak for itself. Amna Abbas opines, “We have a huge ratio of married women who are extremely unhappy and feel doomed. Women prefer posting anonymously because they’re suppressed to the point where they feel petrified in even discussing the wrongs done to them. Another reason is being afraid of bashing and verbal attacks from other female members. PMD, of different stages, reflects in all those posts. The positive aspect is that depression is acknowledged but, the disastrous fact is that it's a norm, and the women, no matter how suffocated, live with it and die with it.”
PMD - SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENT:
“From being a happy and pleasant person, I started becoming a grumpy and ill-tempered one. I had known my husband before we got married. He used to be a romantic and caring man. After our marriage, it was always about his family or his work. It felt like I had become worthless. I was so unhappy with myself as nothing I did could please him or his family.” says Nadia Khilji.
Dr. Hajra Tariq, a practicing Psychologist, explains the initial symptoms of PMD. “To start with, low mood, loss of interest in normal life activities including sex, disappointment in family, crying spells, fatigue, frustration, anger outbursts over minor issues with spouse or others are the symptoms. One realizes the fact but feels helpless. Biological functions may get disturbed as well.” Psychologists agree that sometimes the damage caused to the brain is irreversible. Medication and treatments though advised but, the trauma, as well as the ailment, persists. The condition deteriorates with time and age. The initial stages are crucial to nip the evil in the bud. The unfair anticipation of compromising and dealing with the situation hinders our people from accepting the momentousness. The patients are expected to behave pleasantly and be the usual by their own families. The complete rejection of understanding someone’s feelings causes damaging effects.
The symptoms may vary from person to person but the stigma attached to being labeled as,'paagal' never lets us accept that we need psychological help. The conscious parents have, on their levels of understanding, been trying to empower daughters, but barely any attention is paid towards mental health. Dr. Hajra Tariq states, “The stigma attached to the mental health is the biggest hindrance. Families would take the victim to faith healers but would never accept that one might need a Psychiatrist or Psychologist.”
FAMILY LAWS, DIVORCE AND OUR LEGAL SYSTEM:
Getting a divorce, getting rid of a toxic relation has never been appreciated. The immediate families are so conscious of their social image that they force their daughters to tolerate the harsh behaviors. Domestic abuse is a reality, evident in almost every household. Although religion allows divorce, culture doesn’t.
Shahzad Mansoor Khan, a senior advocate of Lahore High Court says, “The reasons for the marriage to fail are innumerable. Marriage is directly affected and influenced by religion, mental wellness, prolonged illness or infertility, sexual compatibility, one’s income, social status, morals, and integrity.” About the efficacy and practicalities of Family laws, Shahzad Mansoor remarked, “Islam is the religion of the majority in Pakistan. Seven major legislations aim at safeguarding the family system and resolving family disputes but, there are controversies regarding their interpretations. Prevalent Muslim family laws are criticized for being inconsistent with the other laws. They’re also believed to be contradictory to the actual injunctions of Islam yet, they do protect the rights of the people to a major extent. However, the world is changing and laws require to evolve as well. We need new legislation along with strict implementation to safeguard the sanctity of our families.”
Apart from being a taboo, our laws and legal system are designed in a way to discourage females from seeking a court remedy. Sabahat Rizvi, an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and a prominent human rights activist remarks, “It is believed that the courts and legal infrastructure are male-dominated where corrupted people have an edge therefore, it’s not a place for women. Courts have always been attributed to criminal cases and remedies and are not supposed to be safe for women. Even women, when coming to us for Khula cases, are reluctant and afraid of going to the courts. We assure them and address their fears by telling them that we’ll be there with her and she would not have to appear in the court proceedings every time."
Shahzad Mansoor believes, “Laws of Pakistan do protect the fundamental rights of women. The woman can claim damages for the serious mental depressions and syndromes caused by the behavior of her husband and in-laws by filing a civil suit for damages. She may also file a criminal case against the person causing harassment or mental torture. It is a bitter truth that the society we live in is male dominating and the aggrieved usually don’t approach the courts or any other forum to redress their grievances. Lack of knowledge and awareness is another reason behind the inability to fight for justice. Many forums have been constituted to protect women from domestic violence and harassment but the women, due to different cultural and religious embargoes, fail to utilize them.”
Women seeking a legal remedy to get rid of toxic relations are already facing psychological issues. The emotional disturbance reflects in their body language and in the way they discuss their situations. They are in no shape to handle the cruel norms of the legal process. Sabahat Rizvi shares her daring observations, “Litigation is a tough way to resolve the issues about women. There’s no strong implementation of the laws which already exist. Even if women do muster up the courage to seek a legal remedy, the presiding officers are not trained to deal with the women. The foremost impression given in return to the filing of the case is that the woman must be lying, and the case is merely a storytelling session. Especially in the cases of harassment, where the ombudsperson is herself a female, still, she would entertain the applications doubtfully. Moreover, since male lawyers are far more in quantity, the case is more likely to be taken to a male. Unfortunately, a majority of male lawyers book the case but hardly treat their female clients with due respect and professional ethics. They don’t bother to educate the client with the details and procedural intricacies and development in the case. They pose to be infuriated and annoyed on constant follow up which discourages the women. Another scenario is harassment faced in the litigation process, at every step, and I hate to say this but even by some male lawyers.”
The personal space
It’s highly recommended that both, husband and wife, should have an awareness of being an entity of their own. They both require a world outside their home too. Profession and friends play a terrific role in times of emotional vacuum. Too much emotional dependence of women on men brings frustration. Women, even housewives, should be doing something part-time, something they’re good at and gives them a feeling of accomplishment. Men should support their women by acknowledging the fact that she’s no less in any way and that she deserves to feel satisfied. The mental health of both will bring stability to the household.
Dr. Hajra says, “Communication is the key. Assertive training can be helpful. One needs to understand the importance of mental health and how to cope up with daily life issues. Problem-solving techniques can be helpful.” The curriculum at colleges should have an ‘Introduction to Psychology’, as a compulsory subject. The basic awareness and understanding of how our brain works is part and parcel of a healthy society.
Keep the essence alive
Making a little effort and looking good for each other, complimenting, exchanging small gifts, appreciating and defending sincere efforts in front of friends and family, a sensible display of affection: seemingly trivial gestures, bring strong impact.
Killing the monotony is very important. An annual vacation, enjoying some time apart from the rest of the family, and above everything communication; people 85% of the time can’t understand what the other person exactly feels. Some cannot express too. Therefore, sharing will maintain the integrity and spirit of the relationship.
Joint family system
Normalizing not living in a joint family is becoming a need of the hour. The less the interference, the rare the bedlam. The girls should be allowed to choose how they prefer to live. The type of relationship children witness among their parents is usually the one they’ll play. Parents of every household should try to set constructive standards.
Empowering women and especially supporting women in becoming financially stable is the most viable solution. It’ll reassure that their choices and priorities matter and that they are in control of their lives and decisions. Consequently, it will act as a barrier from going into depression and phases of mental agony. Rights of a woman and a wife: the right to inherit from her parents, a reasonable amount as regular pocket money from her husband, a financially justified Haq Meher, right to the delegation of divorce, and similar essential rights should be guaranteed.
The writer is a lawyer, a social entrepreneur, and a freelance content creator.
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