Post-marriage depression is a reality. It is more than the after-nuptial blues and mood swings that a married woman goes through. To understand the gravity of the situation in India, take a look at the following statistics by a national survey conducted in 2016:
31% of married women are physically abused in the form of slapping or punching.
12% of those who report being physically abused also report at least one of the following injuries as a result of the violence: bruises , injury, sprains, dislocation or burns, wounds, broken bones or broken teeth and severe burns.
10% have suffered ‘severe domestic violence’, such as burning or attack with a weapon.
Violence and Silence
The above statistics are widely distributed for women across class, caste, geography and age groups in India. Perpetual violence can lead to a woman feeling isolated, not wanting to engage in social behaviour within family or outside and a perennial mode of panic and anxiety. This violence is perpetual because it is most often labeled as an ‘adjustment phase’ wherein the ‘adjustment’ is of course almost always by the woman.
The situation is further intensified when the woman chooses to remain silent against violence.The notions of a daughter-in-law as a “bearer of a family’s izzat (pride)” and “gai jaisi seedhi aur shaant” (as calm and decent as a cow) ensure that violence is carried out as ‘normal’ and then either kept a secret between the couple or amongst the family. If a woman chooses to voice her opinions, there are enough sanctions that the parents and in-laws impose on the woman through rhetorics like ‘Jis ghar mein doli aaye, arthi bhi wahi se uthni chahiye‘ (A girl should only exit dead from her married home). Hence, the woman is devoid of her parental support too, especially if she plans to quit the marriage. Such expectations that family and society at large place on a woman requires her to be an epitome of sacrifice but is she always prepared for it?
Expectations that family and society at large place on a woman requires her to be an epitome of sacrifice but is she always prepared for it?
Loss of Agency
The word ‘agency’ refers to the control one has over own choices and decisions. Most marriages bring with them a powerful agency for the husband and his parents whereas a loss of agency for the married woman.
Transition from ‘Ms’ to ‘Mrs’, parental home full of concern to post-marriage home full of responsibilities and a ‘watchful’ environment, maiden name to a different (or adding a) surname, decorating oneself with jewellery are only few of the zillion changes that a woman goes through, starting right the day after the wedding. Whether women succumb to these transitions or resist them, whether they succeed in resisting or lose their battle, either of the cases bring stress to the mind and a realization of loss of control over decisions she can make independently.
Whether women succumb to transitions or resist them, what comes is, stress to the mind and a realization of loss of control over decision she can make independently
In a recent exchange of experiences on a Facebook mother’s group, several women stated that losing control over our own choices is stressful in its own right, but even when women try to ‘mend’ the situation by attempting to ‘belong’ to the family in order to share the same status of decision-making, it may not yield intended outcomes. One of the mothers stated, “I made all possible attempts to ‘belong’ to the family. But there were always these extensive blast from the past talks, family jokes and secrets, all in front of me to make sure I was alienated.”
“Its been ten years of my marriage and now I have given up the idea that I will ever ‘belong’ to their family. And on hindsight I feel, if they never had to struggle to belong to me, why should I?”
The period of post-marriage depression could be incessant. Symptoms could range from persistent anxiety to not wanting to engage in pleasure-related activities including sex, restlessness, irritability, crying excessively, sleeping too much or too little. While most women express that it is at its peak in the first 3 years of marriage, but eventually it becomes a way of life and frequent vacations, work days and time spent with children simply become strategies to distract oneself. But can depression be treated with distractions? If anything, it only aggravates the agony and testifies that the situation is un-solvable.
The Loop of Double Guilt
In an interaction with a working woman who is three years into her marriage, she mentioned an interesting phenomena that led to her depression – double guilt. She shared, “While I am at constant guilt at work for not paying expected attention to my family needs – taking care of in-laws, cooking for them, keeping the house spick and span, I am also at constant guilt at work for not being productive enough due to the stress that I carry from home and my inability to ‘switch off’ as my boss expects, as I step into my office!” This double guilt led her to a loss of belief in her own self that she could do anything right at all! And this was a vicious circle as the more she was guilty, the more it impacted her home and work life negatively and vice versa. Feelings of guilt, hopelessness and pessimism are distinct symptoms of post-marriage depression.
This double guilt led her to a loss of belief in her own self that she could do anything right at all!
The vignette above is a classic example of the gaslighting mechanism that society most often uses for women in post-marriage depression. In other words, whatever a woman experiences to be wrong with the institution of marriage is blamed upon her – her guilt, her inefficiency, her ‘selfish’ choices. The loop of double guilt doesn’t just tear a woman apart between home and work, but also amongst relationships with self, partner and his family.
In another conversation around instances of post-marriage depression, a young married woman shared that, “To live an independent and private life, I and my husband decided to move out of the joint family. We took the decision even before we got married. But possibly my husband took it lightly and didn’t really convince his parents about staying separately and so, when we became firm about moving out, his parents were utterly disappointed and continue to be. My husband and I have had perennial arguments around this. I also feel (double) guilty for pushing my husband for a separate house when he is already going through difficulties at his business front.”
Thus, a woman, in order to resist, enters a zone where she feels alone, anxious, planning eternally to make her life better while at the same time being labelled as selfish and trying to rob the son off the family. ‘Bahu ke aate hi beta badal jata hai‘ (With the entry of the daughter-in-law, the son changes) is a common accusation directed at newly married women in all TV soaps as well as real life.
In-Laws, Laws and Outlaws
We treat post-marriage depression as an outlaw, as if it just doesn’t exist, we struggle with a law for marital rape and we want to portray in-laws/parents as godly creatures who need to be cared for by the children against all odds. Consider the law of Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 for instance. “In normal circumstances, a wife is expected to be with the family of the husband after the marriage,” stated a supreme court ruling to sustain the law which also dismissed the wife’s attempt to kill herself as a plot to ‘torture’ her husband and his relatives.
Such legal frameworks and (similar) mindsets are a disastrous recipe aimed for a woman to enter into depression with no exit. They also attribute undue power to the identity of the husband and in-laws for life to centre only around them and empowers them to make all choices for the newly wed woman, be it what she wears or her career. Shared below is an instance from the life of a woman who was reflecting on her post-marriage depression after several years of marriage.
“I was not used to saying thank you and sorry in my (maiden) family and this caused a lot of friction with my mother-in-law who basically thought/thinks the world should revolve around her. She was constantly getting into arguments with all and sundry and my husband kept telling me to let things go. I went into a shell for letting myself into such a situation and not standing up for myself. I was also not allowed to work in the initial year as the job I was offered involved traveling.”
She also went on to say that to resolve the depression, her only option was to confront her mother-in-law and further break all her ties, amidst which the relationship with her husband dwindled too. And here we are, as married women, fighting for our own identity and agency amidst periods of guilt and swill. While some of us tread that path, still many ignore and move on with ‘This too shall pass’ attitude. But neither of these eventually are addressed directly to shaking the foundations of the institution of patriarchy, from where it all stems.
One of my ex-bosses once remarked in a jovial conversation – the development of a country is directly proportional to the number of single women in that country. Funny or not, if most marriages end up giving us women depression, there might be some truth here! To address the most sought after question that came up during the discussions around this topic: ‘So what do we do about it’? While the answers can vary depending on the complexity of the situations in each family but as a collective, two steps can be identified:
- Acknowledge! Don’t let it pass and allow ‘time’ to heal it. Know that what you are going through is not Monday blues, not an ‘adjustment phase’ and not your inability to cope up. It is post-marriage depression which comes with clear symptoms and needs treatment as with most other kinds of depression.
- Resist! As difficult as it may sound, but know that resisting is the only building block to heal, because this is not your individual life that one needs to sympathize with, but a social evil that we, as women all need to fight back. Marriage is a patriarchal institution and in that sense post-marriage depression is a by-product, not just side-effect, of this institution. And yes, women who would often remark ‘I am lucky to have a good husband/in-laws’, ‘My life is better after marriage instead’ also must not alienate themselves with the cause because clearly all practices, phenomena and identity mechanisms in patriarchy are interconnected. So when we resist one, we are resisting the larger structure. And whether this resistance should be an individual level or a collective one, is a thought I’ll leave you with.
Marriage is a patriarchal institution and in that sense post-marriage depression is a by-product, not just side-effect, of this institution.
Featured Image Source: Mostinside.com