Marriage Fatigue and the Taboo Divorce

  Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and so are you….

“Please can you have a boring life this year,” said Mohini my friend, after she heard about the private bus that slammed into my car two days before Christmas. 

The question I often ask myself is: Where would I be if every action of mine was impeccable, that I had been right about absolutely everything and had never made a dubious choice in my life and lived a life as “Visakha” practising norms learned from childhood, religion etc…   Would I be happy now?  I doubt it. I would be bored and, worse, I would be boring!

Well, it has been dodgy living the past few years. If I took stock from 2004, there was the tsunami, followed by the  flash floods with my little suburban hut going under 2 feet of water in 2006.  Then there was the time that I nearly set my house on fire last year when a candle in a glass holder burst and set on fire my aromatherapy oils which was supposed to energize me!!

Life is certainly different after the divorce, not just having to cope with disasters on your own. … The really unexpected discovery was how close friends and to a lesser degree family reacted.  My father’s comment was extreme.  True to his nature he said,”You don’t need a divorce, you should get a knife and do a Bobbitt on him.”  .  My aunt was dumb struck and my sister-in-law, broke up into hysterical laughter. Didn’t earn Thatha much favour with my Amma too. She apparently moaned silently for the loss of her favourite son-in-law, but I think she secretly envies my independence. 

I soon discovered that invitations to dinners, lunches with friends were few and far between.  And when they did they made sure that I was seated among the old ladies – no loose  cannon among the men, no interesting conversations on the political goings on .  Conversation was often limited to backaches, cholestrol levels,  lack of good domestics to slave for you — and of course the inevitable gossip of the chattering classes. 

On one occasion, the portly society matron peered over the spectacles and asked “What’s your name again dearie?”  “Chulie.”   “Oh! Chulie who?”  Now I was in the midst of an upcountry Kandyan clan, and once I uttered “De Silva”  I am sure she began to wonder what caste I belonged to. We were interrupted by my hostess’s sister who summarized my life history by saying ” She was married to a nice man but is now divorced. ….” 

The dinner last week was slightly different but equally stigmatizing. In the company of ex-spouses’ school mates -the conversation commenced with how on the way to an important meeting before the dinner this couple were caught in a shower-all because the husband didn’t think the pair of shoes his wife was wearing matched her saree. He actually went in to a shop in the rain and brought her a pair to match as well as another pair she liked.

From such an orthodox Sri Lankan husband concerned about the image his wife projected, it was inevitable that the I would hear comments like “How could I go astray and divorce his friend?”  “you couldn’t have found a better man,” “marriage is forever”  and the million dollar question ‘Would you like to get back together?”.   Ahhh… he had found a noble mission to accomplish among his Lion’s Club tasks.  So commenced the debate-“Why did you marry in the first place? – if he wanted the answer to be romantic love – he didn’t get it although yes that was so and there were all the ingredients – the sea, the beach, the swaying palms at Hikkaduwa.  

However, this straight-laced friend of my ex-spouse didn’t fall of the chair when I said the reason I married was for “Sex.”  I was no doubt trying to shock this man and stop him in his tracks.   If it did, he didn’t show it — except that he refilled his glass.  So we argued about  the pros and cons, weaving in and out between expected norms, unexpected and unaccepted behaviours like mine.

Reflecting on that memorable debate on the whys and wherefore’s of marriages, I hunted for this article on “metal fatigue” so neatly presented in the Wikipedia.  Replacing Metal with marriage and a few other words ( I have kept the original links which are interestingly refreshing) we now have:

In life marriage fatigue is the progressive and localised structural damage that occurs when a marriage is subjected to cyclic loading. The maximum stress values are less than the ultimate tensile stress limit, and may be below the yield stress limit of the material.

  • The process starts with dislocation movements ( like wife becoming too assertive, moving up in her career, empty nest syndrome, working apart in different countries) eventually forming persistent slip bands that nucleate short cracks.
  • Fatigue is a stochastic process, often showing considerable scatter even in controlled environments.
  • The greater the applied stress, the shorter the life.
  • Fatigue life scatter tends to increase for longer fatigue lives.
  • Damage is cumulative. Marriages do not recover when rested.
  • Fatigue life is influenced by a variety of factors, such as age, in-laws, presence of oxidizing or inert friends and relations, residual stresses, contacts, etc.
  • Some marriages (e.g., some needing to maintain status quo) exhibit a theoretical fatigue limit below which continued loading does not lead to failure.

We are human beings. We thrive on complication – and we love the illusion that change is always for the good. Divorce is a school of hard knocks, there are lunch breaks and vacations. The reason we all get time out from the suffering is so that we have some memory of greater happiness to torment us when we return to a state of discomfort. Nothing is difficult forever!!!