While most South Asian countries can pride themselves on some of the lowest divorce rates in the world, remaining legally married is not necessarily a testament to the health and happiness of the relationship. In cultures, such as the South Asian culture, where legal divorce is looked down upon, an invisible divorce often takes its place.
The hallmark of an invisible divorce is that though the couple is legally married the couple no longer share emotional or physical intimacy as they once did. Their lives tend to proceed in parallel with one another, resembling the relationship between roommates or co-workers. Couples living in an invisible divorce still love their spouses, which is understandable given that the two have shared a history together and possibly have children together. Some couples in an invisible divorce feel resentful and others feel indifferent to their spouse. In either case, the bond that once joined the two is no longer there.
For some South Asian couples, staying together is purely a financial decision since one or both partners may not be able to afford living alone. Other couples stay together for fear of being ostracized by the community due to the stigma associated with legal divorce. Many times South Asian parents choose an invisible divorce over a legal divorce believing that it is best for the children if they remain under the same roof.
In most cases, children can be just as hurt from an invisible divorce as a legal separation. Children become confidantes of one or both parents, making it uncomfortable for the child to listen to negative things about their second parent. They also feel pressure to be an adult like support for their parent, which can cause them to develop unhealthy parent-child relationships. In addition, children learn how to treat others and what to expect from their future marriage by watching their parents. Growing up witnessing an invisible divorce can model for the children unhealthy communication and emotional intimacy in a marriage. This increases the risk of the children entering unhealthy adult relationships, as well.
While every couple experiences and expresses an invisible divorce, here are the most common signs that a couple is living in an invisible divorce.
Primary feeling toward your spouse is resentment
Feeling as if you don’t care about your relationship anymore
Preferring to do activities alone or with others as opposed to with your partner
Finding activities or responsibilities to keep you busy and away from home or your spouse (e.g. work, watching sports, attending classes, etc.)
Becoming increasingly involved in your children’s lives to fill a sense of purpose
Depending on your children, not your marriage, to help you feel a sense of purpose or love
Other people know more about your life, feelings, experiences, etc. than your spouse
Thinking of telling someone other than your spouse first when you receive good or bad news
Feeling accustomed to being on your own
Feeling lonely or that your marriage is no longer a partnership
Most of the communication between you and your partner is through arguments
Feeling a general sense of emptiness, unhappiness or dissatisfaction
Believing that change is not possible in the relationship
Invisible divorces can be mended if both partners are willing to work on changing the unhealthy dynamics of the marriage. Because both partners have built up a mountain of emotions toward each other by the time an invisible divorce is recognized, the best prognosis for the marriage can be achieved by working with a marriage counselor. They can help identify problematic communication or relational patterns in the marriage and provide new skills to strengthen the marriage. To find a South Asian counselor, please see our South Asian service providers directory.
What do you think about invisible divorces? Please leave your comments below.