Aman Anand lived out of his suitcase for years, travelling the world for business and pleasure, while his wife Amita chose to stay back in India to look after his home and raise children. Initially, the couple benefitted from time apart, but slowly the geographical distance between the 50-something Anands started playing truant, and they drifted away from each other, first physically and then emotionally, and finally parted ways, quite amicably, after being married for more than 25 years.
"We had started spending a lot more time away from each other. I realised his lack of interest in me was not due to his busy schedule or travel fatigue. He had multiple affairs and was unapologetic about it. I refused to compromise and accept it as a norm," she recounts. The couple's sons chose to stay neutral and only ensured that their father paid what was due to them for education. Amita too, walked out of her lacklustre marriage without any guilts or regrets and lives happily ever after.
Bucking the trend?
Mumbai-based Life Coach Jolly Priya adds that silver splitters have been few and far between in India. "The trend is uncommon, but it is surely catching up in metro cities," says Priya. The reasons for those who split up are inequality in relationships, of course, cheating and infidelity. "Women have started speaking out more than they ever did before. Emotions of anger and frustration were always there but not vented out. These emotions have found their voice in the new self-aware world, and couples have started confronting and expressing dissatisfaction and calling it quits," she adds.
Senior psychotherapist and family counsellor Padma Rewari couldn't agree more with her. "Grey divorce is not common, not because couples do not have differences, but mostly because of 'what people will say’ and ‘for the sake of the children’. People also stick together (or rather, the woman doesn't walk out of an abusive marriage) is because many women in India are not financially independent, and, at times, because of children."
Calling the shots
But when a woman decides, she owns her decision much like Rinku (Neena Gupta) in Pushan Kripalani's The Threshold, who decides to leave her husband Raj (Rajit Kapur) and informs him about it a day after the wedding of their son. Through Rinku's character, the conversations that she has with Raj, and the complexities of her marital relationship, we get a glimpse of the simmering existential crisis in Indian marriages on the big screen that is not rosy but thorny, more often than not.
"Splits do not happen overnight, anywhere. India is no exception. However, in India, most marriages last for much longer than they do in, say, the West, even when there are differences between the spouses because many couples cannot read the signs that their relationship could be on the rocks. Or they are just in denial about it and keep hoping that things will change for the better, but it only gets worse," adds Rewari.
Once that threshold is reached, it becomes pertinent for the couple to end the partnership. As it happened in Amita's case where her husband was philandering. Good sense prevailed, and she chose to liberate him with divorce and moved on instead of squabbling and making it murkier.
More often than not, the couple chooses separation (not divorce) after decades of marriage. "The divorce process in India is cumbersome and exhausting, so couples instead choose to live separately. It's socially easier and does not get murky. Divorce is taboo still also because the finances, properties and responsibilities are completely mixed up. The lengthy process of detangling everything is daunting. Hence a quiet separation makes sense," explains Priya.
Matrimonial lawyer Aprajita Chandra agrees that divorces for all age groups are nasty, and mutual consent divorces are very few. "I have seen elderly couples even up to the age of 65 or more opting for divorce. The reasons for a split are mental cruelty and harassment or cheating by a partner for a prolonged period, and now with so much if awareness, couples are ready to step out of an unhappy marriage," she says. Unlike marriage, women are showing more courage and aren't afraid of the stigma of being a divorcee, so they are the ones making a move. "The woman is naturally determined and is convinced that the relationship is not going to work and that she has to look for self wellness and happiness. A lot of times, the other side resists and contests the divorce," elucidates Chandra.
Grey divorce happens because perception about the relationship also changes with years. "When one is young, one looks at a relationship differently, and as one grows older, one understands expectations at a different level. That's where the gap arises, and eventually, breakups happen," says Rewari.
The repercussions of a grey divorce are good and bad. "Sometimes it sets the woman free from an abusive relationship or gives the man the freedom he so badly needed. It could also hurt the family structure irrevocably. The kids could be emotionally scarred as a result and find it difficult to build their relationships. Also, divorces can get ugly with dirty linen being washed in the courtroom, fight over division of assets, alimony, etc.," says Rewari on the emotional toll that one has to pay for this freedom.
However, at times, such a decision are good for children in the longer run. "They are the new generation who do not believe in co-existing in a conflicted battled state. There was a 24-year-old son who told his parents, 'I want to see both of you happy, which I believe is not possible if you stay together. You have tried it for years, it doesn't work. Accept it and move on. I will support you both.' The maturity was refreshing for the silver splitters and made it easier for them," says Priya.
Even the older divorced couples are much better placed to handle the repercussions, as they are okay with developing a new relationship that may or may not end in marriage, tells Rewari. "However, the urban Indian society is far more accepting of the fact that two people were unable to live together anymore and have decided to part ways. Most Indians fall back on their extended family: siblings, parents, joint family for help. Some seek counselling, some find love all over again," she adds.
A big driver of the increase in "silver splitters" is increasing life expectancy. People want more from their retirement and have huge expectations from the latter third half of their life and what they want to do with it — perhaps lead a less acrimonious life stuck in a bad marriage. The coping mechanisms differ from case to case. "I have seen people go out holidaying, meeting friends and relatives more often, even taking the spiritual path, learning skills that they always wanted to. I haven't seen anyone regret it," says Priya.
Based on her experience, Rewari explains that the reason for splits are best known to the partners but advises that "if it gets too bad to bear, it is best to grin and end it." Also, one needn't get into self-pity mode and instead give life another chance. "Life can be beautiful, and the freedom can be liberating and open up a new world of possibilities. So grab them," chirps in Priya.