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Goan couples headed for splitsville

Divorces are on the rise in our tiny state of sun, sea, sand and, it turns out, plenty of matrimonial discord. Dr. Charlane Pereira e Rebello, a psychologist, chats with experts from diverse fields to gain a deeper insight into the phenomenon.

Patricia was under a lot of pressure to get married. Her parents had been bringing her proposals since she was 21, but she tied the knot only in her early 30s after her father passed away. The marriage was arranged, and the family was assured the groom came from a good family and held a good job.

Now, with baby girl in tow, she has filed her papers for divorce.

“It was only after marriage that I realized that he didn’t have a job, had no source of income, his mom was mentally ill, and he didn’t even bother to show up when the baby was born. My mom is helping me now.”

More and more spouses are filing for divorce in Goa. While 750 divorce applications were received in 2008, the number increased to 770 and 793 in 2009 and 2010, respectively. While 292 couples got divorced in 2008, courts settled 318 divorce cases in 2009, and 307 couples got divorced in 2010 – the last years for which figures are available. Anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers have risen sharply since.

Lawyer Yulette Coutinho says, “Divorce cases are definitely on the rise. Sometimes they can be settled mutually and can be disposed faster. Otherwise they can go on till terms are met or else it could go in appeals.”

Most of us want to live happily with a single partner. Love cements the foundation of a successful marriage. However, several factors can wreak havoc in a marriage.

Dr. Ravindra Agrawal (consultant psychiatrist at Salgaoncar Hospital, Vasco and Manipal Hospital, Dona Paula) says, “We hear of so many divorce cases in our society due to changing life-styles, higher independence, poor tolerance and ever decreasing willingness to adapt to the needs of the other partner.”

Statistics about the overall divorce rates in Goa, as in the rest of India, are hard to come by. While the numbers don’t come close to what you might find in a typical Western country – where it’s common for around half of all marriages to end in divorce – it’s clear the numbers in India are rising, especially among the middle and upper classes. Just like love marriages and youthful dating have gained in popularity, the taboo surrounding divorce has gone down.

Here in Goa, the presence of a large Catholic population works both for and against a high divorce rate. On the one hand, many local Catholics tend to hold relatively modern attitudes towards social issues like divorce, even as their church very much looks down on divorce and makes it difficult to obtain. That helps explain why Catholics here often obtain civil divorces without church annulments.

As for Hindus and Muslims, the same for the rest of India holds true for Goa. In the villages, the divorce taboo is a lot more powerful than it is in modern urban environments.

Fr. Salvador Fernandes, Principal of Aldona Higher Secondary School says, “Marital troubles could brew over finances, lack of time for each other, differences in family backgrounds, work pressures and children.  Reliving  past   hurt, unpleasant  quarrels, blaming  the  other  for  all  woes, lack  of  communication,  living in doubt and suspicion, telling lies worsen the issues.”


“Complaints such as ‘my  partner  is very different after marriage’,  ‘there  is no love between us’, ‘living  together  is very difficult’, ‘my needs are not taken into account’, ‘we are just not compatible’, ‘he is always cheating on me’ are commonly heard,” Fr. Fernandes adds.

A famous Spanish refrain holds that it’s “better to be alone than badly accompanied.” It would be foolish to argue that divorce is always a bad thing. While the experts I spoke to did point to some increased mental health risks among divorcees such as depression, having the courage to leave a bad marriage is sometimes exactly what’s needed. Studies show that children do best in two-parent households. But they also show that kids do better in one-parent households than two-parent households with an inordinate amount of discord.

To be sure, children caught up in marital feuds are “are more likely to abuse alcohol, smoke or fall prey to other addictions, have poor social skills, higher levels of anxiety and low self esteem. They are 2 – 3 times more likely to divorce their partners than the general population,” Dr. Agrawal says.

Take for instance Sandra (name changed to protect privacy) who visited a psychiatrist with her husband Sandy (name changed). She was very possessive about Sandy and suspected him of an extra-marital affair. Sandy was a nice man extremely devoted to his wife.

However, her constant intrusiveness and suspicions led to frequent misunderstandings and fights, as a result of which Sandy started spending more time with his buddies and coming home late.

It was later learnt that her parents had separated when she was 10 years old. She was attached to her father who had never returned home after leaving for an overseas job. She had a similar fear that her husband would leave her, which explained her clingy behaviour.

Dr. Agrawal comments, “However, not every child of a divorcee will have such problems.”

Marital therapists advise preparing for married life. Fr. Salvador says, “Getting married without sufficient knowledge and preparation could lead to divorce.”

The Marriage Preparation Programme, initiated by the Diocesan Family Service Centre (branches in Panjim and Margao) is a great step in this direction. This two-day course is meant for engaged couples and gives them tips on building a successful marriage.

Kavita Borker, psychologist and Head of Psychology Department, Chowgule College (Margao) says, “Marital discord reduces the couple to a single unit each, crumbles their world and even the smallest aspect poses a challenge. However, if the couple is together, they can tackle any challenges that cross their paths.”

She suggests, “Nip any issue in the bud stage. Don’t shove it under the carpet. If unattended, it increases in complexity just as wounds fester. If necessary, do involve a third neutral party who can help to resolve matters amicably.”  A third neutral party could be a counselor or spiritual leader who is well-trained to deal with such cases.