Monday, May 27, 2013

Morality In Marriage

I happened to read an old post of mine about my views on marriage. One of the readers had raised a question regarding the role morality ought to play in a marriage. If the husband was otherwise a responsible person and provided well for his family did it matter if his morality was questionable? 

This question does not have an easy answer. In fact it does not have an answer at all. Let me explain. Till about a hundred years back it was common for men folk to visit prostitutes and was considered a status symbol and indicative of affluence. Their womenfolk could not object. I am sure they were not happy about the arrangement but could do little to prevent it even if they wanted to. With time such visits became hushed shameful affairs and women began to have a say in the matter. Fear or rather awareness of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases have acted as deterrents. I happened to be part of a team that conducted a survey on AIDS awareness long back and we had a session with sex workers as part of our training. They all had a single message for society. "We don't go to men. They come to us. If wives could check their husband's desire for sex outside marriage we would automatically be out of work".

It is easy for me to say that morality is a very important factor in a partnership including marriage. But don't women or for that reason men to a lesser extent have umpteen reasons to look the other way if their partner is not loyal to them? Does not the security provided by marriage  matter? Or if children could get affected in the crossfire between parents would it perhaps be better to ignore the husband's philandering habit? I tend to talk as if morality in a marriage is the responsibility of the husband alone. It is the responsibility of both partners although the clandestine affairs women have outside marriage are not reported often.

The reason for my choice of this topic stems partly from what I heard about a neighbor whose husband wants a divorce. I have known the woman from the time her son was a two year old. He is twenty two now. The husband and son are apparently fond of a mother/daughter duo also residing in our complex. Initially I rubbished the story saying that the son could be interested in the daughter and the mother being a family friend could have expected the boy's family to approve of the match. Differences might have cropped up when the boy's mother objected. But I hear that the husband squanders hard earned money including his settlement dues on the neighbor and her husband is a silent spectator. He does not have a problem as long as the money keeps coming. I really don't know what to make out of the story. If both husband and son have turned against her, the lady ought to opt for separation. But with no income of her own can she afford to do it? Wouldn't she throw morality to the winds and wish to remain married. Those living in their block are fed up with the constant fighting and had to call the cops to settle their dispute when things got out of control.

A relative of mine some ten years younger to me is a lawyer by profession and has a soft corner for the assistant who works in his Office. His mother advised the daughter in law to keep quiet saying that if she objected he may be more open to making his affair known to the world. It was in her own interest that she chose to pretend that she did not know about it. With children to educate she could not afford to confront her husband lest he stopped supporting them. Selfish it may sound but the practical aspects cannot be ignored.

Every arrangement, including marriage, that is endorsed by society has evolved over several years. Morality is a matter of individual perception. The middle class sets high standards for morality be it loyalty in marriage or earning money by fair means. A look at those in governance and administration tells a different story. One scam is hardly dealt with and a new one comes up. In the slum where my domestic help lives they have no time to even define morality. Affairs outside marriage are ignored unless it involves fist fights between the couple in question. So I suppose morality matters to people who can challenge it. But if a person chooses to ignore it let us give them the benefit of doubt.


Sri said...

Very interesting topic, HHG!

Morality is a very touchy topic..with today's culture where colleagues hang out, drink and party-the definition of morality, fidelity etc is taking a an emotional affair ok in today's world?

The recent Phaneesh Murthy episode was shocking-this guy is married, has 2 sons..has an affair and is asked to quit Infosys, joins iGate and at the age of 50,fathers a child with his colleague...

His wife supported him through the first affair and said it strengthened their marriage but what now-she is also an IIM alumni like her husband..sad how low men can stoop..

Hip Grandma said...

Sri:thanks for reminding. Be it Phaneesh murthy or Bill Clinton wives have not been able to do much although they are well educated and employed. Emotions are hard to ignore and it could be the reason apart from the security provided by marriage that makes morality secondary in a marriage. It is the individual who can decide whether or not to accept a spouse's roving eyes. As I said there are no easy answers to such questions.

Sarah said...

You were so right that there is no answer to Morality within marriage..It was Socrates who said "A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true"
we all make choices based on our needs..

Hip Grandma said...

Sarah: much as I would like to say the morality matters in a relationship I find many well educated, financially sound couple compromising/sacrificing their dignity to keep the marriage going. Not all of them need to but they pretend that all is well. This is perhaps due to mental conditioning and a sense of insecurity.

Sandhya said...

Very touchy topic! I know of a family wherein the wife hailing from a poor family was married to this guy (from a rich family) who had an affair with a married woman. The entire family knew about this but got him married to this lady because they thought 'he would change and become more responsible after marriage'. Nothing changed. He fathered 3 children from his wife and 3 from his mistress. They all continue to live in the same town. All the children are grown up and married. I was told that the wife attempted to stop the affair during their early days of marriage but in vain. She was dependent on him to run the house and raise the children. What more, the husband's affair with the other woman which was supposed to end after the marriage was supported by many because the wife failed to give birth to children until few years of marriage. Just imagine the wife's plight when the husband held a grand wedding reception for his daughter (from the mistress) and this man still visits the mistress. Morality in marriage, sadly in our society, is very flexible and is not considered as one of the most important pillars of marriage.

Hip Grandma said...

sandhya: true. Morality is a fancy word that sounds nice when one is not personally affected. practical constraints cannot be ignored and very often the two women in a relationship with the same man are able to empathize with each other if the person has perpetual roving eyes but is also the provider. I know of one such case where a friend of mine would get on famously with her father's third wife(she was the second wife's daughter) and the two would crack jokes about the father's whereabouts. She said that her mother was grateful to the power/charm wielded by the 3rd wife that stopped her father from bringing in a fourth wife. She had no problem discussing with friends in the hostel.

Anonymous said...

Hi preeta

Very interesting post.

Well, I think, nothing much will change or can be done,

You just need to be lucky, broad minded, stand on your own feet, mentally financially, and know when /where to say a yes and a no.... It all depends.

Unfortunately , most of us/humans know our priorities, and that is how we justify everything,

Or perhaps, some questions are best left unanswered,


Hip Grandma said...

passerby:yes, some questions are best left unanswered.

hillgrandmom said...

Just catching up with blog world.
You have said "In the slum where my domestic help lives they have no time to even define morality".
This reminded me of My Fair Lady, in which there was quite a good observation on 'middle-class morality'.
Morality really is an individual thing and each person lives by his or her own personal morality. The rest--trying to cover up, pretend etc--is hypocrisy. When artists (of whatever persuasion) live their lives out in the open, as per their individual moral codes, nobody really criticizes them, because they make no excuses and ask no approval either. It is when one is ashamed of what one is doing that Morality or lack of it, becomes an issue.
I do hope I made sense.

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