Daheem Din Therapy

Beyond “Qabool Hai”:The Realities of Marriages in South Asian Culture

Marriage in South Asian cultures, especially within joint family systems, is a nuanced and intricate institution. It extends beyond the union of two individuals, involving the amalgamation of two extended families, known as “Khandaans.” This fusion carries a web of expectations, responsibilities, and dynamics that profoundly affect the lives of the married couple.

Traditionally, marriage is perceived as a significant rite of passage, symbolizing a transition from dependency on one’s own family to newfound freedom and independence. When couples solemnize their vows with “Qabool Hai” (I accept), they might envision a newfound sense of autonomy, yet the reality often contrasts. Instead of immediate independence, they are met with an array of new responsibilities and expectations, significantly influencing the success and happiness of their union.

One of the central challenges in a joint family system is that the crucial period during which couples should be getting to know each other is often spent learning to accommodate the preferences and needs of the extended family, or the “Khandaan walay.” This places a particularly demanding burden on the bride, as she is frequently taught that the responsibility for adjustment after marriage primarily rests on her shoulders. Flexibility and adaptability become qualities often emphasized for her to ensure a harmonious marriage.

On the other hand, grooms often grapple with the responsibility of maintaining a delicate balance between their mother and their wife. The relationship between the wife and the mother-in-law often carries predetermined dynamics, with these two figures sometimes pitted against each other, polarizing the relationship before it even has a chance to develop.

As the couple enters this union, there is a significant emphasis on gaining the approval and acceptance of the in-laws, particularly for the bride. While there is a gradual shift in these traditional expectations, changes in deeply ingrained cultural norms can be slow to manifest. As a result, many women still find themselves seeking approval and appreciation from their in-laws, while men often struggle to prove their loyalty.

Several challenging characteristics, such as a disregard for personal boundaries, personal space, privacy, and the independence to make decisions, coupled with the intrusiveness and interference of the joint family system, can further complicate the couple’s adjustment to their new lives. Questions like “Where are you both going?” or “Won’t you both have food at home?” can feel like an interrogation, adding strain to the relationship.

In my therapy sessions with such couples, they often bring not just themselves but also other family members, such as mothers-in-law and older sisters-in-law in spirit. The therapy marks the beginning of a necessary process of sorting out and breaking away from generational expectations, cultural norms, unsaid family rules, and the redefinition of the couples’ relationship with each other and their “khandaans.” It offers the couple a chance to learn to navigate these changes and strike a balance between familial and individual expectations.


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