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The 40 YEAR ITCH.

It's not just Al Gore and Tipper, couples in their 50s and 60s are parting ways here too

If you thought it was just bad marriages that end fast, it's time you changed your perception. Former US vice president Al Gore and his wife Tipper announced their divorce last week after a marriage that lasted four decades. Their announcement was a head- scratcher for many who couldn't think of a reason why the couple, who had been through thick and thin for 40 long years, decided to part ways.

The number of couples legally parting ways may be much lesser in India compared to the West -- figures by the Australian Bureau of Statistics released last month suggested that more old married couples tend to divorce after their children grow up and move out of their family homes -- but bracketing the trend as a part of ' Western culture' would be naE[macron]ve. So far in India, strong family ties and joint households have kept couples together. But more Indians than you think are calling off their marriage after a few decades together.

Experts have noted the rise in couples well into their late 40s or 50s deciding to part ways for some time. " It's happening. I have come across a couple of cases where people split after a longterm marriage. The reasons could be many from incompatibility to extra marital affairs to just boredom. They put up with each other's shortcomings for the sake of family and society. Once external issues are taken care of, they call the shots," says Anu Goel, marriage counsellor. The recent amendment of divorce law in India that now includes ' irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a valid ground for divorce' demonstrates the societal change that has necessitated such an amendment.

PARTING AFTER GOLDEN JUBILEE

A case in point is the Khanna household that celebrated the 50th marriage anniversary of the patriarch Vineet and matriarch Sheila Khanna (name changed) last year with gusto and glitz. The gathering was all the more special with the recently-wed grandson and his wife. However, little did the family know that life was going to take an unexpected turn for the sexagenarians. A week after the last ticker-tape was cleaned, the grandparents announced their decision to part ways.

The household that united in celebration were soon investing all their time to recover from the shock and playing peacenik between the senior citizens.

But much had flown under the bridge between the Khannas to make amends. "It wasn't a drastic decision. Trouble had been brewing for a long time. We have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for long. We were just waiting for the kids to settle down. Now, we want our own individual space and time," says Sheila. For once Vineet agrees that it was a mutual decision. With the children ensuring no financial burden on them, the couple live independently now. Like all endings are stepping stones for fresh beginnings, there were changes in Vineet's life -- he found a new love.

"In this couple's case, it wasn't an overnight decision. They have been unhappy for a long time as they got married at a very early age. After their responsibilities were taken care of they couldn't put up with the act of a happy couple anymore," says Goel.

The legal and emotional turmoil that a couple faces later in life makes a lot of them think twice or decide against parting ways. But things are changing now. Senior psychologist Sanjeeta Kundu says, "It's only natural that people want to spend the sunsets of their lives in relative calm.

It becomes difficult to carry on when there are significant personality issues. People are basically deciding not to put up with the charade anymore."

WOMAN IN CHARGE

Another reason attributed for the rise in such divorce cases is the financial security, sense of independence and confidence level of the urban woman which has gone up in recent years. She dares to call the shots on her life these days.

In her book Calling It Quits: Late- Life Divorce and Starting Over , author Deirdre Bair says that mostly women initiate these divorces because they want to lead the rest of their lives in their own terms. In her book, Bair describes one woman in her 80s, married for 53 years, who woke up after a transplant surgery and announced to her husband, " I don't know how many years I have left, but I do know I don't want to spend them with you." In India too the urban scene is changing fast. In her book Love Will Follow: Why the Indian Marriage is Burning, psychologist Shaifali Sandhya says that Indian women still bear the primary burden of marriage. " Take the case of 60- year- old Sunita, who came to me for chronic insomnia. But therapy revealed severe depression.

Her disappointment in her marriage manifested in health issues like insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression. The reason some couples choose to stay in unhappy marriages is the fear of social rejection," says Sandhya.

For others, even if separating is a difficult choice, they are not shying away from it. Sandeep, a businessman, and Kartika Narain, an educationalist, were the soul of all social gatherings among their friend circle. They were the ' ideal couple' with two college- going kids. But the image of the perfect family was shattered when Sandeep sought separation from Kartika last month after 22 years of marriage. What shocked his friends was the reason he sought to divorce -- boredom and incompatibility.

" Life was just going on fine though I ignored his frequent cribbing.

I never imagined that he will take this extreme step," says Kartika.

Sandeep defends his decision saying the 22- year- old marriage was purely a relationship of convenience rather than love. " I have stayed in this marriage for two decades sacrificing my interests and aspirations. Kartika is just not the partner I have always wanted. I want to travel around the world and explore life more.

She is just too boring," says Sandeep.

Relatives gave up after successive rounds of discussion, arguments and cajoling failed to break the ice. Sandeep stood his ground and Kartika slowly and reluctantly came around to give him a divorce. But the dust settled only after the issue of alimony and other financial issues were taken care of. " This case came as a surprise to me too. He wasn't alcoholic and there weren't any extramarital issues involved. Yet his level of dissatisfaction was so high that he took the extreme step," says Rachna Singh, lifestyle expert and psychologist.

Singh points out that while the advantages of early marriages are many, its disadvantages -- which were carpeted under " family responsibilities, traditional values and children" -- are slowly coming to the fore.

" Many people who got married because of being forced into it at an early age are opting out of it.

Once the honeymoon phase ( first 2- 3 years) over, it dawns to them that they are not satisfied and have to live a very long time unhappily. The feeling was probably always there among some couples, but the difference is that while earlier they chose to live with it for society's sake, now they are giving far more importance to their feelings," says Singh.

THE X FACTOR

After thirty years of marriage when jet- setting businessman Vikram Kapoor decided to spend quality time with his family, a rude shock awaited him. Spending most of his life crisscrossing time zones he realised that his wife, Sakshi, had a number of relationships with other men.

Their two children had established their own careers and the couple found it futile to carry on with their marriage. If extra marital affairs drive some to separation, physical abuse and queer orientations which they develop in later life complicate matters for others, say experts.

At times, it's the children who show the way to couples who spend most of the time bickering.

Rishi and Ritu Gupta's children Muskan ( 26) and Manas ( 24) only have faint memories of a happy family outing. Their parents, who have been married for 27 years haven't been seeing eye- to- eye for at least the last 10 years. They have never invited their friends home as their parents address each other only in expletives.

Last year, they put their foot down and decided to take their parents to a marriage counsellor.

After successive sessions proved futile, they advised their parents to part ways. " Our decision was based on their well being, they have never liked each other. Now, they live separate," says Manas.

Most couples pondering over parting ways after spending a very long time in an unhappy marriage ask counsellors, " could it have been different?". No one has the answer to that apart from the people in the marriages. But addressing core issues early in life, even if they are difficult, would pave way for a happier future, agree most experts.

preetha.nair@mailtoday.in

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Jun 16, 2010
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