The Psychology of Divorce: What Happens When a Marriage Unravels

What happens when a marriage starts unraveling? How do you deal with the isolation, the denial, the loneliness?

6 min read

(This story was first published in 2019 and is being re-published from The Quint's archives after the Supreme Court held that it can grant divorce on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown of marriage and also do away with the mandatory (minimum) six-month waiting period for divorce by mutual consent.)


Camera: Nitin Chopra, Sumit Badola, Shiv Kumar

Illustrations: Arnica Kala

Editor: Kunal Mehra, Prashant Chauhan

Reporter: Saakhi Chadha

Producer: Vaishali Sood

What happens when movies end? When the happily ever-after is not quite as picture perfect? What happens when marriages begin to unravel? Is there denial? Anger? Blame? Loneliness and depression? And then... somewhere down the line... acceptance?

FIT speaks with three people who are now no longer together with their spouses to understand the Psychology of Divorce. Preeta Pradhan, a computer programmer and a sound healer who was married for 23 years before separating from her husband; Rashi Seth, an entrepreneur and a mother who separated from her husband after nine years; and Anant Nayak, a marketing professional who divorced his wife after seven years.

Psychologist Kamna Chhibber, from Fortis Hospital, helps us put things in perspective.


The Beginning

Preeta: So we both got married in 1987. We were both computer programmers and it was a work place romance.

Anant: It was an arranged marriage and I met her in 2011.

Rashi: I met my husband through my work and dated for about two years.

The Unraveling

What happens when a marriage starts unraveling? How do you deal with the isolation, the denial, the loneliness?

Anant: We were not able to adjust with each other. There were many things that were incompatible.

Rashi: The initial days became very difficult because the expectations from both the houses, specially his parents, were too much. On top of it, my husband stopped working as well. So the pressure of finances, running the house and from the in-laws was getting too much.

Preeta: Our marriage had become stagnant. We were okay, we were like any other couple. But then there wasn’t much conversation, there wasn’t much interaction apart from the mundane. You have to buy this, you have to do that, meet so and so, but there wasn’t any personal conversations. There wasn’t anything exciting happening in the marriage.

Rashi: All marriages are the same. And the second thing everyone said was have a child. In that whole dilemma of whether we want to the child or not, I got pregnant Man: A place like India, if you get divorced, you have to face everything - socially, mentally, physically, financially, everything you have to go through

Preeta: For ten years I used to tell myself that there is no way out. If I walk out now I’ll have to restart my life, my career, face my parents, all of that. I just stuck around with the marriage.

Rashi: Let me tell you here, during our marriage also twice I approached a counselor to see if we can make it work.

Kamna Chhibber, Psychologist, Fortis Hospitals: Counseling can play a very large role. When you are going through a breakdown of a marriage, we can look at can things be made better, and if they can be, what is it that we can do.


The Breaking Point

What happens when a marriage starts unraveling? How do you deal with the isolation, the denial, the loneliness?

Rashi: I could clearly see that he was a worse father than a husband to me. As far as I remember I went for all my doctor appointments alone. There was always an excuse.

Anant: I got married in 2011 and by 2015 there was a breaking point when I thought I should not take this further. What happens is that once the personal bond breaks, then the legal comes in.

Preeta: Somewhere down the line, just past our 20th anniversary, I found out that he was having an affair. So that’s the sense I got. That was a breaking point for me. But the fact that I was suffering and he wasn’t caring about that, so two year even after that incident I was there. And those two years were life changing for me

Rashi: I remember one night when abuse had gone on for the whole night and I got up in the morning and looked into the mirror and said really after all this education, being so empowered, being financially independent, if you still can’t take a stand you have no right to tell that domestic maid that take a stand. After that I never looked back.

Kanma Chhibber, Psychologist: See each individual has an image in their mind of what they would like their life to be. And when any kind of an incident occurs, including a troubled marriage, you feel that that idea will not get fulfilled, it can create a lot of turbulence within that individual.



What happens when a marriage starts unraveling? How do you deal with the isolation, the denial, the loneliness?

Rashi: You know by the time your relationship reaches the physical abuse stage, you’ve already crossed a long road of mental abuse. That long road has already broken your confidence. And you start believing that you are probably supposed to go through it, it has something to do with me.

Preeta: Feeling of not being good enough, not being loved, feeling of being cheated, and all that resentment you held against the world. I remember thinking and crying for many nights, reading all kinds of self help books.

Anant: I had a breakdown and life had become sort of blank. Life was going well… Slowly you begin to emerge from the trauma…


What happens when a marriage starts unraveling? How do you deal with the isolation, the denial, the loneliness?

Rashi: Well it’s very tough. You feel alone. And all that talk of I am your friend and I’ll be there for you, I’ll not judge you, all that talk is plain crap. People you know will not judge, you are afraid to go to them, because you don’t want them to feel sorry for you. If you are someone who’s had a very respectable image in front of them, you don’t want them to see you be vulnerable.

Preeta: The fact that I didn’t have children also made me very lonely in the sense that if I died today it wouldn’t matter to anybody. I went through that phase for the longest time that there is no one who is waiting for me. There are no parents, no children, the husband doesn’t care. A lot of friends just stopped calling me because I was non-communicative. But I guess those are signs of depression, which people don’t know how to deal with.

Kamna Chhibber, Psychologist: If you are a friend or a family member who really wants to support this person, the most important thing you can do for them is to learn to listen. And actively listen to what is going on. Try to help validate the emotions that they are feeling. Give them corrective experience to state that it may not be just your fault.


What happens when a marriage starts unraveling? How do you deal with the isolation, the denial, the loneliness?

Anant: There were two choices - either I stay with her and get mentally disturbed or I face other difficulties financially, emotionally, socially. I chose the former because living with someone who is not compatible is even more difficult.

Preeta: The last two years have been very freeing and empowering. I traveled and I have learned a lot of new things, reinvented myself, from yoga, nature cure to Buddhism and sound healing.

Rashi: I gave it a fight. I brought the father back into her life because I thought that perhaps socially she would like to show her dad around. To salvage that relationship, I have put her into a life skill class.

Kamna Chhibber: We can help your child first verbalize what’s going on and then learn to cope with that entire situation and that will become a skill for life. Plate: Now Man: You find out there is more to life than marriage.

Rashi: Counseling helped me meet me. Once you meet yourself then you are never alone.

Preeta: Today I call myself a life coach, a healer, a therapist. It’s a start of a new journey.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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