Forced Marriages

In March 2017 a newlywed bride was found dead in her room. The police investigated the family and questioned the husband, who at the time stated that he found his wife dead in the morning. She had a ‘habit’ of wrapping her dupatta (a long scarf) over her face before sleeping. Sometime later during the interrogation, he admitted to killing his wife. The reason? His parents forced him to marry her but he was in love with someone else, and the family didn’t approve.

Wow, so someone’s daughter had to be killed like an animal because the man didn’t want her in his life. Sure, I agree, this is an extreme example, and whoever this girlfriend is, should run planets away from this guy. What will happen when he loses interest in her too? Will she meet the same fate?

So let’s talk about less extreme versions. A boy gets married but sleeps with other women on the side. Another one, he gets married and hates her, nothing pleases him about her. She could be the perfect woman in every sense, beautiful, smart, caring, a good mother but he still doesn’t want her. He treats her harshly, abuses her verbally or physically. Ironically he manages to sleep with her, but nothing attracts him about her.

But wait, there’s more. He likes her, doesn’t mind getting married to her but can’t get his ex-girlfriend out of his mind. He tells her “Lose some weight, try to dress up for me, don’t smell like salan and daal all the time.” “Grow out your hair, after all, she did those things for me, why can’t you?”. The husband will always show his disapproval one way or another and compare you to her.

The lowest extreme, people become good liars. They tell themselves

“Maybe this is it, this is my fate”,

“Maybe in time, I will grow to love her” ,

“She takes care of my parents, me, my children, so what if I don’t love her. You have to be practical in life”,

“There is no such thing as love between a husband and wife. Married life means routine. Just keep your head down and accept it. Nothing is perfect.”

Couples constantly fight and bicker but have no idea why they can’t stop. Fine, all couples do. Let’s not lie here. But I always feel, when two people like each other initially, and have developed love and respect for one another, will recognize that these things only weakens marriage and will strive to maintain a homeostasis in their marriage. That compromise and adjustment, I get. But for that to happen, some initial respect has to be present.

In all this, parents are on top of the world because their son has paid off his debt by giving in to the parental pressure. Later on when they see their son unhappy, instead of thinking that, perhaps, this could be their fault, start blaming the girl that SHE is not living up to their son’s expectations. She is not trying hard enough to please him. They expect a personality transformation and push a girl to please their son to validate their choice.

It provokes me to think that our parents are under the delusion that if they managed to commit to such forced relationships, maybe our kids will too. You hear it countless times ” You have to adjust. You have to compromise. No one is 100 % perfect”, “We also did it. I did not even see your mother or father until the day of the wedding and look at us now.” Admit it, it still happens today, and it does because parents are still stuck on the notion that if they can do it, so should the kids.

I don’t mean to undermine parents and their experience, but choosing a spouse is the riskiest decision you can ever take for your child and parents are also capable of making a mistake, just as a child would or any other human. Like any other first experience, they have encountered, getting their child married is also a first experience (unless they have married off a few siblings before, successfully, to good families or known for their good judgment). It is not as simple as,

  1. Find the person
  2. Meet the person
  3. Set the date and we’re done.

A marriage gone wrong is an emotionally painful and long punishment to live out. Even jail sentences have a set free date. There are only two ways to get out of a marriage, and that’s divorce or death (May Allah protect everyone and their health). In our society, both mean the same thing. So many of us decide to stay in a marriage even if we are unhappy. What is hard to digest is the fact that we have lived our lives this way because someone else chose this for us. If this was our own mistake, we could come to terms with it. We can try to rectify it and own up to it.

Will the same people, who made a wrong choice for you, also say “Yes, we made a mistake”? No. Instead they will say “What’s done is done, now adjust, compromise, accept it and live your life.” That’s the brutal part of it all. Now you have to live in this misery because of someone else’s bad judgment.

Times have changed. Kids want their say. Kids need to feel comfortable and make smarter decisions for their life. They want to save their life from misery and bitterness. It is not enough for them to live out such a marriage, thinking, “My parents chose a spouse for me and even if I don’t like him or her, I should be ok with this.”

Parents need to give their children, a full say in their marriage. It is their life. Our religion gives them the right, to choose a spouse (by halal means) or at least have a say in the marriage process. The answer needs to come from your children, so they don’t regret it tomorrow. When things go south, they can’t come after the parents saying, “You did this to me.”

Yes, they can make wrong choices too, and that’s where parental expertise comes in, but you need to have valid reasons and communicate your concerns to your child in a way that doesn’t make them rebellious. Instead, they should be able to trust your judgment and reflect on their decision. End the conversation by saying “We just want your happiness and we are afraid you are not making the right decision, please think about it.”

As a parent, who loves their child, the ultimate goal should be that your child is happy with their decision and they don’t blame you in the end. As I see it, it is a win-win situation for everyone when you allow your son or daughter to make a choice, whether it’s arranged or love, at least give them the freedom to have an opinion or time to get to know the person. When they are happy, you are happy.

You as the parent don’t get to be blamed for their misery or misfortune. Your conscience will be clear. You allowed them to make a choice, you asked them, and they said yes. You allowed sufficient time for the two to get to know each other. You did your background check on the family. You did everything you could as a parent to ensure you and your child are making the right and safe decision for their life. If after all this, things didn’t go the way you expected, then that was just fate. At least, It was not all those other things, because you didn’t leave any stone unturned.

I urge parents, allow your children to have a say in their life. You may have given birth to them, but the rules of God govern their life. He is the ultimate one who has given life to all of us. So there is someone above you watching you coerce your child.

Lastly, I want parents to know that sometimes a girl or boy can be excellent on paper, but they are not someone your child wants. It’s better to release your child from any bondage they don’t want to commit to than to force them into an awful sentence for the rest of their life, blaming you all the way. Walking away is infinite times better than making your child go through a divorce.

If you raised them smart, gave them a good education, and they managed to handle a million other problems in their lives. I think they are also capable enough to decide who they’ll be happy with. Your input is, of course, valuable. Your experience also counts. You also have a say in your child’s life, but it’s their life in the end. Let theirs be the final verdict.

Until next time.

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