I have been getting many letters recently asking how to choose a partner, and also asking why marriages don’t last. For this newsletter I have taken all my responses and organized them into something cohesive.
I felt it important to share this information because stable marriages are becoming more and more of a challenge today and I want to do my part in helping devotees make their marriages successful. I hope this will be useful either to you or to someone you know. So please feel free to share this
I would also appreciate hearing from you about your own realizations on this topic.
May you always think of Kṛṣṇa,
Choosing the Right Partner
One of the most important elements in a creating a lasting marriage is choosing the right partner. Having a compatibility chart and/or doing pre-marital counseling is advisable, but in addition it is important to be with the person you are considering marrying (or engaged to) over a one or two- year period before marriage, and also be with them in a large number of situations. This helps you to get to know what the person is really like. If you don’t do this, you may only get to know the person well after marriage, and you might find out things about him or her that surprise you, which having known before may have caused you to reconsider marrying them – or even convinced you not to marry them.
For example, sometimes you find that people have serious emotional issues that makes it difficult for them to open up, to be reasonable in some situations, to trust you or to get close to you. Sometimes they become easily (possibly also seriously) depressed when going through difficulties. Or they need to be right, have their way, are terribly irresponsible or immature, can’t listen to anyone, or can’t compromise.
These personal problems make it difficult for them to be good partners. They would need to work on these issues before marriage. If they don’t, these issues could be the cause of a very unhappy or miserable relationship.
And there are many anger, abuse and violence issues that are becoming more and more common today among men, and if a man has these tendencies, the longer you are together before marriage, the more likely it will be for you to see signs of a potentially abusive relationship.
One way to prevent marrying a potentially abusive man is to do some background check on him – does he have a history of anger issues, violence with women – or men – etc! It is not uncommon for men to lie about former failed relationships, either covering them up or blaming the failure on their former partner. So be aware of this. No woman can cause a man to be physically violent; it is his personal problem.
Also, if he blames his relationship failure(s) on his former partner, this is a red flag. It means if the relationship with you starts to fail, he will blame it on you. In fact, it is likely he will blame all marital problems on you.
But here’s a problem to be aware of. Because a person wants to marry, often they will do their best to hide their defects (you may do this as well). And because you like this person very much, and you feel happy being with them, even though you notice defects that would normally be of concern, you don’t pay much attention to them (or you are simply oblivious of them). The euphoria of “love” is like a drug which can even make you even think their faults are “cute.” But later on many of those faults will no longer be seen as “cute,” and some of them can become the cause of serious problems in the marriage.
I Don’t Like You
Linked to not knowing each other well enough before marriage is another common problem: after living together for some time the couple realizes they don’t really like one another that much. So how did they end up together if in fact they really had little in common? Physical attraction dominated. Their external attraction brought them together and made them think they loved one another and were a great match. It is when the physical attraction starts to wane that some couples realize what they didn’t know before: they don’t really like one another much.
A very Kṛṣṇa conscious couple could deal with this by making their spiritual advancement the center of their relationship and being more tolerant of their differences. They could still be quite happy in their Kṛṣṇa consciousness. They would accept that their marriage karma is not great but still being dutiful, they would live together peacefully.
Still, even Prabhupada admits that if the matches are not compatible, the couple will not be very happy together.
Do Compatibility Charts Work?
But you might ask, “If they did a compatibility chart and/or pre-marital counseling, how is it that later on they find they don’t like being together? Sometimes even couples with compatible charts end up getting divorced. There is more to making a marriage work than having a compatible chart. And this is why it is recommended to get to know someone well before deciding to marry them.
Men are From Mars, Women from Venus
Another reason marriage may not last is because those entering marriage know little about marriage and the opposite sex. When they enter the marriage arena they don’t know how to play by the rules because they don’t know the rules. It’s common that people have little idea what it takes to make a marriage work well and what are the all the differences between men and women.
A big cause of short-lived marriages is unhealthy marriage paradigms, some of which may be picked up in ISKCON. These are negative connotations about marriage, the opposite sex, etc. In the name of helping one progress on the spiritual path, some of our preaching undermines values necessary for a healthy marriage. If one enters marriage with negative connotations, it can be difficult to make marriage work well (note this is usually a male problem).
A common cause of divorce these days is that one of the spouses becomes attracted to another person. This means they don’t view their marriage as a sacred duty. So if they don’t get enjoyment from their spouse, they look for it elsewhere. This can make it impossible for their marriage to continue, even if culprit spouse apologizes and is remorseful. This is because the cheated spouse may not be able to forgive, and without forgiveness they normally find it unbearable to continue the relationship. Or if the relationship continues, it becomes cold and distant and full of mistrust.
Financial problems can cause divorce. The husband doesn’t provide well because he is not well educated and can’t find a good job. Or maybe he cannot keep a job, or is just lazy and doesn’t want to work much. Or he has a low-paying job and needs to work two jobs to make ends meet and hardly has time for his family.
It also happens that one, or both of the spouses overspend and put the family in debt. Or one of them regularly makes big purchases without consulting the other.
I Lost Interest in Krsna Consciousness
There is another situation: one of the partners loses interest in Krishna consciousness and the couple starts drifting apart. They don’t necessarily have to drift apart, but the more Krishna Conscious partner may get upset or discouraged by the lessened interest of their partner. Or the less Krishna Conscious partner may want to limit the devotional activities of his or her spouse.
There is another scenario, slightly different but in the same vein: both spouses are good devotees but one of the spouses becomes detached from grhastha asrama, showing very little interest in family life although the couple is not at the vanaprastha stage of life. In this sense, Kṛṣṇa consciousness, when not applied in a healthy and balanced way, becomes the cause of divorce.
Often such spouses neglect their families because of their service, seeing service as important and family as an impediment to their Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Values Change as We Age
Then there are situations in which values differ significantly. One wants to live in a hut on a farm and grow food and the other wants to live in a high-rise apartment in a big city. One wants to spend their life in service to Kṛṣṇa and the other wants both to work at high-paying jobs. One wants two kids and the other want none, or wants a lot of kids and the other only one.
You might say that if they do pre-marital counseling they could have avoided this problem. This is not always the case because sometimes people’s values change later in life. For example, at the age of 22 one may say they don’t want any children, but at the age of 28 they may desire to have many.
So if you marry, you will need to be flexible. Don’t be surprised if your spouse who wanted to live on a farm in a small cob home when he/she was 22 may find that lifestyle unappealing when he/she is 35 and now wants a nice home in suburbia with all modern amenities.
Not Fit For Marriage
Sometimes a couple marries to realize after some time don’t like being married (they realize they were not ready yet for marriage or that they are just not cut out for marriage). The marriage natural degrades as they have difficulty being married and don’t have the strength or grounding to be a dutiful spouse anyway. If you feel you want to be married, make sure you are really ready for it and make sure your potential partner is ready as well.
Learn more about your partner’s history. Does he/she have a history of failed relationships, not just with the opposite sex, but in temples, work, with parents, siblings, etc. It is rare partners do this, yet it is common to later find out, after a failed relationship, that this person had a history of similarly failed relationships.
There is also the situation in which one of the spouses becomes helplessly fallen: addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, etc., and life at home becomes unhealthy for the kids, the spouse, or both.
Not Mentally Stable
You might come to find out, as does sometimes happen, that your spouse is actually not mentally stable, perhaps even clinically mentally ill and they never told you. It could also happen that it is during the course of the marriage that the mental illness develops. The problem is often that they need to take medications to be stable, but they don’t, or they sometimes forget, and living with them may become impossible. Or sometimes, the medications don’t help that much and it requires extreme patience and tolerance to deal with them, more tolerance than you can muster up on a consistent basis. Again, learning more about the person’s history could reveal these mental problems. I am not saying that knowing this reality would necessarily deter you from marrying them, but at least you would be aware of the potential challenges you will inevitably face with them.
What if your spouse becomes crippled or seriously ill and your whole life revolves around caring for them and you hit a point in which you have a breakdown, can’t continue to do it, or find it difficult to be around them all the time. When you marry you take responsibility for your spouse in “happiness or distress.”
Or maybe you find out your partner is a homosexual (and may even be having homosexual relations). Again, better try to find out as much as possible about your potential spouse before you marry.
Why Did We Marry?
There are many other causes of divorce, most of which center around having a misunderstanding of the purpose of marriage (enjoyment versus service, control versus support, etc.). Devotees may enter marriage with expectations of happiness based on material conceptions that are both unrealistic and not Kṛṣṇa conscious. Marriage is for spiritual advancement and happiness in a Kṛṣṇa conscious marriage is a by-product of a couple helping one another advance. As such, if enjoyment and the happiness derived from it is their main reason to be married, and devotees cannot find such fulfillment in their marriage, they may want to get out of it in search of happiness in another relationship.
External Pressure to Marry
Yet another cause of divorce is external pressure to get married in the first place. Sometimes a devotee may receive strong recommendations by a senior devotee, relative, or authority to get married to a particular person whom the devotee barely knows, or has not had enough time to associate with. The marriage takes place and both partners soon realize they are not compatible with each other or were not really ready for marriage.
Internal Pressure to Marry
And then there is internal pressure to marry. One is either hitting an age where if they don’t marry soon they won’t be able to have children, it will be difficult to find an eligible partner. Sometimes one wants to marry so badly that they are not honest about themselves: they hide some major fault or something dark about their past. The parents of a potential spouse may also hide information about their son or daughter, knowing that if you became aware of it you wouldn’t marry them.
Third Party Interference
A similar cause for divorce is interference from third parties. Such interference can seem benevolent. For example, one partner may feel a lot of respect for a senior authority who is giving him/ her advice on such things as marriage, professional life, raising children, and service, etc. However, the other spouse may find such advices unacceptable or disconnected from the reality of the couple’s particular situation. So be careful about making decisions recommended by third parties that are upsetting to your partner (gurus understanding this reality will be careful about giving advice that would be upsetting to a disciple’s spouse).
What’s Most Important?
Now having said all of the above, I believe the most fundamental problem causing a bad marriage is that men are not being men and women are not being women. Many men don’t fully understand what it means to be a man. This means they don’t understand women well, they don’t support them well, they don’t respect them well, and they don’t tolerate their frailties well. And women are never happy living with such a so-called men!
And when women act like men, controlling the man, not respecting him, or not supporting him, he will find the situation extremely frustrating – or even unbearable.
Another foundational reason for divorce is that the couple never really committed deeply enough in the first place to make the marriage work. So because they see divorce as a solution to their problems, they think they can always run out of the back door rather than thinking divorce is not an option and we have to make this work. In the West, we are not trained to see marriage as a one time affair. We are trained that if it doesn’t work out, try again. The joke is that on the wedding day the relatives say, “She will make a good first wife for him!”
The Man’s Responsibility
Prabhupada said divorce is usually due to a woman’s weakness. But when she has a good husband, Prabhupada says she will be happy and in sattva-guna. Therefore, if the man makes her happy and helps her to be Kṛṣṇa conscious, it is less likely she will leave him. Of course, I am sure that there are some women whose husbands can never make them happy no matter how hard the husbands try, but generally if the husband treats her well and is a good example of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the wife will be satisfied.
Should I Marry?
Now maybe after reading this you are very concerned about entering marriage. Well, you should be, because if you are not, you might end up as part of the divorce statistics. If you are going to marry, be aware that aside from the benefits you will receive there will be many new challenges, and it is not going to always be easy. All your problems will not go away when you marry. And some new ones will visit you. But as long as you are aware of this, you are better situated do deal with the realities of marriage, make it work, and be an example of an ideal Kṛṣṇa conscious couple.
As it is said, “Marriage is not a destination; it is a journey.”
Understand that in the beginning of a relationship you will not know enough about the person to conclude that this is the right match for you. Maybe it is and maybe you sense it is, but that sense needs to be confirmed by getting to know one another well. And it also needs to be backed up by understanding as much as you can about the nature of the opposite sex and the nature of the grhastha asrama.
Read about and listen to workshops on marriage; talk to experienced devotees about marriage. The more you know about this asrama before you enter it, the better. (And there are thirty lectures on the grhastha asrama on my website, www.mahatmadas.com that I feel will be extremely helpful for you.)
Is There More?
There are other reasons for divorce and this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. This newsletter is meant to help you learn more about the potential pitfalls of marriage, knowing which can help you make more intelligent choices about who might be the best marriage partner for you.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”