Social Media Wreaking Havoc on Indian Marriages

by SB Veda

They’d met at a dinner party, and had kept in touch on WhatsApp. Innocent messages soon gave way to more intimate conversations, which often continued into the wee hours of the night. Soon, they were meeting for lunch, going shopping together, and six months on, they were even planning a trip. It would have been a typical courtship if not for the fact that she was 47, married with two teenage children – and he was 23 year old college grad.

Her husband of 24 years had been growing suspicious about her behaviour and became aghast at the racy messages when he scanned her phone history. The two are separated, planning to divorce.

In India, where cross-gender friendships are less common than that of the west, social media has made it easier for those of the opposite sex to connect.  Meets can be planned without uttering a word, and conversations can take place at all hours. For those not quite satisfied with their marriages (some arranged) the secrecy of the activity can heighten the pleasure.

The problem has become a new area in addiction medicine. According to psychiatrist, Sanjay Sen, what is interesting about social media addiction is that it marries technology addiction and sexual addiction, Whatsapp conversations can lead to mutual sexual gratification – or satisfaction after the fact.

“Addicts, compulsively repeat certain unhealthy behaviours despite negative consequences. This is in part due to stress triggers or a troubled past but also because of the powerful pleasure-inducing chemicals released in the brain when expressing addiction. These chemicals are not only a response to ingesting a substance but can also be brought on by interactions, viewing pornography, and other compulsive behaviours.”

The phenomenon is wreaking havoc on marriages across borders. Says India-based international lawyer, Ela Sanyal, “I’m involved in two divorce cases in which social media enabled married people to reconnect with old flames who had moved to different countries (in one case half-way around the world) and ditching their marriages for the other.”

In Calcutta, the women grievance cell of the crime branch has recorded 67 such cases in just in the month of February alone, of which 49 couples are now headed for separation.

Counsellor Nilanjana Roy says half the marital dispute cases she gets are rooted in WhatsApp. “Our culture has changed, and so have the meanings of family and marriage. People share a forward message with others without considering if it is suitable or not. Comments in the form of messages aren’t particularly helpful,” she says.

Police and Calcutta-based mental health practitioners are reporting an increase in the number of such cases over the last 15 months and experts handling them say most partners are fed up of their spouses chatting incessantly with family, friends and even strangers through the day and even late into the night. It only gets more worrisome, when they start sharing every personal information and even photos and videos.

Other social networking platforms like Facebook also lead to discords but to a lesser extent, when spouses share photographs which attract likes and comments.

“Educated couples, many with children, regularly come with such problems,” says psychologist, Koel Basak, “Some are willing to give each other another chance, but most tell us that the trust is eroded. Couples need multiple rounds of counselling to help them resolve their problems. The habit of incessantly using the mobile phone, though, takes a lot of time to go away,” she says.
The real problem, according to many experts is the illusion of wellness that chatting with others creates. Through WhatsApp, one can develop a superficial closeness with people who we may not be truly close to and thus find it easy to share all aspects of our life even without judging them. When compared to the stress of our day to day life, including the strains that both husband and wife go through, the relationship developed on WhatsApp offers the perfect distraction. While face-to-face interaction may not occur soon after the messaging, the activity primes such interaction for infidelity.
In many cases, the straying spouse never has the intention to break a marriage. “The husband-wife relationship may even have been good with periodic fighting causing one spouse to seek solace in a chat partner. Then, over dinner and drinks, pre-seasoned with the artificial intimacy of chatting, lines are crossed.”  says Roy.
With WhatsApp increasingly blurring the limits of what is acceptable, both men and women need to understand the implications of their behaviour, insists Pratibha Joshi, police inspector in-charge of the women grievance redressal cell in Mumbai.
“We have dealt with cases of married women getting lured into WhatsApp chats with male friends who then abuse the friendship for perverted intentions. Even before they know it, the women are trapped, though they may think they are enjoying it,” she says.

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