South Asian Relationships: The Invisible Divorce

imageWhile most South Asian countries can pride themselves on some of the lowest divorce rates in the world, remaining legally married is not necessarily a testament to the health and happiness of the relationship. In cultures, such as the South Asian culture, where legal divorce is looked down upon, an invisible divorce often takes its place.

The hallmark of an invisible divorce is that though the couple is legally married the couple no longer share emotional or physical intimacy as they once did. Their lives tend to proceed in parallel with one another, resembling the relationship between roommates or co-workers. Couples living in an invisible divorce still love their spouses, which is understandable given that the two have shared a history together and possibly have children together. Some couples in an invisible divorce feel resentful and others feel indifferent to their spouse. In either case, the bond that once joined the two is no longer there.

For some South Asian couples, staying together is purely a financial decision since one or both partners may not be able to afford living alone. Other couples stay together for fear of being ostracized by the community due to the stigma associated with legal divorce. Many times South Asian parents choose an invisible divorce over a legal divorce believing that it is best for the children if they remain under the same roof.

In most cases, children can be just as hurt from an invisible divorce as a legal separation. Children become confidantes of one or both parents, making it uncomfortable for the child to listen to negative things about their second parent. They also feel pressure to be an adult like support for their parent, which can cause them to develop unhealthy parent-child relationships. In addition, children learn how to treat others and what to expect from their future marriage by watching their parents. Growing up witnessing an invisible divorce can model for the children unhealthy communication and emotional intimacy in a marriage. This increases the risk of the children entering unhealthy adult relationships, as well.

While every couple experiences and expresses an invisible divorce, here are the most common signs that a couple is living in an invisible divorce.

Primary feeling toward your spouse is resentment

Feeling as if you don’t care about your relationship anymore

Feeling invisible

Feeling unloved

Preferring to do activities alone or with others as opposed to with your partner

Finding activities or responsibilities to keep you busy and away from home or your spouse (e.g. work, watching sports, attending classes, etc.)

Becoming increasingly involved in your children’s lives to fill a sense of purpose

Depending on your children, not your marriage, to help you feel a sense of purpose or love

Other people know more about your life, feelings, experiences, etc. than your spouse

Thinking of telling someone other than your spouse first when you receive good or bad news

Feeling accustomed to being on your own

Feeling lonely or that your marriage is no longer a partnership

Most of the communication between you and your partner is through arguments

Feeling a general sense of emptiness, unhappiness or dissatisfaction

Believing that change is not possible in the relationship

Invisible divorces can be mended if both partners are willing to work on changing the unhealthy dynamics of the marriage. Because both partners have built up a mountain of emotions toward each other by the time an invisible divorce is recognized, the best prognosis for the marriage can be achieved by working with a marriage counselor. They can help identify problematic communication or relational patterns in the marriage and provide new skills to strengthen the marriage. To find a South Asian counselor, please see our South Asian service providers directory.

What do you think about invisible divorces? Please leave your comments below.

Related Articles:


  1. Way to go on the expert opinion. Living in the wester hemisphere and discussing the east like you know all about it from your ‘education’ and experiences. Way to go genius!

    • Wow you are a very ignorant man. You must be living this reality and can’t stand to see your life laid out so professionally by an organization that is trying to help more couples avoid this fate.

    • Thank you for your feedback. Articles published by this organization are meant for general educational and preventative purposes only. MySahana acknowledges that all couples, individuals and families have unique strengths and struggles that cannot all be addressed in an educational article. Individual counseling or treatment plans are best to find a solution to each couple’s specific problems.

  2. Very good article. What is the solution though?

    • Identifying risk factors and early signs are necessary to prevent the invisible divorce from occurring in the first place. If a couple finds themselves down this path and would like to improve their situation, counseling is recommended either by a mental health professional or a religious leader who can help the couple identify how they got to this place and provide them with skills to improve the health of their relationship.

  3. Pingback: How Marital Therapy Saved My Marriage Before It Even Began | -

  4. Another beautiful article. You have put down the emotions involved so nicely. If the spouse refuses to see a therapist, is there a solution for this?

    • This is a common problem for many couples where 1 partner is not willing to go to counseling. At this point it is best if the partner who is willing to try counseling goes alone so they can learn how to cope with their situation in a healthier manner.

  5. What advice do you give someone who thinks counseling is the right answer and whose spouse is willing to try it but only because the other person wants to do it. In other words, the spouse actually finds it unnecessary and in a way blames their spouse as the cause of all problems.

    • This is a great question. Generally speaking, if both spouses are willing to go to counseling, then it is advisable to seek couples counseling. The therapist will work with the couple to identify problematic patterns in the marriage and teach the tools necessary to undo them.

      Because this question affects so many people, we will answer i in full in our upcoming newsletter which will be published on April 18th, 2012. Please be sure to subscribe so you can see the full answer.

      If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to call or email us.

    • I actually had a similar question as Urmila above. While I’m going for stress/anxiety counselling after 3.5 yrs of what in my views has become a “failed” relationship, the spouse is probably not interested in acknowledging the problems in our marriage. I believe she doesn’t show genuine emotions in calling my efforts as “my personal issues”. Not sure if she’s shy/afraid (as she never talks about her fears) but she finds it OK to just continue with her job, etc while it is affecting (both of us) mental/physical health and work. On my family’s advice she has agreed for couples counselling but I feel she’s only interested in putting all the problems on me without acknowledging our real differences and ignoring superficial arguments as a result of years of bad relation.
      I would like to follow the April 18th newsletter but can’t find it. Can you please point me to it? I’ve just subscribed to the newsletters.

  6. Love this article. Great information.

Comments are closed