Opening Up on Divorce As A South Asian Woman

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By Nadia Shah @desiinlaws & online at: www.SouthAsianInlaws.com

torn piece of paper with divorce text and paper cpuple figuresADVICE 2014I’m sure most of you have heard it before, and it especially holds true for South Asians: You don’t just marry a person, you marry a family. But does the same hold true for divorce? Do you divorce a family when divorcing your spouse?

One aspect of our South Asian collectivistic culture is that what you do affects and reflects upon your family. Partly because of that cultural value, divorce is often (and wrongfully) associated with personal shame, family embarrassment, a damaged reputation, and difficulty remarrying. The stigma associated with divorce in our culture needs to be eliminated, but that can only happen by discussing the topic more openly and taking the time to understand why divorce occurs and what happens afterwards.

To help us gain some insight, I asked three brave, recently divorced women a few questions about their families and in-laws.

Here’s what they had to say:

How did divorce affect your relationship with your ex in-laws?

Woman A: I don’t have a relationship with my ex in-laws. Some of the extended family see me randomly but I try not to interact with the immediate family at all.

Woman B: The divorce severed the already rocky relationship with the in-laws because I was painted as the “bad guy.” And since the divorce, the in-laws have zero interaction with me or my son (their grandchild).

Woman C: My relationship with my in-laws was not healthy, so it was important to cut ties with them when the relationship ended. They held a lot of resentment and negativity toward me, so for my sanity and health we needed to disconnect.

Have any of you divorced MM readers kept in touch with your ex in-laws? 

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Believe it or not, It’s possible, and may even be beneficial, to do so; however, additional boundaries must be set. It’s best to start by talking to your ex-spouse about your desire to maintain a relationship with an in-law so that he or she doesn’t feel uncomfortable. This is especially important if kids are involved, as maintaining as much peace as possible, for their sake, becomes much more important.

How did divorce affect your relationship with your own parents?

Woman A: My parents have been very supportive of me throughout this process. Fortunately, there hasn’t been a change in my relationship with them. If anything, they are worried about me now and want me to get married again soon.

Woman B:  I’ve always had a strong relationship with my parents but the divorce negatively affected our relationship temporarily. Our culture sees divorce to be the “end of the world,” so even my parents thought for a moment that my future may not be great because of that. But after many years they finally see that their concerns were baseless and my son and I are doing great. It’s not until divorce happens in your own home or a close family friend’s home, that they (parents) really begin to understand that a woman who is divorced is not less of a woman. She’s still the same person and strong enough to be better.

Woman C: The divorce actually strengthened my bond with my parents. The divorce was hard on them in the beginning but they were always supportive. And being back home made me more appreciative of them and vice versa. Of course there was backlash from the community about my divorce, but my parents told me not to worry and that they would handle it.

Fortunately, these women had their parents’ support. Perhaps this can be attributed to the influence of American culture on their lives growing up in the country. Or perhaps they simply have great parents. Whatever the reason, not all South Asian parents would be that accepting toward divorce, and that is most unfortunate.

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Do you think divorce will affect your future romantic relationships? And will it affect your relationship with your future in-laws?
Woman A: After a couple of years I can finally say I am so over it! I dont think my divorce will affect my future relationships negatively at all. I have learned a lot about myself throughout this divorce process and I know what I want in a spouse. I have also learned a lot about marriage.

Woman B: I won’t allow divorce to define me. Any relationship has the potential to go sour but you learn from experience. I have taken my relationship and learned from it; I’ve assessed my strong points, worked on my weak points, and embraced the past without letting it define my future. And with future in-laws, I don’t plan on carrying the weight of my past into those relationships either.
Woman C: My divorce taught me what I want and don’t want in future relationships, including learning about the “red flags” to look for (i.e. abuse, control). I haven’t had trouble with potential partners. In fact they are supportive and reassure me that not all men are like my ex husband. With my future in-laws it’ll be important to discuss my divorce so that they don’t hold it against me or throw it back in my face in the future. Speaking from experience, having a positive relationship with your in-laws will affect your happiness.

The stigma associated with divorce in the South Asian culture can, and most likely will pose a barrier in meeting potential partners. During the “Rishta” or dating process, families and potential spouses may become hesitant at the mere mention of the word “divorce,” and many times without taking the time to understand the reasons why. But the key, as these women have shown, is to never let your divorce define you.  Approaching the discussion openly and straightforwardly can help quickly overcome any barriers to a successful marriage and a positive future in-law relationship. New you, old you.

While the women above chose not maintain relationships with their ex in-laws, it’s important to remember that it can be done. It really depends most on the strength of your relationships and personal situation of the parties involved. If you are best friends with one of your sister-in-laws then you may, eventually, be able to maintain some or all of the relationship.

However, if you can’t stand one another to begin with, future prospects post-divorce would not be promising. Emotions tend to run very high in the immediate aftermath of a breakup, so remember to observe a healthy cooling off period, especially if you hope to one day continue a friendship with an ex-in law. 

And when children are involved, there’s a chance you’ll be forced to maintain some level of relationship with your in-laws, whether you want to or not. In these situations it’s important to remember that, while you may never want to see them again, these are your child’s aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and grandfathers. They hold a special place in your child’s life, so be careful when openly criticizing or disparaging your in-laws. Try not to alter your child’s impressions without cause, and remember, above all else, that they have absolutely no control over the situation.

And, as always and most importantly, communication is key. The South Asian community as a whole has some work to do, but we need to do our parts by continuing to discuss divorce openly and by offering our peers going through divorce as much emotional support as possible.

We’d love to hear your thoughts or feedback on this article, what do you think our community is missing as a whole? Do we have enough support for South Asian
women going through divorce?


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  1. Shelina

    I love your site and enjoy reading the articles, I was however disappointed with this one. When I saw the subject I was very intrigued, being divorced and brown, I was hoping to see what other ladies in my community go through and how they deal with divorce. This has been one of the first articles I have seen on a divorce related topic as most of the other ones have focused on couple related issues. I was surprised and hugely disappointed by bringing in the anonymity factor. I understand our culture has issues with the whole divorce scene, but us as women of this generation should not encourage it. We should be brave enough to talk about it and if we have made a decision then we should be proud to stand by it. It is better to be divorced, then to be in a marriage where there is negativity and unhealthy behaviour, and we don’t need to hide or be ashamed of our steps. I hope you will understand my perspective. Thanks very much for reading! 🙂

    • Nadia

      Hi Shelina, I wrote the article. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. You’re right, we should be brave enough to talk about it. And these women DO talk openly about divorce to their friends and family. However, I offered them the option to remain anonymous here because reality is that our community isn’t fully open to divorce. And as you know, what they talk about reflects upon their families and their families may not be as comfortable in presenting their lives for the world to see. And we definitely don’t want to put these women in another difficult position. But I totally see what you are saying and I commend you for being brave.


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