Are unrealistic expectations ruining the institution of marriage in Pakistan?

Published: January 14, 2017

There is an inherent disconnect that is ruining the institution of marriage. PHOTO: FILE.

It’s wedding season in Pakistan. We all know what that means – our tables are strewn with intricately designed wedding invitations, making us wonder how long each wedding will last. Unfortunately, the time lapse between a wedding and a divorce has shortened, and the number of broken marriages is increasing.

Talking about breakups is never easy. Recently, I came across certain figures that stated that from 2015 to 2016, there were record divorce or khula cases in Pakistan. In 2015, in Punjab, 5,000 divorce cases were filed, and thus, 4,500 parted. In 2016, the number had grown to 18,901. Although divorce is allowed in Islam, it should only be used as a final resort.

The theories could go on – abusive husbands, extra-marital relationships, non-cooperative in-laws, financial strains, failed expectations etc. The worst is when a woman’s education or career is claimed to be the reason behind a failed marriage. The list is endless.

Interestingly, after speaking to various men and women under the age of 35, I realised that most of them sought a divorce for reasons that did not coincide with the criteria our families set out while matchmaking. Nor did it clash with the reasons these couples fell for each other and decided to get married.

No one would deny that when looking for a suitor, everyone has their list: age, financial security, social standing, citizenship, physical features, residence, degree, and so on. This list is completely material, and it makes you wonder, what happened to unconditional love? Affection? Understanding? Sacrifice? What happened to the desire to grow old together?

What happened to traditional love?

There is an inherent disconnect that is ruining the institution of marriage. These days, young people tend to recoil at the word ‘commitment’. They opt for ‘friends with benefits,’ and yes, this also happens in Pakistan and an 18-year-old explained it to me. These days, people don’t want strings attached. They don’t want a deeper love. They just want what’s easy. But that is the problem. Why have people started looking at marriage in this light? Marriage is not a nightmare, neither is it a work of fiction – it exists. We don’t realise that when the foundation of a family is built for the wrong reasons and with unrealistic expectations, everything goes wrong.

Many of you may not agree, but it is the parents that bring up their child with false expectations that are mostly to blame. When they match-make and promote relationships solely based on a technical checklist, most of the time it ends up in a divorce. When marriages are arranged, or even when individuals choose their own life-partners, dispositions like being supportive, respectful, patient, and responsible are not always a top priority. These traits are overlooked in search of expensive cars, bungalows in elite neighbourhoods, and designer commodities.

I remember reading somewhere that in order to destroy a nation, one must first destroy its family structure. And marriages based on unrealistic expectations are the first step towards this destruction. Unfortunately, marriage is overrated; people have expectations that just cannot be matched out of this union. We see things in movies, TV soaps, celebrity marriages, and honeymoon updates of the rich and famous, and dream of following the same, however improbable, lifestyle.

There is an intrinsic need to re-define the purpose of marriage; the entire concept of marriage is to endure the family legacy. Since we are supposed to continue the human race, we have a responsibility to leave behind well brought up individuals.

Marriage is just one phase of life, like various other phases we go through before hitting the grave. The rest of life’s struggles remain the same, even when we are married. Our spouse can only give and take whatever they are capable of, and asking for more is just not fair.

This multimillion dollar industry called the ‘wedding’ has been commercialised by wedding planners, designers, social media coverage, honeymoon packages, destination weddings, professionally choreographed dances, events involving thousands of guests, dowry, and so on.

It’s time to realise that wedding festivities are only a string of events designed to make you feel happy, glamorous, and unforgettable in the eyes of your guests. Nevertheless, these fineries are irrelevant when it comes to the institution of marriage; because that entails raising a family, committing, and supporting each other through thick and thin. It is what hides behind the pretty clothes and choreographed dances. What comes after the intricately designed wedding invites – that’s the real stuff.

Farah S Kamal

Farah S Kamal

An education and development consultant, who is currently leading the iEARN programs in Pakistan. Photography is her hobby and passion and she tweets @fskamal (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • wb

    You clearly don’t know Islam. Please ask any of your Maulvi and he will tell you that marriages are contracts in Islam. Contracts exists in corporations, politics and businesses. Not in sacred institutions.Recommend

  • Ibbad Ashraf

    no one is ready to tolerate or sacrifice for others, that is the single most important factor responsible for divorces.Recommend

  • Mujtaba Rizvi

    Cannot agree more. Most arranged marriages in particular are based on a woman’s physical features and a man’s financial status and often religion is used as an excuse for these arranged marriages ‘ye hamare mazhab ma aisai hoti ha’ although there is no connection whatsoever with religion.Recommend

  • Bushra Sheeraz Ahmed

    This article should be made compulsory for every couple before marraige. This is not enough…. sections should be highlighted, printed in bold, framed and should be hanged in the bedroom.Recommend

  • Ayesha Awan

    “This multimillion dollar industry called the ‘wedding’ has been commercialised by wedding planners, designers, social media coverage, honeymoon packages, destination weddings, professionally choreographed dances, events involving thousands of guests, dowry, and so on.”- Oh my god my thoughts exactly!Recommend

  • S

    It is because of the direct and indirect pressure. Some people in your life directly pressurize you to find the Mr. or Ms. Perfect some do it indirectly by showing off their “perfect” partners. It is increasingly becoming difficult to please people.Recommend

  • Ambar N. Sajid

    Just came across Aamir Khan and Faryal’s issues. That seemed to be all fabricated and festive but the bitter truth behind those celebrities life made me realise what you just talked about. More festive marriages we witness, less compatibility we come to know about them. It’s hard to confess but yes the way other instructions are declining , this social institution down falls rapidly. An eye opener Farah. You penned it what we should have realised earlier. Recommend

  • Mujtaba Rizvi

    Cannot agree more. Most arranged marriages in particular are based on a woman’s physical feature and a man’s financial status and often religion is used as an excuse for these arranged marriages ‘ye hamare mazhab ma aisai hoti ha’ although there is no connection whatsoever with religion.Recommend

  • Syed Mohammad Mehdi

    Plain truth and very well written. we are blindly following our own desires and it’s all about worldly affairs . the root cause is our own ignorance Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    There are parts of the article I wholeheartedly agree with; and a whole lot of others that I find frustratingly adultist, and based on the assumption that “aaj kal ke bache” (today’s youth) don’t experience ‘deep love’.

    What might ‘unrealistic expectation’ look like? Traditional monogamous relationships, I imagine must’ve been a breeze a few thousand years ago when couples used to live up to the ripe age of 22 before dying of gingivitis or small pox. But where average life-span stretches beyond 61, the expectation that one partner may fulfill all of one’s emotional, social, sexual, political, or financial needs for 40 years without the spouse struggling to ignore an insufficiency of some sort, itself seems incredibly unrealistic to me.

    The global increase in divorce rates has little to do with lack of commitment to deep love and growing old. It has do, among other things, with women becoming more educated, and less reliant on abusive spouses for socioeconomic support. Love involves compromises, but that needs to be bilateral. It’s not the same as masochism, and love for another person cannot be allowed to grow at the expense of self-respect. Increased awareness of these realities, also causes higher rates of separation.

    What I certainly agree with, is the need to question the institution of marriage as it presently exists, the ostentatious events surrounding it, and the reduction of love to a consumer product all the way from the purchase of a diamond ring, to the booking of a honeymoon package to Dubai.Recommend

  • Rehan Ali

    It’s growing consumerism where everything has only a price and nobody knows the value.
    The problem is made more complex by the never ending thirst for having more.Recommend

  • aam admi

    you are right. social set up wont change though.Recommend

  • Madiha

    Absolutely loved this !
    Weddings are becoming more superficial by the minute in our country.

  • Mujtaba Rizvi

    A very well written blog about marriages in Pakistan. Most marriages are based on a woman’s physical features and a man’s wealth. None of these last forever.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    A very good analysis.Recommend

  • FarahKamal

    so if partners know that they cannot full fill the needs for 40 good years, obviously they would want to draw as much as possible from it and move on.
    How about finding meaning and new reasons to love in partners at different stages of life. You married a 22 year old beauty and now you love an excellent mom, a fabulous mentor and support of family, then an excellent partner so on and so forth.Recommend

  • Farah

    that is why the need to voice it up, social can change and have changed depends for good or for worse. If have changed for worse can change to good too.Recommend

  • Fahim

    What is purpose of marriage if you are not happy ? If you train your kids by showing them importance of money, houses, beauty, pawa, status and give least importance to religion, morality, education, & care. So they will require only a beautiful wife with high status or handsome guy who is VP of a bankRecommend

  • Meesha

    Marriages are in fact contracts all over the the world Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    The daughter is sitting in the room and trying to solve a crossword puzzle. Suddenly she stops and asks her father, “Piyu ji a five-lettered word for End-of-life?”
    Father : “Shadi!”

    A wedlock is an outdated and life sucking institution, a fatal trap, a ditch, a societal conspiracy to chain the humans. It robs the very basic and precious gift of life: Freedom! There is no value higher than the freedom of heart, mind, soul and body!
    Therefore, Fall in Love, Be in Love, Bloom in Love, Make Love ONLY in Love and Devotion!!!Recommend

  • Saj

    “The worst is when a woman’s education or career is claimed to be the reason behind a failed marriage.”

    Really, that is the worst? worse than infidelity (by either or both)? IMO Inability to conceive children is the worst cause for divorce, as neither is to be blamed. But you go ahead and succumb to the feminazi agenda.

    This article needs a revamp with mans perspective included, who obviously have a 50% stake in all marriages and divorces. Particularly focusing on working women, as that is still a new cultural phenomena in Pakistan, while other issues like dowry, abusive husband/inlaws/outlaws have been done to death than resurrected and redone all over again.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    No, In Hinduism its for 7 births .Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    So, is it a contract for 7 births? But still it is a contract, a long contract.Recommend

  • hameed

    “the entire concept of marriage is to endure the family legacy. ” But but what happened to traditional unconditional love? The author bemoans the “unrealistic expectations” but then this comes out. Seriously the “entire” concept of marriage to endure the family legacy? ENTIRE? Thats a pretty unrealistic expectation. The chief purpose of marriage is the HAPPINESS of two people entering it. Thats it. Everything (yes even children) should come after that happiness is achieved. That only happens with “good old love”. Geez its really that simple, people. Get your heads out of the clouds.Recommend

  • S.M.Moghirah Farooqui

    The above discuss facts are one of the main root cause for destruction in our society, this is very good attempt by Farah.Recommend

  • Anon

    I don’t think it is unrealistic at all for people to stay married for 40 years or to expect one person to fulfil all your emotional, social, sexual, political and/or financial needs as long as there are ‘realistic’ expectations & you understand that love and the marital relationship evolves with time.
    My grandparents were happily married for over 60 years until my grandfathers death in his mid-eighties and they weathered all kinds of ups and downs in that time. This is because their generation (which did not exist thousands of years ago) understood that life isn’t always peachy and you don’t always get what you want, but you stand by the person you choose to spend your life with and as long as you try to be each others strength life will be pretty good.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    The fact that two people stay married for 40 years, is no testament to all their emotional, social, sexual, financial, and political needs being met. People compromise. Compromise strains the relationship, but not necessarily to a breaking point.

    It’s not a matter of “this generation” or “that generation”. The human heart did not start beating differently circa 2000 A.D. It is simply that greater social opportunities have opened up. Society, in-laws, and even the church – which were once as much a part of your relationship as your spouse – are beginning to recede from a space that’s best reserved for two.

    The termination of a relationship, or increasing diversity in the kinds of relationships you may have, isn’t necessarily a sign of societal degradation; or evidence that people don’t value love and commitment anymore. This is expected in societies where citizens (especially women) have greater personal freedom and socioeconomic independence.Recommend

  • Ahmed Ata Khan

    Awesome analysis. Keep it upRecommend

  • Hassan

    Don’t drag Islam in every comment you write and or at least be positive about what we all are our religion and culture don’t allow us divorce the only reason for this situation is un appropriate liberty of mediaRecommend

  • Abdul moiz

    The whole issue is simple, most marriages are forced or arranged by parents
    and the marriages are fine for a year or two, by then the wives get pregnant and lose shape, a baby makes an entry into the couple’s life and start to mess their sleep (and everything else) which in turn destroys their professional life (some go for multiple babies over a brief period)
    On the other hand the woman turns on the TV and there is glamour and shimmer and 24 inch bellies dancing everywhere and then looks at her stretch marks and crying baby and husband.Recommend

  • Mahnoor Fatima

    wb, isn’t Islam a contract too (deen literally means contract). But, in Arabic, contract also means a knot. Isn’t marriage a knot too? A tie bw two individuals? As for the materialistic aspect of the contract, which might have been your intention to point out, a written agreement has the highest priority in Islam; it’s unbreakable. This is only for the security of both the spouses (and the relationship as well). Otherwise, Allah knows, how many women will have to prove their marriage like the wives of the politicians?Recommend