Marital Expectations for Women in South Asia

crop indian bride in traditional sari with henna on hands

When you think of the South Asian culture, you think food, colours, Bollywood, etc. It is all that and much more but when it narrows down to marriage expectations it’s a different ball game.

You might be wondering, “It can’t be that bad Layla, you’re exaggerating” but as someone who has first hand experience as a South Asian woman and who married a South Asian man, I pretty much felt like I had been thrown back into the 18th century.

Firstly, I didn’t think that being married within my own culture was going to be a bad experience for me as I’ve seen my parents grow beautifully together and my father always treating my mother with the upmost respect. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for me and isn’t for many South Asian women.

Even though this may be the case for many women, it’s not always true for some as their families and in-laws are more modern and westernised. However, the ones who value the South Asian culture in terms of expectations within a marriage can be daunting and damaging to ones mental and physical health.

The next few points will discuss what can be expected within a South Asian cultural marriage.

  1. Living with your In-Laws: This can be quite controversial as not everyone prefers to share their privacy and space with their In-laws. Also, when you want to grow with your partner, you may not be able to as their will always be opinions and comments from x,y and z that can cause a rift in your relationship. However, this may be a condition set before-hand and if you are a South Asian woman, you may feel obliged to accept as you feel you don’t have a choice and not to disrespect your parents honour.
  2. Calling your Mother In-Law everyday (if you’re not living with your In-Laws): This expectation was beyond me as I thought it was so weird to call someone you barely know everyday and to ask if they need help with cooking/cleaning when they have children who are of age to be carrying out these duties? But since you are the daughter in-law it automatically becomes your duty to fulfill.
  3. Cooking and cleaning for your In-Laws: Since you are now the daughter In-law, whether you are living with your In-laws or not, this is “obligitory” and is seen as a right for you to carry out. You are seen as this individual who didn’t get married for a companionship but to be responsible for chores and to take care of other people. No matter how old your brother or sister in-laws are, it is your duty to fulfill.
  4. You can only wear what is suitable in the eyes of your Father and Mother In-Law: Whatever you wore when you were living with your parents or on your own may now not be acceptable in their eyes. You are expected to dress ‘respectfully’ so other South Asian families within the community won’t comment on what you are wearing. ‘Respectful’ clothing for me included covering my chest area, my rear, making sure my outfits were not complimenting my body shape and a headscarf around the men or when visiting my In-Laws or any relatives.
  5. You have to sacrifice and compromise your happiness in order for your husband and In-Laws to be happy: If you think your happiness matters, you have another thing coming. You are expected to behave as your marriage has given you a new family and you need to forget about your family. No matter the situation, you can’t speak against your husband as he is always seen as ‘right’ and higher status than you.

The above points are just some issues I have highlighted as expectations in some South Asian marriages. My experience taught me that I deserve to be treated as an equal and my happiness matters more. This is why my marriage broke down as my ex could not handle me defending myself.

Don’t ever feel ashamed to stand up for what is right and express your feelings! No one is obliged to live like a maid when married! Marriage is about two people who are meant to be happy with each other and not to please other people and expectations.

Written by Layla

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