Marriage is considered the most beautiful and important part of a person’s life. But what happens when you realize things are just not working out?
Punita Lakhani, a divorce recovery coach is the creator of the Modern Meerabai movement which she describes as a movement to help 1 Million divorced men and women to restart their life courageously to reclaim their happiness and respect back.
Q) One thing that really drove us to see your content was the username. What is the idea behind the name ‘ModernMeerabai’?
Punita Lakhani- I think the name has come from my soul. God is the one you remember in the lowest of your times and the connection between me and God grew stronger when I was in the lowest phase of my life. When you hear a love song, you have a picture of someone in your mind but I did not have any. So I started dedicating all those songs to the supreme almighty.
There was one bhajan with a zikr of Meerabai and I realized that I am a Meerabai in this modern world. I may not be wearing orange-saffron clothes but I am connected to the almighty and I know he is somewhere out there looking out for me. Modernism is the fact that she stood up for herself. Meerabai gave up on the royalties of her life and decided to live as a saint, on her own terms. That’s what I did too, I lived life as I wanted to.
Q) What was life like for you when you were growing up?
Punita Lakhani- In the part of Uttar Pradesh where I come from, young girls aren’t encouraged to be ambitious and to have a career plan. The only purpose of getting them educated is to get them successfully married. With immense support from my father, as he is a vocal believer in the financial independence of women, I continued my studies to stay away from marriage and moved to Mumbai for it.
After 5 years of working in digital marketing, I fell in love with a guy who asked me to leave my career behind and become a housewife. And I loved him enough to do that. I also did not have a clear direction of what I wanted from my career, despite loving the independence and financial freedom it provided me.
Q) What led you to create what you have created today?
Punita Lakhani- Things in my marriage started going down south from the third day. My parents were not speaking to me for 1.5 years because I had taken major decisions like leaving my career which they were not okay with. I was married into a Gujarati family so my in-laws weren’t supportive of the marriage either because of cultural differences. My parents eventually came to my rescue.
It took me seven years and the youth of my life to recover from major depression and I realized that nobody will help you unless you help yourself. Divorce is a milestone in our life and it significantly changes them. The process is extremely painful for both the man and the woman and having support through the entire thing really helps. That is why I have made it my life purpose to be that support. I understand what it means to have a shoulder and a hand to hold on to when you’re in that lowest phase of your life. If I would have had that, I would have saved 7 years of my life.
Q) In Indian society, divorce is discouraged and is still very much seen as taboo. Spouses are encouraged to ‘work on compromising’ instead of getting a divorce. What message do you have for them?
Punita Lakhani- We cannot live right now the way we were 20-40 years ago. The same goes for a marriage. Staying in a marriage with problems might have worked for our previous generations but it is not necessary that it will work for us too. I have seen people being much happier after leaving their marriage and some of them are really good friends with ex-husbands or wives.
The day you realize you have only one life, your new life begins. You realize you do not want to waste that one lives with a person you’re unhappy with. If your marriage is becoming emotionally and physically dangerous for you, please make a decision.
If you want to stay, go to a marriage counsellor and things might get resolved but if you decide to leave, go to a divorce recovery coach and they will help you restart your life. But the worst thing you can do is stand on the edge of the cliff and not be able to make a decision.
Q) Because you help both men and women with divorce recover, you would be aware of some key differences in their experiences. Can you share those with us?
Punita Lakhani- Women have a tendency of grieving when going through a separation. They reach out for help in whatever way they can which makes it easier for them to overcome the pain. But men skip the grieving part because that’s what society has been expecting of them, to be macho. Because of a divorce, men have a 70% higher chance of getting suicidal than women since they tend to be quite inexpressive.
Men also start experiencing insomnia and weight fluctuations much more than women do because it is a financial and identity loss for them. Identity loss for women here is knowing where they belong because now her ‘kanyadaan’ has been done and she now belongs to her in-laws who don’t want her.
And now her parents don’t want to accept her either which keeps her hanging in the middle. For a man, a major part of his identity is his marriage. Because he does not grieve, he avoids being in social circuits also. A wife is generally a man’s best emotional support. Now with that wife gone, he does not know where to turn which causes him to self-medicate and turn to drugs and alcohol for coping.
Another difference is that during most divorces, the custody of the child goes with the mother. So the man also has to deal with that. This creates a vacuum in their life which makes them rush into relationships very fast without working on their problems first. And then he sees the same patterns in his next relationships.
Q) Please share any two things you have learned from all the experiences in life.
Punita Lakhani- The first and foremost thing I would like to tell you is to start loving yourself a little more. We always prioritize other people’s needs over ours and we are always standing last in the queue of taking care of ourselves. Love yourself the way you love others. You have to realize that you will only be able to make others happy if you’re happy yourself.
The second thing is to learn to set boundaries. You should not rely excessively on your partner for emotional and mental support. When two people are whole and complete in their selves, that’s when they become good life partners. The concept of a ‘better half’ does not really work. Compliment each other rather than complete each other. Learn to compensate instead of compromising. And you should know how to say no, respectfully and politely.
Q) Some couples stay in a loveless marriage for the sake of their kids. Do you think that’s okay?
Punita Lakhani- When looking for a life partner, we subconsciously look for qualities that were in our mother and our father in that person. The initial 5-10 years of a child’s development are extremely crucial because that is where their life beliefs and values are being settled. But if those values are damaged, the child will carry those life beliefs with them and will look for the same things in their life partner.
A woman being okay with her husband hitting her is proof that she might have witnessed domestic violence as a child. Staying in a toxic marriage doesn’t serve anyone. If you know that your happiness lies in getting separated, then that’s what you should do because then you’ll be teaching your kid to be self-sufficient and happy. There might be some initial trauma, but life learns to adapt, that’s what makes it beautiful. Life moves on. Your levels of happiness and sadness do not remain the same.
Q) There is a norm that in arranged marriages, divorced men have it a bit easier than divorced women when it comes to getting remarried. Do you think that’s true?
Punita Lakhani- As I’ve mentioned before, men usually rush into relationships so the ‘demand’ for women is always there. The perception is that getting remarried is tough but the reality is that there is a lot of demand for women in this second marriage market. The perception is incorrect of what the reality actually is.
72% of divorced people get remarried and 50% of those get remarried within the first five years. But, the chances of your second marriage failing are 3 times higher in the next three years.
Getting remarried isn’t the solution to all your problems. Before you make that decision, you should first know about the mistakes you made in your previous marriage, and what things you don’t want from your next partner.
Q) We came across a post on your page announcing that you’re releasing a book in 2022. Tell us a little bit about it and how is it going to help women in a society that is largely patriarchal?
Punita Lakhani- The book is titled ‘The Happy Woman’ and it forces you to look at your definitions of happiness. Most of the time, we don’t know what our definition of happiness is. And without knowing what happiness is for us, we just keep chasing it. Most of the time, the question is that when I define my happiness, and it gets fulfilled, then why do I still feel unhappy? The problem here is that your definition of happiness is wrong.
Women are always taught then when their family is happy, then only they have the right to be happy. This notion is what I’m challenging in my book. Learn to prioritize yourself first because contrary to popular belief, when you are happy, then only your family will be too.
Q) Apart from your book, is there any other project you’re working on?
Punita Lakhani- My course around divorce recovery is what is in the wings. I help men and women individually but my life purpose is to reach out to 1 million people who are going through divorce and separation and help them restart their life and get their respect back. And because my time is limited, an online course will help me fulfil that.
I also have a course surrounding my book that is coming up where I’ll be helping women in reclaiming their happiness and work on a proper definition of happiness. A lot of things are coming up for men as well including courses and a book. A lot of stuff is in the pipeline for the foreseeable future.
When you take the step of getting a divorce, things become easier yet difficult at the same time. You suddenly lose yourself and the person you were perhaps the closest to. There is a void that seems unfillable and a sense of perpetual sadness. That is exactly what Punita Lakhani will help you through.