Answer by Surabhi Surendra, happily married for over 8 years:
I am happily married for over 8 years and mine is an arranged marriage, so I guess I can give some insights on this.
Arranged marriage is when parents (or someone close) find a prospect for you and help you connect with him or her. Here parents act as the catalyst and are involved throughout the process.
The traditional arranged marriages may sound backwards in approach and conventional in their process, but modern-day arranged marriages are an improved version of the older ones.
Unlike earlier times, today parents allow the prospects to interact with each other to find out if they are compatible and if they approve of the decision of marrying the other one.
In my humble opinion, here is what makes them work:
1) They are based on compatibility and not love. When parents find a match for us, they look for someone with similar cultural, socio-economic, and educational background. They do not find a prospect you are in love with. Instead they find prospects they think you can be compatible with based on some preliminary criteria like education, family background, caste, and other such things.
2) Love begins after marriage. Arranged marriages set off with a common ground of the 'promise to be together' and later this promise blossoms into love. So unlike western marriages (or love marriages, in Indian term), arranged marriages do not start off with love. They begin subtly with a promise to fall in love. Slowly as the partners live with each other and become interdependent, love blossoms, and this love is not infatuation. It is true love that germinates from true care and respect for the other.
3) They do not have divorce as a option (unless it is an abusive marriage). Since arranged marriages are the union of two families and not just the individuals, they do not come with an exit door. When the parents (and the whole gamut of relatives and extended family) are involved, the prospects realize that divorce can cost a lot in terms of social reputation, interpersonal relationships and a familial ties. Both the prospects enter matrimony without having the option of leaving it midway. However, if the marriage turns abusive then of course divorce is the answer.
4) Parents keep an eye on the marriage. While this may not always be a good thing but if the parents on both sides are sensible and want the marriage to function properly, it can be a good help. Parents keep an eye on the marriage and thus the partners do not walk away at every tiny trouble and do not take a decision on their own in a haste.
5) Partners are accountable and answer to their parents. In arranged marriages, both the partners are accountable to their families. They know that if they walk out, they need to give an answer and a concrete reason to their families and for this they would need a solid reason to break the marriage. They understand that unlike in western marriages, they cannot leave it at the drop of a hat.
You may argue that few of the above result in a social pressure in which a person stays in an unhappy marriage. I do not discard this argument, but I believe that staying in a marriage is the individual's choice.
If you hold your marriage on a high pedestal and want it to survive long, you will stay in it whether or not your parents (or society) are involved.
I never wanted to have an arranged marriage. Since childhood I was obsessed with love stories and wanted a great one for myself but ultimately I decided to settle down with a man my dad found for me and I think it is the best decision I have made.
If it were upon me, I'd have found men based on their superficial aspects like fun, humor, looks, mannerisms, etc., but my dad looked for deeper qualities like sound character, honesty, simplicity, and hard work, and it has worked out well for me.
I am not an advocate of any particular "kind" of marriage. I advocate only happy marriages irrespective of who has found your life partner - you or your parents.
In the last 8 years I have learnt that any marriage - traditional or modern - requires these three things:
- Happy memories of togetherness: make sure to spend good time with each other
- Forgiveness: remember to forgive each other's mistakes and do not let the past affect your present.
- And a promise to never give up on each other: as long as you keep up this promise, your marriage will not fail, come what may.
Eventually the two partners decide the overall health and longevity of their marriage.
If you want to read my story of arranged marriage, here it is.