Satnam Singh Atwal M.D.
In every American family the couples usually struggle for sharing power and fight for the hierarchy in which one spouse has more powers than the other. The power here refers to the possibility of dominating, taking the responsibility and taking care of the other spouse. Also the power means the comforting and reforming the other partner. Ultimately among such dyads the division of power is balanced which is essential for keeping the marriage intact. It has been frequently noted that any change in the balance of powers due to numerous reasons leads on to a variety of psychosocial stresses among such couples.
Similarly among traditional Sikh families living back home, the power is divided in several ways in order to establish a balance amongst the spouses. For example male partners generally make decisions involving the social context. They usually have powers over decisions involving money affairs and consider themselves as “bread earners and care takers.’”’ On the whole they have more freedom to move outside their family circles than their female partners. They perceive their female partners as dependent upon them as far as financial and social affairs are concerned.
On the other hand female partners make overall decisions concerning their own families, they also decide the ways to raise the children. They arrange family budgets. A traditional ‘‘Bahu’”’ (who takes care of the house) devotes her life solely to take care of her husband and_ children. Her helplessness to face the world independently, forces her to be dependent on her husband, In a way she considers her dependence and helplessness as her powers, which she thinks are essential for sustaining the marital bonds. She frequently sides with her children in a way that undermines the decision making spouse. Thus the presence of children in the family are considered also her powers. .
In this way power is divided in order to achieve a balance in which depending and helplessness of the female partner helps in keeping up the self-esteem of the male partner. Any challenge to disturb this balance is met with severe psychosocial conflicts. Any change in hierarchy is viewed as a blow to their individualities. The result is that both the partners struggle to reestablish the balance of power which sometimes leads on to severe consequences.
Migration of such families to a different culture like in America sometimes disturbs the balance already existing while living in their homeland. This occasionally leads to the hierarchical in-congruities. For example the male partner may not earn too much or he may be unemployed. He usually has few social contacts and sticks around his house most of the time. On the other hand American society provides more freedom and security to his female partner. She may be employed or even earn more than her husband. The result is that she becomes the ‘‘bread earner’”’ of the family. She may spend most of the daytime outside her house letting her husband to take care of the children and kitchen work. Clearly it results in role reversal which is psychologically unacceptable to both the partners. In such like circumstances, in order to keep up the superior position on power scale, men become threatening and start displaying violent outbursts. This results in severe interpersonal conflicts. Spouse abuse and even divorce in certain instances can occur. Attempts are made to degrade wives in front of others. They start drinking alcohol excessively which in a way strengthens their male hood. Conditions are created in the house which affects the working ability of their wives and in certain instances they are forced to quit their jobs. Men in such families report more depression and anxieties. They also frequently complain of sex problems. Suicidal rate is much higher among such individuals.
On the other hand among females, a culturation process results in comparatively less dependence on their husbands, which was felt by them before as their power to keep their marriage intact? This dependence results in the feeling of insecurity which haunts their minds all the time. Result is that they increase their dependence and allow their husbands to control their lives as they want. Staying away from their houses and not taking care of their husbands and children results in intense guilt feelings. They start considering themselves as inadequate and worthless individuals. These conflicts usually manifest in the form of depression, anxiety, panic attacks and multiple sematic complaints, like, headache, backaches, etc. Some women complain of amenorrhea and other sexual dysfunctions. Psychotic breakdowns can also occur.
So from this discussion it is clear that the process of migration to a different culture is always accompanied by multiple psychosocial conflicts, but few individuals are affected more than others. Realization of this problem and discussing it with some trustworthy person relieve such individuals of mental sufferings. If problems still exists counseling with a therapist who knows our cultural background should be arranged.
Article extracted from this publication >> April 5, 1985