In India, only one out of every hundred marriages fails. But the divorce rate is rising, especially in big cities, due to changing lifestyles, urbanization, women's economic independence, and growing prevalence of "western" attitudes towards marriage. Though the divorce rate is low compared to most developed countries, it has reportedly doubled in the past five years. At the same time, traditional Indian culture views divorce as shameful, and marital counseling is only just beginning to gain acceptance.
Divorce Tourism is the invention of Vijesh Thakkar, owner of a Mumbai tour company, KV Tours and Travel. After watching his best friend's marriage disintegrate, Thakkar wondered if he could help other married couples heading for divorce.
With this impetus in mind, he launched "divorce tourism" packages in 2009 to help couples who are heading towards divorce. The idea is that the couple embarks on a week-long stay in a resort with time and leisure to heal their relationship.
At first, Thakkar thought that a relaxing vacation in a quiet destination could regenerate a marriage. But couples having marital problems often continue fighting during a vacation. A couple could not identify and resolve their communication difficulties, even in the relaxing atmosphere of a vacation.
Then Thakkar's inspiration was to add the option of including a "tour guide" with the couple, who is a marital counselor. Sometime this tour guide was introduced to the couple as a marital counselor. But due to the stigma of divorce and resistance to psychotherapy in India, sometimes the vacation and tour guide had been secretly arranged by a concerned friend or parent. In this case, the tour guide traveled incognito. As the vacation unfolded, the tour guide would discretely help the couple resolve communication difficulties without revealing his true identity.
The recent Hollywood comedy "Couples Retreat: Return to Eden" is a lamehearted comedy about four couples who attempt to improve their marriages by undergoing counseling on a tropical island.
If we're to take this concept seriously, we should imagine a vacation involving one couple and one "tour guide" -- a professional who deals with marital problems. In societies where therapy is widely accepted, this could be conducted openly and could be a sound approach for marital therapists and other professionals to address marital problems. In fact, it might be much more conducive to constructive thinking and conversation than the typical therapy session sitting on chairs in a drab office.
The "tour guide" could either be a marital counselor, or another professional who deals with marital problems, such as a marital mediator. In marital mediation, a mediator works with a couple using mediation techniques to identify and understand communication problems. While there is some overlap between marital counseling and marital mediation, either approach can be very helpful to a couple whose marriage is in trouble.
The advantage of taking a vacation with a "tour guide" is that there is plenty of time to view the couple's interactions in real time, not bounded by an hour therapy or mediation session. It is intensive. The "tour guide" can take notes on the spouses' verbal interactions, sometimes combined with audio recording. That way, exactly what was said could be analyzed with the "tour guide" and the couple. Negative communications and misunderstandings can be revealed. The couple can be helped with ways to address and minimize corrosive interchanges.
Often struggling couples will fight quite viciously about trivial matters. The "tour guide" can point out what the couple does not see - they are arguing at times about nothing important. When the couple sees actual data about their arguments, they sometimes can let go of some thought patterns and bickering that are causing corrosiveness in the marriage. When a marriage starts to improve, the trajectory for further improvement is set, and things can gradually get better.
Of course, "Divorce Tourism" would be expensive, based on cost of a vacation for three plus the professional fees of the "tour guide". But if it could increase the chance of saving the marriage, it's certainly worth considering.
While "Divorce Tourism" will not always be successful in forestalling a divorce, in many cases it could be a powerful tool in setting a couple back on a fulfilling marital path. If two people wish to remain married, but cannot figure out how because of incessant conflict, it may be a creative opportunity for them to get to the bottom of what is destroying their marriage.
Most marriages are killed by a litany of petty unresolved arguments, unrealistic expectations, and overemphasis on unimportant disputes. For these spouses, "Divorce Tourism" may be a fruitful alternative to a visit to a divorce attorney's office.
© Laurie Israel 2011.