WOW | Coffee Break

LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIPS

Live-in relationships are on the rise and while it is gaining acceptance in society, the question in remains whether it provides the same social and legal security as marriage? In this edition of the Coffee Break at Silver Oak Banquets, WOW discussed the pros and cons of a live-in relationships with five individuals from different backgrounds.

By: Anushka Shrestha
Photos: Ram Tandukar

Bhawana Shrestha
Co-founder, My Emotions Matter

You agree to honour each other’s needs so both of you can grow separately and move together towards a common goal.

What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you think of a live-in relationship?

Bhawana: It would make me reflect on how strong the couple’s bond must be!

Anuj: Marriage is still not legal for queers in Nepal. So, a live-in relationship is the only option In 2013, The Supreme Court declared that people above 18 years can live together.

Anjita: The first thought that comes to my mind is freedom. To some extent, it’s a rebellious move against the established norms surrounding marriage.

Shikhar: I consider it a very healthy part of a relationship’s organic progression.

Ashlesha:  Two people in love who have taken a concrete step towards building a life together. Only when you live with someone you truly understand the essence of being in a relationship. When your personal boundaries are challenged by your significant partner and having to overcome that friction is what truly defines a relationship.

What is your definition of marriage?

Bhawana: Marriage, for me, is a long-term commitment with a friend; you agree to honour each other’s needs so both of you can grow separately and move together towards a common goal.

Anuj: Marriage is a bond that is brought together by love in which two people unite socially, emotionally, legally, economically and physically.

Anjita: Marriage is about being in a meaningful relationship and creating a home together. The elaborate rituals of marriage are secondary, it is basically a way to get your relationship recognised and approved by society and law.

Shikhar: I think the traditional definition of marriage is simply an institution that codifies the couple’s commitment to each other in a form of public declaration. But I think the commitment between two people, regardless of the legalities and traditions around them, is what is most important. I don’t believe in the formal institution of marriage and the processions, but I believe in the commitment to living, growing and raising a family together.

Ashlesha: Marriage is a live-in relationship with legal support, protection and definition. In Nepal, if you cohabit for a certain period of time, both partners receive the same legal provision as married couples (not sure of the exact time frame when it was declared).

Anuj Petter Gurung
Second Runners Up, Mr. Gay Handsome 2017, LQBTIQ Youth Activist

Live-in relationship vs Marriage

Bhawana: I think you go for a live-in relationship with someone who you feel might be a good fit for you. With marriage, however, you are ready to commit to that person for life because you know him well.

Anuj: I think live-in relationship and marriage are two sides of the same coin because I see my friends who are in a live-in relationship and are soon to get married. This makes me feel like people who experience a live-in relationship are more compatible and understanding. I believe marriage is an official live-in relationship.

Anjita: Conventional marriage arrangement is absolutely patriarchal in nature and designed to favour men. In today’s context, marriage in its existing form will not survive unless drastic measures are taken to make it egalitarian and inclusive for all genders. A live-in relationship whereas is egalitarian in nature as it breaks this unequal power relation.

On the other hand, if you are seeking stability in relationship, marriage may have a better chance of surviving than a live-in relationship because of the many ‘strings’ attached to it. Stability in a relationship can provide emotional wellbeing and other benefits which is especially important if it concerns children. But at the same time, it is also true that marriages can be devastating and they can break, whereas a live-in relationship may go on forever.

So at the end, if a relationship is founded on equal power relation, mutual understanding, love and respect for each other, and offers relative stability, it should not matter whether you are in a live-in relationship or formally married, and as a society, we should respect an individual’s freedom to choose her/his way of life.

Shikhar: I see great benefit in living together before marrying. Ideally, we ought to invest more time and effort in getting to know someone before we commit to each other for the rest of our lives. Living together allows for a couple to understand how the other shares resources, space and habits in a way that dating doesn’t and it is important to understand that before you legally commit to one another.

Ashlesha:  I believe in living and letting others live. I have never been in a live-in relationship. I think my parents would have had a heart attack. Would I want my children to be in a live-in relationship; I truly don’t know. But in life individual’s especially young adults must choose what makes them happy, and learn to live with those consequences.

Do you see yourself in a live-in relationship?

Bhawana: You need to know your partner well before getting married. Although I didn’t opt for a live-in relationship, my partner and I spent ample time together to figure out whether we shared similar values to spend our life together.

Anuj: Why not! But I am still single and looking for someone with whom I can spend my life.

Anjita: I am married and my husband and I are both happy and doing great together. But we wouldn’t mind a live-in relationship. But regrettably, the existing laws and societal norms in Nepal do not recognise live-in relationship, and as a result it is still an uphill battle for couples in Nepal who choose such arrangement.

Shikhar: Definitely! I see myself in a live-in relationship.

Ashlesha: Well, I’m married!

Anjita Parajuli
Activist / Writer

In context of marriage and live-in relationship, what are the top five ground rules that you must set while moving in with your partner?

Bhawana: Dividing chores equally; openly communicating about finances; splitting costs evenly; equal respect for both partner’s parents; joint involvement in planning and decision-making.

Anuj: Always trust and have faith in your partner; respect each other; always set your priorities right and give time to your partner; dream together and work on it together; never compare yourself with your partner and respect your common grounds.

Anjita: Respecting each other’s individual freedom; non-exploitative and non-abusive environment for both; acceptance for non-gender stereotypical roles and responsibilities; respecting personal interests and limitations; mutual understanding and reciprocity.

Shikhar: Setting and respecting each other’s boundaries; clearly segregating each other’s responsibilities and backing up the other partner when they need assistance, such as cooking and cleaning responsibilities; equal contribution towards the purchase and upkeep of the common home; respecting each partner’s space when organising get together and always being respectful to the other’s schedule; create independent physical spaces, which is just yours.

Ashlesha: Honesty; loyalty; selflessness; cohesiveness and teamwork.

Shikhar Pandit
Corporate Lawyer and Farmer

Is it okay to start a family outside of marriage?

Bhawana: I think it is difficult in the context of our country. Given the patriarchal nature of our society, it would be difficult to start a family given the legal system in place. At a time when obtaining citizenship via the mother’s name is such a struggle, it would have negative consequences for children later on.

Anuj: In our society, people probably will not accept having a family without getting married. But having said that, the young generation has started to adopt this practice. It would feel really great to see a gay couple adopting a child because there are so many children in our country who need a family.

Anjita: Since the early ages, people have lived together or had sex without marriage. Marriage, as a formal ritual, was introduced much later in the history of human civilization. In the context of Nepal, the marriage rituals have been more restrictive among the assumed ‘higher castes’, and has been largely used as a tool to confine women to the domestic realm and control female sexuality. On the other hand, many ethnic groups in Nepal do not practice the same level of restrictions regarding premarital relationship. In some cultures, girls and boys go through the marriage ritual only after they have had a child. But these cultures have been pushed into the margins and the strict marriage rituals have been made the norm.  Like in many other countries, in Nepal too, the state has made laws that promote marriage and that too, a patriarchal form of marriage. For instance, under the current citizenship law, it is not possible for an unmarried mother to pass on her citizenship to her child.  The administrative process of birth registration for your child is equally challenging if you are not married.

Shikhar: The world at large is still familiarising with the idea of live-in relationships. Many countries recognise civil unions but are still getting used to the idea that marriage is not the ultimate goal. Nevertheless, we have to be cognizant of the fact that this has been an incremental process in the world and it will take its due course to normalise in Nepal.

Ashlesha: I see no problem, but what are the legal provisions for the children in our country? Supposedly a partnership ends, what happens then? Women in our country still cannot provide citizenship to their off-springs in Nepal. For instance children of a broken live-in relationship might acquire citizenship through his/her father’s citizenship but what are the custodial rights of the mother? I don’t pretend to understand our legal system but these would be my concerns about the ramification of a live-in-relationship in Nepal.

Ashlesha Rana
Makeup Artist

Should there be any laws on live-in-relationship?

Bhawana: Yes, there should be certain laws in place. If the government recognises live-in relationships, cases of physical violence would be taken seriously. Also, certain age-bar for couples going into live-in relationships would help them become better prepared for the emotional challenges that might await them in case the relationship fails to culminate into a marriage.

Anuj: According to Muliki Dewani Samitha Ain 2074, only the relationship between a male and a female is a said to be marriage. But as I mentioned earlier, the Supreme Court has mentioned two individuals above 18 years can live together unmindful of their gender. So, I think Nepal is a very good country for a live-in relationship.

Anjita: Yes, absolutely. I believe the state has the responsibility to recognise live-in relationship and make enabling policies for those who choose such arrangement. Protective policies such as child care and property rights should be introduced. These laws are already in practice in western countries.

Shikhar: Certainly. In other countries, there are Civil Union laws that protect the interests of both parties who enter into the union like there are laws protecting marriage. In a civil union, like in a marriage, either party’s investment is not always financial and the partner that contributes their resources in time and effort. These contributions must be quantified and shared between the partners equitably.