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Making Love and Intimacy Work in Indian Couples

Book cover for Love Will Follow (2020)
Apple Books feature Dr. Shaifali Sandhya
Dr. Sandhya's book Love will follow (2020) on Kindle



"As evidenced by the historic election of the first biracial Indian and Black Vice President, Dr. Sandhya’s book is the perfect book at the perfect time! She explores and provides clinical wisdom for the understudied population of Indian Couples. Given the tumultuous times we are all living in with regards to race relations, this book comes at a time when the profession is craving for more culturally informed writings. This book is a must read for all graduate students and practicing clinicians looking to be a culturally informed therapist!"

-- Anthony L. Chambers, Ph.D., ABPP

Chief Academic Officer, The Family Institute at Northwestern University, USA

Director and Clinical Professor of Psychology, Center for Applied Psychological and Family Studies

Board Certified Couple and Family Psychologist, The Family Institute at Northwestern University

 President, American Academy of Couple & Family Psychology

Board of Directors, American Psychological Association

​"This book is an excellent study of the Indian marriage in all its complexity and mutability. The book employs a distinctive, very readable, and highly effective combination of statistical and anecdotal methods in order to throw light on its topic. It will be of great interest to a wide range of readers, including scholars (especially anthropologists and cultural psychologists), couples therapists, and laypeople who are themselves negotiating the challenges of a marriage. A splendid achievement.”

​— Michael Forster, Ph.D. Alexander von Humboldt Professor and Co-Director of the International Center for Philosophy at Bonn University, Germany

"Dr. Sandhya’s book takes a deep dive on why marriages fail in Indian couples.  It provides a timely guide to understand the changes in the marriage system in India and their implication for marital stability. This is a very readable and engaging book and will serve a wide audience."

— Dr. Premchand Dommaraju, Director, Master of Science in Applied Gerontology, School of Social Sciences, Nanyang University, Singapore

"Dr. Sandhya offers a masterful approach that is growth-oriented while honoring the cultural nuances of Indian couple dynamics. She explores how societal changes, generational differences, and evolving expectations affect arranged and love marriages. With interwoven case examples, Dr. Sandhya presents a practical model for relational enhancement and deeper intimacy beneficial to today's Indian couples and the therapists working to support them."
— Dr. Chante DeLoach, Professor of Psychology, Santa Monica College, USA

"In Love Will Follow, Shaifali Sandhya provides a sound, humane, and empirically grounded framework for interpreting how modern-day Indian couples wrestle with tradition, societal changes, and ultimately how they create something “new.” Written with a high level of sophistication, the book is nonetheless extremely accessible and full of deep insights about human behavior as well as useful suggestions for how to apply them in everyday life."

— Dr. Anthony Ong, Professor of Human Development, Cornell University, USA


It is an enduring mystery of human relationships—why do some relationships work when others fail? Why do some couples divorce despite being blissfully happy, while others, despite enduring hardships, grow stronger?


This book is about some age-old questions and some new ones: How do you make love grow in your relationship? What does it mean to be psychologically attuned to yourself and your relationship? How do you know why you are unfulfilled? What relationship skills are most useful in a world clouded with unimaginable stressors? How do you create an environment that fosters social-emotional awareness for stronger families?


An intimate relationship — and the choices made within it — are deeply personal. Some couples have a bicoastal relationship; some have an open relationship; some rely on God and religion as their anchors, some on family and friends. Others may find themselves in an unconventional arrangement they had never imagined. The pandemic has brought in an unsettling, inexplicable and disruptive chapter in our life stories that is placing additional burdens on relationships. With the world in flux, new dilemmas and enigmas also confront modern couples. For most couples today, although no easy answers prevail, there are many ways to initiate dialogues with your partner or within yourself to create a relationship for all seasons with respect, curiosity, and validation of one another’s emotional cosmos.


Relationships that are successful are those where partners share a story. Conversely, relationships that are unsuccessful are where the stories couples tell about their life together either come apart due to the weight of their growing disappointments; their inability to form a coherent story; their diverging expectations; or when only one person's story prevails at the cost of the other’s (this is discussed in detail in Chapter 11). I have discovered that individuals’ notions of happiness may differ from the ingredients that constitute “success” in relationships.


Over the last two decades, I have interviewed over 300 Indian couples living in India and in its diasporas around the world using rigorous scientific procedure. Empirical findings from my work - the first large-scale study of intimacy and sexuality in Indian couples - are published elsewhere and provide some of the underpinnings of this book. As a clinical psychologist, I have also treated approximately another two hundred couples in interracial and intercultural relationships cutting across religion, caste, and class from all around the world. The broader context of minority relationships has offered me a comparative vantage point on the unique struggles and strengths of Indian marriages. When I started to explore what happiness means for Indian couples, I discovered that couples who report feeling happy sometimes paradoxically say they would not choose not to marry the same partner if given the chance to decide again. Even though you may be happy in your relationship, being happy alone does not mean that you and your partner are happy together.


The premise of this book is that successful couples tend to react, respond, and manage their relationships in seven different ways than couples whose relationships prove to not be so successful. By better understanding the social and familial pressures on their relationship and implementing skills in the following seven domains, couples can begin to rebuild a more vibrant relationship. I refer to these seven domains as the seven senses; they are discussed in detail in Chapter 11 are as follows:

  • Communication (C)

  • Open-mindedness (O)

  • Understanding through empathy (U)

  • Relational dances (R)

  • Affect vocabulary (A)

  • Gratitude (G), and 

  • Emotional regulation (E)​​

My research and clinical observations over the span of twenty years have demonstrated that we must expand our notions of success in intimate relationships from a specious and individual-level description of happiness to encompass the capacities of a relationship. In this book we will focus on distilling skills based on a greater understanding of social factors that undergird your relationship and relational skills of communicating so you can connect and love more deeply.

With few tools to ground them on the path to harmonious and long-lasting relationships, modern couples often find that the world is starkly different from how it was for their parents' generation. Seven recent developments, some of them unfolding on the world platform have been especially impactful for Indian relationships around the world. They are as follows: 

  1. The #MeToo movement, which has taught us that sexual abuse and harassment affects are widespread and affect many women in long-lasting and pernicious ways;

  2. The rise of a wealthy middle class and the corresponding increased mobility of a population that now has greater disposable incomes and access to the opposite sex;

  3. A growing populace that identifies with an array of non-traditional sexualities; and, the legalization of rights and protections for people in same-sex relationships. 

  4. The growth of technology and social media platforms—including Tik Tok, Facebook and Instagram; 

  5. The growth in interracial, interfaith and interethnic romantic relationships around the world, which is soaring, despite cultural and familial anxieties (Ten percent of all married couples in the U.S. in 2015 had a spouse from a different ethnic and racial background). The election of Kamala Harris, the first woman of Indian and Black descent as a national party's vice president, reflects how individuals like her in cross-cultural relationships may be challenging or negotiating belonging across religious, racial, caste, and ethnic lines in the Indian diaspora around the world. Kamala Harris's personal choices including those in her personal life such as a blended family offer a contrasting yet socially acceptable paradigm for family life for future generations of Indian men and women.

  6. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has opened our eyes to the importance of identity, and to what it means to feel included for biracial couples including for Indians who are in biracial relationships. Among other things it has opened our eyes to the importance of being perceived as an individual, and to not be associated with negativity because of your skin color or status in a particular society, encouraging meaningful conversations on acceptance and belonging in biracial couples. 

  7. Covid-19 and the stress of the pandemic has profoundly altered family life through unprecedented stress in the form of varied concerns ranging from: postponement of critical health-checks of our elderly parents who might be living in foreign countries, punctuated educational trajectories of children; juggling additional roles for work-at-home mothers, who must juggle employment responsibilities and parenting responsibilities;   managing different expectations of family members about quarantine standards at home; the cancellation of important events and rituals and the absence of social engagements; fending off feelings of loneliness and demotivation, arranging education experiences for their children, family separations in the face of visa bans for immigrant families, restricted travel across country borders preventing long-distant couples from being able to see each other, and coping with grief in the face of an empty spot at one’s dinner table. The interruptions to life's daily rhythms of Covid-19 may be permanent and far-reaching.

These seven new developments will continue to transform how we choose partners, how we relate to ourselves, and how we engage with one another. Although illustrations through vignettes focus on Indian relationships the recent world developments touch most family lives and the lessons may be useful to couples from other cultural, spiritual and racial contexts as well. Paradoxically, couples can spend obscene amounts on weddings and erroneously consider them to be take-off points for relationships they may not invest enough in the skills and education that could distill joy and adventure in our shared relational journey. The absence of knowledge around how social forces and cultural messages can underpin their relationship can make couples more vulnerable, especially minority and marginalized couples who have fewer avenues to seek the necessary education.

The nature and quality of romantic relationships serve important functions for its society and families by preserving a family’s legacy, maintaining social order, and some like its intermarriages, can reflect the ultimate level of social integration or the extent to which a group accept members different from their own as their own. Couples’ decisions related to marital dissolution such as increasing divorce rates even in conservative Middle Eastern societies or a delay in getting married are causing major demographic shifts within nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar. 

Through vignettes the book sheds lights on some social stressors: how color, caste, class, race, and gender shape how we relate to ourselves, how we treat and are treated by our partners, and our perceptions of indignities and inclusion. These factors also affect the aspirations and ambitions we hold for our daughters versus our sons, how we understand or strive for mental health, what we accept as a blueprint of love, and how we navigate challenges in our personal journeys. They color individuals' communications, secrets, emotions, expressions, experiences, decisions, and behaviors; through cultural mores they also influence what and how families address or cover up issues like identity, incest, infidelity, suicide, sexual identity of one’s child, or depression as they navigate intimate relationships. I have often found that many couples eventually come to ask themselves, 'How did our relationship come to be at this point?' The explanation often lies in the domino effect of events that have their origin in the broader social and cultural messages that they have absorbed over the years. For this mutuality of influence it is important to be aware of the cultural messages and social factors that undergird, albeit in varying doses, all relationships. 


This book brings together clinical research and academic work across several disciplines in user-friendly ways to assist us in looking deeper into our relationships. This book is designed to elevate the relationships of Indian couples or those married to Indians to their highest potential. 


As a relationship book it is a self-help guide for those of us who may not ever seek formal therapy but are curious about becoming better husbands, wives, partners, and parents. Unmarried and single individuals can use insights from this book to be strategic in choosing a future partner who can hopefully match their emotional needs well. 


In its analysis of marriage in an era of globalization, this book can also be a valuable resource for scientists such as anthropologists, sociologists, cultural psychologists and family studies experts. Comparative research on the family generally, remains restricted to normative family structures of Euro-American societies and rarely extends to social and cultural explorations of cultures such as Asia or Africa’s. Sparse attention is provided to studying minority relationships or families who may digress from normative standards, like polyamorous (exception, Rubel and Bogaert, 2015) or queer families (Fish and Russell, 2018). Prior scholars of the family also neglect to study how new radical social revolutions, such as sexual and technological ones shape family members’ motives, behaviors, and perception of fulfillment in relationships (exceptions include, Sandhya, 2009; Sandhya, 2020).

Although the importance of marriage may have receded in the last two decades in Euro-American societies, marriage continues to be a dominant institution in societies like India, China, and the Middle-East. The importance of marriage even in the life of individuals we may assume are not directly impacted by it such as  those who are gay, single, prostitutes, transvestite or divorced, suggests the centrality of understanding such societies through the lens of marriage. Popular shows such as Netflix's The Indian Matchmaking and movies, like Thappad ("The Slap") demonstrate a growing appeal for cultural relationships. However, they provide no insights into what life after marriage may look like for the couples.


For practitioners such clinical therapists, couples psychologists, family therapists and physicians interested in treatment issues, this book can afford critical insights on the social and somatic factors underlying well-being of individuals and couples from minority cultures. At the same time, it addresses only mostly heterosexual relationships and is not without its limitations; extensive and in-depth future research will need to be conducted for different kinds of intimate relationships to be represented. 

This book is a new edition of Love Will Follow: Why the Indian Marriage is Burning, published in 2009, with six important additions: a new preface; a new introduction; tools and exercises for couples to do individually and together in the last chapter; a few narratives from the Indian-American diaspora; reflections on new changes in Indian society that can impact a couple's relationship; and finally, an analysis of how globalization affects the institution of marriage for Indians around the world. In the last decade or so since the publication of Love Will Follow, a lot has changed in the terrain of intimacy for Indian couples. In re-tracing how the notion of intimacy in relationships has evolved over the last couple of decades, it is like time travel in reverse. I have traveled deep within the interior of this intimacy by conducting clinical interviews with greater sensitivity, nuance, and expertise—the kind of expertise that only experience and the passage of time can bring.  More importantly, I was able to interview both partners in a couple alone and then together, and sometimes I had the opportunity to interview their family members, such as parents, children, and siblings, as well. After all, aren't there at least two sides to every story?

Surprisingly, some dynamics, themes, and struggles have stayed the same. Personal conversations of shared pasts or secrets showcase the essential characteristics of an Indian marriage and how Indians negotiate tradition with modernity.

The vignettes presented within are autobiographical evocations with identifying details changed and sometimes they are a composite of more than one relationship, to preserve individuals' anonymity and privacy. When vignettes may appear sympathetic to a particular gender this perception may mirror social trends tilted largely in favor of one gender and may not be emblematic of all relationships. Being cognizant of social trends and cultural messages is important for couples therapy as it can serve as a barrier to creating intimacy between couples. At times the vignettes can appear to be restricted in their focus to the upper-middle class to the exclusion of Indian families from lower socio-economic groups although interviews have been conducted to include all classes. However, recent scholarly work among lower socio-economic families of India is consistent with many themes presented in this book. Also, families of the Indian diaspora in countries like the United States tend to outpace other ethnic groups in the socioeconomic domain.


This book offers a new way for a variety of Indian couples—including those living in India and abroad, those who are young or old, those who are married to non-Indians, those with first-generation immigrant parents, and those Indians born and raised abroad—to understand the unique world of the men and women in Indian marriages and the factors underpinning their dynamics. The book is an exploration of how social and familial factors shape couples' interactions and family trajectories, how couples may incorporate new tools in their relationship as they explore its hidden potentials, and how they can reflect on the definition of success in intimate relationships using new parameters. When properly understood, this book can help couples empower themselves by creating intimacy in their relationships. It is also for single individuals who may be interested in developing the right tools to form and maintain a strong romantic bond that can transcend the old rules of choosing a partner. Although interracial relationships are beyond the scope of this book, this work is still relevant for such relationships in that it illustrates the many ways culture and society can shape interpersonal dynamics and family life. 

This book can also bring its readers to a crossroads in their inner journey. Like a foreigner in an alien culture who is invited to engage with the world in new ways, readers may be confronted with versions of themselves that lie beneath the daily humdrum. After all, good mental health is not just the absence of mental disorders, but also a state of well-being in which we actualize our potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute effectively to our communities. As we conduct in-depth explorations in unpeeling our other selves, we may also reshape our stories. 

This is an important time to shape one's story. Love and marriage in the West and worldwide have been viewed as separate notions; although there were plenty of stories depicting love, it was rare to find a story about love within marriage. Since the 1970’s in India, the forces of immigration and globalization colluded to usher in a love revolution; and expectations of romantic love in one’s life partner, often suppressed in earlier times, are gaining centrality in people’s lives and impacting Indians aged 20-60 years old in different ways. An awareness of the dilemmas and constraints posed by the love revolution - the importance of romantic love over sacrifice, who one can or cannot love, what to do if love was not the basis of one’s choice of partner - can recalibrate what we strive for and redefine what is meaningful to us. 

In this period of #BlackLivesMatter in America, Indian-Americans who may have routinely struggled with the feeling of being the 'other,' are beginning to ask more of themselves and their relationships: “Am I truly being accepted?” and “If I let down my guard, will I be cast out as the ‘other'?"

On the other hand, disconnections in relationships can take many forms and a toll on many fronts for couples across many walks of life. When a partner or a relationship disappoints, inner walls of anger or guardedness can emerge and micro-habits that shun or avoiding other person can become routine: "I behave like I'm in a hurry," "I'm always cleaning or fixing things when I am home:" "I've noticed I talk less and on point;" "I'm less jovial than I used to be;" "I've stopped laughing;" “I am unable to have an erection although there is nothing medically wrong,” and, "When I ask (something) there is no answer, so I feel I am not important." In distancing  ourselves from unfulfilling relationships we often also lose important parts of ourselves. Said a tenth-grade educated wife to me, "I've just lost her (the person I used to be). I'm here but she is not." Unfulfilling relationships bereft of intimacy or straddling unresolved anger and distress can also create somatic (bodily) expressions in the form of migraines; clenched jaw; bedwetting in adults; shortness of breath that can feel like a heart attack, aches and pain, fatigue, and so forth. 

In a world where many social inequities abound, communication if done in a compassionate way, can be a bridge for fractured relationships and a democratic and empowering force. It can create an environment where our fears can be aired within safety; dysfunctional assumptions can be explored and challenged; habits borne in childhood trauma can be gradually unlearned; awareness and knowledge is mutually expanded, and support can be extended without feeling depleted. Intimacy or the act of being known to another, thus, can be gained through meaningful exchanges and through building candidness, depth and quality into conversation. Rather than the general, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in many families, in this way, positive mental health of families can be gained through implementing habits of good communication. 

By exposing us to the unknown other selves within us, such authentic dialogues can bring couples to the next launching pad of life. For couples, self-exploration and the exploration of a relationship together can also tender an awareness of unvarnished sorrows and powerful yearnings, and in doing so, individuals and couples can authentically design the next chapters of their stories.

How we ride and live out the upcoming chapters in our relationships will be determined by our quest to generate kind and authentic inner dialogues as well as our quest for compassion in our conversations with one another.

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