STORIES OF COMMUNITY RESILIENCE
Relationships and Divorce Coach, Monica Kalra speaks with Ruhee about the ‘D Word’ no one wants to talk about and address some of the stigmas surrounding divorce in multicultural communities.
Content Advisory: Discussion of abuse in relationships. Contact 1800 RESPECT for help and support.
Note; This transcript is automatically generated and may contain errors
Ruhee Meghani: Hi, Monica. Welcome to 3ZZZ. Before we get started with your introduction, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we live, the Bunurong Boonwurrung and Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people. Today we gather on the lands of the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people of the Kulin nation, also known as Melbourne, Australia. I’d like to pay my respects to elders, past and present, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded and this was and always will be, Aboriginal land. I’d like to welcome to today’s podcast Monika Kalra. My name is Ruhee Meghani. My pronouns are she and her, and I’m the founder of Allied Collective, an inclusive facilitation and wellbeing agency. I’m a storyteller, a public speaker, a yoga teacher, and I’m so excited to speak to you today. Monica, welcome to Stories of Community Resilience.
Monica Kalra: Thank you so much, Ruhee Thank you for having me on this show. It’s absolutely an honor and a pleasure to be able to speak to you here.
Ruhee Meghani: The pleasure is all mine, welcome, it’s a pleasure to have you as well. I’d like to you to introduce yourself. Can you tell us, who is Monica?
Monica Kalra: As I said earlier as well, I am Monika Kalra. I was born and raised in India. Also married in India and then moved here to Australia about 17 years ago. So it’s been a long journey being here in Australia. At the same time it’s been a beautiful journey to rediscover myself and also to tap into my inner strength ever since I arrived in to Australia. Because moving into a new country is not always easy. And on top of that, if you are struggling personally as well in terms of your marriage, then it’s a double burden that you’re carrying. However, I am immensely proud of how I have rediscovered myself and how I am on this journey of personal growth at the same time. Along with that, I would like to mention that I’ve been a secondary school teacher. I am a proud mum. I am the author of two books. Along with that, I am also a speaker and a workshop facilitator. I’m also the founder of REvorce. I also assist women who are struggling in their relationships and want to improve their relationships. However, I also have a lot of clientele where women of color are going through divorce and they want to revive their confidence, reclaim their inner power, and at the same time reset emotionally for future relationships.
Ruhee Meghani: That’s incredible and so inspiring as well. And I know a lot of people listening to this can relate of that journey of being a migrant and having to, I guess, find a new way of being and living in a new country. It can be quite daunting and like you said, especially if you’re struggling personally as well. We talk about wellbeing a lot, you know, and people often think it’s all about, you know, physical, you know, doing yoga and looking after yourself in that way. But what often gets ignored is our social wellbeing, our mental and emotional wellbeing also being so important because if our interpersonal relationships are not supportive, it’s really hard to thrive in other areas of life as well. And I think destiny has brought us together because it so happens that, you know, being a migrant as well and having moved to Australia about 11 years ago now, I’ve also been through a divorce. And now I’m very happily remarried. And I’m very excited about this conversation because it’s a tough topic. Not a lot of people want to talk about divorce, and especially in multicultural communities. So can you tell us a little bit more about what kind of stigma is surrounding divorce, and why don’t we want to talk about it?
Monica Kalra: Thank you for that lovely question. Ruhee divorce, as you know, in our cultures, is quite stigmatized. It’s very daunting to talk about it because we’ve all lived in a patriarchal society, and bringing up certain things can be difficult for people to talk about and to discuss it, because there are societal expectations around marriage. I mean, you know that at least in the Indian culture, once you get married, you get married for seven lifetimes, not just for this lifetime. And therefore when you when a divorce takes place, you are in a way challenging those societal expectations because then divorce is considered to be a failure. And there are so many other layers as well. Apart from just societal expectations, there are certain religious beliefs where, marriage is considered to be, they consider the sanctity of the marriage and therefore divorce is like violation of the religious principles. On the other hand, their family is considered to be a unit, you know, culturally, traditionally. When a divorce comes through, then it’s dismantling that structure, that family structure. There’s also the fear of change, because divorce is a huge change and people don’t want to step into it because it comes with that fear of unknown stepping into this world that you don’t know of how life would be after divorce. And another very important reason on why people feel that it’s a stigma is also around the impact it has on the well-being of children. Women prefer to be in abusive marriages because they want their children to be raised with their fathers, or vice versa, or even the husband for that matter, because they’d like the entire family to be together, irrespective of the differences that exist between the couple. So there are so many factors that lead to divorce being a stigma.
Ruhee Meghani: That’s such a good point. And do you think with time we’re starting to see a shift. And within multicultural communities especially of, you know, the shift in narrative, for example you’d rather have kids being raised in I guess with um a single parent or with their parents happily separated rather than being, uh, in toxic relationships and, you know, kids kind of absorbing that. Have you seen a gradual shift in that conversation?
Monica Kalra: Ruhee, I wish there were more conversations like this. I personally feel, yes, there is a slight shift that’s coming around. However, it’s more a facade where on the one hand, people do portray themselves as being empathetic towards people who are getting divorced, whereas it’s this very same people who ostracize people who are going through divorce. They label them, um, your own loved ones, in fact, also leave you, you know, and you are left completely isolated. So yes, we are seeing this shift. And at the same time, I know so many, many people who are still in toxic relationship and in those abusive relationships because they do not have that courage to step out of the marriage and face that stigma and that society, because marriage is very closely or divorce is very closely related to our family honour as well, irrespective of where we move in the world. You know, it’s so deeply ingrained because personally too, when I had to go through my divorce, I had I asked my father after 19 years of my marriage, and I asked him and told him that this isn’t working. Is it okay for me to apply my divorce? And the thing that he had said was, he said, how am I going to face my society? And that was the time. And there is no judgment towards my father. I mean, I know, um, he was a very well renowned lawyer and he had a place in society, and I know that it came with a lot. Divorce comes with a lot of stigma. So I had said to him at that point in time that I’ve lived your life, and now for these 19 years, I would like to live my own life now. And I gave that marriage yet another two years before I applied for divorce. So, um, there is still a lot of stigma. Yes. It looks nice to think and to feel that people are now empathetic. However, deep down, it’s so deeply ingrained into our system that people are still getting labeled.
Ruhee Meghani: And it’s so hard to kind of, remove that identity of being divorced, separate from the person, and it becomes that person’s whole identity, which can be quite detrimental to that person’s growth and to a life outside of that decision. And speaking of that decision, which I’m sure it would have been a really hard one for you to make and what you spoke about, you know, going through isolation from society, family, communities. Can you tell us more about the decision or the time leading up to your decision and your how you, you know, decided to pursue your divorce?
Monica Kalra: You know, marriage, as I said, is when you get married, it’s like you’re married for seven lifetimes. And that’s the vow that even I had taken. However, within my marriage, I felt something wasn’t right. And mind you that in certain cultures, uh, abuse is so normalized when it comes to marriage that we don’t even realize that we are in an abusive relationship. But something deep down didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel respected. I didn’t feel loved. I felt cheated upon. I felt lied to. There was a lot of love bombing. There was a lot of gaslighting, there was a lot of sexual, financial abuse. And yet it felt normal. Because that’s how when I saw people around me in India, there were other people who were experiencing the same thing. So how could I say that I was in an abusive relationship? Whereas, and this is what then led me to write my first book. ‘How Do You Know He’s The One?’ Where I talk about the red flags, because in our culture, we’re not aware that we are in abusive relationships. And then that was the time when I was studying a lot about Ross Rosenberg. I came across self-love deficit disorder. I came across narcissistic behavior, and I, I was I was into all I mean, I had already started my personal development journey, and I was reading and watching videos about all this and came to the realization that what doesn’t feel right within me is actually the fact that I am in an abusive relationship, and to acknowledge that to myself was was really daunting because this is what life felt like.
Monica Kalra: And then there was a decision, am I staying into this or am I leaving it? On the other hand, we women of culture are constantly you know, we believe that. Something right will happen, you know, he will come back and you know things will work out. And we cling to that hope and therefore we find ourselves. And I’m no different. I found myself being on this treadmill where I worked harder and harder, you know, trying to make this marriage work, trying to ensure that, you know, things will be all right one day. And then through all the personal development work that I was doing, I came to the realization that nothing was going to change, that I had to take my own decision, and it was a choice that I had to make. Either I stop sulking and be in this relationship, or I leave this relationship, or the other choice would be yes, to go for a divorce. If I have to leave, am I ready to face the repercussions? Am I faced? Am I ready to face the society? Am I am I ready to face the disgrace it brings to my family? So there were loads of things that had to be considered and somehow that’s what felt right. And I have a firm faith in grace in the universe, and I believe a lot in surrendering to whatever was happening. And my path was to surrender, and that surrender came through my divorce.
Ruhee Meghani: That is so profound because in Yoga, Sutras they talk about this concept called iśhvarapraṇidhāna, which is surrendering to a higher reality. And it is a practice that can be quite a manifestation of a big shift that we might be craving, you know? So it sounds like you did a lot of homework and work into yourself. So like that, self-reflection, self-development, and then gathering the courage that acknowledging that I am in this abusive relationship and now I need to make a choice. And that choice comes from that place of courage that is so inspiring. Monica. And, you know, we’re seeing this, uh, we recently had, uh, something called the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. Do you think movements like these are helping that conversation, where people can get awareness? Or maybe I am, like you said, you know, acknowledging and recognizing signs of domestic abuse, especially when the signs may not be as physical, more like, you know, financial abuse or mental abuse. In that case, do you think there’s. Those conversations being had are getting better at normalizing divorce in these situations.
Monica Kalra: It’s really nice that we do have events like 16 Days of Activism. It’s important to bring that awareness. There’s definitely a movement that started, which is better than not having anything. However, I’ve seen that movement finishes after the 16 days, whereas people who are in toxic relationships continue to endure their hardships over the rest of the year as well. So there’s more that needs to be done, rather than just the 16 Days of Activism, because I personally believe that I am really grateful to that marriage now because of the growth that I have seen in myself, because of the purpose that I have found in my own life. Because of how spiritual I have become, of how emotionally intelligent I am and how aware I am about myself. I’m not saying that I’ve reached enlightenment. I’m still on that journey. However, I’m comparing myself to where I started when I had my divorce. There’s just been such a huge shift in looking around for my own tribe, in looking around for a family of choice, people who can relate, who I can relate authentically with, and why I am highlighting these is the fact that when we are talking about day 16 days of activism. What I’m noticing is from what I’m seeing around me is. People who are going through divorce. It’s more like. It’s more like showing a sympathy to them. It’s more like, oh, poor thing, look at her. You know, she’s going through divorce. We’ve got to support her. Whereas that’s not what it is all about. Instead of seeing them as the victims, we’ve got to see them as the authors of life.
Monica Kalra: These women are so courageous. They are resilient. They are so resourceful. Because, now a time has come for them to ensure that they find a job for themselves. They resettle themselves, they rebuild their social connections. They parent their children on their own. They are juggling their work with their with life at home. And all of a sudden they’re doing it themselves. So they are warriors. They are courageous. It’s not about seeing them as victims. Therefore we need to bring about a change in the mindset where because I’m seeing a lot where there is this awareness. Yes. Awareness, awareness, awareness, we are all aware there is domestic violence, but we’re not taking at least I or I haven’t met those people or I haven’t come across those projects wherein what are we doing to empower them now? What is the next step? Yes, we acknowledge them. What tools strategies are we providing them so that they become skilled in their future relationships? What are we doing to ensure you know that they can tap into their inner strength, that they can tap into their confidence? Because when we have a divorce, we lose our confidence. We lose our sense of self. There is we lose our sense of identity. There is so much we start doubting every little thing. So what are we doing in order to ensure that these women thrive? Because they do after some time. So what? In that phase, what are we doing for them so that they can see themselves as the author of their lives and as warriors?
Ruhee Meghani: That is such a good point, Monica. And it’s so important, like you said, to go away from that language of being labeled as the victim. And it’s often that, you know, deficit language that is used in these cases and to for move from moving to awareness where all aware or we can be aware what is that important ingredient for us as communities, as individuals and as groups to move from the awareness piece and into that action piece where we’re actually making meaningful change in our mindset, in our practices and in our actions to be able to, I guess, have. A community and a space where, like you said, women can thrive after a divorce.
Monica Kalra: There’s a lot that we need to do. I mean, along with awareness, there is more education that needs we need more education around this concept. So that we can, in a way, work on our mindset. It’s about highlighting the positives of the people who have gone through divorce. You know, media can play a very, very important role. Let me take the example of Bollywood. Now, so far as Bollywood is concerned. And please excuse me if things have changed in Bollywood because over a decade, I mean, it’s been a decade. I haven’t watched any Bollywood movie. I am I don’t listen to any songs, so I’ve got no idea what’s happening. However, when I did, um, and this is how I was raised, I saw all co-dependent behaviors around me where a woman was when was meant to be, you know, subjugated, where a woman was meant to look up to this person, put your husband or your spouse on a pedestal, uh, you know, because he was the bread earner, he was the breadwinner. Whereas through media, through TV shows, through movies, it’s high time that we highlight the positives of people who are thriving, especially women who are thriving after divorce and that not everyone you know succumbs to victimhood. We’ve got so many examples where women are doing so well and they’re not only doing well professionally, but personally. And even when they get into another relationship, they are thriving there as well due to the work that they’ve done on themselves.
Monica Kalra: So, along with that, it’s also important if we can challenge that stereotype where we can provide a platform where, uh, where both men and women, you know, uh, can have a dialogue where there can be a safe space for people to share their experiences rather than feeling judged, you know, and being labeled. I mean, I’m sorry to say that in certain governments and in certain countries, we still have forms where you are required to fill your marital, marital status, you know, married, single or divorced, whereas our identity does not come only through being married to someone else. I have my own identity as a person, and to constantly being reminded that I’m divorced and I have to tick that box, you know, whereas I have I have my own identity and I have got nothing to do with the other person. Now, however, you know, even these little things, we’ve got to look into them as to how we can bring about a change there so that we are more open minded, you know, to accepting. This diversity in terms of relationship status, this we’ve got to bring in more, inclusivity, you know, where irrespective of your relationship status, we are we are working together as a community.
Ruhee Meghani: Absolutely, that key part in what you said, that identity, uh, your marital status is a part of your life, but it’s not your whole life. And that’s such a important conversation to be had. And in terms of after divorce, the post divorce period can be quite a hard territory to navigate for so many people. So do you have any kind of personal experiences or things you’ve observed that people have done or people can do in that time? Because it can be quite a sensitive time for a lot of people.
Monica Kalra: The first and foremost, irrespective of how you’ve had a divorce, whether it was through mutual consent or whether you initiated or whether you were given a divorce – irrespective. Everyone goes through the cycle of grief. So one finds oneself being on that emotional roller coaster so their highs and lows. One day you’re feeling good, the other day you don’t want to even get out of bed. Making sure that during this time you have the support of a coach or you have the support of a therapist. And mind you, I’m touching on another stigma here because in our cultures, it is still stigmatized to have the support of a therapist or a coach. Why am I emphasizing them? Yes, we can have the support of our family and friends. However, these people, when I talk about coaches or when I talk about therapists, they are quite emotionally intelligent so they can hold space for you irrespective of your irrespective of how you’re feeling. And they can be a neutral party as well. They can hold a mirror for you, uh, whereas so far as our family and friends are concerned, they they tend to collude with you and you are constantly in that blame game in that cycle. So that’s why I emphasize the need to have the support of a coach or a therapist. The other thing that I would highly recommend is taking, you know, that self-care is very important. And when I talk about self-care, I’m talking about our mind, body and soul. So looking after all those three aspects, movement is very, very important.
Monica Kalra: Whether it’s doing yoga or going out for a walk or joining some dance classes or Zumba classes, whatever that might be. I know it is difficult at that point in time where you’re feeling, I am grieving, and here, this here’s this woman telling me to go and join Zumba classes. Because movement is important, because it gets your energy moving. It’s very, very important to move that energy. Similarly, journaling can help. Meditation helps joining hobbies and activities that we’ve never done before or we wanted to do when we were married. Joining those, meeting other people, like minded people. Because when you go to these activities, you will make meet like minded people, and then at the same time, it takes you away from those thoughts because you’re otherwise constantly thinking about your divorce, about the stigma and about all the other aspects. This is the time when people I find are also involved in a lot of negative self-talk. They’re blaming themselves. They’re constantly, uh, you know, they’re always surrounded by that negative negativity around them. So recording certain affirmations, affirmations in your own voice or even having some recorded affirmations, you know, and playing them because they play a huge role because that message is going subconsciously into your mind. So it really assists you. The other thing that I can think of is – considering this period as a period of self growth, as a period of personal development. And most of all, I would say, once again, surrendering to the unknown because you don’t know what lies ahead. You know, and there’s a beautiful journey that you will go through at the end of the tunnel once you’ve, you know, once this period is over.
Ruhee Meghani: In terms of finding the light at the end of the tunnel. There is a lot of hope, and I personally can testify with a success story that I found the love of my life and married my soulmate after, getting divorced. And it can be quite, I guess, confronting for people who want to find, I guess, a new path towards dating after divorce. Do you have any pieces of wisdom or advice for people on that journey?
Monica Kalra: Ruhee, Congratulations for finding your soul mate. One thing that I would highly recommend that after a divorce, that’s the time period people are feeling really lonely and they want to get into another relationship as quickly as possible. However, I just want to let people know that the second divorce can come much faster than the first. I think it comes 67% faster, and the third divorce comes 74% faster.
Monica Kalra: We want to get into a new relationship, either to overcome our loneliness or to prove to our previous partner, our ex spouse, that, look, I’m still lovable. I’ve found a love. You know, it’s like, you know, I’m there. I’m already there, I found somebody. However, my only advice would be to do your inner work before you move to your next relationship. So making sure that you are able to regulate yourself, making sure that you have tended to your own inner landscape, that you understand your own relationship patterns, that you know your own triggers because the other person cannot meet, you cannot meet your unmet needs. So making sure that you are aware about yourself, because once you have done that, work on yourself, on your mindset, on your relationship patterns, on your triggers. At the same time, you are a bit more emotionally intelligent where you’re not only able to regulate yourself, but you’re also in a position to co-regulate with your partner. That’s the time to move into another relationship, because by that time you would have also raised your frequency. So if you were here when you got divorced and you’ve done this inner work, you’ve raised your frequency, then you are likely to attract person of that same frequency up here. So it’s important. Otherwise you are likely to meet someone of the same frequency here and you’re likely to get into another divorce. So very, very important to raise your frequency to attract someone of that same frequency before you get into another relationship.
Ruhee Meghani: Thank you, and before we wrap up, how can people get in touch with you?
Monica Kalra: They can get in touch with me on LinkedIn. I’m very active on LinkedIn. They can also get in touch with me on Instagram or on Facebook. Um, I do have a website at the moment, MonikaKalracoaching.com but I’m in the process of creating another one revorce.com.au which will be coming up soon so they can get in touch with me on any of the social media platforms.
Ruhee Meghani: Amazing. We’ll pop all the, uh, links in the show notes. And I just want to thank you, Monika, for this conversation and for doing what you do.
Monica Kalra: Thank you so much for having me. It was lovely and a pleasure and a delight to speak to you.
Ruhee Meghani: Likewise, it is such an important topic that all of us need to be having more and more conversations about, especially in multicultural communities. And the honor has been all mine. And thank you for your time again.
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