How will he treat me after we're married ?

The question expresses a common fear that most young women have. We've all heard horror stories of bride burning in India, dowry harassment and exploitation of all kinds by male family members. We've also heard about "the other wife" in another country, the status of "maid" for the household in India or abroad, and the compulsion to be bread-winner, home-maker, and mother all at the same time.

There is no fool-proof method to discern potential wife abusers. However, there are some common sense indicators that can signal danger, or on the positive side, portend a secure, happy future.

Start with the matchmaking period. Are the queries generally centred around money? Property? Dowry? Does the prospective bridegroom's family want to know if you are a potential wage-earner? Would their interest be augmented if you were a doctor, lawyer, or engineer? Would it be diminished if you were a teacher, or even abandoned if you had no professional training at all? Are they asking for only "tall and fair" brides? These answers to these questions can clearly spell out their intentions and motives. It is up to you to decide whether your natural and acquired attributes fit in with these expectations. If they do, consider yourself a prize catch, but avoid prospective suitors who may lean towards the above motives. You could wind up becoming what is known in other parts of the world as a "trophy wife."

If you decide to get engaged, enjoy that thrilling, romantic period, but remember that an engagement is not a lifelong commitment. It is a waiting period before marriage; a final trial, if you like. Be careful not to get so caught up in the euphoria that you miss foreboding telltale signs. Remember, an engagement, unlike a marriage, may be broken regardless of your religion, and with far fewer repercussions.

Some things to watch out for during the engagement period include the bridegrooms' family's conduct during the planning stage, as well as your fiancée's personal conduct and his treatment of other women close to him. Are your prospective in-laws pressing for a large, lavish wedding? Extravagant gifts? A queen's ransome for a trousseau? In the excitement, there is often very little sympathy for the brides family and their responsibility for the whole affair. Are your parents or family members straining under the financial burden? Such issues foretell a future marriage plagued by financial concerns.

During this period, you will be spending a lot of time with your future husband. Take full advantage of the opportunity and observe him closely. How does he treat the women in his family, especially his sisters and mother? Likely as not, that's the way he'll treat you. Will his loyalty to his family take precedence over his devotion to you? Observe also his personal habits. Is he a smoker, drinker, big spender, party animal, or workaholic? These are the traits you will have to live with for the rest of your married life. If it's okay by you, then no sweat, but remember, small vices now could mean big problems in the future.

What about your overall compatibility? Does he get bored when you speak, or is he himself long-winded? Does he share your interests, i.e. is he as enthusiastic about books or the theatre as you are? By all means, don't worry if he doesn't, but make sure that you have a lot of other interests in common, and accept the fact that you may have to pursue your own hobbies with a friend rather than with him. Does he declare his needs for personal luxuries, like a car, microwave, computer, stereo system, even before you've begun to plan your life together? If he does not have the resources to provide these, does he expect you or your family to bear the burden? Do children figure into his future plans? Does he loose his temper or get violent with you, and then apologise profusely? Be careful; some behavioral patterns never change. Don't deceive yourself that any man will alter himself for you.

It's difficult to tell for sure, but emotionally-reserved suitors can often turn out to be devoted husbands, good providers and caring fathers. On the other hand, that drop-dead gorgeous Adonis who leaves you weak in the knees is sure to affect other women in the same way. The suave, debonair escort may be good boyfriend material, but would be lacking as a husband. In the end, its up to you to recognise the signs. It won't be your parents or siblings making the final choice, but you alone.

Don't just look at each other-make sure you both look in the same direction for your future together. It's important. And remember, it's your decision, not anybody else's, so be careful.