By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Marriage, the union of two or more people from different and often disparate backgrounds comes with its stress. Stress comes from finances (too much or too little of it), sexual relations, infidelity (the other woman, and in rare cases in Nigeria, the other man), the extended family, work hours, domestic chores, children or lack of them, and differences in religion or place of worship. There are no absolutes about this. There could be more. For example, how do we handle a situation when the woman suddenly becomes breadwinner in the family? Also, sometimes, people change after a few years of marriage. Or reveal their true character. My operative thesis from Day One is: Every Couple Must Decide, Must Work on Their Marriage. Not the pastor. Not the Imam. Not the Parents-in-law. Not a third party of fourth party.
In my definition, I added ‘two or more people’ to accommodate polygamy, the practice of having more than one wife or more than one husband at a time. While the former is common in our clime, the latter is taboo in most if not all Nigerian cultures. We know of girls who keep multiple boyfriends, dubiously and humorously called ‘shareholders’ in their enterprise. Whereas most girls can tolerate men have multiple relationships in our culture, most men cannot stand it.
The courtship period, the prelude to marriage, is often sweet. It is not in all cases though. Some girls see the bitter taste coming during courtship but hang on in the hope that the man would change after marriage. However, in a typical situation, both parties are often careful, especially if they both decide that they want to marry. Meetings are less frequent or limited to certain hours. Every moment they spend together is bliss. They are more tolerant of each other. There is nothing like ‘see finish’ if I may borrow our local expression. ‘See finish’ comes sometimes when a woman overexposes herself to the man before marriage. Some girls just move into the man’s apartment and start what in Delta State our people call ‘credit marriage’ or ‘paper bag’ marriage. Sometimes, the lady gets pregnant, and they must wait until she gives birth before bride price is paid. ‘We do not pay the bride price of a woman who is pregnant’, the people say. Why I ask? Are you paying for two?
The discourse today is not on premarital issues. Arising from some discussions which I had during the week, I have decided to write on the stress involved in keeping a marriage together. When the popular line in most weddings compels bride and bridegroom to ‘say for better for worse’, it is in recognition of the stresses, challenges, and pleasures of a typical marriage. Anybody who decides to end a marriage on account of a stress factor, is likely to see more in the next woman. It is true that some persons could develop irreconcilable differences. Except they part ways, one of them may end up in the morgue. So, it is proper to not to take an absolute, fixed position.
Finances. Couples must learn to manage their finances. The Nigerian marriage has run into trouble because we have not managed our finances well. If a wife feels that her husband is a bad manager of money, it could lead to dissatisfaction. This disenchantment may spread, dig deeper and gradually the woman would lose faith in the man. From Day One therefore, let there be an agreement on how to manage income in all circumstances. Some couples decide on a joint account. This has its advantages. It could also happen that the woman is a bad manager of funds. If ‘chop money’ is exhausted only after one week because madam spent money on other things outside the budget, and this becomes a recurring decimal, relations could be shaken.
Sexual relations are a sensitive area. Both parties should understand each other and develop a rhythm. Some people are highly conservative in the ‘ozer room. A conservative man who marries a bedroom activist must strike a balance else he would have a permanently unhappy wife. What are your needs? Talk about them. Discuss them. Work on them. When. For example, a man suffers Erectile Disfunction (ED) it could be embarrassing if both parties are not mature. ED could be temporary or permanent. No party should jump to a conclusion. In one case, the woman accused the man of wasting his energy outside! Another man believed and expressed the view that it was a ‘spiritual attack. ED could be the result of medication or work and life-related stress. The operative word is: UNDERSTANDING through discussions.
These days, there are too many cases of infidelity in marriages. Both men and women are guilty, though men are more disposed to it than women. Some men are discreet about it. Others flaunt their excesses before the longsuffering wife. Or are get caught through telephone chats. Women are urged to look the other way because in their view ‘all men cheat! It’s hard for most women to swallow. Some couples live together but lead two separate lives. They hardly communicate with feelings. A woman who is your wife needs attention. Often the attention is sweeter than money, especially when other things are okay. Money does not make love. Love in the deeper sense of it is sweeter than money. It is sweeter when there is money to make both parties meet their needs though. In the absence of plenty money, real commitment inmarriage through love creates an enduring marriage.
During counselling, we tell both parties to give mutual respect to each other. There was a case in which the man always called his wife a ‘useless woman! The woman then reacted by staying away every weekend with her friends and relations. During reconciliation, the woman said if she was useless in the marriage why stay every day in the house of a man who thought she was useless. One of the lacking ingredients in the Nigerian marriage is lack of mutual respect. If one party sees itself as the senior partner, as it currently is, there is bound to be friction.
Marriage as a topic, is inexhaustible. As a man married for nearly forty years, I still learn lessons almost during every new experience, I see my wife in a new light. Discovery can be sweet. It can also be bitter. It is always sweet if we decide to create sugar in our mouth and allow things that seem bitter to be sweet. Is it impossible?
*Professor Hope O. Eghagha (BA, Jos; MA; PhD, Lagos) MNAL
Department of English
Faculty of Arts
University of Lagos