In the past month, the marriages of at least 5 women of my age group (mid-thirties to early forties) have crashed beyond repair.
One or two of them reached out to me directly and narrated their heartbreaking (sometimes hair-raising) stories. Others told their stories by pure chance. And with some, I noticed something not quite right in their demeanor or their posts on social media raised suspicion and I reached out. In all these instances, I have heard their stories directly from the horses’ mouths.
I am aware of the danger of the single story, but let’s just take their narratives at face value for a moment.
- Z was married in her teens to a handsome young man barely out of his teens too. It was love at first sight. He joined the military and they shared a short period of marital bliss before he began to display erratic behavior and a violent temper. Every argument had to end his way or it was resolved with blows and kicks. At first, she didn’t know how to react to this change in the love of her life. Her parents offered no help. If she complained to them, they asked her to be more patient and bridle her tongue to avoid provocation. Nothing she did could prevent a beating; if she stayed quiet, she got a beating, if she challenged him, more of the same. He threw her out of their home more times than she cared to remember in 10 years of marriage. They soon became the laughing stock of the community. After one particularly dangerous beating, which she survived by sheer providence of the intervention of neighbors, Z moved out. He pursued her to her parents’ home and aided by her parents, forcibly removed all their four children. Both families have tried countless times to reconcile them; ignoring her resolve that she had had enough. At one of such reconciliation meetings, he beat her black and blue. Guess what the reaction of the mediators was? Z is heading to court.
- G and her spouse worked in different towns. They had been childhood sweethearts. Despite the distance, they felt secure in their enduring love for each other. Unknown to G, whilst she soldiered on in celibacy, her spouse got into an affair. During one of their frequent visits, he confessed everything. She was broken but determined to save the love they had shared for far too long. They made up and renewed their vows. A few months later, he returned to inform her that the other woman was pregnant. When he confirmed how far gone the woman was, it became clear to G that the affair had continued despite his earlier ‘repentance’. As we cried together, G asked me, “Victoria, how can I take him back? He died in my heart when I realized he had still gone ahead with that woman after we vowed to start over. How could he have gone so far as to have sex with another woman without protection and now she is pregnant?” In G’s shoes, I wouldn’t even know what to do. We just wept and wept. G’s spouse eventually took the decision on what to do out of her hands when he moved in with the other woman.
- After one hour listening to X, I informed her, “Nne, are you aware you were never married? From what you’re telling me and all your efforts to try and make things right, you lived with a stranger for four years of your life. How could a brilliant and supposedly secure woman such as yourself have fallen into this situation?” My words to her may sound harsh I know, but she had literally come to the same conclusion herself without uttering the words. How can a man demand money from his wife in exchange for sex? How can a man pilfer the money his wife has put away as savings? How can a man connive with strangers to con his wife?
- M and her husband met at university during their first degrees. They went on to secure Master degrees before they got married. Four lovely children followed: three girls and one boy. The boy, their last child, was ailing from birth. He eventually died at the age of three. That was when M noticed a change in her husband. First it was heavy drinking, followed by late nights, suspicious sightings with strange women around town, then beatings came into the equation. Eventually, the stuff of Africa Magic, “Give me a male child or leave my house.” A delegation from the village came to back up the demand. M knew better than to argue with fools. She quietly moved out with her three daughters.
- Y got married at the age of 18 to a man 12 years older and dutifully ‘served’ him as was required by custom and tradition. She ‘gave him’ three beautiful children, male and female; enough to satisfy tradition. As time wore on, she continued to ‘submit’ to him and surrender her income into his care for the ‘common good’ of the family. She was thunderstruck the day a woman confronted her on social media and flaunted evidence of a relationship with her husband, in their village, no less. She was chilled to her bones as she received and viewed picture after picture of the woman playing mistress in the village house she had contributed to, pictures of the woman driving the car she had bought and sent home, pictures of the other woman wearing her clothes. The breaking point came when the husband changed his Facebook profile picture to the other woman. Something he had NEVER done for her in over twenty years of marriage. In fairness to Y’s upbringing, she tried to remain dutiful and assured me that if her husband had been found ‘messing around’ with campus girls, she would have looked the other way, but this one was a strike too close to home and the other woman was figurately speaking, demanding for her head on a platter. She still went ahead with mediation efforts but her husband insisted what he wanted in his life now was polygamy. Her in-laws tried to console her, “Y listen, as far as we know, you are our first wife and no one will ever take that from you.” That was when Y realized there was a community joke going on and it was entirely at her expense.
Do any of the above stories sound familiar? I am sure they do. I have heard so many similar stories since my youth but 5 of my peers in the space of one month left me disturbed.
I am a champion of marriage for whoever wants it, but marriage MUST be enjoyed NOT endured.
As I listened to the stories of these women, I felt a great weight of responsibility. I didn’t know what these women were expecting me to say as they poured out their hearts. Most of them had made their decisions before sharing their stories with me. Even so, I felt as if I had to stand in defense of marriage. I felt I had to find a sliver of hope somewhere, even a crack in the narrative through which I could plead for them to reconsider. I was hoping I would catch a standpoint or behavior on either side that I could examine further and explore to help them try to find common ground with their estranged husbands.
But for each of these stories, there was nothing to hold onto. The injustice or abuse they had endured was enough to break any human.
I may come across as too defensive on the side of women but until I hear the other side, this is the perspective I have.
So, what is wrong with marriages in Nigeria?
The devil is attacking Nigerian marriages and we all must rise and fight him.
Now, before we kneel to pray, let us first locate the devil so that we can direct our spiritual -and mental- swords at the right target.
The devil is in how we assume the marriage contract is – a master-slave contract.
The devil is in how we uphold marriage as the ultimate achievement for women; and subjugating women as the divine calling of men.
The devil is in the way we raise boys into physically matured yet emotionally stunted, needy, privileged and entitled men.
The devil is in demonizing women who choose life over an empty title.
The devil is in failing to give girls a voice and women recognition and enforcement of their rights to have an equal footing in marriage and in society.
The devil is in forcing reconciliation at all costs when we should be more circumspect.
The devil is in calling for prayers when we should be conducting intense counseling or counselling without the proper aptitude or qualification to do so; or offering ‘counseling’ as a reprimand on women.
The devil is in calling for prayers without a deep understanding of prayer, who should pray, what to pray for and why. Most folks banish embattled women off to prayer to cover their ineptitude in handing marital conflict.
People, the devil is in the details.
In case anyone was wondering, of the five stories I shared above, four of them are Igbo. Ndi Igbo be anyi, brace up! You will see many more marriages break up in this era unless we amend our demeaning and rigid traditions against women. Don’t even try to blame modernization and feminism. This is not a new phenomenon. Ndi Igbo! You all know those mothers, aunties and sisters from time immemorial who said, “Enough! Di gbakwaa oku!” and chose to leave rather than be killed for the sake of answering “Oriaku.”
My grandmother Obijalu, was one of such women. She abandoned an abusive husband and took her daughter with her. She subsequently married royalty. She married my grandfather, Dara Okolie Akunasumgbu of Obi Oguonu, Umungwu, Ukpor, Nnewi and they lived happily ever after.
You all know at least one of these women and yet you live in denial.
A few words are enough for the wise.
Ngwa, let us pray!