The honking rings loud as the convoy makes its way down Great East road! At the Arcades roundabout, it is the all familiar pattern. The excited, screaming and happy bunch drive around the floral decorated roundabout several time. Then they head east to the Mulungushi Service Club, one of the popular destinations for wedding receptions.
There are good times ahead as two people tie the knot and start their lives together.
What makes a good marriage so those good times can become reality? What are the issues affecting marriages that make this reality a challenge?
Diagnosing the cancer
Observing and experiencing marriage has pointed me to some areas I feel have helped over the years. A couple consciously or sub-consciously enrich or derail their marriage. Let us analyse these areas.
1. Ease of entry=ease of exit- it is not much of an issue for a couple to wed these days. On a simplistic basis, an early pregnancy or parental scheming, two lives are brought together in marriage so easily. This dilutes the essence and seriousness of this institution. It follows then that if it can be this easy to get in, how much easier to get out? We just need to look at divorce statistics and reasons to answer that question.
2. Privacy and advice- it is not uncommon these days to see a marital situation posted on Facebook or even the extreme of couples having a go at each other on social sites. The web space is always full of willing “helpers”, most eager for the juicy story more than genuine need to build or repair.
I remember once seeing a posting of a gentleman complaining, clearly about his wife, and one of his friends showed her willingness and being all ears! Fortunately, reason prevailed when one colleague mentioned that marriage has a place for discussion and grievances, such a platform was not one of them.
It is not only these social sites. We find also that we easily talk to friends, relatives or whoever we deem to have a good set of ears. It is such decisions that open our marriages and bedrooms to all sorts of advice and influences.
As many as may seem interested in our marriage, we must be wise and cautious. It is not far fetched to state that some offer a shoulder so as to feel better about their situation, fuel gossip about your marriage or perhaps even mock you embarrassingly when not with you.
3. Departure from traditional values- Call it old fashioned but I believe there is a lot of wisdom that tradition offers. When a couple are tutored in readiness for the big step of marriage, a lot is shared. If we take time to recall some of the elements and apply them in our marriages, there is a lot of value to be derived. There are aspects of how a couple must relate, resolve issues, respect and romance. All these combined with experience, appropriate and wise counsel, combine as rich ingredients for any marriage.
In addition, we have let westernisation corrupt our perspective of marriage. What we see in soapies, movies and on the internet or through relatives/friends we have in the west influences our marriages. All in the name of being modern. How we communicate, deal with our priorities/pursuits, handle our roles etc, all are open to the western influence to the detriment of our marriages.
4. Silent competition between spouses- I am progressive and encourage growth and development for all. However, the current women’s empowerment movement has the plot wrong. Most statements are always along the lines of “a man can do this, why not you?”. It has become a battle of sexes and almost always, the approach sets women on collision course with the menfolk.
Some things we may not love to hear but the truth is that there is a place for both male and female in the marriage setup. The challenge and key for either is to be aware and play it effectively with support from the spouse.
At no time should careers, ambitions, pay, status, parties or social considerations take precedence over respect, mutual growth and the marriage. The wife owes the husband his rightful respect as the husband does the fair treatment a wife deserves for her critical role.
How many wives do we know that talk their husbands down because they are not in employment, earn less or are in less glamorous jobs? How many husbands do we know that treat their wives like maids, slaves, tools or second class beings?
Every action of a couple must be weighed in terms of what is ultimately beneficial for the union and its future. Anything done with a motive outside of this is a sure recipe for a disastrous marriage.
5. Spouses have stopped talking- Show me a couple that does not take time to talk and I will show you a marriage in ICU on oxygen! It is no cliche, communication is everything.
A couple must be able to do this well in all areas. One must understand the other’s way of thinking, dislikes, likes, weaknesses and strengths. Such characteristics and knowledge of one’s partner have a crucial part in every marriage. It also kicks out assumptions, speculation and unnecessary differences.
In this day and age, technology presents a double edged sword. On one hand it makes communication instant when apart. On the other, it poses a challenge in that couples now agree or communicate through texts or quick calls to relay information or agree on issues. “Home soon. With the guys” or ” Salon. Meeting Jane” are familiar standard one liners conveyed in texts.
When together or at home, the whole world is at the fingertips as Facebook, IM, browsing and all the phones offer takes the place of active conversation. Add to this the television as well. Another thief of close bonding moments for a couple.
6. Ineffective problem resolution- When a couple have a difference, it is imperative to deal with an issue and close it. As long as emotions are not running so high as to lead to damaging confrontation, the two must agree to close things there and then.
When this is done, it must be resolved, closed and left behind. Do not keep a full list of what one said, did wrong and use it when there is a fresh difference in future. Additionally, at the point of resolving, stick to the issue at hand without darting all over on unrelated issues. This only degenerates into self-defence or a “hit me and I’ll hit back” approach that does not build the relationship.
7. The vows are forgotten- Those words we utter on that important day have very rich meaning. Perhaps couples should have them framed for their bedrooms and recite them every so often!
When we look back at how we conduct ourselves and our marriages, most times the evidence seems to be that those words were a mere formality, parroted to get through a ceremony.
If we can live according to those vows, they should help us respect what God has created in marriage for us, what we committed to and should aspire for.
8. God got the boot- If we respected God and honoured Him, stating that we follow Him, the likelihood is that most marital problems we have would not arise. Covetousness, sarcasm, tit-for-tat engagements, adultery, divorces, children out of wedlock, violence, neglect and all ills one can imagine. All these would not haunt marriages as the case is today.
But the reality is sad. God was kicked out a long time ago if at all He was at the centre of the union in the first place. Without Him as reference point and foundation, the ugly picture of marriage we see in our age should be no surprise.
9. Cracked foundation- God designed marriage for noble and privileged intentions. This we have corrupted with opening up such an institution to anyone and for wrong reasons. Perhaps its because the biological clock is ticking or one has gone past the socially acceptable age without wedding. Early pregnancies, peer or parental pressure. Whichever way one views this, the fact is that we have unprepared people entering this institution that has a huge impact on society and the future.
Marriage is a sweet and rewarding thing. But it comes with huge responsibility and must never be taken lightly by anyone. No one so clueless about it must get into it.
10. Role models needed- Currently, broken homes, multiple homes, remote parents and neglected families/marriages have become a normal feature in our society.
Our parents, political and religious leaders are failing in their marriages. There are stories of these role models divorcing, being sugar daddies/mummies and everything to show “marriage gone wrong”.
Society needs more good examples of what it means to have a successful marriage. What it means to sail through all the challenges, dips and temptations to make one’s marriage a priority, to make it work and together saunter towards the half century anniversary one day at a time, if God wills.
11. Spouses are not friends- It’s as simple as that. I have come to believe that when two people are very close friends before they marry or become close friends during their marriage, it is a great help. There are times romance and excitement poses a challenge in a marriage, friendship jumps right in. It fuels the relationship and sets it back on course because these two people have become so close, shared so much and have that bond as fallback. So let that person you have exchanged vows with be your best friend.
12. Acts of good with a motive- In a marriage, all we do must be out of love. It must be an act of giving of ourselves for the good of our partner without expectation of any form of reward or payback. This is cardinal so we have no ulterior motive or opt to stop doing the good we have because the response has not been as we expected. That way, it will be a spontaneous part of our marriage as we do what we choose to do because we love our spouse. The appreciation will flow in its right time as a response to the love one radiates as they act out of genuine love!
13. Autopilot marriage- After the honeymoon, a few years or perhaps even a number of kids into the marriage, couples simply stop working on the marriage. We do not put in effort at all but hope for a successful marriage. The surprises cease, the outings, small gifts, notes or acts of love. The challenge for us all is to revisit all these tokens of love and find ways to make the other happy. Then we can fall in love over and over, years into our marriage. Not only that, we must keep our eyes open to all the little things done for us and not set sight only on the huge! So many little daily things happen that should make us realise how much our spouses love us.
14. Be in your partners’ shoes- Most times we want to resolve something, point out an area we are not impressed with, we forget to build. Our motivation must always be to improve and enrich. That must guide how we relay negative feedback and point areas of improvement. Leave your partner in a better place after that than rip them apart into a confidence sapping state.
Likewise, when we make decisions whether financial, social or personal, we must walk in our spouse’s shoes. When we make it a habit to think in terms of the other, it soon may just become habit and each step of the way, we will have our loved one at the centre of all we do.
This also plays a critical role in terms of transparency, building trust and openness in the way we do things and manage the marriage.
The above points are not all. I am sure you too can think of several you have picked along the way. Either through your own marriage experience or that of others you may or may not know.
When we combine all these and make a deliberate pledge to enrich our marriages through consistent application, don’t you think we would have better marriages?
Only then can we defeat the cancer battering marriages currently.
Think about it.