To say that the marriage institution is under stress may not truly capture the enormity of challenges facing it. Marriage break ups, separations, divorce, have become the norm. A glance through the papers or a visit to the courts will confirm the depth of the challenge the marriage institution is up against.
Mrs. Folasade Ajayi, is a counsellor, a relationship and life coach and a career woman in the Insurance industry. She has been married for 20 years. In this interview with Assistant Editor, CHINWE MADUAGWU, she examines the challenges of present day marriages and proffers some solutions.
TNE: Why are many marriages collapsing?
I would say there are a lot of reasons and one of it is the lack of understanding of the makeup of either the man or the woman.
Talking about the men, women must understand how men are wired and be able to relate with them appropriately, same for men. Take the issue of domestic violence for instance, it is not all men who get involved in such, does it then mean that their wives are perfect? The answer is no. However, some men, who have made up their minds not be involved did so because they have seen the results of domestic violence and they have learnt patience. So if anyone wants to be successful in their marital relationship, patience and understanding are key.
There are times you see things and pretend you don’t see, not because you don’t want to make noise, but because you want your marriage to last.
Also, lack of understanding in knowing how to relate is a problem, a lot of people do not have relational skills, the way you relate to your colleagues is not the way you should relate to your spouse, for example, in the office you would not like to get fired so you try to manage your emotions appropriately, but at home people take their spouses for granted; talk to their spouses however they like, and those things affect them and the marriage relationship. When it gets to a certain point they will react and this can cause a breakup.
Lack of understanding about what the marriage institution is all about is why marriages are failing.
TNE: What then should drive a marriage and sustain or keep it?
What keeps marriages together is far beyond love. What keeps marriages is a sense of purpose; if I know that marrying a man would transform me physically, mentally and intellectually then we have a purpose together, but if I feel that this person is higher than me intellectually, is more buoyant than me financially and as a person, I can’t see myself managing that personality, then there’s no purpose bringing us together. So, purpose is something that even when the love is being affected by the trials of life, the purpose will keep you two together. For example, my husband is a pastor and we do a lot of counselling; some of the things we treat in counselling, we go through. We, therefore, think to ourselves that we can’t teach against that thing and be guilty of practicing it, that alone has been a guide and it can only be a guide because we understand that marriage is all about the purpose that brought us together. After marriage we waited for seven years before we had our first child, if there wasn’t a purpose, a lot of things that happened during that period could have ended the marriage.
Also, couple should try and learn what their partners like and what they do not like. With that, you try to build on the things they like and project them and play down on the ones they don’t like.
Again, I stopped wearing Iro and Buba because my husband does not like it. I realised that if we want to go out and I wear Iro and Buba, he will cancel the outing or tell me not to worry. He won’t bother saying it’s because of what I’m wearing, but I knew because he had already warned me. So, for peace to reign, I stopped wearing Iro and Buba and I’m a Yoruba woman.
There are a lot of things we can do for peace to reign in our. These are little foxes that we need to fight in out marriages.
TNE: Doesn’t love have any role to play in marriage?
I can’t even tell you that it was love that made me marry my husband. For me what, attracts me to a man is intelligence not even money. I want a man that I can brag about; I want a man that can be proud of whatever little gift I am endowed with; I want a man that can take the little I have and turn it to a big thing. I can tell you that before I talk to any audience, I first deliver the talk to my husband, and he’d advise me on what to say and what not to say to a particular audience. My point is, it is the purpose that actually brought us together. We have been through a lot, but we keep remembering that a lot of people will be affected if we part ways because of the challenge.
The purpose is always putting us to check, reminding us that we have a mission together and that our marriage is not temporary, but for life. We equally realise that there is no challenge that we’re going through that others have not gone through and even worse cases. It’s about your attitude when you are going through those challenging times.
One of the things that cause problems in a marriage is people having negative attitudes when they are going through challenges. For instance, when we were waiting for a child I always suggested that we should go see a doctor, but my husband was always confident and reassured that we would have our child at the right time. When his family began to make an issue out of it, he stood by me. It takes a very patient and brave man to do that, you know some men are their mother’s pets. It’s about marrying someone who understands your personality and has the skills to manage it.
TNE: If a woman finds herself with a mommy’s pet how does she handle such a man?
There is a time you get to in your relationship that communication would have to move to the next level. There are situations you need to see a counsellor because you can’t manage, the counsellor would be able to provide practical life experiences to show you why at a certain stage in a man’s life he needs to stop being his mother’s pet. Sometimes if you’re trying to talk it out and it’s not working you can seek counsel, I realise that in this part of the world we don’t go for counselling, but there’s nothing wrong with seeking help to sort out certain issues in your life and in your marriage.
Again, in relationships, we must realise that there is a place for forgiveness and that there is no sin that is too grievous not to be forgiven.
TNE: Even domestic violence?
Why I said there’s no sin too grievous not to be forgiven is because most times what brings about separation is infidelity, so for me, it’s not really a big deal to forgive infidelity, but anything that has to do with threatening life, I don’t support. So, domestic violence I do not support in any way. In fact, there is a campaign I am putting together against domestic violence and it is going to be a very big and serious one. We are going to be saying no against domestic violence, to the extent that even people around an abused person can get arrested for failing to report it. So everyone will be aware that they have a mission to protect women, even men. Most times we don’t talk about men that go through violence, but we have a portion that go through domestic violence. I’ve seen a woman beating her husband and it was a sorry sight.
TNE: You said something about relationship skills, what are some of these skills and how does one acquire them?
Sometimes we learn on the job, sometimes you learn deliberately by reading, researching or going for counselling. One relational skill that is very important and which everyone must have is communication skill. There’s a way women communicate that doesn’t augur well with the men. There’s what we call ‘half plastic communication’; women talk half way and we want the man to understand from beginning to end and to act which is not possible. Then there’s another we call ‘sandwich communication,’ using sandwich as an example, we know it comes in layers, with different things. The sandwich style of communication does not work in a marital relationship. Putting too much information at a time, for example, the woman goes -‘my husband, the children have brought the paper for school fees; I saw the landlady walking up and down, I’m sure it’s because we are owing her; that reminds me, NEPA has brought the bill for the month,’ all in one sentence. Believe me, no man can process that. Women may be able to process it but not men. A man is wired to listen to one thing at a time and women know how to pack information. If you go on like that, before you know it, he will say you’re nagging.
Also in communication, you must learn the right body language, the tone of the voice is important. I can say ‘I’m sorry’ in different ways, so, if there’s a fight or an argument and you want to apologise, if you do it in a calm and remorseful manner then it is okay, but if you apologise in a rash manner, it’s not okay, you have not done anything.
Remember, it’s good to do to others what you want to be done to you. We take our spouses for granted. What we can’t do to our bosses at work, we do to our spouses and expect them to take it.
TNE: What is the impact of constant friction and failed marriages on children?
The impact on children is that we start breeding children who will not have marital skills too because children learn by what they see. At the end of the day, the children learn from their parents’ examples. When they grow up, they replicate what they have seen and it keeps going on like that.
There must be a time that we should say no and look for avenues to change for the better and it is never late. We should stop fighting.
TNE: What in your view is the greatest challenge in raising children these days?
I think creating the right self-identity in the children is one of the problems parents face in raising children. As the children are growing, we must make them to realise who they are, once that message is not deliberately passed on, then there is a problem of self-esteem. They start looking for what is not lost. Someone who is a girl will start thinking she is a boy, before you know it lesbianism and homosexuality creep in. Self-identity and self-awareness are important.
Every family must have a routine while the children are growing up, a kind of system that is building a child up to form his or her own personality. We have parents who are career people, but with children to raise, they must sit down and plan. Both parents cannot be career people. One should have a flexible job. One parent must sacrifice for the children.
Every couple has to sit down and know what works. The manual in my home will be totally different from the manual in another person’s home because our husbands do not have the same personality. For example, I didn’t marry a man that can cook, but there’s no house chore that he cannot do. So, I can’t be fighting him because he doesn’t cook. There are some men who know how to cook, but cannot do any house chore. So we should accept what God has given to us. The best thing to do, therefore, is to look at what you have and plan. There must be this mutual communication, understanding and agreement.
TNE: A lot of men believe it’s the woman that ought to sacrifice for a marriage to work. Is that how it should work?
It’s lack of understanding. Let me use the issue of family planning as example. Most men will not do family planning, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve seen few, maybe one percent of our men that would say, I prefer to do a vasectomy than to put my wife through any kind of family planning.
Some married men would also prefer to use condom than have their wives do artificial family planning, so, it’s understanding. If we come up with programmes that will educate men – television programmes, radio programmes, seminars, conferences, then things will start changing. The next generation won’t be like that.
TNE: What’s your final word to married couples on how to sustain their marriages?
Marriage looks like the most difficult institution, but at the same time it looks like the easiest institution if we know what to do. One of the things I’ll advise everybody; no matter how educated, knowledgeable or intellectual you may be, you cannot go wrong with patience. The man snores, be patient; the man eats and makes noise, be patient. If the man shouts and you are patient and quiet, one day, he will realise and ask himself why he’s shouting like a mad man and then correct himself.
For the men, they also need to understand that as women, we are gifted in running our mouths, so when we start, they should be patient.
At such times a man should walk away and when the woman is done, he can come back.
It takes time and hard work for a marriage to work. Marriage is not built in a day, it is like constructing a building; it takes the right foundation and timing to get it right, but we should be willing to make it right.