Sir Robert Anderson; a British author born in the 19th century once penned these insightful words, “In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find and continue to find grounds for marriage.” Of course he wasn’t only talking about reasonable grounds for divorce, which may in any case be compromised by some degree of subjectivity. KEVIN MOKENTO* writes
Quite a good number of people in or out of marriage would probably relate to Anderson’s sentiment. Some are doing well. Others are struggling to keep that flickering flame of affection burning.
A few are walking the tightrope and their marriage has unfortunately hit the highway to Splitsville. Some have already thrown in the towel. A handful of divorcees feel that they derived some sense of therapeutic liberation from storming out of their marriage.
Others consider divorce as a worthy contender for the number one spot on the list of the most traumatic experiences they ever went through. A tiny fraction wish they could turn back the hands of time and reunite with their former spouses.
Save for some short-lived frivolous marriages, divorce has never been an event. It has always been a journey fraught with emotion-laden experiences.
If you were to closely follow the footprints of marriages that crushed into a divorce, you are likely to pick unendearing cloggy litter manifesting itself in the form of negative nuances such as; intemperate hedonism, incompatibility, unfulfilled expectations, arrogance, listening disorder, incessant picayunish quarrelling, mercurial personality, frequent and destructive mood swings, controlling and domineering personality, excessive nagging, unconstructive criticism, hypocrisy, abuse, waning love, asymmetrical commitment, lack of trust and infidelity.
What you will probably fail to pick are attributes which normally create a protective and virtually impervious roof over marriages; true love, full commitment, unconditional kindness, enduring humility, unhypocritical remorse and genuine forgiveness.
Where these attributes are scarce, divorce would find the tiniest gap and easily leak into what seemed like an impermeable marriage. The corrosive power of each minute drip is often indiscernible until the marriage ceiling comes tumbling with a deafening roar. Sadly, the shaky marriage would be inadequately cushioned to absorb such a disruptive impact.
And when that happens, each mate gets shocked, starts treading the path of self-justification and ultimately goes on a finger-pointing spree. Prolonged finger-pointing coupled with failure to own one’s faults, often breed enduring negative views about one’s spouse.
As these unwholesome views pile up, multiple subliminal fissures may start popping up, and if left unchecked would eventually compromise the structural fabric of a marriage. The result? Separation. Or worse still, divorce! This seven-letter word is powerful. It has shattered the peace, joy and harmony of many households. In its wake it has left a trail of grieving individuals. It has shattered hopes and dreams of many men, women and children.
Let’s be realistic. There is nothing like once a heartthrob always a heartthrob. The same applies to any level of pulchritude. Despite this fact, a few excuses on the physical front have been bandied as reasons for pursuing divorce. Surely physical attributes are only essential as a stimulus for attraction.
Beyond that, they aren’t really sustainable. Physical ‘deformations’ such as corpulence, facial contours, receding hairline, tummy hugging mammary glands, a bulging belly and two or three chocolate stained teeth will without fail occur during the course of all marriages.
Anyone pretending that these factors are of such a destructive seismic nature that they would blow away a well-grounded marriage to smithereens is obliged to check into the nearest institution for some rigorous mental health tests. Of course proffering such lame excuses for divorcing one’s mate is an unfortunate way of trivialising a sacred institution.
The advent of social media has also dealt a heavy blow on some marriages. Relationships that have long been dormant are often revived via several social media platforms.
The so-called harmless flirting with old friends has become the norm and some marriages have failed to survive the relentless storms of flirty messages.
In the process, romantic vibes that had been thrown at the deepest end of the cerebrum have been retrieved and unwittingly pushed to the very top. Class reunions are becoming more and more popular. Surprisingly, a common condition to some of these reunions is that spouses are not welcome. Without being unduly cynical, you may not need to dig too deep to work out the reason for this.
Divorce has not always been acceptable. For instance the 1937 Constitution of the Irish Republic banned divorce. In time, some people expressed resentment for this ban. This culminated in the 1986 nationwide referendum where just over 60% of the people expressed their preference for upholding the ban. It was only 25 years ago that constitutional amendments resulted in the ban being lifted.
While banning divorce might have been considered a noble virtue, some people would argue that marriages can’t be successfully regulated through man-made legally binding instruments. Rigidity in the form of legal ordinances wouldn’t necessarily translate into anything virtuous, particularly in cases where marriages are only transformed into ‘live-in divorce’ arrangements.
Where spousal love is almost non-existent, and the only beneficiaries of the little love there happen to be children. Talk about living apart under one roof! Moving closer to our backyard, in the 1960s and 1970s divorce was not common in Botswana. It was frowned upon and carried some form of social stigma. Not anymore!
As winds of liberal attitudes swept the globe, women enjoyed a measure of ‘moral’ and financial liberation. Education availed opportunities for self-sufficiency. In time, it became all too clear that some women were not willing to stay shackled in dysfunctional marriages. Particularly where their husbands were lazy, unfaithful or abusive. Some confidently walked out of such marriages and were still able to take good care of themselves and their progeny without relying on alimony.
By way of an instructive segue, let me throw a few questions to jog your thinking. Why would anyone living in Monaco, the second smallest country in the world, perhaps measuring four or five times the entire land area of Airport Junction Mall, with the longest end-to-end stretch of just over 3km and a speed limit of 50km/hr ‘invest’ his hard earned money
Why would a woman who has just finished having an unpleasant tiff with her husband, jump into her car, drive off visibly angry, only to beam with smiles likely to rip up the edges of her mouth as she frantically waves to a close friend at the traffic lights? As an expression of human emotion, is anger at worst a self-torturous sham and at best a harmless farce? Could this explain why some divorcees continue to have a close relationship, sometimes punctuated with sporadic acts of carnal knowledge, and perhaps why the courageous ones would even go a step further to exchange nuptial vows one more time?
There is nothing more compellingly fascinating than the human psyche. It’s depth and breadth never cease to amaze me. I think if we were to collate all the knowledge possessed by the crème de la crème of the world’s psychologists, and add to it everything known by demised, living and yet to be born philosophers and scientists, the world would still fail to unravel the huge creative ‘engineering’ feat that is the human psyche.
Enough divagation! At what stage does a couple decide to divorce? In most cases, it is not at the time they seek parental or professional help. It is also not at the time they share their decision with their closest friends.
Often times they would have mulled over this for an inordinately long period, many months perhaps stretching into years. A few of them would simply be seeking a platform for venting out with the hope that this would evoke some form of validation, sympathy and empathy.
A few years back, my brother told me that one of his closest friends was getting divorced. This was quite a shock to me because I knew the family well, or so I thought. On the many occasions that I had interacted with them, my impression was that they were floating in an ocean of endless love.
Upon asking my brother whether he had talked his friend out of divorce, he said, “It’s too late. They are already divorced.” Those words hit me with some discombobulating fervour. So, I asked my brother why his friend would only advise him about such an important decision after the fact. And his response was, “He didn’t want anyone to convince him to backtrack on his decision simply because no one fully appreciates what he had been going through.”
A dozen years ago, an attorney I am well acquainted with divorced a couple that lived in England. The decision of the court was to award custody of the couple’s children to their mother. Armed with a favourable decision, a few days following the court’s judgement, the woman emigrated to Australia with the children. It would be absurd for anyone to assume that this was one of those capricious spur of the moment decisions.
In the blinking of an eye, the man who had obviously not seen this coming, and who for purposes of avoiding a heartrending divorce process had opted to shy away from opposing award of physical and legal custodial rights to her former spouse, all of a sudden found himself in a situation where he had to endure a 19-hour Kangaroo Route flight every time he wanted to exercise his visitation rights.
Although he rightly felt his former wife had inveigled him into giving away his rights, enervated by the harrowingly long legal process, he lacked the energy to start another legal tug of war on modification of the divorce decree and pursuit of a restrictive court injunction for the move.
What’s the point of these anecdotes? That a decision to divorce is neither arbitrary nor whimsical. It is not some form of impulsive disorder. Like some coronavirus victims, some people on the verge of divorce are ‘asymptomatic’. They don’t exhibit any visible signs of being close to succumbing to the ‘divorce virus’. In fact, some deliberately choose to portray a deceptive picture of a rosy and vibrant marriage.
Some of the people we see on social media appearing to be perfect models of marital unity, frequently flooding several online platforms with pictures reflecting heartfelt affection, and publicly showering one another with what seems to be candid words of intimacy, might actually be sleeping in separate beds. And worse still, not on speaking terms! But how long can such a hollow form of romantic vibrance last? Surely at some stage all the warm glowing patina of romance will be blown away. And soon after that, as the couple struggles to conceal their resentment for each other, their community of friends would catch wind of their marital woes. Lost for words, and torn between the two, most would feel deceived, and would only, ‘Uhu!’
Although falling in love might happen in a blindingly fast manner, purely because of a single flame of passion underpinned by physical attraction, falling out of love, particularly in a marriage setting is a slow process. It is often punctuated by a series of molehill-like poor choices and bad judgement calls that ultimately evolve into Everest-like huge challenges.
The process of dismantling this rather intricate and delicate ‘machine’ called marriage is often protracted and fraught with emotional trauma.
In view of the foregoing points, people are asking themselves, “What can I do to save my marriage?” This question will be addressed in the next two articles where eight key points will be discussed.
*Kevin Mokento is a contributor to Mmegi. He has requested anonymity for professional reasons