Marriage is a joint venture.
Not a sole proprietorship. At its optimal glow, it has no room for unsavoury self-serving habits. All narcissistic bullies determined to push their selfish interests have learnt this the harshest way. A good number of them have bitten the dust, be they haughty white-collar professionals or hubristic blue-collar labourers.
The last article helped us appreciate two points. One; that if white storks can maintain a lifelong bond marked by absolute fidelity we too can. Two; that we need to be fully committed to our spouses and focus on their endearing strengths. This article takes us from the third to the eighth point on our journey to stabilising our marriage.
The third point is; while physical attributes are essential for igniting the initial spark of attraction, marriage partners should appreciate that marriage is not similar to a ‘Usainic’ sprint. Spouses should be in it for the long haul, hence the traditional vow; “I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, … to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; ….”
This sounds like a marathon, for which full commitment, keen resolve, massive stamina and unwavering determination are imperatives for success.
People often conveniently choose to forget these vital determinants and by so doing unwittingly change the vow to what was popularised by the Langa-born South African iconic songstress, Brenda Nokuzola Fassie in her Wedding Day song.
In this popular song, ‘The Madonna of the townships’, as she was affectionately called by her hordes of fans changed part of the vow to the epigram, “Till divorce do us part”. For some people, such gritty satire went beyond the pale of propriety.
The fourth point is, once you think you’ve done all you could to privately resolve your marital challenges, and have been unsuccessful, do not be in a rush to despair. Resist the temptation to launch a despair driven solo mission to seek help without trying again and again. Don’t behave like the pied piper of Hamelin incarnate by yielding to pressure to announce your challenges to the whole world.
Remember, other people are contending with their own marital challenges but in a more mature way.
Probably, no language matches the sublime beauty captured in the Setswana saying, ‘Ga go na ntlo e e sa neng’. Before you condemn yourself, appreciate this fact; all marriages, and I mean all marriages, go through challenges. The difference lies in the handling of those challenges. Some foolishly choose to attack their mates, while others wisely choose to attack their challenges. While others boldly contend with the source of their challenges, some cowardly run away from their mates.
Marriage is not for hypersensitive crybabies and despair-prone weaklings. Eternal optimists thrive much better. Endeavour to protect your mate by rejecting all unwholesome urges to violate their dignity in public. However, if your diligent effort at addressing the challenges does not yield envisaged results, don’t shy away from seeking help.
I need to sound two important caveats; candidly acknowledge your contribution to the problem and don’t choose people who would simply tickle your ears by telling you what you want to hear. Target mature people who would resist the temptation to be biased. Act decisively while there is still an opportunity for salvaging your marriage. Don’t wait until your marriage has reached that tipping point of no return. By then, it might be too late.
Do not seek help for purposes of validating the decision you have already made. A decision that might be flawed. Demonstrate your sincerity by seeking counsel with an open and malleable heart. Dealing with marital woes is not easy, but what is easy in this world?
Here is the fifth point. Have a proper view of the headship principle. Do you subscribe to the principle that the man is the head of his wife? Do you think that means you can make key decisions without consulting your wife? That in the event of an altercation, you would always be accorded the right to have the last word? If so, you might have got married early.
But you are by no means a lost cause. If you wish, you can hit the reset button, and commit to having a proper view about marriage and your spouse. No man is beyond salvage. Not even you, despite whatever your wife could have said in the heat of the moment.
Don’t be gullible. Don’t believe everything you hear. Especially when said by a visibly irate mate. Don’t allow that to deflate your self-esteem. Rather consider it as a steppingstone towards a self-retooling journey.
The success of the headship principle hinges on two overarching conditions; a man loving his wife “as he loves himself” and a woman having “respect” for her husband. Sadly, the prevalent ‘patriarchal’ driven misunderstanding of the headship principle is ineffectual largely because it is infused with chauvinistic authoritarianism.
Its improper application is a far cry from what was originally intended. Don’t fall for that adulterated version. It is a ruse. It could deceptively lull one into a false sense of security as some married men got to find out, unfortunately for a few of them a bit too late. What they failed to discern was, beneath that thin veneer of camaraderie, a heavy storm was brewing. The patience of the wife wearing thinner than graphitic flakes every day!
A successful marriage is always anchored on a stable substructure that enables it to handle all types of loads. Typically, its foundation would have the following abutments; love, respect, clear and regular communication, frequent consultation and a determination to prioritise interests of one’s spouse irrespective of how frivolous they might seem.
The superficial value of bulldozing one’s way will always be short lived and such attitude might in time only serve to confer on you that infamous status, Divorcee. A self-conceited like it or lump it philosophy is potently lethal to the longevity of any marriage. By the way, this has no bearing on the gender of the breadwinner.
The sixth point is, avoid selling your soul to clichés that can only fast track the ruining of your marriage. Here are a few examples, ‘What you do not want done to you, do not do to others,’ ‘Do unto others as they do to you,’ and ‘All things that men do to you, you must also do to them.’
By the way, contrary
The first has been attributed to Confucius, a celebrated Chinese philosopher. Its flaw is in its underlying unspoken message, which presupposes that, it is always acceptable for people to do to you whatever you do to them. Crazy! If I spit on your face, does that mean that I want you to do the same to me?
The other two clichés are fundamentally flawed because they presuppose that whatever someone does to you, they will be happy if the same is done to them.
Owing to their incendiary nature, their application cannot quell fires particularly where one or both mates choose to tread the destructive path of pyromania. And they epitomise the debauchment of the ethical maxim universally acclaimed as the Golden Rule, ‘All things that you want men to do to you, you must also do to them.’ By all standards, this is a meritorious precept.
During the course of our marital life, our mate would treat us badly. Fact! But would they like it if we were to reciprocate? Like an incensed king cobra, we cannot always lift our body and head aggressively, ready to squirt lethal venom at the slightest of provocations. Any marriage built on the unstable foundation of vengeance will always be one or two moments away from crumbling.
The seventh point is, don’t believe everything you hear and read about marriage. Including this piece! After all, some of the most prolific marriage therapists, credited with truckloads of videos and articles on building successful marriages have failed this sacred institution.
Be warned! No marriage is a replica of another. While you may pick good lessons from marriages of some people close to you, it doesn’t mean that applying them in your married life would automatically guarantee you a successful marriage.
Comparing your mate with other people can only serve to compound your challenges. The key is to know your mate. Marriage is a joint venture. Not a sole proprietorship. It creates a unique atmosphere of interdependency. At its optimal glow, it has no room for unsavoury self-serving habits. All narcissistic bullies determined to push their selfish interests have learnt this the harshest way. A good number of them have bitten the dust, be they haughty white-collar professionals or hubristic blue-collar labourers.
The eighth and final point is the importance of open and honest communication, particularly with regard to intimate wants, finances, management of joint bank accounts, investments, in-laws, aspirations and division of labour.
The peace of many marriages has unfortunately been shattered by failure to discuss and agree on these. Oftentimes the one mate would assume that their spouse’s view is in synch with theirs only to get a rude awakening.
These are issues that should never be left to chance. Failure to objectively consider these might result in some chronic emotional and physical disconnection. Of course discussing these subjects might push couples out of their comfort zone.
If need be, for the sake of preserving our marriages, let’s joyfully step out of that zone.
Almost all couples who choose to shy away from addressing these points are sitting on a time bomb. Sue Mandel, a US-based marriage counsellor advises, “Over time, since none of us are perfect, individuals whose expectations are unrealistic tend to become disappointed and frustrated, even resentful.”
For this reason, Lily Zehner a relationship therapist recommends ‘regular check-ins’. This entails the scheduling of time for purposes of conversing eye to eye.
An awesome platform for attentively devoting time to each other’s needs and wants with no distraction from children, TV, newspapers and electronic gadgets. When was the last time you ‘checked-in’ with your mate? I’m not inciting you to guilt. I’m just prompting you to do what’s right. And of course, it’s never too late to do something decent.
If you are married and wish to remain married, seek and pursue ways of continuously pressing the right pressure points in your marriage. Eliminate excuses and grounds for divorce. Devote time and attention to playing your part to the hilt. Much the same as you would work hard to save your career or life. In all profitable human endeavours, hard work is always the bedrock of success.
Work hard to save your marriage. You may not know this, but that’s what the couples you envy do! One day, you will look back and say, I have jumped through a lot of hoops, but the tassel was certainly worth the hassle.
Closing one’s eyes and folding one’s arms, followed by the mumbling of a few halfhearted words and saying Amen at the end without a deliberate positive alignment of one’s thoughts and actions to expressed wishes is akin to futilely chasing the delusive phantom of hope.
Such hollow faith has always failed to dignify and reward the most pious of its adherents. In fact, it tends to backfire on the rectitudinous lot. But the comforting thought is, you and I can save our marriages.
Like Sir Robert Anderson advised, we could be amongst the throngs of spouses who have mastered the trick of ‘finding and continuing to find grounds for marriage’. If it’s any help, let’s derive motivation from the fact that there is no way the lowly white storks can beat us at this game. We are a higher form of life. Created in God’s image! With capacity to love, to forgive, to be compassionate and to be patient. We are equipped with an arsenal of attributes essential for recharging a flagging marriage.
In conclusion, let me assure you of this fact. Even when you think you are barely succeeding in steadying yourself as you falter through a long and winding tenebrous matrimonial alley riddled with massive potholes, hold your head high, you can succeed in saving your marriage.
I hope you have found the three articles insightful. I am well aware of the fact that I might have ruffled a few feathers for which I wish to apologise. Having said that, it might seem counterintuitive for me to quote Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the US, “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”
*Kevin Mokento is a contributor to Mmegi. He has requested anonymity for professional reasons