By Azuka Onwuka
In my discussions with couples and study of marriage, I have found out that there are some fundamental things that have changed in today’s marriage. Many seem unaware of these changes and have not adjusted to them, thereby leading to more unhappiness and divorces.
Some decades ago (in the days of our grandfathers and even fathers), it was the men that were more likely to abuse their wives physically, verbally, psychologically, emotionally, financially, sexually. Incidentally, society supported it. Society and religion taught women to submit to their husbands totally. Women were meant to be seen, not heard. They were mainly housewives. It was seen as a waste of resources for a woman to be sent to a secondary school let alone a university. After all, what would she do with the education but stay at home and manage the home? It was not unusual for a man with a university degree to marry a girl with primary school education. Even when married women worked or earned incomes, they focused on jobs like teaching, nursing, sewing, or petty businesses that ensured that they closed early and paid attention to the children and home affairs.
The men were the breadwinners. They dictated what happened in the home. If the wife challenged the authority of her husband, there would be consequences. The man could stop giving her money. He could beat her up – some men had a cane for their wife the same way they had a cane for their children. He could even send her packing and ask her parents to train her well. If after some weeks or months, he felt that his wife had calmed down and was prepared to be a submissive wife, he could bring her back. In some cases, the man would marry another wife to show the wife that her reign as the sole queen was over. The man could marry a third or fourth wife and more if he chose to and had the capacity to take care of them. That way, no wife would have the effrontery to challenge his authority. In any house with many wives, each wife would be angling to be her husband’s favourite by going the extra mile to make him happy.
If a woman complained about any ill treatment she got from her husband, she was usually told to endure it. In Igbo language the word, husband, is literally translated as “di”. The Igbo word for endurance or patience is “ndidi” while the verb for to “endure” is “dibe”. Married women were told that the reason husband is “di” in Igbo is because women are meant to endure (that is, “di-be”). If a young woman visited her mother to complain about the type of abuse she was receiving from her husband, the mother would sit her down and give a dossier of the type of abuse she had endured in the hands of her own husband (the young lady’s father) and how she had borne all that quietly for the sake of her children and marriage. She would tell her daughter to go back and endure her marriage like a good wife. The mother would add a proverb like: “The bedbug told her children to be patient, for whatever is hot will eventually get cold.”
However, as the years rolled by, things began to change. Parents realised that the female children deserved to be educated. Even men who had married women with low education sent them for further studies. Consequently, women acquired education, sometimes even more than their husbands. With more education came better jobs and more financial freedom and more knowledge of women’s rights. Women became more assertive and less pliable. Some other factors in society also changed in the favour of women. The table of abuse turned and women, who used to be under the table, became on top of the table, while men who used to be on top were pushed under.
Consequently, in marriages of educated couples who are both working and earning incomes, the woman is more likely to be the one abusing the man because of certain factors:
1. Society frowns on the issue of a man beating his wife. Women know it. Therefore, many of them exploit it by daring their husbands with: “What can you do, useless man? You can’t do anything more than a dead rat.” They egg their husbands to touch them, so they can make videos of their coloured face and post online and celebrate their husbands as wife beater.
2. Sending of wives away over a quarrel is frowned upon. In the days of our grandparents, they said: “This is my house.” In today’s world, couples are encouraged to say: “Our house”.
3. Even though divorce is rife, it is still frowned upon. The church is strongly against divorce and condemns those who engage in it. Couples are encouraged to endure their marriages, no matter how bland such marriages have become.
4. Men are not meant to complain publicly about being abused by their wives. It is seen as unmanly.
5. Women earn their own money, and can buy whatever they need without the help of their husbands. Therefore, they feel self-sufficient and it goes into the heads of many.
6. Decades ago, it was men that were said to find it hard to say “I am sorry” because of their ego. Today, it is the women that find it hard to say “I am sorry”. Many women would rather die than apologise or seek reconciliation in their home. These days, the women are always right, while the men are always wrong. For the sake of peace, most men keep quiet or succumb.
7. Many women take advantage of the situation to make life miserable for their husbands with direct and indirect insult at home and even in public. In the mind of the woman, she is not doing any harm. “She is just speaking the simple truth and reacting to situations appropriately. Furthermore, she just uses words, not fist. So, she has not caused any harm.”
8. Many female social media influencers, especially those who are not married or are divorced and are bitter against men, help to make women believe that men are monsters that should be battled to a standstill. Marriage is therefore portrayed as Wrestlemania in the eyes of many women, even before marriage. Women are warned not to take “any nonsense” from men: “If you don’t open your eyes and ‘show them pepper’, they will use you as foot mats like they did to our mothers and grandmothers.” So, the abuse continues at home.
9. Like the funeral ram spoken of by Chinua Achebe, which must take whatever beating comes to it without opening its mouth, most men endure all that abuse in silence. Some men hate to return home after work. They feel happier when they are outside their home. Marriage becomes tasteless. Many couples live like flatmates. Communication between them is little or non-existent, because whenever there is a discussion, it ends in a quarrel. But they still take lovey-dovey pictures and post on the social media. The world assumes that all is well with their marriage until something strange happens.
It is said that when the drumbeats change, the dance steps change too. There has been a change in marriage, but most couples have not adjusted to the new reality. Today’s marriage cannot be handled like the marriage of 1950. No matter how many times the marriage table turns, if one of the couple is on top while the other is under the table, it is no marriage.
There is a need for more marriage counselling for today’s couples. It should happen long before marriage and continue nonstop after marriage, the same way people go for regular courses to improve their skills and knowledge at the workplace. Men and women need deep reorientation to understand what today’s marriage is all about and how to make it work.
Marriage is not war. It is companionship. It is love. It is understanding. It is working together. Marriage should be sweet.
Azuka Onwuka is a Public Affairs Analyst.