By Muyiwa Adetiba
This is the season of weddings. The cards come thick and fast. It is not unusual to have three to five wedding invitations on a busy Saturday. After all, we live in a society where marriage is seen as a logical step to completion of self. Completion for a bachelor who has finished schooling, is about 30, and has secured some form of livelihood. Completion for a spinster who may, or may not have finished schooling, who may, or may not have secured some form of livelihood.
The only qualification is that she is above 25. Completion for parents who have spent their prime years catering to the needs of their brood and feel their job is not done until the children ‘settle’ in their own homes.
Completion for a society that is still caught up in the ‘live happily ever after’ world. Thus everybody feels that marriage completes them which is why the emotions vary at the conclusion of a wedding ceremony.
In my time, I was a best man six times and a groomsman a couple of times more and I can say that the emotions before and during the wedding ceremonies were never the same. I witnessed the quarrels of in-laws, of siblings and of couples themselves.
There was an instance when the angst was so strong that the bride refused to hold the hand of the groom as they walked down the aisle! I wish I could say I scored a hundred per cent as a best man. Alas, about half of those marriages have hit the rocks while a couple are still witnessing a turbulent weather. Unfortunately, that’s about the national average as fewer and fewer marriages survive the first ten years these days.
It has been a past time for me of recent to observe the body language of couples in church as they recite their vows, sign the register and walk down the aisle. I can tell you that not all weddings start out happy. Even the joy and gaiety of the reception is not shared by all.
A sobering thought in the midst of the wine and champagne is that many of those weddings will not survive the first five years. Another sobering thought is that not all those who look lovingly into each other’s eyes as they shared their marriage vows, or share lingering kisses at the reception halls will escape the crash. Conversely, not all those who exchange hot words before or after the exchange of vows crash their marriages.
Why do most marriages crash? A simple but fundamental answer is that expectations are different. Love, even where it exists, is not enough. While love blinds you to the faults of your partner, marriage and the imperatives of daily living, expose and sometimes accentuate those faults.
While shortcomings like anger, sloppiness, a perceived laid back attitude, an unwillingness to help, money management, even infidelity, – all of which can reach intolerable levels- can be managed, more fundamental ones like ego, religion, family values, inferiority complex, physical or emotional abuse, even personal goals and values, are more difficult to manage. It takes maturity and commitment on both sides to look at a bigger picture (assuming there is one) and balance things when these issues begin to come up.
I have had to mediate in quite a few feuds in young marriages especially of people to whom I acted as a sponsor or spiritual parent at their wedding. I find the willingness to sacrifice and compromise is higher among those who basically respect each other despite the differences and are committed to the survival of a stable home. I also find that many of the hateful words and vile actions are from people who feel hurt and are trying to reach out.
Sometimes they over react; sometimes they create newer and more acute problems; but that’s down to the personalities involved. It doesn’t alter the fact that somebody is hurt and is fighting back the best way he/she knows. Remove or even acknowledge the source of the hurt and they become a putty in your hands. I know a woman who promised to leave her husband the minute he struck it big because she didn’t want to be seen as leaving him for money.
Twenty-five years down the road, he still hasn’t made enough money for her to leave despite having their own home and paying foreign fees for their children. My conclusion is that he has more credits in his favour than debits. Ability to see the positives is therefore a reason a marriage can survive.
It is easy to think the opposite of love is hate because both are intense and powerful emotions. Moreover, love seemingly builds while hate seemingly destroys. But I find over the years of mediating, that the line between the two is easily crossed. Like the old song says, remove the outside influences and distractions and many ‘would be back in love again by Monday’. The one I find deadlier and more calculating is indifference.
By the time a relationship gets to the point of indifference, it is usually beyond salvage. I once had an ‘egbon’ who had such a relationship with his wife. He had homes in the UK and Nigeria that they stayed in at different times. It struck me as odd then that they always headed in opposite directions. And on the few times they stayed together, it would be for less than a couple of weeks and he would be hardly home.
And once he was by himself, he became a home person who delighted in bringing close friends over for quiet evenings. Another ‘egbon’ lived in the penthouse of a storied building while the wife lived on the ground floor and their paths hardly crossed. Neither expressed surprise nor cared about the gender of the visitors the other had. Neither knew about the highs and lows of the other except through the children who lived abroad. Yet these were people who once shared a bed and reared four lovely and successful children.
More and more, I find people in or out of relationships who don’t give a toss about their estranged spouses. The flame of love is long gone and the ashes are long cold. Worse, they could move against the interests of the other without any emotion or consideration for what they once had. If it was in the criminal world, it would be called ‘murder in the first degree’ or murder one. This is the cold, deliberate, calculated and cynical form of murder. This coldness, this indifference is to me, the antithesis of love.