By Francis Ewherido
All students and lovers of African literature are familiar with these words from the late Prof. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Okonkwo had given his second wife, Ekwefi, a thorough beating over a non-issue and was about to go hunting, something he was not renowned for, a fact known to everyone, including Ekwefi.
He asked Ikemefuna to fetch his gun when Ekwefi whispered, “guns that never shot.” But for Okonkwo’s lack of shooting prowess, Ekwefi would have met a certain death. Okonkwo’s violent temper is well documented in Things Fall Apart, but that is not the only reason why Okonkwo reacted violently. Ekwefi murmured the truth and the truth, as they say, is bitter. In this case such truths are even more bitter when they come from a spouse. To put it mildly, you get under your spouse’s skin when you utter some truths which are better ignored.
Unfortunately, spouses have not learnt much from this near traffic incident. They continue to taunt their spouses and drive them to resentment by harping on personal failings, shortcomings or “bad” habits. Ekwefi lived to see another day, but many spouses have been sent to early graves or maimed for getting under their spouses’ skin. Not that I support or encourage domestic violence. My aversion to it is well documented, just as I am against driving your spouse to resentment.
We all have “bad” habits, some of which are so well entrenched that it has become near impossible to change. Your spouse has a habit of stuffing food into his mouth. Granted it is a bad habit, but must you bring it up when you are at dinner with friends or family? If you let it go during the dinner, will the world come to an end? You are bringing it up at dinner with guests not out of love, but because you feel he is embarrassing you.
You might decide to call your spouse aside to tell him, but I don’t even believe you should do that. Such an action will make the guests uncomfortable. Bear with him and bring it up in a LOVING manner when dinner is over, the guests are gone and you are doing a post mortem. If all efforts to change your spouse over time are futile, let him be. You are unnecessarily agitated because of your husband’s “bad” habit; do you know the bad habits of the others at the table that their spouses are putting up with or you think it is all glitter and gold? Don’t you also know you have irritating habits your spouse is tolerating?
What makes it even more annoying in the case above is the fact that the husband had taken time to explain to the wife that while growing up, he and his siblings (he is from a large polygamous home) ate from one bowl. The food was never enough, so to get a reasonable proportion, he had to eat fast and stuff food in his mouth. That was when he picked the bad habit and he has struggled, but has been unable to shake it off completely. What he needed from the wife was empathy, but she decided to taunt and embarrass him. It was only a matter of time before he became very resentful. The other annoying aspect is that this habit was there during courtship, but all she saw was an eligible bachelor; she ignored the stuffing that is now it is an issue.
Lateness is a bad habit; in fact, a horrendous habit. However, during courtship, this failing of hers manifested countless times, but he was patient, though sometimes he swore under his breath. He was too scared of losing her to even murmur, not to talk of complaining aloud. Now they are married, it has become a major issue, especially on Sundays and when they want to go out. What happened to his patience? Mind you, for me, lateness is one of the heights of indiscipline; habitual lateness cannot be justified. My grouse here is that the guy should have put his foot down during courtship. If the wife loved him enough, she would have made amends then. Now the wife is resentful not because she feels she is right, but he sees the husband as a fraud who tricked her into marriage.
A guy blinks more often than is usual. It is a habit he has been conscious of for over 20 years, but he has been unable to stop it. Now the wife wants to stop it by force because she feels he is embarrassing her. Each time she feels the husband is blinking too much, she stands in front of him and mimics him. For me that is sacrilege, very cruel and insensitive. Spouses should stop doing things that can drive their spouses up the wall and become spontaneously aggressive.
We all have personal failings, shortcomings, habits and tendencies, not necessarily sinful or negative, but they unsettle our spouses. We should make conscious efforts to change because of the love for our spouses, but personally, I do not want to be pushed or taunted. I puff my cheeks unconsciously. When I am in the act, I stop once I become conscious of it. But I know it is a habit that will take time to go. How did it start? In my younger days, I was very skinny and my cheeks were sunken. That was how I started puffing to try and bring out my sunken cheeks. In other words, I was not satisfied with my facial looks. If my wife were to make my puffing an issue, it will remind me of those times when I felt unhappy. For her, it will be a bad habit she is trying to put an end to, but for me, it is a reminder of a past I want to forget. It is like that for most of us.
Some people react to these taunts light-heartedly, while there is an “Okonkwo” in some others that can lead to volcanic eruptions, marital breakdown or fatalities. So before you start taunting your spouse, it would be nice to know the history behind the bad habit and his temperament. However, whatever the origin, there are some bad habits that must be quickly “killed;” for example, picking of nose and biting of fingers. If all efforts to “kill” them fail, apply bitter leaf to the fingers (biting of nails) or pepper (picking of nose). The habits will suffer sudden death (laughter).
Mind you, I am not averse to change; we all need to improve and get better. If your spouse needs books on social etiquette, get them and read them together. If she/he has zero sartorial taste, help her/him re-organise her/his wardrobe. But do not taunt or humiliate your spouse, especially in public. If you cannot celebrate her/him, at least let her/him be.