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Is it time to change those marriage vows?

Is it time to change those marriage vows?

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Gloria Ogunbadejo

Till death do us part? I am sure we are all familiar with these words. I remember making those same vows over three decades ago with youthful exuberance while beholding my groom with adoring eyes, and I still gladly feel the same way today. More so when the gravity of those words is more acute as we get older and health becomes more poignant. I’m sure most people making those vows at a young(ish) age cannot possibly conceptualise what it might ultimately mean. I am sure when in love you imagine there is nothing that would or could come in the way of you caring for your beloved regardless of the circumstances.

I imagine these same vows or similar ones are still being made today, but I truly wonder today how much couples really believe in those words. Looking at how reckless couples are now in entering marriages today, and the lack of tolerance, patience and commitment that is exhibited from both parties, it is no wonder the length of marriages is getting shorter.

Over the years, I have received countless mail about problems in marriages and the theme in most of them was always about infidelity, mostly on the man’s part. However, I have noticed a steady change in the nature of the mail relating to marital concerns over the last five years. Primarily there have been more men writing in with concern over their wives’ infidelity and questions around the paternity of their children. Women on the other hand have written more about not wanting to remain married after just a few years of being married. Women also write more about having affairs themselves. It’s certainly a different world.

I have written about this topic before and looked back at it and the attitudes and views expressed several years ago with the recent mail I have received and current conversations I have been engaged with on the topic. The institution of marriage is definitely in a state of crisis. The attitudes and behaviours of a lot of married couples today both young and older leave a lot to be desired. There appears to be very little tolerance and capacity for bearing any inconvenience, discomfort or hardships in many relationships. Social media is awash with postings of married people airing very personal details about their lives, and nothing seems to be sacred anymore.

I was having conversations with a group of friends and they were discussing the complexities in marriages today. I was struck at the differences in the emphasis placed on various needs by the different women. Some of the attitudes were obviously generational but on the whole the younger women were very clear they had no intention of tolerating almost any hardships in their marriages. They also talked about ‘tit for tat.’ They were also prepared to exact similar behaviours they received from their husbands’ if unfavourable. In all the discussions I kept thinking what will be happening to the children in this payback scenario.

The other thing that baffles me about couples that I speak to who are planning marriage is the level of concerns they feel, express about the person they are planning on spending the rest of their lives with. It is one thing to have a few personality differences but when your worries are about fundamental grievances or differences for that matter, which you are consciously aware of, sometimes even your family is aware of these issues; then I cannot understand how these couples are spurred into going through with the marriage. I always ask what did they think would happen? Especially because no one addressed what the problems were. In addition to whatever you start the marriage with; there will be new problems to contend with going forward. So at the very least you must have respect and passion for each other.

When I talk to young couples today either newly married or contemplating marriage, apart from the fact that they seem to think I am a dinosaur to have clocked as many years as I have of married life, but even more shocking to them is that I still feel as passionate about my husband as I did when I married all starry-eyed years ago. I am also flabbergasted that they are not even anticipating that they could stay in a marriage as long. I ask if that is not your intention going into a marriage, i.e. to go the whole hog then why in God’s name are you getting married. I answer the question myself when I look at the ostentatious spectacles marriage have become  and I hear couples planning to get married talk about the serious reservations they have about their partners or the families they are getting married into. I have always felt that you have no idea what goes on between husband and wife. They are the only ones who know the truth of their relationship.

One of my clients has been in one of the most dysfunctional relationships I have ever seen. She has been dating a man off and on for the past 10 years. It is her intention to marry the man who has clearly shown her he has commitment issues, or worse case scenario he does not want to marry her in particular. It’s not a position she has even allowed herself to consider. Her attitude is that she just needs to persevere. My observation from all she has said about their relationship is that he will get married, but not to her! I jested with her that some marriages don’t last as long as they have been courting. I asked her what would be her cut-off point. What would be the signs that she would need to see to let her know the relationship was not going any further than it was? Her response was that as long as they were still together as a couple, there was hope. I couldn’t help but think that if you are starting off a marriage with that level of insecurity, at a time when you are supposed to be at your most confidence and emotional security, I’m not sure where you hope to go from there.

I was listening to a conversation with two friends from my generation who were sharing their experiences about their husband who had been unfaithful to them for the majority of their marriages. One of them had decided she had had enough and was going to embark on similar behaviour and she was making plans to leave her husband. The other one was saying she had no intention of letting any young woman reap where she didn’t sow.

She intended to remain in the marriage at all cost, much as she was miserable and was not interested in working through any problems. In fact, she said she had great contempt and detest for her husband. I couldn’t help but wonder what happens to you psychologically, emotionally, spiritually to be in such a place and insist on maintaining it. It suggests a very unhealthy mind. This is what leads to many of those devastating angry outbursts that could lead to fatalities. We are not meant to live in such unnatural states.

Feeling nervous, anxious even a little fearful before marriage is not a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s quite healthy because marriage is a serious business. However, when you have fundamental differences about life, ideologies, faiths, raising children and you don’t table them or even begin to discuss it with a view to working on them, unless you are prepared to go through the marriage lying or pretending to yourself, it’s not going to be a healthy partnership. I am well aware that even with the best intentions, there will probably be some issues that you go to your graves still battling with. But the aim in a marriage is to make those offending insoluble issues few and far between as you grow together and invariably some battles just have to be given up in the interest of peace.

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