The Marriage Dilemma

Nana, why is it that people who are married want to get out of their marriage, and those who are not married want to get married?”

This is a question a friend posed to me a few days ago. Let me answer what I perceive as the simpler question first.

People want to get married (and here I speak specifically of the Ghanaian context) because we are brought up with the expectation that by a certain age we should be married. That’s just what happens (or so we are told) in our society. As a dutiful daughter, (or son) once you are ‘of age’ you get married. Our society does not expect you to sow your wild oats before you get married (this applies to women only). Our society does not expect you to date a number of men/boys/girls/women before you get married. In fact as a ‘good girl’ you will somehow avoid dating and at the appropriate age miraculously acquire a fiancé who will shortly become your husband. You will then take his name, became Mrs x, bear ‘his’ children (because the children are certainly not yours) and then…

And then… is where the fairytale begins to unravel. You’re married and now what? Maybe you find that marriage doesn’t make you as happy as you thought it would. Maybe you get married and you realize that the romantic notion you had of marriage doesn’t quite match up to the reality. Your husband doesn’t come home bearing roses and little gifts. In fact you are lucky if you see him before midnight (and he still expects his dinner on the table at midnight). You hear stories about him and some Legon girl. You blame the girl. Who are these hussies who steal other women’s men rather than find a man of their own. These no good women, these abusekeleke women!

Somehow the patriarchal bargain doesn’t work out too well for you. Growing up you were always told that the man is the head of the household. You always believed that your future husband would take care of the bills, the children’s school fees and that your portion would be only to keep the house. Why is it that you find yourself cooking the meals, cleaning the house, caring for the children and paying the bills? But ssshhh you can’t utter a word of this to anyone. It will be an act of great disrespect to your husband. Surely you can tell your Mum about your husband’s girlfriend. You can’t believe he’s flaunting her all over town. They go to all the latest restaurants together and yet when you ask him for pocket money he says he has none to give you. Yet when you tell Mum she says “Hmmm, my daughter. This is not a reason to leave your husband. Men are all the same. You just have to manage the situation.”

Maybe today’s woman does not want to manage the situation? Maybe today’s woman has decided she no longer wants to stay married because it’s not all that its cracked up to be? Maybe today’s woman is no longer financially dependent on her husband and can afford to live on her own?

What are your thoughts on marriage?

15 comments On The Marriage Dilemma

  • Question seemed to ask about “people”, but entire response seems to be from a woman’s perspective. Is this a manifestation of how the issue is treated? Men and women see marriage from separate perspectives?

    Also, if your mother says all men are like that and this is well-known, why does the fairy tale continue to hold sway?

    Just asking….

  • @Kofi – Yes the question was about people but since I write an African women’s centred blog I chose to answer the question from that perspective…

    And the mother reference wasn’t about my mother…

    This story is not about me personally…

    ‘Why does the fairy tale continue to hold sway?’ – What are your thoughts on that?

  • @ND, I just wondered why is it that in your vast circle of friends and in your deep engagement with this subject you haven’t come up with a scintilla of insight into what might be called the male perspective on why marriage loses its enchantment. When I read most of what you wrote above, I get alarmed because it presents women as near-victims in this situation. My sense is that growth doesn’t happen in such circumstances. And I’d like to know, being clueless on the subject… Is there anyone out there who can help me here?

    And of course I knew that this wasn’t about your personally…. sorry to have implied otherwise…

    The fairy tale continues to hold sway probably because it is more palatable than a realistic view of marriage, which might deter marriage, although I think it might actually strengthen it.

  • This is a very interesting subject. I believe women (in the context of this article) like the fan fair that comes with the ceremony and not necessarily the marriage itself and that moment of being the absolute centre of attention also is a push factor towards marriage.
    But society does expect a woman to be married practically immediately she finishes her first degree if she does get one. I can think of several weddings I’ve attended and the comments my mum’s friends make – about how their hats and heels are getting dusty waiting for my wedding.
    Times have changed greatly. The woman no longer stays home but works as long if not longer than the man and yes sometimes makes a whole lot more than the man. But somehow when they’ve both gotten home tired and worn out, the man relaxes by the TV whiles the woman summons some magic for strength to stand a little longer and make dinner. Hopefully the man enjoys NEAT FUFU and CANNED ABENKWAN!!
    I think there’s also the church bit, with the pastors insisting people get married after 6months of dating or so.
    And of course the scornful looks the young ladies give ‘old maids’ as though they’re lacking something, and the comments “oh she needs a man that’s why she’s so upset.”
    I’ve actually met a couple of women who I admire greatly, in their forties and fifties who made a decision not to focus too much on men and marriage – they wanted more out of life. And it seems to work for them.
    For myself, I want to be married, but I’ll sooner stay single than to be married to a man I neither respect, nor love!
    In the end, I doubt God will ask me if I got married before dying. I figure He’ll be more interested in what I did with my talents and my life!

  • Here’s my take on the 2 questions.
    Married people have their “I’m outta here!” moments because they find out that happily-ever-after doesn’t automatically follow “I do”.
    Since married people don’t share the horrific details of that new life they got themselves into, single people continue to believe married life is The life.

    My thoughts on marriage: A heck of a job was done in marketing this idea! Its going to take a while for us to accept that it isn’t for everyone.

    Wouldn’t marriages be more successful if couples sat down and outlined their expectations of each other before getting married? E.g. Guy makes it known upfront that his religion requires him to be out with anybody but her on friday & saturday evenings. Gal makes guy aware the wedding ring won’t allow her to put out more than once a month. If they accept each other’s conditions, the wedding is on.

  • @think–very interesting response

  • I like the description of the african marriage in this post. And Nana, you’ll be surprised to know that the same thing you described in your post happens in East African cultures as well (where I come from). It’s actually worse in some cultures: women are prepared from their very young age to sort of worship their husbands once they get married to the point that some are beaten and others are almost killed by their husbands. It makes me wonder whether marriage is really a blessing or a “sweet” curse!
    My thought on marriage : times have changed and whatever education parents try to enforce onto their children concerning marriage needs to be adjusted.
    I’m going to step on some toes here cuz I have a case against christian denominations: I think they emphasize much on teaching the woman to submit to her husband so much that they forget to teach the husband to love his wife (as Christ love the church, according to the Bible). Loving your wife doesnt only mean to provide for her. I think it means many other things including understanding her, allowing her to develop herself and helping her. Everytime I listen to male (and a few female) african Pastors (and Western ones too) preach on marriage, they spend more than half their message teaching women duties in marriage and then conclude their sermon by mentioning that men are also expected to love their wives, and that is it!
    Since many africans are churchgoers, maybe if the Church corrected their erroneous teachings things would change. Maybe.

  • It’s almost unnerving how much situations can be identical no matter how far apart we can be.

    Nana you essentially encapsulated quite well (maybe a little too much, lol) the expectations and realities of marriage. It’s pretty much the same here in the Caribbean and in the US.

    From a man’s perspective, by and large many of us have come to dislike the confines of marriage. That is to say the implicit and explicit expectations of what marriage is supposed to be like; like many women, a lot of men are just as resentful of filling out expected roles whether or not these roles are in keeping with one’s personality, goals and so on.

    The fact is that many of us who do end up down the aisle do so because depending on where one works, it’s good “for a few dollars more,” because of the social pressures to do so and sometimes because one is guided by the model of the older generations. Over here we are forever regaled in the newspapers and on radio about who is celebrating their 36th or 50th or 55th wedding anniversary and then come the stories about sacrifice and how “young people today” not as “committed” etc etc etc (mind you, a great many spouting this are women, which leads back to what Ms K was alluding to). But I’ve spoken to many of the much older generations and you’d be bowled over by how many wished they could have gotten out of THEIR marriages, how many of them were deeply dissatisfied with their lives. It’s just that the socio-religious pressures were greater then.

    Marriage, like monogamy, is simply not for everyone and we need to expand the “standard” narrative to include the many equally legitimate alternatives. We also need to highlight just WHAT marriage means in the patricentric context and how it came to dominate our understanding of social interaction. I don’t see the Christian denominations being singularly progressive in this regard though and the daily bombardment of the fairy-tale image via the Hollywood rom-coms and love songs aren’t helping. We may very well have to do what we are doing now, keep talking to each other and spreading information as best we can.

  • @Kofi A – Lol! I have my thoughts on why men loose interest in marriage but you know me, I want to focus on the issue from a woman’s perspective 🙂

    I agree that there is a danger in presenting women as victims in the scenario I described about so thank you for highlighting that risk. Of course women have agency and more and more women are choosing to be active agents where marriage is concerned. We have always had women who refuse to get married for example. Today we have more and more women delaying marriage, choosing to have babies on their own, choosing to have relationships with other women, choosing to have relationships with married men so that they remain ‘free’ of the burden of wifework and a range of other permutations where ‘marriage’ is concerned.

    I also agree with you that the fairytale holds sway because it is more palatable than reality

    @Think – I’m so with you on this! I know a lot of church’s for e.g. have pre marital counselling for couples. Can anyone share if this includes the process that Think describes. That will be so useful. A says ‘I expect this from marriage…’, B says ‘Wow, I had no idea those were your expectations’.

    This reminds me of a convo I was having with an Auntie yesterday. She told me a church leader adviced her to counsel a couple and was upset with her because after she told the couple ‘the real deal’ on marriage they decided NOT to get married. I thought that was a great result though. Isn’t it better that some couples after counselling decide not to get married?

    @Gica – I am not at all surprised that the same situation occurs in East Africa and in the Carribean as Corey informs us 🙂 However I think we should also remind ourselves that even a situation that is fairly dominant can be changed (for the better, I hope). Oh my goodness I am so with you on “I have a case against [some] christian denominations”. I dislike going to weddings for this very reason.

    @Corey – Thanks for pointing out that patriarchy works against men too. Isn’t this the reason why we have such high suicide rates for men globally? I suspect so. Wouldn’t feminist marriages work for men too? I think so…

  • @Nana

    Depends on what is meant by feminist marriage; once it is a union where there is equity, is not restrictive (or too restrictive) and both parties can define what rules they are coomfotable conforimmg to, then it should be all right.

    I think you are on the mark with regards to suicides among many men insofar as it relates to relationships, sex and roles. Patriarchy is an idea, an ideal and impacts on both women and men. Not all men are patriarchs or patriarchists and not all women are b any stretch of the imagination feminist or womanist. But the point is that in our respective societies, the patricentric ethic has defined rigid roles for both sexes. Men are not supposed to show emotion or feelings, and are to be aggressive and assertive. Think about the man who is say a soldier or consrtuction worker, or a sportsman in a contact sport; he is expected to be basically emotionless and outwardly strong. A simple act like holding hands or resting his head on a woman’s lap is considered “unmanly” (in ancient Greece, husbands in the army were openly and subtly discouraged from showing emotions and affections for their wives in public. Contrast that to the images of pharaohs who were depicted sitting in their mother’s laps – or Isis’ – or in the case of Akhenaten, holding hands with Nefertiti)

    So both sexes have roles to play that are not neessarily in keeping with their true selves. But when men do not meet up to those standards or whose wife/girlfriend left him or is “bossy” he is belittled and seen as unanly, effeminate, unfit to live. We need to get to the very young coming up to get them to move past that and essentially rediscover aspects of what it meant to be masculine in the traditional African context (whch includes not seeing one’s wife/SO as a sexual possession) that can be reused today

  • @Nana – a great article, I couldn’t have penned it better myself. @Gica I’m totally supportive of your views. I too have an issue with the preaching around ‘submission’ and I feel it has been abused and misunderstood by our society. Submission does not mean doormat and it’s not a woman’s portion to suffer (especially in silence). Marriage is, and was designed to be a beautiful thing. The idea of always having someone there who’s got your back no matter what, is precious. I think we need to open our eyes more and be realistic about what marriage entails. Marriage is a sacrifice and requires patience and a willingness to compromise and adapt on both sides.

  • @ Esi

    Sorry to have to be the voice of dissent here but if you trace back the origins of the biblical passages and study the social customs of ancient Palestine under Levite Judaism and the Greece and Rome that influenced the framers of Christian doctrine, there’s no misunderstanding of the word “submission” at all. It WAS to be understood and followed in the fundamental sense of the term, it was to mean “doormat”……once you were a woman, there was no ambiguity there. Read Bishop Tertullian and Augustine and then compare with Plato, Socrates and Hesiod, they HATED women. In fact, for early Christian theologians, they hated marriage too as it was a union that tied men to women and thus took them away from “higher” pursuits, keeping them close to the “sinful” shackles of sex.

    If marriage is to be the beautifu thing you speak of, you’re gonna have to delve into the precolonial/pre-Islamic African understanding of womanhood and essentially break most of the rules and moral ideas that are couched in Christian/biblical teachings, for a lot of them are essentially masks for secular pre-Christian Eurasian prejudices and biases you’re better off without.

  • Great post, Nana!!! Couldn’t help put out my opinion! =)
    It’s really unfortunate at how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
    Sub-consciously, our mothers hinted at us to break the mould as well the glass ceiling when it comes to marriage in that marriage has to be a partnership and not an autocracy and/or dictatorship. What saddens me the most is the self-imposed pressures from us women as well as societal pressures that make us buy into the fan-fare and unfortunately, we tend to forget that marriage is something that has to be worked on conscientiously. We just assume that the marriage will work on its own and we’ll sail through as a couple. It’s not something to be put on auto-pilot!!
    It’s high-time we be realistic and pragmatic enough to know that marriage is not for everyone. We all cannot fit in the same mould; otherwise, who will be unique in this huge mix?

  • @ Sey. Lol! I want your opinion. Bloggers are motivated by comments 🙂 Thanks for sharing…and I agree that marriage is not for everyone

  • @Nana, you’re very welcome…we as women need to be sensitized on pragmatism…it’s long overdue!! 😉

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