…marriage isn’t about the highways: it’s about the crossroads

IF there is an institution that is under siege and threat the world over – it is undoubtedly the marriage institution.

Someone recently made reference to a research that was conducted in several countries including Zimbabwe to identify the causes of depression among women.

The study titled: Africa: Depression linked to gender stereotypes, violence revealed that in Zimbabwe out of the 172 women involved 65% reported anxiety.

The women interviewed complained of “thinking too much,” “deep sadness,” grief, fear, or having an insoluble problem, as some of the causes of their anxiety. Further analysis suggests that men are the leading source of the difficulties women undergo.

I have often received calls from married women who just want someone to talk to and who are just so miserable in their marriages.

They talk and I listen.

I did some research on how some people’s marriages last and I got a few answers. I don’t know if the answers are correct and I don’t even know if these remedies work but it’s food for thought.

The question plaguing many married Zimbabwean women is to stay (married) or to leave?

Hold on or let go....

Well I don’t know the answer to that. In everything; personal choices should be made by individuals themselves because at the end of the day we must all be as responsible for our own misery as we are for our happiness.

In a research titled, “How Do Unhappy Marriages Get Happier?” researchers claimed that a study had revealed that two-thirds of unhappy marriages had become happy five years later.

The researchers also conducted focus group interviews with 55 formerly unhappy husbands and wives who had turned their marriages around.

They found that many currently happily married spouses have had extended periods of marital unhappiness, often for quite serious reasons, including alcoholism, infidelity, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, depression, illness, and work reversals.

Why did these marriages survive where other marriages did not? Spouses’ stories of how their marriages got happier fell into three broad headings: the marital endurance ethic, the marital work ethic, and the personal happiness ethic.

Marital Endurance Ethic... marriages got happier not because partners resolved problems, but because they stubbornly outlasted them.

With the passage of time, these spouses said, many sources of conflict and distress eased: financial problems, job reversals, depression, child problems, even infidelity.

I hazard to guess that this is the premise of the dictum most women have been taught regarding marriage. That it must be endured and not enjoyed.

Sometimes it gets too much and.... the seams start to come apart!

Question: Can you outlast the problems you are facing? Are you prepared to give it another 5 years (just in case these researchers are actually on to something?).

Marital Work Ethic… spouses told stories of actively working to solve problems, change behavior, or improve communication. When the problem was solved, the marriage got happier.

Strategies for improving marriages mentioned by spouses ranged from arranging dates or other ways to spend more time together, enlisting the help and advice of relatives or in-laws, to consulting clergy or secular counselors, to threatening divorce and consulting divorce lawyers. (I daresay this strategy would work better if we didn’t live in the sort of society that blames the wife for everything).

Question: Since it takes two to tango, how do you mend a marriage when the other partner is having an affair? Moreover, how viable is this alternative when some men choose to have children outside the marriage? (The truth is illegitimate children make the process of salvaging the marriage even more complex, excruciating and distressing for the wife).

Personal Happiness Ethic… in this instance, the marriage problems did not seem to change that much. Instead married people in these accounts told stories of finding alternative ways to improve their own happiness and build a good and happy life despite a mediocre marriage.

I suppose that the upbringing of most women makes them pre-disposed to settle for mediocre marriages because in many instances, a woman’s worth is associated with her marital status. No one really cares about the quality of the marriage as long as the woman is married – that is really all that matters.

The guiding principle here being – just stick with it (the marriage) and learn to make do!

Question: Does it really matter how happy marriages are as long as families remain intact? If people can have mediocre marriages and thrive in other aspects of their personal life – should they not learn to be content? (The idea here is that one should not expect marriage to make them happy).

In the words of Frank Pittman; “Marriage isn’t supposed to make you happy — it’s supposed to make you married.”

Five years is a long time but I wonder if there are any couples who are unhappily married right now who, in 2016, could step forward and prove these ideas right.

What I find interesting in the dynamics of the marriage institution are powerful effects of marital commitment on marital happiness.

Perhaps it is true that a strong commitment to marriage as an institution, and a powerful reluctance to divorce, will not merely keep unhappily married people locked in misery together but could also help couples form happier bonds…. with time (5 years or so?).

…how women love to keep counting

If there is one thing that women like to do – it is to keep counting…. I have found that women take more comfort in the length of their relationships rather than their quality.

...you know how far you've come - but where the HELL are you going?

In other words, a woman will happily brag of having been with a fellow for 5 or more years and neglect to mention the tiny detail that 3 of those years were sheer hell because the chap was an incurable skirt-chaser.

Even those whose partners have habitually mistaken them for a punching bag still pride themselves in keeping count – marking days, ticking weeks, noting months and celebrating every year that passes in their agonizing relationships.

To most women, the quality of the relationship does not matter at all – they are quite prepared to endure any abuse, swallow any cow dung and settle for being treated like a toilet seat as long as they can show off by counting the years.

To many women, the quality of the man is quite immaterial – they will put up with any riff raff of a chap, and quite happily put up with being disrespected, humiliated, ignored and neglected as long as they can still keep counting the years.

“We’ve been together for blah blah years,” you often here women say, with a trace of triumph in their voices as if what matters in a relationship is how long you can stick it out for rather than whether you’re fulfilled or not.

Women don’t care about fulfilment – they’re in relationships just to prove they can go the distance because any sensible woman who decides that a relationship has grown stale is seen as a weak, cowardly fool who chickened out and will live to rue the day she decided to go it alone!

And that is really why women put up with abuse – because they want to ‘keep counting’ even if they are heading for an early grave.

Most women are proud of being in long-term relationships; they view these accumulative years as an accomplishment, an extraordinary feat that validates them as ‘real’ women because they suffer, endure, struggle and are prepared to maim or kill themselves just so they can keep counting the years.

I find married women often suffer from this condition because they prefix every problem by reminding themselves of all the years they’ve put into the marriage and will happily stay in a deteriorating marital relationship because the number of years matter more than misery they are going through.

Many women will fight off their husbands’ ever-changing girlfriends, year in and year out, not to defend the marriage and not out of love but really out of pride – because they don’t want any woman messing up with their counting schedules.

I am no longer impressed by people who’ve been in a relationship for donkey years, neither am I particularly awed by the length of a relationship – at the back of my mind I always wonder, “but are you happy?”

It seems futile to me to do anything, to sacrifice everything, to go through so much and still remain unhappy.

I used to resonate with the sentiments of that singer who sang, “I’d rather be alone than be unhappy” because it should not be about how long you’ve been together – it should always be about being happy, being fulfilled and being safe.