These days you only need to bring up the word marriage in a conversation and you’d get a truck load of dismal stories. It’s on the news, the internet, and the newspapers: one spouse caught in the act of infidelity—if Tiger Woods’ indiscretion didn’t surprise you then Sandra Bullock’s marital problems probably did. Coming home, we have our very own darlings Fred Amata and Frank Edoho embroiled in their own situations. And this is just to mention but two. One seemingly good marriage packing up, one couple deciding to go separate ways “for a while” because things aren’t working out. I’m sure if you look in your own backyard you’ll find even more grisly stories.
How about those silent sorrows that you’d never hear but can subtly see in those sunken eyes, droopy shoulders, fake smiles, and in some cases swollen faces? It doesn’t seem to be getting better…but people are still getting married every day. Some singles, excitedly, can’t wait to join the train while some married ones are longing to jump out. Is it possible to stay happily married at all?
Even with all the sad tales, there are still people who have been together for decades, and they’re not just putting up with each other; they have learnt the things that make it possible to spend the rest of their lives, happily, with only one person. Happily Ever After, which so many people label a myth, is actually a reality for some.
Have you ever seen a couple, well advanced in years (greyed hair, wrinkled eyes) still gazing into each other eyes like newlyweds? When you ask how they did it they tell you they grow much more in love, each passing day. I thought the rule was that familiarity breeds contempt and newlyweds should not expect the lovey-dovey to last for more than three years—the Honeymoon Phase it’s called. Such people, as narrated, dispel that fact. These are five secrets from them (listening and watching them live out their love life) and they are hardly ‘secrets’. They are written for, especially, the singles, though the married ones will also find some of them useful. So, let’s go!
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT (?)
Nnenna and Ike met at a wedding and, as Nnenna said, ‘they connected immediately!’ They talked all through the occasion, continued at a restaurant later that night, and concluded with three hours on the phone till the early hours of the morning. In thirteen months they were married. Two months after the honeymoon Nnenna who had said they were perfect for each other began to complain Ike had an anger problem. He would grow so angry he would turn the house upside down during some of his tantrums. A month later he was beating her. Ike complained to people that she was disrespectful; she said he had morphed into a beast. In six months Nnenna packed her things out of the house, saying that if she had known she would never have married Ike.
Secret #1: MARRY RIGHT
The first step to staying married is marrying the right person. Top on the list of most singles concerning the qualities they desire in a mate are things like Attractive, Intelligent, Great Dresser, Tall, Sexy and all. The number one thing that matters when considering a life partner is a Strong Character. How can you know if someone has character? You need to relate with them as a person, as friends, first. The problem with Nnenna and Ike was that they mistook chemistry for love and connection for character. You need to spend time with the person in a variety of situations. Watch how they treat other people: it’s so easy for someone who is in love with you to treat you nicely. How do they react when they are upset? How do they handle challenges, trials and temptations? Do they show integrity in all they do? You need to get these answers right. Jada Pinkett Smith was asked in an interview why her husband, Will Smith, had never been involved in any typical Hollywood scandal. She answered that Will had a strong Christian faith and he was a good and faithful man, not just because he was married to her, but because that was who he was. That is character. If you are married to someone with the right spirit it’s easier to handle the challenges that will come later, because they will always come.
THE ONE AND ONLY
Martha was the envy of the whole town: tall, fair, pretty and well read but every night she cried herself to sleep. She had confronted her husband, Dele, with evidence of his cheating and he couldn’t deny that the SMS’s in his phone, from a certain Julie, were there by accident. Finally, Julie turned out to be their best friend’s domestic help. ‘The problem is that some people are telling me that he’s all over the place, that it’s not just one girl. I don’t know how I got into this,’ Martha said. Martha says she can’t leave her marital home. It would devastate their three children. So every day she covers her face with make up and puts on a happy plastic smile for the world.
Secret #2: COMMITMENT
The reality is that there will always be someone who looks more handsome or more beautiful than your spouse. You might even be attracted to that person for a moment. It all depends on whether you choose to feed that moment in your thoughts. Dele lacked the character to say no to temptation and stick to the one woman he married. Commitment means: I love you unconditionally, with your imperfections and all. It is you I have chosen among the billions of people in this world. You are my One; you are my Only. Even though I meet a thousand more people I think might have been better suited for me as a life partner, it is you I have chosen to spend the rest of my life with and I will not dishonour my word. Being a committed person helps you remain focused on your partner; it helps you develop a we-are-in-this-together attitude which keeps you from running out the door when there is a conflict or when you don’t “feel” in love anymore. Commitment is a choice we make; it is a fruit of strong character.
KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU
For a few weeks now Effiong has been irritable and angry. Whenever his wife Seyi calls him at work he sounds indifferent; he comes back home with a long face and gets annoyed at the tiniest provocation. Seyi is fed up with his attitude. She keeps sulking and then finally withdraws from him. Her withdrawal only makes things worse as Effiong’s attitude deteriorates. One day as she complains to her friend about Effiong’s attitude her friend sounds surprised, ‘Effiong didn’t tell you? They’re downsizing in their office. They sent Mike (her husband who works in the same office with Effiong) the probation letter too. But they finally didn’t sack him. I’m so sorry, but Effiong was affected. I’m sorry.’ Seyi was so shocked she couldn’t say a word.
Secret #3: UNDERSTANDING
Understanding is the major ingredient that makes us patient with other people. Seyi should have known her husband; she should have known that his attitude was probably triggered by something. A man may seem all macho without but inside them lies a softer side. Effiong might have felt like a failure losing his job in those circumstances and all he might have wanted was his wife to just show him some love and understanding so that he would open up. You need to know your spouse, how they think. Learn their love languages so that you know how to please them and when not to take their attitudes personal.
LET IT GO, COMPLETELY
The problem with Ife was that whenever she had a disagreement with Chike she sulked, whined, and pouted for days even after Chike had apologised. She would refuse to serve her husband food, refuse to sleep with him for days, and refuse to even talk to him. Chike said it was like living in hell on earth. One day he packed his things out of the house and went off to stay with a friend after weeks of bitterness between him and his wife. Ife was crushed. Now she wants Chike back home but she keeps counting his wrongs against her, saying it was he who moved out not she and it is he who owes her an apology.
Secret #4: FORGIVE AND (REALLY) FORGET
It’s normal, even healthy, for couples to have disagreements once in a while. What’s abnormal, and unhealthy, is for you to go to bed, arise and live in anger. You hurt yourself and your marriage in the process. It is said that marriage is essentially two forgivers living together. When you stay with someone for a very long period of time the resulting familiarity will always bring personality clashes. Resolving those conflicts successfully requires you being ready to forgive whatever wrong your spouse has committed against you and not hold it against them. You neither have to remind them about it later so you need to forget it as well. Forgiving paves the way for peace and where there is peace things move smoothly.
WHAT A WOMAN / MAN NEEDS
Nkem is a very classy, expressive, and outspoken woman married to Dan, who is quiet and unassuming. Dan loves Nkem but wishes she would sometimes talk a little less, and with a kinder tone. Nkem thinks Dan is unromantic and hardly ever wants to listen to her when she wants to spend some time with him. From mild dislikes in character their opinions graduate to bitter complaints. Dan now thinks Nkem is rude and Nkem thinks Dan is uncaring. Dan withdraws, Nkem cries out louder. And the cycle continues: the more he withdraws the more she feels neglected and expresses her hurts verbally. He sees her expressiveness as rudeness; she sees his withdrawal as being unloving.
Secret #5: LOVE HER/ RESPECT HIM
In his twin books Understanding the Purpose and Power of Man and Understanding the Purpose and Power of Woman, Myles Munroe said that the greatest need for a woman is to be loved and for a man is to be respected. The vicious cycle continued in the lives of Nkem and Dan because neither of them wanted to back down, compromise, and give the other what they needed. It’s a two way street. A woman needs to be loved, she needs a man to say it and show it every day. It doesn’t really involve money, it’s in the little things you do like helping her around the house, cuddling with her on the sofa and telling her every morning how much you love her. Respect is, as some say, more important to a man than love. When you show a man respect you communicate to him that you love, adore and admire him. That includes talking to him kindly, not talking back at him, and submitting to his headship over the house which means that his decision is final in all matters.
Marriage should make life, fun, enjoyable and its burdens easier to bear. However, you need to understand the journey before you embark on it. With these five tips I’m sure that you can make better decisions or renew the spark in your marriage, whichever the case, and decide to live ‘happily ever after’.
Black Beauty is a writer and artist. Email her at email@example.com