I had a conversation with a friend that got me reflecting on how we view marriage and family and how our perceptions affect the people around us and account for the success of marriages. These concepts have experienced some changes over the years but the main precepts have been retained. How we try to make sense of these or negotiate their terms is what makes the difference.
In this part of the continent, it is common to hear people say marriage is between two families and not two people. Some have taken this literally while others think it is just a metaphor for the roles both families are expected to play in making the atmosphere conducive, especially for the couple. So, I was shocked when my friend shared his views on family, marriage and loyalty because he takes neither of the two trajectories:
“My wife and kids are [going to be] part of my family… My kids by birth and my wife by adoption. So if she can’t find space in the family that already is [the family he was born into] by making sure she is adopted, then wetti be my problem dey [then how is that my problem]?
She is an adult and has her own family. It’s not my wish that she considers me before her family because I will never consider her before my family, period.”
What bothered me most about my friend was the fact that he was consciously creating this precarious foundation for his marriage. He was very serious about it and very selfish and inconsiderate as well. I couldn’t help but wonder how honest he was going to be about this to the woman he gets married to.
Some years ago, I read Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man; this conversation made me reread the Mama’s Boys chapter. It talks about men who are too attached to their mothers and are controlled by them and its effects on their immediate families and romantic relationships. This extends to men who seek validation and approval from their birth family even when it comes to personal issues like relationships and marriage. It also applies to men who are too attached to their families or any family member to the point where it weighs on their romantic relationships and their immediate families.
We come from a culture where people are encouraged to get married especially when they reach a certain age or make some money or are financially stable. This prevails in many cultures, especially those that are deeply rooted in tradition. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it’s even described as a universal truth: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”.
Despite the importance placed on marriage and the spotlight put on its necessity, I think not everyone is cut out for marriage or willing to make the necessary adjustments towards that objective. My friend is an example of such people and his rigid idea of a family even makes things more complicated. Here is why I say so. Even though Steve Harvey says setting standards can change “the boy” to a “man” because a man who loves his wife/woman will respect her, put her and their children first, do what makes her happy and do what works for them, this takes a lot of energy and patience, especially in a case where they are already married and have children.
When I shared my conversation with a number of people (men), there were a couple of reactions I got from both married and single men but the one I’m going to share with you, caught my attention the most. It is a combination of a lecture, advice and a wake-up call.
- N. Teh’s Reaction and Commentaries
That’s someone who has built up his philosophy of marriage in order to justify his actions, decisions and behavior. From his philosophy:
- It sounds like he was a family (alone), then he adopted his wife. Wrong!
- It sounds like his wife was adopted into his family, as in the family of his parents and grandparents.
This is wrong and delusional because:
- A family is a unit, Civics 101, and a man and wife are the two organs or parts that make up that unit. In effect “his family” is he and his wife, irrespective of whether there are children or not.
- Each time this unit is created there’s a move from the previous unit (your parents’ home or family). They become secondary, external in a sense and the newly formed becomes the primary family. Even the Bible says a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.
Now judicially, this too is true. Except for a will, a man’s successor is his wife by law. Followed by his Children under the wife though till they are adults. Not his parents or extended family.
Traditionally, when you marry and build a house, that becomes your compound. Without that union, no man can have a “compound” and it is impossible to have a compound in a compound as in marrying and staying with your parents.
Inasmuch as all (important) relationships deserve loyalty, attention and commitment, not all deserve the same amount of each. There are different situations and contexts which may need us to be flexible and attend to the needs of one over the other or share our attention. Finding that balance is essential for any healthy relationship. Ideally, your wife and children should be your number one priority.